It is a cry, “the cry of the forgotten and the left behind, the invisible, those we do not want to see and who yet, in Lebanon, are more and more numerous”; these terms are those of the text signed by all the Lebanese Catholic Churches, which call for a gathering this Sunday, November 19 as part of the World Day of the Poor.
Since the creation of this annual meeting by Pope Francis in 2016, this is the first time that the Assembly of Patriarchs and Catholic Bishops of Lebanon (APECL) has taken such an initiative. The gathering, planned in Bkerké, the stronghold of the Maronite Church, will be in three stages: first a mass celebrated by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Raï, then testimonies of these “forgotten” people and those who come to their aid. with more and more difficulties and finally a moment of communion through a shared meal. The organizers hope for 10,000 participants of all faiths. At the same time, a collection will be organized in all Lebanese parishes – the sums collected will be paid to the Lebanese displaced in the south of the country following the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
A political and economic crisis…
It is a cry for all those whom the Lebanese State has, according to them, abandoned: the children who have dropped out of school, the sick who die at home because they cannot access care, the retirees who no longer receive their pension, the disabled who have been turned away from the reception structures due to lack of space, … “Our cry is not of a community or ideological nature. (…) It is the cry of national conscience addressed primarily to Lebanese political leaders, so that they assume their responsibilities. (…) Let them do their duties towards our people whom they have reduced through their corruption to poverty and begging,” specifies the APECL text.
The private sector and the associative fabric can no longer cope with the scale of the disaster. Semi-free private Christian schools, which represent 30% of the education sector, are now unable to pay their bills. “The Lebanese diaspora which has long supported the country is exhausted because the crisis does not end. And the drama which exists today in the south of the country must not make us forget the harsh reality that all Lebanese live”, remarks Vincent Gelot, project manager of the Œuvre d’Orient for Lebanon and Syria.
…who could become a soldier
The crisis that began in 2019, and which continued with the explosion at the port of Beirut in the summer of 2020, is political and economic. But it could also become military if the conflict between the south of the country and Israel intensified.
A hypothesis which, according to some, would be fatal to the country. For the Institute of International Finance, an organization bringing together several hundred major banks around the world, in the event of a widespread and prolonged conflict, the Lebanese economy, already weakened by four years of crisis, would completely implode in 2024: the GDP could collapse by 30% and at the same time there would be an explosion in inflation, poverty and unemployment. However, these indices are already at very alarming levels – GDP has been halved in four years, at the end of September inflation reached 208% and unemployment and poverty are at 30%. However, before the war broke out between Hamas and Israel, the Lebanese economy had regained some color in 2023, in particular thanks to the return of tourists, which is precisely the first sector affected in times of war.
But, for Vincent Gelot, who has lived in Lebanon for more than eight years and witnessed the country’s descent into hell, “the crisis is not just a question of numbers, it attacks the spiritual and moral heart of Lebanon The tragedy is that even those who have a sense of their mission are depressed, burned out and no longer believe in it. And not only the laity. Even religious people – men and women – no longer know what to do. and no longer believe in it.”