Advertise Lebanon evacuation plans, stranded priest tells Govt

An Australian priest stranded in Lebanon has called on the Australian government to advertise their relief efforts on local TV while Lebanon's Catholic Maronite patriarch has told US Vice-President Richard Cheney that the Israeli reaction to Hezbollah attacks is "not proportionate."

The Australian reports that Fr Joe Takchi, a Melbourne priest visiting Lebanon, suggests that Australia should run advertisements on Lebanese television to reassuring the thousands of citizens there.

According to Fr Takchi, other countries including Britain, France and Russia had begun advertising on local television in a bid to comfort their citizens trapped by the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

The priest, who is stranded in the northern mountain village of Bann along with hundreds of other Australians, said Canberra should consider the idea.

"They all put on the television phone numbers and they assured their people that (they) were doing their best to get them out - asked people to be patient," he said on ABC radio.

"We haven't seen that from any of the Australian Government or any Australian official or anybody yet to say that."

Fr Takchi said he had been in regular contact with Australian officials in Beirut and painted a picture of disarray for Australia's efforts to co-ordinate evacuations.

"I think we need the Australian Government to really come and be on television and to say 'Look, we're doing our best and we want everybody to keep calm,' just to show that there is an active plan there," he said.

Meanwhile, Catholic News Service reports that Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the patriarch of Lebanon's largest Christian body, the Maronites, said he told Mr Cheney that Israel has a right to defend itself, but its reaction to Hezbollah actions is not proportionate.

"The country is nearly destroyed, the runways, bridges, ports are all destroyed," Cardinal Sfeir said after his meeting with Mr Cheney. The Cardinal said "the Lebanese government is so weak, it is not able to oppose (its offenders). It has no means to."

Cardinal Sfeir met with Cheney at the White House before celebrating Mass at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Washington. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington were among those concelebrating the Mass for peace in the Middle East.

Cardinal Sfeir told Catholic News Service after the Mass that Mr Cheney told him "he will see what he can do for us. It's not so easy because of a lot of complicated situations with a lot of countries." The Cardinal said Mr Cheney did not share the US government's plan for the Middle East.

"He doesn't have a plan; at least he hasn't told me. I think, I hope he will intervene and put an end to this conflict," he said.

The Washington Post quoted a US Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesperson as backing Cardinal Sfeir's position saying that provocative acts of violence by extreme factions of Hamas and Hezbollah, along with disproportionate military responses from Israel, endanger democracy.

The statement also urged the US to "exert greater leadership" to work toward a cease-fire, to restrain Israel and to move quickly into negotiations between all the parties.

'Reassure Australians with TV ads' (The Australian, 20/7/06)
Lebanese patriarch tells Cheney Israeli response not proportionate (Catholic News Service, 18/7/06)
Lebanese Cardinal Leads Peace Service (Washington Post, 19/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Lebanon (Wikipedia)

Benedict condemns Middle East reprisals (CathNews, 17/7/06)
Pax Christi raps profiteers in Palestinian occupation (CathNews, 12/7/06)

Pope backs G8 stand on Lebanon (Catholic World News, 19/7/06)
Pax Christi Urges Compromise in Middle East (Vatican Radio 19/7/06)
Caritas Australia (Media Release, 19/7/06)

20 Jul 2006