The road to Middle East peace is spiritual not political, Pope's envoy says

The right road to peace "is spiritual rather than political" and no peace "can last, although there may be agreements, without peace that comes from the heart," the Pope's envoy Cardinal Etchegaray said as he completes his visit to Lebanon.

"Twenty-one years after my first peace mission in Lebanon on the initiative of the late lamented Pope John Paul II, I would like to cry out loud: Oh Lebanon, you will not die," said Cardinal Etchegaray (pictured) told a crowd of 6000 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon at Harissa, according to an AsiaNews report.

In his homily, the Cardinal reiterated "the Pope's condemnation of all violence that has caused many deaths, especially among civilians," and he upheld the necessity of respecting all the leaders of the country, despite criticisms, for their work in favour of peace.

From the presidential palace in Baabda, the Cardinal made another appeal to all Lebanese "in the Pope's name," urging the population "to remain united". He said: "On the basis of this unity, the Lebanese people will render a great service to the whole world."

Meanwhile another ecumenical delegation visiting Jerusalem under the auspices of the World Council of Churches also urged a return to the negotiating table by all parties "with no one left aside due to pre-emptive designation as terrorist."

Led by the President of the Conference of European Churches, the Rev Jean-Arnold de Clermont, the delegation said any negotiations must include "recognition of the importance of secure Israeli and Palestinian states in internationally recognised borders," an Ecumenical News International report stated.

"Hezbollah is part of a resistance to the whole situation in the Middle East and you cannot simply say this war just happened because Hezbollah was there," said de Clermont, who also heads the Protestant Federation of France.

While praying the cease-fire will hold, de Clermont raised reservations on behalf of Lebanese church leaders about the UN resolution that led to the truce. They said it failed to deal with the root cause of the current crisis, which they said was the need to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We also heard the voices of the same Christian leaders in Lebanon, condemning without reservation, the attacks of Hezbollah, which cost the lives of eight Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others, and condemning any form of violence and the killing of civilians.

"But the same leaders supported the resistance of the Lebanese people underlying the unity of this country as a model of multicultural and multi-confessional understanding of democracy."

However, in an interview with the German journal Der Speigel, Maronite Patriarch Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir offered a slightly different perspective, saying that the power of Hezbollah is "something we cannot accept after the war."

The Maronite leader added that he is worried by "the rising emigration of Christians, who are not returning." That trend has been accelerated by the latest round of violence, he said, and "if Hezbollah takes power in Lebanon one day, Christians will be leaving in droves."

Cardinal Sfeir said that he is troubled by Iran's influence over Hezbollah, and argues that once Israel withdraws from Lebanese territory and prisoners are exchanged, "Hezbollah will no longer have any right to maintain an army."

Palestine issue root cause of Israeli-Lebanon conflict says delegation (Ecumenical News International, 15/8/06)
Papal envoy to Lebanon, Cardinal Etchegaray, winds up visit (Asia News, 16/8/06)
Hezbollah threatens Lebanese independence, Maronite leader says (Catholic World News, 16/8/06)
Pope: to Mary, Queen of peace, I entrust anxieties of world rent by violence (Asia News, 16/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Lebanon blog (French and English)
Caritas Australia

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17 Aug 2006