Unity and hope amid chaos in Lebanon

Lebanese have been forced to forget civil-war era suspicions and tensions in order to help each other in the wake of the chaos following Israel's attacks in Lebanon, according to the head of the Pontifical Mission of the Catholic Near East Relief Mission in Beirut.

Al-jazeera reports that Issam Bishara also thinks the sense of unity among the Lebanese will help in overcoming prospective political in-fighting once the guns fall silent.

"This war will end, the Lebanese will have to manage their internal affairs and I think this welcome towards the refugees by the Christian community is a significant step toward this."

According to Al-jazeera, thousands of Lebanese have reached across the sectarian and religious divide to help hundreds of thousands of mostly Shia refugees fleeing Israel's bombardment in the south of the country.

In one east Beirut district, refugees found sanctuary in a place that they would least expect to find it - a school in an area dominated by the Christian Lebanese Forces where posters of civil-war era Christian leaders Bashir Gemayel and Samir Geagea adorn the streets.

The refugees are mostly Shia and many of them are supporters of Hezbollah. For the most part, locals from the area have accepted the presence of the newcomers and some have even embraced them.

"You know there's nothing like home," Mr Bishara said. "These people are displaced but when they see a smiling face and people care and provide them with food and water that really helps."

Further down south near the Israel-Lebanon border, the Maronite Archbishop of Tyre have been visiting people displaced by the conflict in south Lebanon, telling them that Christians have a spiritual mission to bring peace between Muslims and Jews.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that instead of celebrating its 400th anniversary of the Maronite church in south Lebanon this year, Archbishop Nabil Haj went into the hills yesterday in search of his flock in a devastated Southern Lebanon village.

Five kilometres to the south-west Israeli artillery was hammering the open ground just beyond the neighbouring village of Aita al-Shaab. Targeting drones circled low overhead while the shells smashed to earth every few seconds, the concussion echoing off the hills.

"This is the Holy Land," Archbishop Haj said. "We have a spiritual mission as Christians here to bring peace between Jews and Muslim people. I am coming here to tell the people who have stayed that they are the ones who will bring a new spring."

Meanwhile, The Daily Star reports that Lebanon's top religious figures called on the international community to end its silence over the Israeli hostilities in the country. Vice president of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan has called on Monday for an international investigation into the Qana massacre.

Catholic Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir reiterated his call for a "comprehensive and radical solution to the current situation."

The Catholic Information Centre said the international community's silence over the massacre and UN's failure to reach a decision for a cease-fire are a "mark of disgrace."

Lebanon sees rare unity (Al-jazeera 1/8/06)
Man of God tends to a dwindling flock (Sydney Morning Herald, 2/8/06)
Religious figures seek end to hostilities (Daily Star 1/8/06)

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

Canberra Christian leaders slam Govt over "cowardly" silence on Middle East (CathNews, 1/8/06)
Benedict calls for miracle as Qana toll reaches 54 (CathNews 31/7/06)
Asian and African migrants "abandoned" in Lebanon, Vatican says (CathNews 27/7/06)
Students taking lead for Middle East peace (CathNews 26/7/06)
Lebanese Maronite bishops plea for UN help (CathNews 25/7/06)
Caritas Lebanon slams milk factory attack (CathNews 21/7/06)
Advertise Lebanon evacuation plans, stranded priest tells Govt (CathNews 20/7/06)

2 Aug 2006