The people and the Church have different views regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon. Ordinary citizens feel uneasy about the visit, which they believe will not be very fruitful. Priests, meanwhile, are calling for broad participation in the papal sojourn.
Beirut – Lebanon is gearing up for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, which will kick off on Friday. Utility poles have been adorned with the flags of Lebanon and the Vatican City, and rooftops are now festooned with candles to welcome the Pope.
A stage has also been erected at Biel, Beirut’s exhibition center, and all is ready for the mass on Sunday. This is while many people in the villages have put down their names for tickets to see the Supreme Pontiff.
All these spectacles suggest that the Lebanese are excited about the papal visit; but popular attitudes say otherwise. On the inside, people believe that their situation will not improve as a result, and they do not trust this Pope.
In their view, local security conditions did not improve because of the visit. And concerning Syria, neither the rebels nor the regime will take his opinion into account in determining the future of their country.
A bus driver from Bcharre in North Lebanon spoke to us. He has images of most of the saints displayed on his front window to protect his vehicle, and wears a rosary around his neck. He asked, “When will this visit take place exactly? Is it going to be the same [Pope] who came last time?” A passenger volunteered an answer, and said “We’re in a gridlock, so maybe he is coming today.”
In Jbeil, one person we spoke to will refuse to take part in the mass on Sunday, saying, “I do not like big crowds. He is also bothered by what he deems as fake claims some people make about coexistence and the enthusiasm they feign about Benedict XVI’s visit.
A woman from Keserwan displays her Christian fervor, and says in a excited tone, “If [Hezbollah leader] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah calls on his supporters to take part in a ceremony he is holding, then a million people will rally at al-Raya stadium. It is therefore the duty of every one of us to go and get involved [in the visit].
Yet, she admits that she is not particularly fond of the current pope. She says, “The late John Paul II had a face that radiated holiness. He shared with us his blessed spirit”. The woman also believes that the Church is detached from the concerns of its parish; but, she says, “Let’s wait and see the results of the visit, after he has left.”
More importantly, she remembers that despite all the criticisms she may have and her glumness, she remains a faithful Christian, first and foremost. She feels threatened, and concerned for her community in the Middle East, saying that for this reason, “My children and I will participate.”
The children will only do so at the behest of their parents, even though they know nothing about what is going on. The call for them to get involved through the Christian Youth Gathering makes them laugh. They thought long and hard but still could not answer the question about the significance of the Pope’s visit to them.
Even in al-Metn district, a gloomy climate prevails among the population. A survey of a small sample of people shows that many believe that attending the events of the papal visit is a duty. To them, the mass on Sunday and the mobilization of a large number of the faithful is only meant to boast of the number of Christians, which must not be underestimated, and therefore, to remind others that they happen to share their country with a strong community whose presence in the Middle East is a precondition for the survival of the state.
Nonetheless, no lectures seem to have been held across the regions of Lebanon. The visit was not adequately promoted or prepared for. All of this has brought to light the disconnection between the Church and its congregation.
Ordinary people want to carry on with their lives and feel safe, irrespective of who comes and goes. But Gladyss is one of the few who believe the visit is important. She sees it as offering hope and support for the Christian community, which has suffered a lot and feel existentially threatened, as she says. So she plans to attend Sunday’s mass because she is Christian, nothing more and nothing less.
Meanwhile, someone from Baabda said on his Twitter page that the Pope’s visit to Lebanon “is a waste of time.” He mocked the “hypocrites” who are distant from the Church to begin with, and who engage in all kinds of sins and yet post pictures of the Pope on their Facebook walls.
Meanwhile, as far as the Church in Lebanon is concerned, placation is the norm. The priests refuse to respond to what some parishioners are saying. Instead, they purport that the dismal economic situation, the lawlessness and the difficult circumstances weighing down on ordinary citizens all push them towards such pessimism.