BEIRUT – Amid suffering and despair, further darkened by the coronavirus pandemic, Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East urged their faithful at Christmastime to hold on to hope.
Middle East Catholic patriarchs urge Christmas hope amid despair
And in Iraq, Christmas was celebrated as a national holiday for the first time; the Iraqi parliament established the holiday in mid-December on the heels of the announcement of Pope Francis' visit, scheduled for March.
"For two decades we have celebrated Christmas in an unstable atmosphere, and the repercussions of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have deepened it in an unprecedented way," Iraqi Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of Chaldean Catholics, wrote from the patriarchate in Baghdad.
"Despite all circumstances," Cardinal Sako said, "Christmas remains a source of hope and strength to restore spiritual clarity. The presence of Christ helps us to overcome fear, remain faithful to our faith and deepen our fraternal relationships.
"We should all, Christians and Muslims, leave our differences aside, love each other and serve each other as brothers in one family," Cardinal Sako wrote. "Let us present the interest of the homeland ... and join hands as one team in order to change our situation and get out of these crises, by building relationships on the basis of mutual respect and consolidating the values of coexistence."
He urged Iraqis to prepare for Pope Francis' visit "with creativity."
In Lebanon, its population sinking under the grave weight of the country's worst economic crisis in modern history, faltering without a government and suffering from the consequences of the catastrophic double explosion at Beirut's port in August, Cardinal Bechara Rai wrote in his Christmas message: "How much darkness surrounds us ... but the light of Christ is stronger and kindles the flame of hope in us."
Cardinal Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, said the current crises would not have occurred without years of mismanagement by the political class. He said Lebanon's ruling class behaves "as if it were running an enemy state and enemy people."
Cardinal Rai noted that this is the first Christmas for the relatives of the victims since the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosions.
"We share their pain and pray for them, as the judicial investigation is going round in circles," he said.
"The people want the truth. What are we going to tell more than 200 victims and more than 6,500 injured and 300,000 homeless? How to compensate a country whose port has been wiped out, and its capital half destroyed? Where do we get $15 billion for restoration, construction and compensation? How do we improve the collapsing economy and trade? And with all that, we have no government, for no other reason than malicious and destructive intentions," Cardinal Rai charged.
Nearly five months since the government resigned after the explosion, the main parties have been unable to agree on a new administration. Cardinal Rai has been painstakingly pressing for and has personally intervened for the formation of a government.