Lebanon’s Minister of Tourism Walid Nassar has said that Pope Francis will not be making his planned June 12-13 trip to Lebanon as his health continues to trouble him.
The Vatican had not announced dates for the trip, nor has it confirmed that it is postponed, but inflammation in Pope Francis’ right knee has required him to use a wheelchair in recent days.
Francis announced at the end of April that his doctor had told him not to walk, and has said that he hopes that the treatment for the inflammation will mean he can recover quickly.
The Holy Father has expressed his concern for the situation in Lebanon on a number of occasions.
The country is going through one of the worst economic crises in its history and uncertainty hangs over the country’s political future after May 15 elections. The Lebanese pound has collapsed and is no longer worth anything against the dollar. The entire middle class of the country is now struggling to feed itself. Previously, a teacher could receive the equivalent of 2,000 dollars per month in Lebanese pounds. Now his salary is $120. “Enough to pay the generator bill and a bag of sweets,” says Carmelite Father Joseph Chlela, superior of the Saint Elie school in Tripoli.
“Those who have the means have left the country and only the Christians who do not have enough money remain here,” observes Archbishop Edouard Daher, Greek-Melkite archbishop of Tripoli.
Even if the Pope were healthy …
Some believe that a papal trip can help bring a solution, firstly on a humanitarian level.
The visit would be an opportunity to put the media spotlight on Lebanon and mobilize international aid. “We manage to balance the budget of our schools thanks to 55% of aid from outside. Without this support, we will close our schools tomorrow,” insists Father Chlela, who wants to believe that this trip will generate concrete results. Even Muslims today need Pope Francis, he says, “because the crisis affects everyone and the Holy Father can bring hope for change for all the people.”
On the other hand, Church officials are wondering where the money could come from, even to get people to stadiums to see the Pope.
One bishop explained: “If he comes, of course we will be happy because it is always a celebration and a hope to receive the Holy Father,” adding that he would sell his furniture and clothes if necessary to honor the financing of the trip. “But honestly, people have run out of money to fill gas tanks. The aid we receive from the West, we distribute to the poor via food parcels.”
Another echoes the difficulties. “If the Pope comes to Beirut, we will have to charter buses to transport the faithful to Mass. I did the math: I would have to pay 300 million Lebanese pounds. But that’s impossible!”
“The Lebanese are currently at the end of their tether,” observes Vincent Gelot, director of projects for L’Œuvre d’Orient in Lebanon and Syria. “If it takes place, it will be a very special trip, in contrast to the jubilant crowds that welcomed Pope Benedict XVI in 2010,” he said. “The Lebanese will certainly convey their despair to the Holy Father and ask him to do something: ‘Save us from our politicians and our dire economic situation.'”