President Michel Aoun maintained that the Levant is a unique example that embodies Lebanon’s spiritual and cultural richness, stressing that it must not be emptied of its components, in word at the ingauguration of the Caritas Middle East and North Africa Conference, titled “At the Service of Common Good in a Pluralistic Context.”
Following is the President’s word:
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’;
The name of Caritas has been linked to a message of mercy and humanity, assisting the needy, supporting the weak, fostering development, providing social service, fighting poverty, hunger and disease. This pioneering apostolic role parallels that of the righteous: ‘I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Besides the importance of this message-role, the real importance of Caritas lies in its cross-confessional, cross-racial, cross-national and cross-affiliation activity. This looks obvious from its deployment map, whereas it covers fifteen States in the Middle East and North Africa, offering help and services where there is need, regardless of the religion, identityand race, thus contributing to breaking the barriers of extremism, introversion, isolation and the rejection of the different other. And this is what the essence of its role rests upon, especially during this troubled period that the region is going through.
The architect of the National Pact Michel Chiha says ‘he who tries to dominate a confession in Lebanon is trying to destroy Lebanon’. This also applies to the Levant for our Levant is a mixture of cultures, an intersection of civilizations and the cradle of the divine religions. It is a unique example of spiritual, cultural and cognitive richness, and striking any of its components means undermining it and its uniqueness.
There is no doubt that one of the major objectives of all the incidents that unfolded over the past years is to make the societies of our Levant racist, unilateral, conflicting and belligerent. The lingering human bleeding, the forced migration of some components, the relentless attempts to change the demographics, in addition to the forced relocations of the past, the partition of Palestine and the displacement of its people and the culminating pressure today to displace those who are left of them, rejecting their right of return to their country, and settling them in the countries towards which they were displaced, they all pave the way for a new Levant, stranger to its unifying identity, and very far from the religious, social and cultural diversity that characterizes it.
This is what we ought to reject and resist, with all our determination and tenacity. Indeed, the land of the Levant must not be emptied of its people; the cradle of the Christ, the Road to Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher cannot be without Christians, just as Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and Al-Aqsa Mosque cannot be without Muslims, for no water can flow if its springs dry out.
The greatest danger that our world, and in particular our region are facing today is the tendency for extremism which nurtures terrorism and is in turn nurtured by it. It is dangerous because it is an ‘intellectual infection’ that moves around and spreads quickly, especially with the social media, taking advantage of ignorance, poverty and marginalization to sow destructive ideas and beliefs and create a favorable environment for terrorism.
Because I believe that dialogue among cultures, civilizations and religions is the best way to eradicate the scourge of terrorism, immunize young generations against extremist ideas, bringing them up on the respect of the freedom of belief and opinion and the right to be different, in order for our communities to regain stability and safety, I launched at the United Nations an initiative suggesting to turn Lebanon into a permanent center for dialogue between the various civilizations, religions and races, and promote the spirit of conviviality, by establishing the ‘Human Academy for Encounter and Dialogue’ whose main aim is to disseminate the culture of getting to know the other, bringing closer peoples, cultures and religions, rejecting the rhetoric of violence, especially among the youth, to facilitate their integration and their acceptance of the different other in order for this other not to become an enemy, because humans are by nature, the enemies of what and whom they ignore.
This is the core of Lebanon, and this is its vocation, a vocation that was captured by His Holiness Pope John Paul II when he said that Lebanon is ‘more than a nation, it is a message’. Indeed, with its diverse society and the expertise of its citizens spread in the four corners of the globe, and with what it stands for in terms of synthesis of civilizations and cultures that it accompanied throughout ages, Lebanon is entrusted with this message and no one has the right to waive it or ignore it.
Dear brothers working at Caritas,
Each one of us has their role in disseminating the culture of peace, the culture of accepting the other and respecting their rights; our role is through education, political practice and creating a space for encounter, discussion, dialogue and intellectual debate; and yours is through benevolent service which does not discriminate between races, religions or identities.
Go, like the apostles, and help all the nations so they see through you the true face of Jesus, the face of love, forgiveness and peace.
This is your ‘talent’ and there is no doubt that you shall remain faithful to it.