05/21/2020, 15.20
LEBANON
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Bishop Aoun: The economic crisis has made the Lebanese 'desperate'; the Church is providing food and medicine

The government has made many "promises" with few results. Its actions so far have failed to meet needs. Corruption has made the crisis worse. Some people involved with the criminal underworld are still in power today. The Church is appealing to the West to help save Catholic schools.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – People are "desperate" because the government has "made so many promises" but can show no "concrete results,” said Bishop Michel Aoun of Jbeil-Byblos of the Maronites.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate noted that one of the reasons for the existing inertia is the “high level of corruption” in government institutions; in fact, some of the people responsible for it are “still in power”. The net result is that Lebanon’s situation remains serious with an economy on its knees, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The government promised to fight corruption, but so far it has nothing to show,” Bishop Aoun said.

One of the effects of graft is the exchange rate with the US dollar. “At the official exchange rate, one dollar gets 1,500 Lebanese pounds, but the actual rate is around 4,200.”

For people, “It has become impossible to withdraw dollars from Lebanese banks, despite having accounts in dollars. Only cash is allowed, no checks, no bank transactions.”

Inflation is another problem. “Prices have doubled. Before one could buy cheese at 5,000 pounds; now 10,000 are not enough.”

For months the country has had to face deep economic and political crises, exacerbated by the war in Syria and now the novel coronavirus. The growing chaos worries Christian leaders.

The Church has responded to the situation by opening two Church-owned facilities to convalescing patients and providing land for farming.

The government has tried to respond to the crisis with aid worth 50 billion pounds for 130,000 families in difficulty. This has sparked criticism, attacks, and street protests on how the aid is distributed, more on the basis of party-related clientelism than real needs.

Family budgets have suffered from the lockdown of the private sector and business closures. In Lebanon "there is no work,” said Bishop Aoun. For this reason, “we are repeatedly calling for solidarity" to support the action of bishops and parishes.

“We at the bishopric have prepared food parcels for monthly distribution. We try to help families in difficulty, with the few means we have.”

Basic resources, food and medicines are in short supply; many people, especially in the private sector, have lost their jobs or are not paid at the end of the month. "Before public servants were paid the equivalent of a thousand dollars, now about 400,” the bishop explained.

The economic crisis has also overwhelmed Catholic schools; 80 per cent could close “because people do not want to pay and the Church does not have the necessary cash to meet all expenses.”

“It’s a vicious circle, and we don't know when it will end,” said Bishop Aoun. “For this reason, I am appealing to the West, to the world Church, to help us in this period of emergency. I cry out to you: help us!”

Finally, turning to Lebanese abroad, the bishop acknowledges what they are already doing, but urges them “to do more through parishes, to guarantee here too food and medicine for everyone and overcome this critical phase.”

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