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At the initial invitation of the president of the Lebanese Association of the Knights of the Order of Malta, Marwan Sehnaoui, an interfaith summit has been scheduled at Bkerkeh on Tuesday for Pope Francis’ main collaborator, Pietro Parolin, who is expected in Beirut on Sunday.

Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, is expected to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday evening for a four-day visit of “friendship and trust,” at the invitation of the president of the Lebanese Association of the Knights of Malta, Marwan Sehnaoui.

The number two of the Holy See is to preside over a Mass on Monday at the Saint Joseph Church of the Jesuit Fathers for the annual feast of Saint John the Baptist, the patron of the Order of Malta.

Cardinal Parolin will be welcomed at the Rafic Hariri International Airport by caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, delegated by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in the presence of Marwan Sehnaoui, the Order of Malta’s ambassador to Lebanon, Maria Emerica Cortese, and the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Paolo Borgia.

His schedule includes in addition to the Mass, visits to various medical-social and agro-humanitarian centers of the Order of Malta, whose social and health services are spread across the entire national territory, including in the border regions currently affected by the war.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to visit the tomb of Saint Charbel in Annaya, where he will preside over a Mass in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio and delegations from all Maronite monastic orders, both male and female, in Lebanon.

“The presence of Cardinal Parolin in Lebanon should be seen by the Lebanese as the best alternative to the long-awaited but still planned visit of the Pope,” according to a source close to the organizers of the visit. “We should closely follow the homily he will deliver during the Mass to understand what the Holy Father wishes to convey to us during this critical period of our national life.”

The source also recalls that the Pope’s main collaborator is a great friend of Lebanon and is well aware of the Lebanese economic crisis and the presidential vacancy. It should not be forgotten that on June 8, he received the personal envoy of President Macron for Lebanon, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Rome, with whom he reviewed the complex regional dossier and its interferences in Lebanon, particularly regarding the presidential deadlock. The meeting between Cardinal Parolin and Le Drian took place a week after the French envoy visited Beirut.

During his pastoral visit, Cardinal Parolin will also make protocol visits on Wednesday to the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berry, and the caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati.

Diplomatic Highlight

In addition to his “visit of friendship and trust” to the Order of Malta in Lebanon, Cardinal Parolin’s visit will include a “diplomatic moment” through his participation in an interfaith summit on Tuesday, followed by a lunch at the patriarchal seat in Bkerkeh. All Muslim and Christian religious leaders with a seat in Lebanon are invited.

According to the Maronite Patriarchate, “This meeting will allow the Vatican Secretary of State to ensure the commitment of the various components of Lebanese society to the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Lebanon, beyond the apparent divisions that have emerged in recent years,” states an anonymous episcopal source.

In essence, the interfaith meeting aims to “correct” the negative note left by President Macron’s envoy regarding the internal situation during his last visit to Lebanon.

Aggravated by the rigidity of Lebanese political leaders, while the representatives of the quintet strive to break the presidential deadlock that has lasted for twenty months (Lebanon has been without a president since October 2022), the former French Foreign Minister had stated after one of his meetings: “If a president is not elected very soon, it will be the end of political Lebanon. Only geographic Lebanon will remain.”

“Very soon” was interpreted to mean: “This summer, before the American administration is completely absorbed by the presidential election on November 5.”

Primarily a Pastoral Visit

“The visit of Cardinal Pietro Parolin to Lebanon is primarily a pastoral visit,” notes a Lebanese diplomatic source. “The Secretary of State certainly comes with the care of the Holy Father, but we should not expect him to arrive with a crisis exit plan and advice different from those the Holy See has already given to the Lebanese. However, the visit may allow him to make contacts or offer advice that he cannot provide from a distance, but which would be timely remarks and opinions,” the same source added.

It is recalled that the Secretary of State made a brief visit to Lebanon on Friday, September 4, 2020, marked by a call from the Pope for a day of fasting and prayer for the country.

During this visit, Cardinal Parolin urged the Lebanese to overcome their divisions and brought them the comfort of Pope Francis’ proximity.

The Secretary of State, who will stay at the Apostolic Nunciature during his visit, may also have private meetings with some local prominent figures, but this part of his schedule is surrounded by great discretion and will depend on the free time that may be arranged for him.

Cardinal Parolin’s visit concludes on Thursday.