On 29 March, we attended an event on “The role of Religion in the social economic crisis in Lebanon and the Middle East”, organised by the European People’s Party (EPP) Working Group ‘Intercultural and Religious Dialogue’ at the European Parliament.
During the interesting interventions, it was highlighted how Lebanon represented in the past a model of interreligious coexistence, based on balance, peace, and communities’ dialogue. As recalled through the words of Pope John Paul II: “Lebanon is more than just a country: it is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the East as well as the West!”.
However, after the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the already critical condition of the country collapsed into severe multiple humanitarian and political crises, exacerbated by massive migration flows from Syria. The discussion focused on one hand on the role played by religious groups in supporting people in these crises and absence of state services, and on the other hand on how the EU should approach the different stakeholders and civil society actors.
The European Union is aware of the main issue of the country: the structural corruption within Lebanese institutions, conflict and fragmentation among the population, high inflation and loss of people’s savings, dysfunction of the health and educational system, as well as a significant loss of human capital. As underlined by the representative of the European Commission, the EU should engage more with religious leaders and support them through financing schemes and programmes. The EU funds for bilateral actions can help to decrease tensions, build consensus between different communities and ethnicities, and support faith-based organisations to design local solutions. A strong key-role is played by education as a community empowerment tool. For this reason, it is essential to work on access, reintegration and guarantee of children and young people in their formation process, including support for school fees and increase in teachers’ salaries.
Among the keynote speakers were: Jan Olbrycht – Vice‐Chair of the EPP Group in the EP and Co‐Chair of the EPP Working Group on Intercultural Relations and Interreligious Dialogue, György Hölvényi MEP – Co‐Chairmen of the WG on Intercultural and Religious Dialogue and EU Chief Observer to the 2022 parliamentary elections in Lebanon, Andrey Kovatchev MEP – Head of the Bulgarian Delegation in the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Mansour Bteish – Member of the Patriarchal Economic Committee, Patriarchate of Antiochia, Justyna Petsch – Responsible for Lebanon in the Cabinet of the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Imad Salamey – Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, School of Arts and Science, Lebanese American University.
During informal moments, the Executive Secretary of DBI had the opportunity to share with other participants the remarkable Salesian work in Lebanon, thanks to which hundreds of children and families received food, economic aid, basic and financial support for schools and universities, socio-recreational activities, and quality education.
We would like to thank Fr Simon Zakerian for providing us with the relevant information.
 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter to All the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Situation in Lebanon, Vatican, 7 September 1989.