ASIA/LEBANON – Patriarch Raï: Abu Dhabi Document and “Fratelli Tutti” become a ‘compass’ for Lebanese Catholic schools

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Beirut – In Lebanon overwhelmed by a devastating crisis, which also has alarming effects on the state of health of the national school system, it is important and necessary that the teachings proposed by Pope Francis in the so-called “Abu Dhabi Document” and in the Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” become the ‘compass’ capable of orienting and inspiring the educational work carried out by Catholic schools in the Land of the Cedars. This is the “path” suggested by Lebanese Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï in his speech yesterday, Wednesday, September 15 in Beirut, during the inaugural session of the 27th Colloquium of Lebanese Catholic schools. In Lebanon torn and paralyzed by conflicts between parties and political blocs – the Patriarch suggested – the
Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together – signed by the Pope and Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, on February 4, 2019) together with the papal encyclical signed by the Successor of Peter in Assisi on October 3, 2020 suggest a perspective and an operational “track” in full consonance and affinity with the soul and history of the Lebanese nation, founded on coexistence between Christians and Muslims, on dialogue between different people, on the equal management of political power between the different national ethnic and religious components, on the principles of citizenship and neutrality with respect to conflicts and conflicts between regional and global blocks of power.
The horizon of collaboration and solidarity indicated by the Abu Dhabi Document and by “Fratelli Tutti” – the Maronite Patriarch hinted – can and must also inspire the eager search for solutions to the concrete problems that are threatening the future of the entire sector of Lebanese Christian schools in an increasingly alarming way. In particular – the Lebanese cardinal suggested – schools must not only move in a perspective of claiming rights and prerogatives with respect to political institutions, but must also find new forms of “internal” collaboration and coordination, which go as far as experimenting with systems of sharing of budgets and support for schools overwhelmed by the economic crisis that is pushing a large part of the Lebanese population below the poverty line.
In Lebanon, the economic situation of many private schools has worsened especially since the summer of 2017, after the government at the time ordered the new “wage grids” for public sector workers, including the school sector. Since then, the economic crisis and the closures of schools during the rage of the Covid-19 pandemic have made the situation unsustainable, especially for schools operating in the less prosperous urban and rural areas of the Country. At first, authoritative representatives of the Maronite Church had appealed to the government and national institutions, with the request – falling on deaf ears – to “assume their responsibilities” and find public resources necessary to support the school system in crisis.
In some interventions also self-critical accents and requests to review the internal dynamics of the entire network of Catholic educational institutions were highlighted, encouraging forms of collaboration and help among schools that enjoy good health from a financial point of view and those that carry out their educational work also among the economically weaker sections of the population. While Father Charbel Batour, rector of the Notre-Dame de Jamhour College, had proposed indicated as a matter of urgency an overall process of “restructuring” of the same General Secretariat of Catholic schools, to find solutions to the new problems posed by the evolution of the Lebanese socio-economic context. Among other things, the institution of a self-managed “national fund” of Christian schools was proposed, to be used to support the educational work of schools in difficulty, given that “we can no longer rely on the State”.
Before the crisis, Lebanese Catholic schools were attended by at least 200,000 students. Also this year, while the school year begins again under the risk of a serious shortage of fuels and the risk of a resumption of the pandemic, the heads of the Coordination Secretariat of Lebanese Catholic schools acknowledge that the state of crisis pushes to carry out drastic reforms aimed at ensuring the sustainability and continuity of the important educational work carried out for the benefit of the entire nation.
In early September , Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced the convening of an extraordinary conference to address the school emergency, which has now become an alarming national issue. The agenda also includes a request to guarantee the non-state school sector access to funds that Lebanon receives from donors, “friendly” countries and international institutions in these times of crisis.