Framing the pope’s trip to Lebanon
Quite often, how an event is framed beforehand determines judgments after the fact about whether it was a success or a failure. In the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 14-16 trip to Lebanon, which unfolds against the backdrop of ongoing violence in Syria, there seem to be four basic competing frames.
These four ways of seeing what’s at stake aren’t exactly mutually exclusive, but they are clearly different.
First, there’s the official line from Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, asserting the pope is not traveling as a “powerful political leader” but as “the head of a religious community” whose mission is to confirm the Christians of the region “who serve the communities in which they live through the witness of their lives.”
In that sense, Lombardi told reporters during a Vatican briefing Tuesday, expectations of “great political interventions” from the pope during his three days in Lebanon “are not consistent with the spirit of the trip.”
Second, there’s the frame proposed by Jesuit Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit who lived in Syria for 30 years prior to being expelled in June for his advocacy of the anti-Assad uprising. On Tuesday, Dall’Oglio finished an eight-day hunger strike in Rome intended to raise awareness about the Syrian situation.
Dall’Oglio issued a statement Tuesday expressing hope that the papal visit to Lebanon, the closest Benedict is every like to come to Syria, will be an occasion for unmasking the “lies of the regime” under Assad, and for demanding that the Christian nations of the West stop “giving the regime the possibility of spilling more Syrian blood.”
To date, the Vatican has expressed concern over the bloodshed in Syria and expressed support for an “international solution,” but has not explicitly called for armed international intervention or for Assad to step down.
Third, there’s the frame offered by Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, who has suggested the papal trip should be a “line of last defense” stand in favor of Christian survival all across the Middle East.
As is well known, Christians today are estimated to represent no more than 5 percent of the population of the Middle East, down from 20 percent in the early 20th century. From 12 million today, the consensus estimate is that the Christian population of the Middle East will likely be 6 million in 2020. The decline is due to a number of factors, including lower birth rates, economic and political stagnation, and rising insecurity and the threat of Islamic radicalism. [More]