Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick Chairman,

Committee on International Policy U.S. Catholic Conference

November 18, 1998

At the time of the U.S. Bishops' General Meeting, I want to express once more our traditional support for the Church and the people of Lebanon. In recent weeks, I have had the honor to visit with Church and national leaders, and heads of other religious communities in Lebanon. With them, I look ahead to a new phase in Lebanon's post-war history with the approaching inauguration of President-elect Emil Lahoud.

We firmly pray that the political transition in Lebanon will encourage the deepening of democratic roots, inter-religious harmony and good government.

I reiterate our episcopal conference's long-term support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom of decision for Lebanon. While the compromise of Lebanon's political independence and territorial integrity will be ended by a regional political settlement, its restoration should not depend on such an agreement.

Where partial steps can be taken to restore Lebanon's sovereignty over its own affairs, the United States and other governments should see that they are taken. Lebanon's future should not be held hostage to the resolution of others' disputes, and her territory and people should not be put at risk for the sake of others' security.

I was encouraged during my visit to learn of the progress Lebanon has made in inter-religious dialogue and collaboration since Pope John Paul II's 1996 visit. Many people spoke with me of the centrality of religious pluralism to Lebanese identity, and of the new consciousness since the Holy Father's Apostolic Exhortation that Lebanon is "a message" for the world of how people belonging to diverse religions can live in harmony and peace with one another.

I hope that this inter-religious and inter-confessional dialogue will continue to grow at all levels, and that religious leaders will make a special effort to show they are one in mind and heart with respect to the welfare of the Lebanese people.

I continue to offer our prayers for Lebanon and for its people, especially for those who live under occupation or are displaced. May God in his goodness grant you peace.