Maronite Catholic bishops from around the world, meeting in Lebanon, called for unity among politicians and the international community to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees.
Returning the refugees to their homeland, the bishops said in their synod final statement, would lift Lebanon from the "heavy burden" it faces in hosting them, which they noted is recognized by international authorities as "exceeding Lebanon's potential."
It also would encourage the preservation of Syria's history, heritage and culture, the bishops said.
With an existing population of around 4 million, Lebanon has absorbed more than 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria. This has inflicted humanitarian and socio-economic strains on the tiny country, about two thirds the size of Connecticut. Lebanon has the world's highest number of refugees per capita.
The Maronite prelates also pointed to Lebanon's housing crisis, calling on government officials to revive housing loans, which were suspended due to a weakening of the central bank's capacities. The stagnation, the bishops said, is forcing young couples to abandon marriage and plans for a family and a future. The bishops stressed that the housing sector is vital to the country's economic growth, trade and production.
The bishops also looked at Maronite dioceses in other countries and addressed the "growing needs they face, due to an accumulation of crises."
Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay of Australia told Catholic News Service his parishes have not been directly affected by the approximate 18,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq that have settled in Australia.
However, he said, Lebanon's refugee crisis is of great concern to the Lebanese diaspora in Australia who have family in their ancestral homeland. The Maronite diocese of Australia has 15 parishes and six missions, or Mass centers, serving more than 200,000 Maronites.
"Whenever we're talking to the faithful that have relatives in Lebanon, they are conveying to us the suffering of their relatives" due to the country's economic slump exacerbated by the refugee crisis. Increasingly, their relatives in Lebanon are facing unemployment, unable to meet basic livelihood needs and slipping further into poverty, he said. Many have lost their jobs to Syrian refugees.
Bishop Tarabay relayed his flock's distress: "They're asking, 'What can be done to help the Lebanese people?'"
The Maronite bishops concluded their synod statement with the confidence that Mary "will help us to guide the world's leaders to work to stop the wars in the Middle East and the world and to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace and the return of all displaced and abducted people to their lands and homelands."
The June 10-15 synod took place at the patriarchal seat of Bkerke, north of Beirut. It was preceded by a spiritual retreat.