Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrived in Lebanon in early August, visiting Catholic aid projects, church and government leaders and getting what he described as "a lesson in frustration."
His Aug. 10 meeting with two Muslim leaders in Beirut was canceled after Israeli planes dropped leaflets on the city warning of new bombardments.
"It scares the heck out of people," he said of the leaflet drops. "And if they don't leave, they can be killed. But it's awful; they get word to leave their homes because they are going to bomb in the next hours.
"In an Aug. 10 telephone interview from Beirut, the cardinal said his visit was meant to be a sign of solidarity with the suffering people of Lebanon, the same kind of visit he has made in the past to Israel in the wake of terrorist attacks.
"I have concerns for the poor people of Lebanon. I'm not making any judgments on what political things are happening, but I know that even now there are people in some villages that are totally blocked off by the war and they have no bread, they have no water and they have no medicine. And that has been going on for almost two weeks," the cardinal told Catholic News Service.
"If that continues, it will be a disaster. We will be starving people," he said.
"I am not a politician, not a statesman and not a general. I can't blame anybody, but I want to say, 'Here is what I find,' and the world must do something," he said.
Cardinal McCarrick arrived in Beirut from Amman, Jordan, Aug. 9 aboard a Jordanian transport plane carrying humanitarian aid. He expected to leave Lebanon the same way Aug. 13.
The cardinal met Aug. 10 with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other government officials. He said they were courteous, explained the situation in the country and expressed their hopes for a cease-fire.
"They feel they have done what everybody has asked them to do. They are willing to send 15,000 Lebanese soldiers" into southern Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia are deployed, firing rockets and mortars into Israel.
"But apparently, that is not enough," he said.
A U.N. resolution on an immediate cease-fire faced delays as Security Council members disagreed over when Israeli troops should be asked to withdraw from southern Lebanon and when an international peacekeeping force should be deployed.
"You come here and get a lesson in frustration," the cardinal said.
Cardinal McCarrick visited several schools Aug. 9, meeting with the displaced people being sheltered in them and with the staff and volunteers of Caritas Lebanon, which is running the shelters and providing food, clothing, blankets and medical assistance.
The Salma Sayyegh public school, which he visited, has been turned into a shelter for 360 Muslims -- mostly women and children -- who have fled the fighting and bombardment of their homes in southern Lebanon.
Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency, is supporting the work of Caritas Lebanon at Salma Sayyegh and throughout the country.In addition to financial support, CRS has sent staff members experienced in the logistical side of emergency relief to assist with security, warehousing, medical care and media relations, among other things.
"Everything is difficult to get here because the bridges have been knocked down and many of the roads have been bombed so trucks can't travel, so the whole food distribution system is in peril," Cardinal McCarrick said.
Most people in Lebanon, he said, "are becoming more and more anti-Israeli," including the Christians, who also have been forced to flee. "It's a very desperate situation."
"Lebanon has the largest Christian population in the Middle East and we're losing that," he said. "The people are going to leave because they cannot work. There is no gas for the cars; there isn't food to eat. We don't know how they are going to open the schools.
"It's frustration that one feels here. They say to me, 'Thank you for coming,' but my visit is not much more than saying, 'We love you and we are praying for you and we understand your suffering,'" the cardinal said.
Cardinal McCarrick said he also wanted to let the Lebanese people know "that together with the Holy Father, we Catholics in the United States are calling for an immediate cease-fire and for corridors of safety so humanitarian goods like food and water can be delivered."