By Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNS) — In an Easter message, the head of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Church said that division among government officials is polarizing the country at the expense of the Lebanese people, who are on the verge of despair.

Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir also urged the faithful to have hope, reminding them God is ready to help Lebanon. "The people are confused," said the cardinal. "They expect their leaders to lead them to a safe haven. Instead, they are leading them to peril and loss, poverty and despair."

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, whom Lebanon’s anti-Syrian parliamentary majority is seeking to oust, attended the Easter Mass at Bkerke, headquarters of the Maronite Catholic Church. Before celebrating Mass, Cardinal Sfeir met with Lahoud for about an hour in a closed-door session.

Lahoud’s fate is the key unsettled issue in a series of national discussions among Lebanon’s rival leaders. Talks are scheduled to resume in late April.

Lahoud, a Maronite Catholic, completes his term in November 2007. According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based system, the president must be a Maronite Catholic.

"The presidency has almost lost its prestige and dignity due to the controversy," Cardinal Sfeir said in his Easter message. As a result, he said, the position is losing its influence.

This "undermines the foundations of the country, weakening and diminishing it," he said. "The government seems to be abandoned; many governmental posts are empty, and there is no way to fill them because of the spats and misunderstandings among politicians."

The cardinal also was critical of a new tax proposal and its effect on the Lebanese — who cannot bear such measures, he said — and called for the government to put an end to "waste and futile spending."

The cardinal also addressed the continuing problem of emigration.

"The youth — most of whom have achieved diplomas and university degrees — are looking for jobs they cannot find. Therefore, they are forced to emigrate, and often to a faraway country, without returning," he said.

He said Lebanon’s internal problems "encourage greedy outsiders to overpower the Lebanese government" and the country "will reach a desperate situation" if the Lebanese continue to put their own interests above the welfare of their country.

The cardinal said friendly nations "have relied upon the Lebanese to be wise and calm in dealing with the situation" and might "cease their help and support of Lebanon because help does not benefit as long as the Lebanese do not help themselves."

"God helps those who help themselves," Cardinal Sfeir said. "Heaven is ready to help us if we make up our minds and know how to help ourselves, so that God and the friends of Lebanon in the world — and they are many, thanks be to God — will help us.

"The sufferings that we endure in the world are not in vain if we unite them with the sufferings of mankind," said Cardinal Sfeir.

In a separate Easter message, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria, said, "Let’s pray to have a balance" between love and resurrection.

"This balance is the path for peace, security, cooperation, progress, liberty, justice and dignity for all the citizens of our beloved countries," he said. "Let’s pray especially that love and resurrection will be a reality in the Holy Land, in Iraq and Sudan, and for all the countries that need security and peace and work opportunities so that people can obtain their daily bread with dignity in our region and throughout the entire world."