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Pope Says Visit to Beirut Hinges on Government Formation

Pope Says Visit to Beirut Hinges on Government Formation

Friday, 2 July, 2021 - 05:45
The pope and Christian leaders from Lebanon arrive in St. Peter's Basilica to attend a prayer for Lebanon at the Vatican, Thursday, July 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis met Thursday in the Vatican with 10 senior Christian leaders and said he hoped to visit Lebanon early next year if politicians agree on a cabinet lineup.


The meeting came amid the rise of existential concerns and fears over the role of Christians in the Middle Eastern nation, which suffers from economic, political, financial and social crises.


On Thursday, the Pope met with the Christian leaders at the house of Saint Martha in the Vatican as part of the "Day of Meditation and Prayer for Lebanon” to discuss the alarming situation in the country.


Francis said he hopes to visit Lebanon once a government is formed. The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said if that happens soon, Francis could make a trip to Beirut at the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022.


In his final remarks at the ecumenical prayer service, the Pope urged political leaders to find solutions and appealed to the international community to help the country recover.


"Stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and profits!" he said. "The Lebanese people must be given the opportunity to be the architects of a better future in their land, without undue interference."


The Vatican news agency reported Thursday that the Pope’s initiative is not to seek a political solution but to pray and read the signs of the time and respond to the cry of their people and alleviate their suffering.


The Vatican News agency said Lebanon’s crisis, which began in late 2019, is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a post-civil war political class that has accumulated debt and done little to encourage local industries, forcing the country to rely on imports for almost everything.


“I invite everyone to unite with us spiritually in prayer so that Lebanon rises from the grave crisis it is going through and once again shows its face, the face of peace and hope,” the Pope wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.


Maronite patriarchal vicar Samir Mazloum told AFP ahead of the meeting that one focus was emigration of young people and the impact of the crisis on schools, hospitals, families and food security.


Currently "50 to 60 percent of our young people live abroad, there are only old people and children left," he lamented, underscoring high unemployment and the collapse in the value of the local currency.


Deputy Speaker MP Elie Ferzli told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that Christians all over the Middle East have existential concerns, particularly that their numbers are dropping in the region.


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