By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
ROME (AP) – Pope Francis told the Lebanese Prime Minister on Thursday that he prayed that God would help Lebanon to “rise up” and to get back on its feet following an unprecedented economic crisis that has thrown the three quarters of the country’s 6 million inhabitants, including one million Syrian refugees, in poverty.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati met Francis privately for about 20 minutes and gave him a piece of masonry tile from a 19th century Beirut church that was badly damaged in the August 2020 port explosion. which left 216 dead and more than 6,000 injured.
At the end of the audience, Francis invited Mikati and the Lebanese delegation to observe a minute of silence and prayer, the Vatican said.
Lebanon’s two-year economic collapse, in which tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and the pound lost more than 90% of its value, is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement. The international community has said it will only help the small nation government once it implements sweeping reforms and tackles widespread corruption.
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Francis referred to the problems in remarks to Mikati and the Lebanese delegation and assured them of his prayers and efforts “to build a common effort to help Lebanon recover”.
Francis referred to a Bible passage in which Jesus takes the hand of a young girl on her deathbed and says, “Get up! “
“May God take Lebanon by the hand and say, ‘Get up!’ Francis said, quoting the Vatican.
During Mikati’s meeting with the Vatican secretary of state, talks focused on the hope that “justice, necessary reforms and support from the international community will help solve the problems,” according to a Vatican statement.
Mikati’s government, which was formed on September 10, has been paralyzed for weeks – unable to meet amid deep divisions over port explosion investigation and diplomatic dispute with Arab states of the Gulf.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound has continued to decline, hitting new lows this week amid skyrocketing inflation and rising poverty. Lebanon’s spiraling financial crisis began in late 2019 and quickly escalated, made worse by the port explosion and the pandemic.
According to Mikati’s office, the Pope “expressed his concern about the social situation in Lebanon and the economic conditions in which the Lebanese live”.
Mikati’s office said the Pope told them the Vatican “will make efforts to support Lebanon in international forums” and stressed the need for Lebanon to maintain good relations with its Arab neighbors and the international community.
Mikati’s government has not met since mid-October after Hezbollah-backed ministers called for the dismissal of the blast’s lead investigator and threatened to boycott cabinet meetings until their demands are met, resulting in the present paralysis.
Zeina Karam contributed to this report from Beirut.
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