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Vatican City (AFP)
Pope Francis met with ten Lebanese Christian leaders on Thursday to reflect on the dire economic and political situation in their country, which he hopes to visit soon.
The pontiff greeted the leaders and their delegations, who spent the night Wednesday at the guesthouse of Saint Martha in the Vatican, where the pontiff himself lives, before going to the nearby Saint Peter’s Basilica.
“I invite you all to join us spiritually, praying that Lebanon will recover from the serious crisis it is going through and once again show the world its face of peace and hope,” FranÃ§ois tweeted on Wednesday. , calling it a “special day of prayer and reflection on Lebanon”.
Before the first of the three meetings, the Pope brought the group inside the basilica to pray at the papal altar and place candles on the tomb of Saint Peter in the crypt below.
The Pope has repeatedly offered his prayers for the Lebanese people, who were plunged into crisis by a massive explosion in Beirut last year that killed more than 200 people and ravaged parts of the Mediterranean city.
More than once, Francois has expressed his desire to visit Lebanon, which he described as “an example of pluralism in both East and West” but which he said faced challenges. challenges that “threaten the very existence of this country”.
His visit could “perhaps” take place in late 2021 or early 2022, preferably after the formation of a new government, according to Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the pope’s de facto foreign minister.
Patriarchal Maronite vicar Samir Mazloum told AFP that Thursday’s meeting would focus on youth emigration and the impact of the crisis on schools, hospitals, families and food security.
Currently “50 to 60% of our young people live abroad, there are only old people and children left,” he lamented, noting high unemployment and the collapse in the value of the local currency.
Among those attending the Vatican talks is the Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who has openly criticized the corruption of the political class in Lebanon.
The day with the Pope “will be an important step in helping Lebanon to remain the center of the Christian-Muslim partnership,” he told the French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour.
Lebanon recognizes 18 official religious sects and its 128 parliamentary seats are divided equally between Muslims and Christians.
For another participant, Cesar Essayan, apostolic vicar in Beirut, âLebanon is in the midst of an identity crisisâ with corruption affecting all sectors of society, including religious.
“This is a very important moment for us,” he said at an online press conference.
Â© 2021 AFP