Pope invites Lebanon’s Christian leaders to Vatican amid crisis

He told pilgrims and tourists in St Peter’s Square for his weekly blessing that the meeting in the Vatican on July 1 would be a “day of reflection on the worrying situation in the country.”
Monday 31/05/2021
A Lebanese priest (C) holding Lebanon’s flag kneels next to pope Francis making a statement about the situation in Lebanon in the Vatican on September 2, 2020. (AFP)
A Lebanese priest (C) holding Lebanon’s flag kneels next to pope Francis making a statement about the situation in Lebanon in the Vatican on September 2, 2020. (AFP)

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, who has promised to visit Lebanon if fractious politicians agree on a new government, said on Sunday he would meet its Christian leaders to discuss the country’s worst crisis since its civil war that ended in 1990.

He told pilgrims and tourists in St Peter’s Square for his weekly blessing that the meeting in the Vatican on July 1 would be a “day of reflection on the worrying situation in the country.”

Lebanon, a Mediterranean nation of six million, has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East and is the only Arab country with a Christian head of state. Christians make up a third of the population.

Lebanon is still reeling from a huge chemical explosion at the Beirut port last year that killed 200 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage, further weakening an economy already facing meltdown.

Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has been at loggerheads for months with President Michel Aoun over cabinet positions.

Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic church that is the largest in Lebanon, has criticised the country’s political class and urged them to quickly form a Cabinet to bring Lebanon out of its crisis.

“Excuses are not convincing anyone regarding delays in the formation of a government,” Rai said last week. “It looks like Cabinet formation is in a long vacation. The stalemate is a killing to the country and the people. It must stop.”

Lebanon’s three main Christian denominations are Maronite Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Melchite Catholics. There is a number of other smaller Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic denominations.

The Vatican did not say which would be represented at the pope’s meeting.

Hariri, a three-time prime minister, resigned in 2019 after nationwide protests against a political elite blamed by demonstrators for pushing the country into crisis.

He was nominated as prime minister again in October but has been unable to form a new government.

Hariri said after meeting the pope at the Vatican in April that the pontiff told him he would visit the country but only after a government is formed.

Traditionally, invitations for the pope to visit a country are made by both civil and religious leaders.

Francis has urged the international community to help Lebanon get back on its feet.

He said on Sunday that the meeting with Lebanon’s Christian leaders would be an opportunity to “pray together for the gift of peace and stability.”

Lebanon’s economic meltdown has pushed much of the population into poverty and poses the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.