Middle East

Pope invites Lebanese Christians to Vatican for peace prayer

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has invited representatives of Lebanon’s Christian community to the Vatican on July 1 for a day of prayer and reflection “about the worrisome situation in the country.”

Francis announced the encounter during his Sunday noon blessing, saying the aim was to “pray together for the gift of peace and stability.” He asked for prayers ahead of the meeting and for Lebanon itself so the country can enjoy “a more serene future.”

Lebanon has been enduring an unparalleled financial, economic and political crisis for months, which has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Francis met in April at the Vatican with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and urged all Lebanese political leaders to “urgently commit themselves to the benefit of the nation.”

According to Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the president has to be a Maronite Christian and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim, while the prime minister has to be a Sunni.

Because of political deadlock, the country of 6 million has been without a government since the Cabinet resigned days after a massive blast at Beirut’s port on Aug. 4, killing 211, wounding more than 6,000 and damaging entire neighborhoods.

The national currency has lost nearly 85% of its dollar value since late 2019, sending the prices of basic goods soaring in a country that depends on imports.

During his meeting with Hariri, Francis reaffirmed his desire to visit Lebanon as soon as conditions permit. The July 1 meeting, presumably, will be an opportunity for the pope to express his solidarity now, given that a visit in the near future isn’t possible.

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