Pope Urges 'Peace, Hope' at Talks with Lebanese Christian Clerics
Pope Francis has called for peace and hope for Lebanon's "disillusioned and weary people" as he met with 10 Christian leaders from a nation caught in an economic and political crisis.
The all-day talks were sparked by the clerics' "deep concern for Lebanon," said Francis, adding the Middle Eastern country is "very close to my heart and which I wish to visit.
"In these woeful times, we want to affirm with all our strength that Lebanon is, and must remain, a project of peace," said the 84-year-old Argentine pontiff.
"Its vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet."
The pope has repeatedly offered prayers for the people of Lebanon, which plunged into crisis after a huge blast in Beirut killed more than 200 people and ravaged swathes of the city last year.
The "disillusioned and weary Lebanese people" were in need of "certainty, hope and peace," he said.
"Stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and profits," he added.
A visit by Francis to Lebanon could possibly come later this year or early in 2022, preferably after a new government takes over, according to Paul Richard Gallagher, the pope's de facto foreign minister.
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.
Among those attending the Vatican meeting was Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, who has spoken out against corruption among Lebanese politicians.
Meeting with the pope "will be an important step to help Lebanon remain the home 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.