Pope Francis to visit crisis-hit Lebanon in June: Presidency

Pope Francis will visit Lebanon in June, the Lebanese presidency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Vatican’s ambassador to Lebanon informed President Michel Aoun, according to the statement.

An exact date will be set in the coming weeks. “The Lebanese people await Pope Francis’s visit to express their gratitude for [the Pope’s] interest in Lebanon and to thank him for the initiatives and prayers he has carried out for peace and stability in the country,” Aoun said.

The Lebanese president was in Rome last month, where he met with the pope.

The pope has repeatedly expressed a desire to visit Lebanon, which is facing one of the worst economic crashes in history.

He also made a historic visit to Iraq last year.

The visit comes as more than 70 percent of Lebanon’s 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty because of the crisis rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value and tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs during the crisis that the World Bank described as one of the worst the world has witnessed since the 1850s.

The country, meanwhile, continues to struggle to overcome the fallout from a massive blast at Beirut’s port on Aug. 4, 2020 that killed more than 216 people, injured over 6,000 and damaged parts of the capital. The explosion of hundreds of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate was one the largest non-nuclear blasts in history. Twenty months later, the stalled judicial investigation has failed to provide answers.

Francis insisted last year that Lebanon must remain a “land of tolerance and pluralism” as he welcomed the country’s Christian patriarchs to the Vatican to pray for an end to the economic and political crisis that has thrown the country into chaos and threatened its Christian community.

Lebanon 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. The Vatican fears the country’s collapse is particularly dangerous for the continued presence of its Christian community, a bulwark for the church in the Mideast.

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