By Vatican News staff reporter
Pope Francis during his weekly General Audience appealed for what he called, “the beloved country of Lebanon.”
Addressing pilgrims in the Paul VI hall on Wednesday, the Pope said he was thinking of the country “a year after the terrible port explosion in its capital, Beirut, with its toll of death and destruction. I think above all of the victims and their families, the many injured, and those who lost their homes and livelihoods,” he noted.
On 4th August last year an explosion in Beirut, set off by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, killed more than 200 people and left more than 300,000 displaced.
In July this year, the Pope met with Lebanese Christian leaders in the Vatican.
Speaking of this, Pope Francis said that “During the Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon last 1 July, together with Christian religious leaders, all of us listened to the hopes and aspirations, the frustrations and weariness of the Lebanese people, and we prayed for God’s gift of hope to overcome this difficult crisis.”
In his words, the Pope also appealed “to the international community to offer Lebanon concrete assistance in undertaking a journey of “resurrection”. It is my hope that the current International Conference hosted by France with the support of the United Nations will prove productive in this regard,” he said.
In conclusion, Pope Francis expressed his desire to visit the country.
“I continue to pray for you,” he said, “so that Lebanon will once more be a message of peace and fraternity for the entire Middle East.”
Confronting the crisis
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Raymond Abdo, Provincial of the Discalced Carmelites in Lebanon, said Pope Francis’ was an inspirational support.
“Pope Francis has given us hope that we can confront this crisis, with his appeal to the universal Church not to let us go under. The Pope is not going to abandon the Church in Lebanon.”
Father Abdo added: “We are regaining some degree of confidence despite all the difficulties. Why should we fear anything when we have our faith in Jesus Christ?”
Economic hardship and migration
The economic crisis facing the country has seen families unable to make ends meet, leading many Christians to contemplate the prospect of emigrating.
Sister Eva Abou Nassar, administrative director of Holy Family School in Jounieh, 20km from Beirut, said the economic crisis had led her to lose up to 20 teachers in June and July.
“Most of them want to emigrate, since they can simply no longer make ends meet. Their purchasing power has fallen drastically”, she said.
She added that “Some of the families here in Jounieh, a town not generally regarded as being poor, actually go out early in the morning, in order not to be seen, scavenging food from the dustbins.”
ACN has supported the Christian community with £2.3 million (€2.74 million) to help rebuilding in the Christian Quarter which was badly hit by the explosion.
The charity has also provided £1.9 million (€2.25 million) in emergency relief aid.