(Corrects in para 2 to make clear meeting is July 1, not June 1)
By Philip Pullella
VATICANCITY -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 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.
Lebanon’s three main Christian denominations are Maronite Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Melchite Catholics. There are a number of other smaller Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic denominations.
The Vatican did not say which would be represented at the Vatican 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.