Pope Francis on Thursday urged the leaders of Lebanon, which is mired in a financial depression and facing its worst social crisis in 30 years, to put aside partisan interests and work for peace and stability.
Francis made the appeal at the end of a day-long summit with Lebanese Christian leaders in the Vatican to discuss how religions can help the country get back on its feet.
He also repeated his wish to visit Lebanon, which 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.
“I would reiterate how essential it is that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests,” Pope Francis said.
“Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many! No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations,” he said during a closing prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica, much of it conducted in Arabic.
Lebanon is battling a deep financial crisis, which the World Bank has called one of the worst depressions of modern history. It has pushed more than half the population into poverty and the currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value in about two years.
The pope said Lebanese were “disillusioned and weary...in need of certainty, hope and peace”
Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, a Muslim, has been at loggerheads for months with President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, over cabinet positions.
In his closing address, Francis also said Lebanon and the Middle East should not be used “for outside interests and profits".
Iranian influence has been on the rise in Lebanon over the past years through Hezbollah, the armed Shiite group whose political power has grown.
Papal visits to the Middle East — in pictures
Pope Francis has said he hopes to visit Lebanon once a government is formed.
President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, followed the opening prayer meeting through a closed-circuit TV, his office said. He said in a tweet that the whole world was participating with the pope in prayer for Lebanon.
“Our prayers together is that, as Christians and Muslims, we strengthen the values of truth and justice, balance and mutual respect that reinforces our national unity so that we restore to our nation its unique message of coexistence in the region and the world,” he tweeted.