Pope's envoy meets Lebanese president to discuss visit

Pope Francis expresses wish to visit Lebanon after completing trip to Iraq this month

Lebanese President Michel Aoun received the papal ambassador to Lebanon, Mons. Joseph Spitry, who briefed him on the results of Pope Francis' visit to Iraq and his announcement that his next trip will be to Lebanon. Courtesy Lebanese Official Government

The Roman Catholic Church's envoy in Lebanon called on President Michel Aoun on Friday to discuss a visit by Pope Francis.

The president's office said Mr Aoun met Monsignor Joseph Spitry, the papal ambassador to Lebanon, who briefed him on the Pope's trip to Iraq and his wish to visit Lebanon next.

Pope Francis announced his intention to go to Lebanon while flying back to the Vatican from Baghdad on March 8 after a four-day trip to Iraq, the first by a head of the Catholic Church.

Lebanon, where about one third of the country is Christian, hosted Francis's predecessor Benedict for three days in 2012.

Lebanon is suffering political and economic crises, with its leaders in a deadlock over forming a new government while a rapidly falling currency has pushed more than half of the population below the poverty line.

"Lebanon is in crisis ... but it has the strength of people," Pope Francis said after the Iraq trip.

An adviser to Lebanese Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai told The National that no date had been set for the pontiff's visit. The cardinal invited Pope Francis to visit Lebanon during a private audience at the Vatican on November 28.

The Pope confirmed Cardinal Rai's request to add a Beirut leg to his Iraq trip but that he had declined, thinking it would be like tossing the country crumbs, given Lebanon's problems.

“But I wrote him a letter and promised I’d go to Lebanon," he said.

In his Christmas messages Pope Francis promised to visit Lebanon "as soon as possible".

He said that he was “deeply troubled to see the suffering and anguish that has sapped the native resilience and resourcefulness of the Land of the Cedars".

Pope Francis expressed solidarity with the Lebanese people, especially its youth. “Sharing as I do your joys as well as your sorrows, I feel deeply the gravity of your loss, especially when I think of the many young people robbed of any hope for a better future,” he wrote.

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