Pope Francis and Lebanese president Michel Sleiman met to discuss the Syrian fighting and the influx of refugees it has sent into his country.
According to Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican press office director, the meeting focused on “the regional situation, with special reference to the Syrian conflict.”
“The Pope is concerned with the large number of Syrian refugees who have sought refuge in Lebanon and neighboring countries,” he said.
The Lebanese president appealed for aid for the countries absorbing the flood of refugees as well as for the people themselves, according to a May 3 statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State.
President Sleiman, a Maronite Catholic, was accompanied by his wife for the May 3 meeting in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
“During the cordial talks they discussed the situation in the country, stressing the importance of dialogue and cooperation between members of different ethnic and religious communities,” said the May 3 statement.
President Sleiman also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
Lebanon’s parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 9, after the country’s prime minister resigned on March 22, 2013.
“Best wishes were given for the formation of the new government, which will face major challenges to national and international level,” said the Vatican’s press release.
The Syrian conflict has led to growing tensions in Lebanon, which suffered a civil war from 1975 to 1990.
Syrian troops then dominated the small country and ultimately pulled out in 2005 after they were accused of being involved in the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
“A speedy and successful resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians is also hoped for, which are more and more necessary for the peace and stability of the region,” said the Vatican statement.
“The delicate situation of Christians throughout the Middle East was not overlooked as well as the meaningful contribution that they can offer,” it added.
The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,” an important point of reference for Middle Eastern Catholic communities, was also mentioned.