Pope Francis met the prime minister-designate of Lebanon in a private meeting at the Vatican on Thursday.

Pope Francis told Saad Hariri that he is close to the Lebanese people as they live “a time of great difficulty and uncertainty,” according to a message from Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office.

During the encounter April 22, which lasted around half an hour, Pope Francis again expressed his desire to visit Lebanon as soon as conditions allow.

According to Bruni, Pope Francis said he hoped that “Lebanon, with the help of the international community, will once again embody ‘the strength of the cedars, the diversity which from weakness becomes strength in the great reconciled people,’ with its vocation to be a land of encounter, coexistence, and pluralism.”

Hariri was prime minister of Lebanon for two terms, from 2009 to 2011 and from 2016 to January 2020, when he suddenly resigned. After two prime ministers resigned in 2020 after failing to form governments, Hariri was re-appointed prime minister by Lebanese President Michel Aoun on October 22, 2020. To date, Hariri has still not been able to form a government in the Middle Eastern country and remains prime minister-designate.

Hariri also met for an hour with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

/ Vatican Media
/ Vatican Media

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In their meeting, Pope Francis recalled the responsibility of political forces to commit themselves to helping Lebanon as it faces multiple challenges.

Lebanon is suffering under 18 months of financial and economic crisis, which also impacts the country’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020, caused an estimated $15 million in property damage and left 300,000 people homeless. More than 200 people died in the blast and thousands were injured.

Pope Francis spoke about Lebanon during his return flight to Rome from Iraq last month.

Lebanon “has the weakness of the diversity which some are still not reconciled to, but it has the strength of the great people reconciled like the strength of the cedars,” he said.

The pope said March 8 that he promised Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai, leader of the Maronite Church, that he would visit Lebanon in the future.