A few months later, a Vatican official said that the pope intended to travel to Lebanon once it successfully formed a government.
After the formation of a Lebanese government last September, there was speculation about a potential papal trip, but the country still faces a severe crisis.
The World Bank has described Lebanon’s financial situation as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.” It estimates that the country’s real GDP contracted by more than 20% in 2020, with surging inflation and high unemployment.
Lebanon’s currency plummeted in 2021. By June that year, the Lebanese pound had lost 90% of its value since October 2019. For months, the state was only able to provide electricity for less than two hours a day.
In January, the World Bank expressed concern about the collapse of basic public services in Lebanon, which continues to suffer a “brain drain,” as well as debilitating internal political discord.
According to Rai, the large number of refugees in Lebanon has further strained the economic crisis.
“We are four million inhabitants and we welcomed two million refugees,” he said, noting that Lebanon’s small size exacerbated the burden.
Lebanon’s total area is only about 4,000 square miles, roughly two-thirds the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut.
“Lebanon is unique in the Arab world. In the Arab world, there is a singularity of religion, culture, and of opinion, but Lebanon is completely different, it is the opposite, it is the plurality of religions, democracies, cultures, participation,” the 82-year-old Church leader said.
“Lebanon goes against the current. It is a place of encounter, it is a special place.”