Pope Francis briefed on Lebanon’s ‘bitter economic crisis’ by Maronite patriarch

CNA 5e4b0622acd0b 181977 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai during a previous private audience at the Vatican, on Feb. 7, 2020. | Vatican Media.

Pope Francis met with Lebanon's Maronite patriarch at the Vatican this weekend and told the pope of the challenges facing Lebanon as it experiences political instability and a "bitter economic crisis."

During the Nov. 28 meeting, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of Lebanon's Maronite Catholics, invited Pope Francis to visit Lebanon and briefed him on the local Church's efforts to respond to growing humanitarian needs due to the economic and political crisis that preceded the devastating explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4.

A statement from the Maronite Patriarchate said that Cardinal Rai "presented the risks and challenges facing Lebanon in light of the regional developments and the internal political crisis, especially the formation of the government."

Saad Hariri, Lebanon's ex-prime minister who was forced to resign last year after mass protests against government corruption, is once again attempting to form a cabinet as prime minister after the man nominated in August resigned in September after failing to form a government.

The patriarch told the pope that the country's instability has "caused a bitter economic crisis, which increased the poverty rate and caused the exodus of population."

He also said that government authorities had shown "no solidarity or responsibility" for the explosion in Beirut's port, which destroyed part of the capital. The blast killed nearly 200 people, injured 600 others, and caused more than $4 billion dollars in damage.

More than half of Lebanon's population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations' Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and tens of thousands of Lebanese people have lost their jobs as a result of the explosion.

Cardinal Rai told the pope that Catholics in Lebanon had formed a charitable network called "Al Karma" to meet the needs of children suffering from poverty. The network's motto is "No family dies of hunger or feels left alone."

He also expressed gratitude for the work of volunteers, engineers, doctors, and businessmen who have helped affected families to begin to restore their homes. 

Rai was in Rome for the consistory of cardinals Nov. 28 and was present at the papal Mass the following day. He said that he felt his meeting with the pope was "very productive".

Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with the people of Lebanon and said that they are continuously in his prayers, the patriarchate said.

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