Pope Francis kisses Lebanese flag in message of solidarity over Beirut blast

Pope holds first public audience in months - The Irish News

Pope Francis kisses Lebanese flag in message of solidarity over Beirut blast

Pope Francis has held his first public audience since lockdowns began across Italy, in the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican.

Francis kissed a Lebanese flag handed to him by Lebanese priest Georges Breidi and bowed his head to say a silent prayer for the country, still reeling from last month's deadly port blast and rising sectarian tensions.

"Lebanon can not be abandoned to itself", Francis said, asking politicians, religious leaders to commit themselves with "sincerity and transparency" to reconstruct the country and for nations to help "without getting involved in regional tensions".

Actress Juliette Binoche and fellow French environmentalists have received encouragement from Pope Francis at a private Vatican meeting where he told them people should not lose hope even when the condition of the planet can appear "catastrophic".

Turning to Lebanon - a country Francis called "a message of freedom and an example of pluralism in both the East and the West" - he called on religious and political leaders to work together in its reconstruction.

Pope Francis quoted what St. John Paul II had said of Lebanon some 30 years ago about "the extreme danger that threatens the very existence of the country". Francis praised Lebanon as a model of peaceful cohabitation between different backgrounds and religions and asked that this legacy not be abandoned.

"The current epidemic has demonstrated our interdependence, we are all linked", the pontiff continued, saying "this is why we must emerge better from the crisis". "Do not allow the dream of those who believed in the future of a lovely and prosperous country to fail", he said.

Only if Catholics are willing to work with the people "in a spirit of fraternity among all the religious traditions that exists in Lebanon" will they be able to offer a fruitful contribution to the country and the Arab world, he said.

The pope also pressed the global community to help "Lebanon emerge from a serious crisis without being involved in regional tensions". He also announced he will be sending his right-hand man, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Lebanon on that day "to express my closeness and solidarity".

After Pope Francis asked everyone to stand and pray silently for Lebanon, Father Briedi came to the microphone.

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