Pope Francis says he is praying that God will help Lebanon “get up” and get back on its feet after an unprecedented economic crisis that plunged three-quarters of the country’s 6 million people into poverty. including one million Syrian refugees.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with Francis privately for about 20 minutes and gave him a tile from a 19th-century Beirut church that was severely damaged in the August 2020 port explosion that killed 216 people And more than 6,000 were injured.
At the end of the audience, Francis invited Mikati and the Lebanese delegation to a minute of silence and prayer, the Vatican said.
Lebanon’s two-year economic downturn, in which thousands have lost their jobs and the pound has lost more than 90% of its value, is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement. The international community has said it will only help the small nation if it implements sweeping reforms and tackles widespread corruption.
Francis noted problems in remarks to Mikati and the Lebanese delegation and assured them of his prayers and efforts “to build a shared effort to help get Lebanon back on its feet”.
Francis mentions a biblical passage in which Jesus takes a young girl’s hand on his deathbed and says “Get up!”
The Vatican quoted Francis as saying, “God hold Lebanon’s hand and say: ‘Get up!”.
A Vatican statement said Mikati’s meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State, was concerned with the hope that “justice, necessary reform and the support of the international community help solve problems.”
Mikati’s government, which was formed on September 10, has remained paralyzed for weeks – unable to meet because of deep divisions over the investigation into the port explosion and a diplomatic dispute with Gulf Arab states.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound continues to fall, hitting new lows this week amid staggering inflation and rising poverty. Lebanon’s spiraling financial crisis began in late 2019 and rapidly worsened, compounded by port explosions and pandemics.
Mikati’s government has not met since mid-October, when Hezbollah-backed ministers called for the removal of the prime investigator in the blast and threatened to boycott cabinet meetings until their demands were met, leading to the current paralysis.
Zeena Karam contributed to this report from Beirut.