VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis told the Lebanese prime minister on Thursday that he was praying that God would help Lebanon “pick itself up” and back on its feet after an unprecedented economic crisis that has plunged three-quarters into poverty. of the six million inhabitants of the country, including one million Syrian refugees.
The pope mentioned a biblical passage in which Jesus takes the hand of a girl on her deathbed and commands her to get up. “May God take Lebanon by the hand and say ‘Get up!’” Francis said, according to statements collected by the Vatican.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati met Francis privately for about 20 minutes and handed him a tile from a Beirut church built in the 19th century that was badly damaged in the August 2020 explosion, in which 216 were killed. people and more than 6,000 were injured.
At the end of the meeting, Francis invited Mikati and the Lebanese delegation to observe a minute of silence and prayer, according to the Vatican.
The two years of economic collapse in Lebanon, in which tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, stem from decades of corruption and mismanagement. The international community has signaled that it will only help the small country once it implements sweeping reforms and fights rampant corruption.
Francis alluded to the problem in his message to Mikati and the Lebanese delegation, telling them of his prayers and efforts “to build a common effort to help Lebanon rise again.”
Mikati met with the Vatican Secretary of State, a meeting in which the hope that “justice, the necessary reforms and the support of the international community to solve the problems” were discussed.
The Mikati government, formed on September 10, has been paralyzed for weeks and unable to meet due to large discrepancies over the investigation of the explosion at the port and in a diplomatic dispute with Persian Gulf states.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound continues to slide, hitting new lows this week amid huge inflation and skyrocketing poverty. The financial crisis in Lebanon began in late 2019 and has rapidly worsened, compounded by the port explosion and the pandemic.
The Mikati government has not met since mid-October, after Hezbollah-backed ministers called for the removal of the lead investigator into the blast and threatened to boycott government meetings until their demands were met.
Associated Press journalist Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati attends a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on September 24, 2021. (AP Photo / Francois Mori, File)