Senior Vatican diplomat to visit Lebanon in February

ROME – After making a short trip to South Sudan just before Christmas, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, will be on the road again soon, this time to Lebanon, which has long been a place of interest for the Pope. Francis.

Plans for Gallagher’s visit are still in the “embryonic stage,” according to Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, who said Node that details such as travel dates and Gallagher’s official schedule are still being worked out, but the Vatican embassy in Lebanon is coordinating with the Lebanese foreign ministry.

News of Gallagher’s intention to visit Lebanon next month comes after a whirlwind trip he made to South Sudan from December 21-23, where he met with various civilian and church leaders, including leaders Non-Catholic Christians partnered with the Catholic Church to promote the country’s fragile peace process.

At the end of that visit, Gallagher said it was possible for Pope Francis himself to visit South Sudan this year, depending on the progress of efforts to implement the national peace process.

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If Gallagher’s visit to South Sudan was therefore a down payment on a possible future papal visit to the country, the same can easily be said of his planned visit to Lebanon.

Since the end of 2019, Lebanon has been in the throes of a crippling financial collapse which has rapidly worsened, and which was worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020.

In just two years, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and the Lebanese pound has lost over 90% of its value in a crisis largely rooted in decades of mismanagement and corruption. Poverty rates have skyrocketed and social unrest has escalated amid the government’s inability to resolve the issue due to disputes and long standoffs.

As Lebanese politicians continue to turn in circles, a 15-year alliance between influential Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, which is Lebanon’s largest Christian party, appears to be under threat.

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Created in 2006, the alliance has made a significant contribution to the maintenance of peace in this small nation, yet ethnically and religiously diverse.

The alliance was hailed as a sign that Lebanon was emerging as a more democratic country capable of transcending traditional tensions between Christians and Muslims.

After the explosion at the Port of Beirut in August 2020, Pope Francis called for a universal day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon, and soon after he sent Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to visit the troubled nation as a sign of the Pope’s attention and support.

In November, Francis met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the Vatican for a conversation that largely focused on Lebanon’s national crisis and ways to gain international support.

According to Associated press, on this occasion, Pope Francis told Mikati that he was praying that God would help Lebanon “get up” and recover from its current woes, referring to a biblical passage in which Jesus heals a dying young girl taking his hand and ordering her to “get up!” “

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At the end of their meeting, the Pope asked Mikati and the Lebanese delegation to observe a minute of silence and prayer for the intentions of Lebanon, according to a Vatican statement.

Gallagher’s visit in February will undoubtedly be an opportunity to take stock of the current situation in Lebanon, as well as the status of Lebanese Christians who continue to navigate the country’s political and social difficulties.

He will likely visit the area affected by the explosion in the Port of Beirut and hold meetings with senior civil and church leaders, including Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, head of the Maronite Catholic Church. .

Given Pope Francis’ interest in Lebanon and his repeated statements expressing his desire to visit when possible, it is likely that part of Gallagher’s trip to Lebanon could lay the groundwork for a possible future visit. papal.

Even though this papal visit does not take place this year, Gallagher’s presence in Lebanon is, like his visit to South Sudan, a concrete sign of the Pope’s concern for the country and his investment not only in its people. , but in its national stability. given Lebanon’s role as a regional power where interfaith tolerance, so far, has been possible.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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