Pope Francis Tells Aoun He Plans to Visit Lebanon
Written by Malek   
SourceNaharnet , President Michel Aoun held a closed meeting on Thursday in the Vatican with Pope Francis after which the Pope announced that he plans to visit Lebanon pointing out that he always raises prayers for the country. After the meeting, Aoun said: “Lebanon has a special part in the heart of the Pope. He will meet the invitation to visit the country of the Cedars.” “The popes have always considered Lebanon as a role model, and Lebanon has always looked up to the Holy See with utmost gratitude and appreciation,” Aoun added.

The President had arrived with his wife and the accompanying delegation at San Damaso Square in the papal palace in the Vatican. They were greeted by the Dean of the Apostolic Palace and a handful of Swiss Guards. The President's first official visit to Europe did not take place in Paris, as the tradition calls, but in the Vatican which could be due to the fact that the mandate of the current French presidency will end in May. Media reports said that talks will focus on issues of concern for Lebanon and the Vatican, and about the Christians in Lebanon and the region in light of the developments threatening their presence at more than one level. According to media reports, the president will inform Pope Francis of the revival of Lebanon's state institutions, a beneficial effect according to him of the end of the presidential vacancy, and the return of Lebanon on the international and Arab political scene. He will also keep him informed of the ongoing discussions to adopt a new electoral law.

Hannah Brockhaus.- With the 6th anniversary of the start of the Syrian war as backdrop this week, Pope Francis met Thursday morning with the President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun. Their discussion centered on the large number of Syrian refugees now in Lebanon and the efforts to find a solution to the conflict. According to a March 16 statement by the Vatican, in the 20-minute meeting, the Pope and President Aoun discussed Syria “with special attention to international efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.”

The Pope expressed appreciation for the many Syrian refugees Lebanon has welcomed during the years of the Civil War. The two leaders also exchanged views on the greater regional context and other ongoing conflicts, particularly the situation for Christians in the Middle East. Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a sovereign state bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south. Before President Aoun, 82, was elected on Oct. 31, 2016, the Lebanese parliament was under a 29-month deadlock to choose the next president. During the audience, Pope Francis and Aoun both expressed satisfaction at the efforts of the various political parties to put an end to the long presidential vacancy. The encounter also “focused on the good bilateral relations between the Holy See and Lebanon, underlining the historic and institutional role of the Church in the life of the country,” the Vatican statement read.

The two emphasized, the statement continued, “the hope for an increasingly fruitful future collaboration between the members of diverse ethnic and religious communities in favor of the common good and the development of the nation.” At the visit, President Aoun gifted the Pope a statue of the Infant Child of Prague with emblems of the Holy See and of Lebanon and Francis gave Aoun a bronze sculpture of olive branches as a sign of peace, as well as three books: Evangelii Gaudium in French, and Amoris Laetitia and Laudato Si in Arabic. Since the start of the civil war on March 15, 2011, 400,000 people have died in the conflict between government forces and rebel groups, and over 11 million have been displaced from their homes, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Five million registered refugees have fled the country, at least 2.2 million of these residing in Lebanon and 1 million in Jordan. This has placed considerable strain on the countries, which previously had populations of just 4 million and 6 million, respectively.