Pope Francis received Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun at the Vatican on Monday as the Middle Eastern country continues to reel from multiple crises.
Aoun, a Maronite Catholic, also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See press office said on March 21.
In recent years, Lebanon has grappled with an influx of refugees from the war in Syria, a devastating financial crisis, a lack of stable governance, and the impact of COVID-19.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also threatening to trigger a food crisis in Lebanon, which depends on wheat imports from the East European nation.
“During the cordial discussions in the Secretariat of State, the importance of the good diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Lebanon, which reach their 75th anniversary this year, was highlighted,” the Holy See press office said.
“Attention then turned to the grave socio-economic problems the country is experiencing, and the situation of refugees, in the hope that the aid of the international community, the upcoming legislative elections, and the necessary reforms may contribute to strengthening peaceful co-existence between the various religious confessions that live in the Land of the Cedars.”
“Finally, the disastrous consequences of the explosion at the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, were mentioned, with reference to the demand for justice and truth expressed by the families of the victims.”
Lebanon, a country of almost seven million people bordering Syria and Israel, is the only country in the Arab world with a Christian head of state.
According to the U.S. State Department, around a third of the population is Christian. The Maronite Church, one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome, is the country’s largest Christian group.
During the private audience, Pope Francis gave the Lebanese president, whose six-year presidential term ends on Oct. 31, a bronze plaque depicting an angel embracing the two hemispheres of the world, overcoming the opposition of a dragon, with the inscription “A world of solidarity and peace founded on justice.”
In return, Aoun gave the pope a copy of a Book of Psalms from 1600 and honey produced in the gardens of the Presidential Palace in Baabda, western Lebanon.
Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that the gift confirmed the biblical description of the country as ”the land of pure honey.”
The state-owned news agency said that the pope told the president that he intended to make a long-awaited trip to Lebanon.
“Soon I will visit Lebanon. This is a decision I have taken, because Lebanon remains, despite anything, a model for the world,” the pope said, according to the agency.