Pope to Lebanese PM: 'Help eachother, the Vatican will help you'
by Fady Noun

The promise, but also the warning, addressed by the pontiff to Mikati during yesterday's meeting. Renewed confidence in the message "of cultural and religious pluralism" that makes the country of the cedars unique in the region. AsiaNews source: : There is a deep affection and esteen for the Lebanese in the Vatican, but the president's appointment is a pre-condition for an apostolic trip, skipped in 2022.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The head of Lebanon's interim government, Nagib Mikati, has kept his word. Pope Francis received him yesterday morning in a private audience, as he had promised to ask during a television interview in which he had expressed his concern at seeing the number of Christians dramatically decreasing in the Arab world, including Lebanon.

According to a study recently mentioned by the Prime Minister of Beirut without specifying its authors, in the Land of the Cedars, Christians represent only 19.2% of the total population. Estimates strongly contested by the Maronite patriarchal see, according to which the percentage of the Christian population is around 34%. 

At the end of the audience, the head of the Lebanese government reported that the pontiff had "reiterated his confidence in Lebanon's message of cultural and religious pluralism, which makes it unique in the region". The pope would then make an appeal for 'solidarity' addressed to all the political leaders of the Lebanese nation. 

Within the logic of the global approach, Mikati said he himself had expressed to the pope his conviction that 'the message [of democratic pluralism] of Lebanon is spreading today in the Arab world'. He added: 'I delivered a document to the pope,' Mikati said, 'that sets out the situation in Lebanon and the possible solutions to which the Vatican could contribute through contacts with the international community, in particular for the urgent conduct of the election of the president. 

Behind the visit there is also the clash between Mikati and a part of the Lebanese Christian world, in particular the MP and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (CLP) Gebran Bassil, who has set himself up as a champion in defence of the "rights of Christians" in recent months. He also reproaches the head of government for convening the Council of Ministers in the absence of a head of state.

According to Lebanese diplomatic sources, the prime minister, a Sunni Muslim, wanted to show from the very capital of Christianity that he scrupulously and to the letter respects not only the rights (of Christians), but also their spirit. All this in spite of the differences over their application, which see him opposed to Bassil, who cares as much as the former about the 'Islamic-Christian partnership, the hallmark of Lebanon's political system'.

A capital of affection and esteem

The meeting Mikati had with Pope Francis, and then with the Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Pietro Parolin, and the Secretary for Relations with States Monsignor Paul Gallagher, was "very cordial", assures a well-informed source in Rome on condition of anonymity. According to the same source, present at the meeting, "all the Lebanese are held in affection and esteem within the Vatican".

The conversation took place, "as expected" on the topics "of the most topical interest", the source continues, with particular reference to the indispensable dialogue between the political forces represented in Parliament, in view of the election of a successor to President Michel Aoun.

The term of office of the last head of state expired on 31 October last: the hope is that the recent rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the dialogue that may ensue, will appease "the anxieties expressed by some Christian personalities to see Lebanon slip out of their hands".

"Without Christians, Lebanon would no longer be the country we know," the PM assured his interlocutors, before also expressing concern for the "essential role" played by Christians throughout the Arab world.

Mikati then took the opportunity to invite the pope to visit Lebanon again, but in "better conditions" than those that had prompted him to cancel the visit in June 2022, "partly due to the knee problem" that has been afflicting him for some time (although it should be noted here that, in the months that followed, the pontiff made far more physically demanding trips even though the illness persisted, ed.) The election of a president to lead the country, clarifies the above-mentioned source, "is one of the conditions for a trip by Pope Francis to Lebanon".

In essence, our interlocutor concludes, Mikati has received the following precious advice from the pope and his close collaborators: 'The Vatican contributes, but does not replace. Help eachother, the Vatican will help you'.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, the head of the Lebanese government met his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni, thanking her for the help provided by Rome to Beirut, particularly in terms of support and military presence.