03/18/2022, 10.34
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Pope to receive Aoun: possible prelude to a trip to Lebanon

by Fady Noun

The visit sends a positive signal sent to the international community, and an indirect confirmation of the smooth running of the political elections scheduled for 15 May. Agenda covers current questions Land of the Cedars and in the region, from the Iranian issue to the war in Ukraine. 





Beirut (AsiaNews) - The head of state Michel Aoun will pay an official visit to the Vatican on March 21, where he will be received by Pope Francis as part of his state trip to Italy March 20-22, according to the national news agency. A source close to the presidency explains the meeting will focus on, "the details of the pope's long-awaited trip to Lebanon next September". President Aoun is going to the Vatican", the source continues, "to invite the Pope and discuss the situation in Lebanon", in addition to thanking him "for his prayers and for all that the Holy See has done to ensure diplomatic cover for Lebanon". 

Aoun, the communiqué specifies, will be received in audience by the pope on 21 March. He will then hold a working meeting with Card. Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's number two, and the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher. 

The following day the Head of State will be received by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whom he will congratulate on his re-election on 29 January. He will return to Lebanon the same evening. 

A surprise announcement

The announcement of the head of state's forthcoming visit to Italy came as a surprise. Its date was announced simultaneously in Beirut, in the Council of Ministers, and in Rome by Lebanon's ambassador to the Holy See, Farid Élias el-Khazen. The diplomat recalled that President Aoun's visit follows Abp. Gallagher's trip to the Land of the Cedars at the end of February. The attention of the Holy See, like that of the domestic world, stressed Khazen, is currently focused on the war in Ukraine, but the solicitude of the pope and the Vatican on the situation in Lebanon remains constant "at all levels", whatever the developments. 

Some observers believ the visit to the Vatican by the head of state is a positive sign addressed to the international community and confirms - albeit indirectly - the clear intention of the authorities to complete the political elections scheduled for 15 May according to schedule, as well as the formation of a new government, both fundamental conditions to ensure the internal political stability of the country. An indispensable element, according to the Holy See, for an eventual visit of the Holy Father to Lebanon. 

Distortion of the Vatican's position

In the pre-electoral climate marked by mounting controversies and clashes between Lebanese political factions, Ambassador Khazen condemned the attempts of those who seek to manipulate the Vatican's position in the media, crediting imaginary positions of the Holy See in favour of or against a political party.

Western diplomatic sources say this refers to press reports that Archbishop Gallagher had recommended, during his visit to Lebanon, the removal of Hezbollah from the list of terrorist organisations. A list drawn up by the United States and approved by their European allies. 

In reality, recalls the Lebanese ambassador contacted yesterday by L'Orient-Le Jour, Msgr. Gallagher simply stated that the Holy See is "ready to play the role of mediator in a dialogue between political parties, provided that an official request is presented by all the formations concerned".

The future of Lebanon

During his visit, Archbishop Gallagher did not hide his concerns about the situation in the country and in the region, which "do not guarantee the future of Lebanon". He then called on some countries to "stop using Lebanon and the Middle East to serve external interests". Any weakening of the Christian presence," he lamented, "will destroy Lebanon's internal balance and identity.

This opinion is shared by the apostolic nuncio, Msgr Josef Spiteri, who called for "greater cooperation between Christian candidates" in view of these looming threats. "With the tragedy in Ukraine, everything becomes more difficult," the nuncio added. "Aid, the attention of the international community, the crisis in the Middle East, the dialogue between the United States and Iran, the fate of displaced Syrians... President Aoun - concludes the nuncio - will certainly address all these issues during his meeting with the Holy Father, Card. Parolin and Msgr. Gallagher". 

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