Pope Francis and the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Rafic Hariri, discussed Friday the current situation in the Middle East and Lebanon, which has received a large number of refugees from Syria.
According to an Oct. 13 statement from the Vatican, the meeting took place “in an atmosphere of great cordiality,” which enabled a productive discussion of various issues in Lebanon and the Middle East. Among these, the two expressed hope for “increasingly fruitful collaboration between the various political powers” in support of the common good of the nation. They also focused on the importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East and the “historic and institutional role of the Church in the life of the country.”
In the half-hour meeting, Francis and Hariri spoke about the need to find a “just and comprehensive solution” to conflicts in the region and Pope Francis also expressed his appreciation for the welcome Lebanon has shown to refugees fleeing Syria and other countries of the Middle East.
Now more politically stable, before Oct. 2016 and the election of President Michel Aoun, the Lebanese parliament was under a 29-month deadlock to choose the next president. Bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south, the situation in Lebanon is closely tied to that of the Middle East.
The country has welcomed the largest number of refugees per capita, which now represent an estimated one quarter of the country's 4.5 million population. In an effort to keep refugees from overwhelming any one area of the country, Lebanon has banned formal refugee camps, but already in some Lebanese towns there are now more Syrians than native Lebanese.
In Lebanon, Christians make up about 41 percent of the population, and Muslims, evenly divided between Sunnis and Shiites, around 54 perecent. Maronite Catholics are the largest Christian group.
In the meeting the Pope and Prime Minister also conversed on the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, as well as the value of collaboration between Christians and Muslims in promoting peace and justice. Francis gave Hariri a gift of an olive branch sculpture, symbolizing peace. On his part, the Prime Minister gave Francis a silver necklace with a cross. As is usual for heads of state, following his meeting with Francis, the Prime Minister also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher.