ROME— Pope Francis prayed for an end to the “painful poverty caused by war and conflict,” particularly in the Middle East, naming Lebanon in particular, after the political crisis sparked by the sudden resignation of the country’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, on a visit to Saudi Arabia.
“Today, I would like to remember in a particular way the populations that live a painful poverty caused by war and conflict,” Francis said at the end of his weekly Angelus prayer. “I therefore renew an appeal to the international community to engage in every possible effort to foster peace, particularly in the Middle East.”
Going off the cuff, he said: “A special thought I give to the dear Lebanese people, and pray for the stability of the country, so that it can continue to be a ‘messenger’ of respect and coexistence for the entire region and for the whole world.”
Francis’s words came during a series of appeals he made after leading some 25,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the Sunday Angelus.
Hariri’s surprise resignation on Nov. 4, made while he was in Saudi Arabia, has become a destabilizing factor in the country, which is already facing a refugee crisis – at least 1.4 million Syrian refugees have been living in Lebanon, which has a total population of 4.5 million, for the past several years.
The Lebanese political system requires different religious groups to share power. In a country where Christians represent 40 percent of the population, and Muslims 60, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president must be a Maronite Christian, and the parliamentary speaker must be a Shia Muslim.
Traditionally, the prime minister is backed by Saudi Arabia, governed by a monarchy closely aligned with the country’s Sunni Muslim religious establishment, while the speaker is backed by Iran, a Shia Muslim theocracy that’s represented in Lebanon by the militant group Hezbollah.
The Christians of this country – largely Maronite, but also Orthodox, Greek Melkite Catholics, Protestants, Armenian (Orthodox and Catholic), and others – represent a centuries-old Christian presence in the heart of the Arab world, and one that hasn’t fallen into a death spiral, or been largely driven into exile.
Many observers fear that the crisis resulting from Hariri’s resignation, which some suspect was made under threat, could lead to a wider conflict involving Lebanon, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
After the Angelus, Francis also made an appeal for the World Day of the Poor, which he instituted, and which is marked around the world on this day. He prayed that the poor and disadvantaged would be “the center of our communities” not only during special occasions, but always.
“They are the heart of the Gospel, in them we encounter Jesus who speaks to us and challenges us through their sufferings and their needs,” the pope said.
Francis also remembered Father Solanus Casey, who was beatified Saturday in Detroit, saying that the friar was “a humble and faithful disciple of Christ, who distinguished himself with an untiring service to the poor.
“May his witness help priests, religious and laity to live with joy the link between the announcement of the Gospel and the love for the poor,” he said.
The last appeal he made was for the crew of an Argentine military submarine that disappeared on Wednesday, with 44 people on board. An international search has been launched, but so far has yielded no results.
Airplanes from the United States and Brazil are helping with the search, but weather conditions are complicating their efforts.
Francis, an Argentine himself, had expressed his concern over the submarine on Saturday, when he directed his secretary of state to send a telegram to the country’s military ordinariate.