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Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri during a private audience at the Vatican, October 13, 2017 - REUTERS
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri during a private audience at the Vatican, October 13, 2017 – REUTERS

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 over  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.

Below, please find the full text of the Communique from the Press Office of the Holy See, in its official English translation

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Pope Francis meets with Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri and his wife, Lara Bashir Al Azem, at the Vatican, Oct. 13, 2017. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis meets with Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri and his wife, Lara Bashir Al Azem, at the Vatican, Oct. 13, 2017. Credit: L’Osservatore Romano

This morning the Holy Father Francis received in audience H.E. Mr. Saad Rafic Hariri, Prime Minister of Lebanon, who subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by H.E. Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States. The discussions, which took place in an atmosphere of great cordiality, enabled the examination of various aspects of the situation in Lebanon and the latest developments in the Middle East. Satisfaction was then expressed for the strengthening of stability in the country, in the hope of increasingly fruitful collaboration between the various political powers to promote the common good of the entire Nation. Appreciation for the welcome Lebanon has given to many refugees was reaffirmed, and the parties focused on the need to find a just and comprehensive solution to the conflicts that plague the region.  Furthermore, the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue was highlighted, as well as the value of collaboration between Christians and Muslims to promote peace and justice, taking into consideration the historic and institutional role of the Church in the life of the country and the importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East.

Invites Pope to Lebanon

Hariri on Friday invited Pope Francis to visit Lebanon.

“God willing, we will see the pope soon in Lebanon and this will be in the interest of Lebanon, in the interest of Muslims and Christians, and also in the interest of the region,” said Hariri after meeting the pontiff.

As for the issue of Syrian refugees, Hariri said “there should be safe zones in Syria to  which refugees can become convinced of returning safely ”

“Calls for forcing them to return to their country are not on the table, abnormal and inhumane,” Hariri stressed.

As for the domestic situations in Lebanon, Hariri said called for preserving the current “consensus ” among all Lebanese.

“This consensus  is what has saved  the Lebanese and it can lead the country to the shore of safety and peace,” he added.

Hariri was accompanied by his wife Lara and his children Houssan, Loulwa and Abdel Aziz, his chief of staff Nader Hariri and his adviser Daoud Sayegh.

CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY AND RADIO VATICANA NEWS

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