Pope Francis and a faithful hold a Lebanese flag as they pray for the country, following an explosion in Beirut, during the first weekly general audience to readmit the public since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the San Damaso courtyard, at the Vatican - Reuters
Vatican City, AFP: Pope Francis warned Wednesday that Lebanon faced “extreme danger that threatens the very existence of the country” following last month’s massive explosion.
The leader of the Catholic Church focused on the disaster-hit country almost a month after the huge blast in the Beirut harbour ripped through the city, killing more than 180 people and wounding at least 6,500.
“Lebanon cannot be abandoned to its solitude,” the pope said at his first limited audience with the public in six months because of the coronavirus crisis.
“A month after the tragedy... my thoughts are still with dear Lebanon and its particularly hard-pressed population,” Francis said, holding a Lebanese flag brought to the audience by a young priest. “Faced with the repeated tragedies that each of the inhabitants of this land knows, we realise the extreme danger that threatens the very existence of this country,” he said.
The pontiff held his first audience in a closed courtyard of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, with a maximum of 500 faithful.
Jorge Bergoglio - the birth name of Francis -- last hosted an audience on February 26, as the grip of Covid-19 closed around Italy. Then the Argentinian pope, who is fond of direct contact, shook hands with dozens of faithful and hugged a few children massed in the front row of the audience of some 12,000 people.
But there were no hugs on Wednesday, with Francis simply exchanging a few words with those present, all wearing face masks.
So far, the coronavirus has killed more than 35,000 people in Italy since it was first detected, according to the latest official statistics.