Vatican Urges Other Countries to Help Lebanon, Maintain 'Diversified Middle East'

Vatican Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher urged other countries to help Lebanon, which is contending with an unparalleled economic and financial crisis, during a media briefing last week. Gallagher said the country, which has the largest percentage of Christianity in the region, must be prevented from descending into chaos to maintain a "diversified Middle East."

The economic collapse coincides with an unsuccessful 11-month battle to form a new government and ongoing recovery from last summer's Beirut port explosion, putting the greatest strain on Lebanon's stability since its civil war. The struggle "risks destroying the internal balance and Lebanon's own reality, putting at risk the Christian presence in the Middle East," Gallagher said.

Pope Francis met with Christian patriarchs from Lebanon at the Vatican Thursday. Gallagher said Francis had invited them in recognition of the chaos' effect on Lebanon's Christian community as the country navigates intermittent violence, power cuts, fuel shortages and rising prices.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Pope Francis
The Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, second from left, the head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Aram I, third from left, Pope Francis, fourth from left, Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, fifth from left, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for the Syriac Catholic Church, Ignatius Youssef III Younan, right, arrive in St. Peter's Basilica to attend a prayer for Lebanon at the Vatican on Thursday. Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo

Embattled Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who met with Francis at the Vatican in April, said from Beirut he hoped the meeting would be crowned with success by calling on all Lebanese to preserve their coexistence.

"It is no surprise that the pontiff keeps it in his heart through this invite to 10 spiritual leaders with the aim of getting Lebanon through its difficult reality," he tweeted Thursday, repeating the words of St. John Paul II that "Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message."

Noting the potential for Lebanon to fall into conflict, Gallgher said the country must be helped economically and to keep the peace, saying it "remains the final vanguard of an Arab democracy that welcomes, recognizes and coexists with a plurality of ethnic and religious communities that in other countries aren't able to live in peace."

"It must be helped to maintain this unique identity, to ensure a pluralist, tolerant and diversified Middle East," he said.

Francis has said he hopes to visit Lebanon once a government is formed. Gallagher said if that happens soon, Francis could make a trip early next year.

President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, followed the opening prayer meeting through a closed circuit TV, his office said. He said in a tweet the whole world was participating with the pope in prayer for Lebanon.

"Our prayers together is that, as Christians and Muslims, we strengthen the values of truth and justice, balance and mutual respect that reinforces our national unity so that we restore to our nation its unique message of coexistence in the region and the world," he tweeted.

Lebanon Protests
Scooter motorists waiting outside a petrol station in Lebanon's capital Beirut on Tuesday raise their middle fingers in protest against energy ministry hikes in the price of fuel. Protesters blocked roads across Lebanon over a deepening economic downturn that has led to a fuel crisis and severe power shortages. The protests also came as power cuts resulting from fuel shortages caused disruptions at a main Beirut hospital and at a security force headquarters in the capital, according to local media reports. Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images