Pope Francis called on Wednesday for a “universal day of prayer and fasting” for disaster-stricken Lebanon, to be observed on Sept. 4.
The pope said this during the first weekly audience open to the public in more than six months in Rome.
On that day, the Vatican’s second-in-command, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, will be in Beirut to express the pope’s “closeness and solidarity,” Francis said.
Access to them was restricted after Feb. 26 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Francis urged people of other confessions to join his pro-Lebanon initiative.
He announced it after a young priest knelt beside him and brought him a Lebanese flag.
On Aug. 4, Beirut was shaken by a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate in a port warehouse, which killed more than 180 people and left at least 6,000 injured.
The blast exacerbated a pre-existing economic and public health crisis.
According to John Hopkins University, new Covid-19 cases in Lebanon jumped to a record high of 4,172 in the week of August 23-29.
Wednesday’s papal audience was held in a courtyard inside the Apostolic Palace, with the public wearing face masks and sat in individual chairs, socially distanced.
“Dear brothers and sisters, good morning! After many months we resume our meetings face-to-face: not screen-to-screen, but face-to-face. This is nice,” Francis said with a smile.
The 83-year-old pontiff was not wearing a face mask.
Before the audience, he stopped to greet and exchange words with the public, but he remained at a distance. (dpa/NAN)