Pope, on anniversary of Beirut blast, promises Lebanon visit

·2 min read

By Philip Pullella

(Reuters) - Pope Francis, speaking at his first general audience since he underwent intestinal surgery a month ago and on the first anniversary on Wednesday of a fatal blast in Beirut, said he had a "great" desire to visit Lebanon.

The 84-year-old pope, who looked fit and improvised parts of his address, also wished success for French President Emmanuel Macron's efforts to raise more than $350 million in aid for Lebanon at a donors' conference and send another warning to its squabbling political class.

The huge chemical explosion in Beirut killed 200 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

Francis was speaking in the Vatican's audience hall. He said many in Lebanon, which is mired in a financial depression and faces its worst social crisis in 30 years, had lost "even the illusion of living."

Donors should help Lebanon "on a path of resurrection", he said. He called for "concrete gestures, not just words" because many who had lost their homes and jobs were tired and deluded.

"Dear Lebanese, my desire to come to visit you is great. And I will not tire of praying for you so that Lebanon returns to being a message of brotherhood, a message of peace for all of the Middle East," he said.

The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said last month the visit could take place late this year or early next year. He suggested the pope could go even without a government in place.

Several hundred people, nearly all of them wearing masks against COVID-19, attended the indoor gathering in the Paul VI Audience hall, where they are held during the hot summer months.

Francis walked unassisted across the stage and spoke while seated and then later went to greet people in the front row. The only difference with previous indoor audiences was that he did not walk down the long central aisle.

Francis spent 11 days in Rome's Gemelli Hospital following surgery on July 4 to remove part of his colon because he was suffering from a severe case of symptomatic diverticular stenosis, or narrowing of the colon.

The Vatican is going ahead with plans for a Sept. 12-15 trip to Slovakia and the Hungarian capital, Budapest.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean)

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