Pope Francis has a great desire to visit Lebanon, he told worshippers at the Vatican on the one-year anniversary of the deadly blast that tore through Beirut.
"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 told the crowd.
The Aug. 4, 2020, blast at Lebanon’s most vital port killed at least 215 people, injured over 6,500 and displaced more than 300,000 from their homes. Much of the Lebanese capital was harmed by the blast, which caused billions in damage and added to the small Mediterranean country’s already dire economic woes.
Human Rights Watch concluded in a report Tuesday that senior Lebanese officials knew about and did nothing to prevent the risks associated with the stockpile of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion. Lebanon’s leaders have since vowed to investigate the blast but those efforts have stalled amid what rights groups blame on a lack of judicial independence and fair trial violations.
The pope said he was praying for those affected “a year after the terrible port explosion in its capital, Beirut, with its toll of death and destruction. I think above all of the victims and their families, the many injured, and those who lost their homes and livelihoods.”
In March, Francis visited Iraq in what marked his first international trip since before the pandemic. The pope, who has previously condemned the “murderous indifference” toward Christians in the Middle East, has also visited several Muslim-majority countries since becoming pope, including Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Francis’ public audience Wednesday was his first since being hospitalized for a planned colon surgery July 4; he stayed in the hospital 10 days. In September, he is scheduled to travel to Hungary and Slovakia for a four-day visit.