Pope hopes to visit South Sudan, Lebanon if security permits

International

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis told the leaders of South Sudan and Lebanon on Thursday that he hopes to visit their countries but demanded they do more to bring peace and stability to their nations.

Francis issued a pair of Christmas messages on Thursday, with his South Sudan appeal co-signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Rev. Martin Fair.

Francis has been hoping to visit South Sudan for years but has been prevented by security concerns. In 2019, Francis invited South Sudan’s rival leaders to the Vatican for an Easter summit, stunning onlookers when he knelt down and kissed their feet in a humble plea for peace.

Earlier this month, U.N. experts reported that the peace effort in the country has stalled. The coalition government formed in February failed to meet deadlines, while President Salva Kiir locked opposition leader and now First Vice President Riek Machar out of the government’s decision-making process.

In their joint appeal, Francis, Welby and Fair reminded Kiir and others of the commitments they made at the Vatican in 2019 to implement a peace agreement.

“We have been glad to see the small progress you have made, but know it is not enough for your people to feel the full effect of peace,” they wrote. “When we visit, we long to bear witness to a changed nation.”

On Lebanon, Francis said he wanted to offer the Lebanese faithful “words of comfort and encouragement” after a particularly difficult year and said he hoped to visit them “as soon as possible.”

“I am deeply troubled to see the suffering and anguish that has sapped the native resilience and resourcefulness,” of Lebanon, he said. “It is even more painful to see you deprived of your precious aspirations to live in peace and to continue being, for our time and our world, a message of freedom and a witness to harmonious coexistence.

Lebanon is suffering the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, which has only worsened with the spread of coronavirus and the massive blast at Beirut’s port, which destroyed the facility, killed more than 200 people and caused widespread destruction. The World Bank has warned that Lebanon faces an “arduous and prolonged depression,” with the country’s real gross domestic product projected to plunge by nearly 20%.

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