Last updated: 28 November, 2011

Lebanese Prime Minister invites pope to visit next year

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati during a visit to the Vatican on Monday invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit Lebanon next year, an aide from the prime minister’s office said.

Mikati’s office in Beirut said in a statement that the visit would take place in the autumn but Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said only that the pope had received the invitation and has “shown an interest” in visiting.

Mikati communicated the official invitation from President Michel Suleiman.

The Vatican did not say whether the pope would accept the invitation but informed sources said a trip is being planned by the Vatican in April in which the pope would present Middle Eastern bishops with an “apostolic exhortation”.

The document represents the conclusion of a Middle Eastern synod in 2010 that emphasised the defence of Christian minorities in the Middle East, which have been emigrating for economic reasons and due to pressure from Islamists.

The meeting between the pope and Mikati, a Sunni Muslim accompanied by several members of his family, lasted around 20 minutes.

At the centre of the discussions was the “delicate situation” in Syria, the Vatican said, adding: “A general commitment to a resolution based on justice, reconciliation, respect of people and their rights is urgent.”

“The fundamental role that Christians can play as advocates of peace and harmony and therefore as essential players for the food of the region, was mentioned,” the Vatican added.

If the pope travels to Lebanon it would be his second trip to the region after a visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in 2009.

The pope is planning another trip next year to Cuba and Mexico.

Different communities and religions have co-existed in Lebanon for centuries, and Christians represent 35 percent of the population, according to unofficial estimates.