Pope Francis called for a day of prayer and fasting in Italy to commemorate the one-month mark after the deadly blast that destroyed large swaths of Beirut and killed hundreds.
Francis made the declaration Wednesday during his first public appearance since the coronavirus pandemic forced the country into lockdown nearly six months ago.
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Before the event, Francis greeted a priest from Lebanon, kissing a Lebanese flag the priest had brought with him to Vatican City. The pope offered prayers for the Lebanese people still struggling to cope with political and economic instability and unrest.
“One month after the tragedy that struck the city of Beirut, my thoughts are still with dear Lebanon and its particularly troubled population,” the pope said.
The day of commemoration will be held on Sept. 4, he said.
The deadly blast rocked Beirut’s port in August, when 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate detonated, killing 190 people and injuring 6,000 more. The city was already in a financial downfall compounded by political corruption and government mismanagement that was only exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Francis encouraged the world to stand in solidarity to fight back against COVID-19, which has killed 857,877 globally and infected over 25.7 million others.
“The current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence. We are all linked to each other, for better or for worse,” Francis said, addressing a crowd of about 500 Roman Catholic faithful who attended the event at the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.
“To come out of this crisis better than before, we have to do so together, all of us, in solidarity,” he added.
Participants at the event maintained social distance as they sat in the courtyard and were all required to wear masks. The Pope didn’t wear one as he met the crowd but kept a safe distance from the parishioners, who were cheering and waving at him.
“If the pope were a thaumaturge, I would ask him to end the pandemic, but unfortunately he doesn’t have this power,” said Inigo Sanchez, one of the attendees. “So I just ask for closeness.”
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The live appearance was a break from Francis’ weekly live-streamed events from the Vatican’s apostolic palace and occasional appearances at the window overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Sundays since the Vatican suspended all public events and audiences to comply with health and safety requirements borne of the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.