Pope Francis received Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri for a private audience. He also met with the head of the Italian Bishops' Conference and the superior of the Legionaries of Christ.
During the 30-minute meeting with Hariri, the head of the Church reiterated his desire to visit the crisis-ridden country as soon as the conditions are right, according to Vatican sources.
At the same time, Francis again called for the international community and all political forces in the Cedar State to work for the good of the nation. Then it would be possible to make Lebanon a "land of encounter, coexistence and pluralism". The pope also expressed his closeness to the Lebanese people, who are experiencing "a time of great difficulty".
Lebanon has been facing a severe political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis for months. Since the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab in August 2020, the country has been de facto without political leadership. Hariri, appointed prime minister designate in October, has so far failed to form a new government. The patriarch of Lebanon's Maronite Christians, Cardinal Bechara Rai, has also been trying for months to mediate the formation of an effective government.
Call for "synodal process
About contents of the meeting of Pope Francis with the head of the Italian Bishops' Conference communicated so far neither Vatican nor Bishops' Conference something. Besides the conference president, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, Secretary General Stefano Russo took part in the meeting. Francis last received the bishops' conference leaders at the end of February, including the three vice presidents.
In the meantime, the Permanent Council of the Bishops' Conference met at the end of March. On that occasion, the bishops outlined initial plans for a "synodal process" called for by the pope. The was planned more as a method than as a substantive reform, it was said at the time. He said the process would be especially significant in light of the difficult social and economic situation many people have found themselves in as a result of the pandemic. In January, Francis had called on the bishops' conference to finally begin a synodal process in which every diocese and parish would have to get involved.
Other topics of the meeting may have included the pandemic and its pastoral consequences, and the merging of dioceses. In recent years, the pope has repeatedly merged individual dioceses of the total of about 220 in Italy. Several bishops de facto lead and administer two, sometimes three dioceses.
Catch-up inaugural visit
Pope Francis received the superior of the Legionaries of Christ, Father John Connor. Connor, 52, a U.S. cleric, was elected the new director general of the community in early February 2020. The usual inaugural visit to the pope was canceled due to pandemic and has now been made up, a spokesman for the community said. Connor had also informed the pope about the status of reforms in the Legionaries of Christ, as well as in the Regnum Christi community, which is affiliated with the Legionaries.
In the early 2000s, serious cases of sexual and psychological-spiritual abuse by the Legionaries' founder, Mexican priest Marcial Maciel (1920-2008), had come to light. This resulted in a severe crisis of the order and a renewal process lasting several years. Faced with deficiencies in the internal governance structures, Pope Benedict XVI decreed. 2010 a comprehensive investigation of the community and thorough reforms.
The reforms had been worked out over a number of years at several general chapters. At the end of March, the Legionaries of Christ published an updated overview of abuse cases. In it, they listed all cases of accused persons from their ranks worldwide. The "Annual Report 2020: truth, justice and healing" updates statistics from a first report of 2019. According to the Legionaries, they currently number just under 1.500 members in 21 countries.