Build 'free and strong' coexistence after blast, Pope Francis tells Lebanese

Build 'free and strong' coexistence after blast, Pope Francis tells Lebanese

VATICAN CITY Pope Francis urged the people of Lebanon on Sunday to work together in the wake of the devastating port blast to give birth to a new “free and strong” coexistence.

The pope spoke at his weekly address in St. Peter’s Square as some Lebanese called for a sustained uprising to topple their leaders and the country’s top Christian Maronite cleric, whose Church is a Catholic Eastern rite, said the cabinet should resign.

“Last Tuesdayâ€s catastrophe calls everyone, beginning with the Lebanese people, to work together for the common good of this beloved country,” Francis said.

He said the coexistence of cultures in the county had been made much more fragile by the blast.

“But I am praying that, with Godâ€s help and everyoneâ€s genuine participation, it may be reborn free and strong.”

Lebanonâ€s fractured politics is vulnerable to foreign interference that has long fuelled domestic crises. The powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group, a close ally of Syria, has fought several wars with Israel and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and its Gulf allies.

The pope has sent a donation of 250,000 euros to the Church in Lebanon to help victims of the explosion that killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, destroying parts of the city and compounding months of political and economic meltdown.

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(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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