Lebanese officials express hope after election of Pope Francis

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Francis celebrates his first public Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel.

BEIRUT: Lebanese political and religious leaders welcomed Thursday the election of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as the head the Catholic Church and expressed hopes that he would help bring peace to the region.

During a meeting with members of the Lebanese community in Senegal, President Michel Sleiman commented, “as I deliver my address to you, a historical moment has occurred, with the election of Pope Francis.”

“The pope [Francis] is the pope of the poor and the man of change. God willing his election will be a blessing,” Sleiman added.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri also praised the election of Francis, describing the occasion as a “joyous” for Catholics worldwide and for “everyone who believe in the principles of humanity, peace, justice, dialogue and moderation.”

“On behalf of myself and of those whom I represent, I urge your holiness to accept my congratulations and devoted hopes on your noble mission,” Hariri said, in a statement released by his office.

Hariri said the election was particularly significant for Lebanon.

“Lebanon, which the late Pope John Paul II described as a ‘model of freedom and a message of plurality for the East and West,’ and which Pope Benedict XVI described as ‘a model of balance for the region and world,’ was particularly pleased with the election,” Hariri said.

Church bells rang out in Lebanon Wednesday night as word spread that white smoke was billowing out of the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, signaling the election of a new pope.

Kataeb party leader Amin Gemayel visited the papal nuncio, Gabriel Caccia, in the town of Harissa, in Kesrouan, to congratulate him on the election.

“The election of the new pope puts hope in the heart of Lebanese people and the whole world,” Gemayel said in a statement issued by his office.

Similarly, Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani congratulated the pope on his election and wished him all the best on his mission.

“The mufti congratulated the pope on his election and wished him well in his new papal missions in light of the crucial circumstances the world is passing through,” a statement from Dar al-Fatwa said.

Also, the deputy head of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, wished the pope success in his new mission.

“We hope that the new pope will adopt the same open spirit as his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI and that he will build the best possible relations and cooperation between Islam and Christianity,” Qabalan said.

The election of Bergoglio as the head of the Catholic Church came after Benedict said in early February that his strength no longer permitted him to continue his duties due to his advanced age, adding that he was resigning in “full freedom.”

The Daily Star - Lebanon