Pope Francis holds first public audience in 6 months

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Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in public for the first time in six months on Wednesday, smiling and chatting as he emerged from the constraints of the coronavirus lockdown.The audience, during which the Pope announced a day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon, was held in the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican and gave him the public contact on which he nourishes.

Visitors had their temperatures checked upon entering the Vatican, and almost everyone in the audience of around 500 – including Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniforms – wore masks. The public sat in seats arranged to ensure physical distance.

“After so many months, we are resuming our meetings face to face and not screen to screen, face to face, and it’s magnificent,” he said to applause at the start of the hearing.

Francis clearly had fun walking past guests who had come close behind barriers, frequently stopping to converse with them from a distance of one to two meters.

The crowd had to follow physical distancing guidelines during the general audience. (Vatican media / Reuters)

The Pope last held a public audience in early March. After that, the coronavirus pandemic forced him to hold virtual audiences streamed from the official papal library on television or the internet, an experience he described as akin to a ‘cage’.

He blessed the children from afar as he walked by a platform path to give his speech.

Calls for peace for Lebanon

Francis seemed to be energized by the crowd – even though it was far from the tens of thousands of people who can fill St. Peter’s Square, where the open-air audience usually takes place.

Francis kissed a Lebanese flag handed to him by Lebanese priest Georges Breidi and bowed his head to say a silent prayer for the country, still reeling from last month’s deadly explosion at the port and rising sectarian tensions .

At the end of the audience, he invited the priest to the front to wave the flag as the Pope made an appeal for peace and dialogue in Lebanon.

He announced that Friday, September 4 would be a day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon and that he would send its Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Beirut that day to represent him.

He invited members of other religions to participate.

“Lebanon cannot be left on its own,” François said, calling on politicians and religious leaders to engage with “sincerity and transparency” in rebuilding the country and helping nations “without getting involved in regional tensions ”.



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