Vatican City, Jun 22, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
A Lebanese priest has given Pope Francis a crucifix made from wood salvaged after the devastating explosion in Beirut last summer, ahead of the pope’s Lebanon meeting on July 1.
The pope received Fr. Pierre Najm, the newly appointed head of the Mariamite Maronite Order, in a private audience at the Apostolic Palace.
During the meeting, the priest gave Pope Francis the crucifix, which was made by the young Lebanese artist Mario Khoury from wood retrieved following the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port.
Khoury said that carving the crucifix took him nine hours. He used a piece of wood given to him by the Maronite archdiocese of Beirut.
“I was able, with God’s grace, to design something whole from the remains of destruction, a symbol of strength and faith, of new hope risen from the ashes: a cross that stands tall against whatever may befall our people,” he wrote in a post on social media June 17.
“This cross means many things to me. Offered as a gift to Pope Francis, [it is] a gift that carries a strong message about resilience and perseverance; in the same way Jesus’ resurrection offered his disciples hope.”
Pope Francis appointed Fr. Najm as the head of the Mariamite Maronite Order on March 29. The monastic order was founded in 1694 in Ehden, Lebanon.
The pope’s meeting with Najm and three other Lebanese priests came ahead of the Vatican’s day of prayer for Lebanon hosted by Pope Francis.
Pope Francis has invited the leaders of the main Christian communities in Lebanon to the Vatican on July 1 to “pray together for the gift of peace and stability.”
Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, the apostolic nuncio to Lebanon, has said that all the heads of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christian communities in Lebanon have been invited to the prayer meeting, which will be presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Several patriarchs are expected to attend the Vatican day of prayer, including Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of Maronite Catholics, and Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch.
Lebanon has faced a financial and political crisis for months, as politicians have failed to form a government to implement reforms after the Beirut explosion.
The blast killed nearly 200 people, injured 600 others, and caused more than $4 billion in damage.
Before the explosion, the country was already facing severe economic pressure. Unemployment had soared and the national currency had lost at least 80% of its value against the U.S. dollar since 2019, according to AP.
“The Beirut explosion of the 4th of August took a lot from us, the buildings in the area were turned to rubble and our souls were left shattered, killing our last glimpse of hope for our beloved Lebanon,” Khoury said.
For the young artist, carving the crucifix for the pope provided the chance to express the hope that is found in Christ.
“It has been an honor for me to have been given this opportunity of a lifetime. I hope my message reaches you and I hope you find inspiration wherever you look, even if it’s in the darkest of places,” he said.