BEIRUT: Lebanese political and religious leaders welcomed Thursday the recent election of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina to succeed Pope Benedict XVI to head the Catholic Church.
“While I make my address to you, a historical moment has occurred during which Pope Francis was elected,” President Michel Sleiman, on an official visit to African countries, told the Lebanese community in Senegal late Wednesday.
Sleiman described Pope Francis as “the pope of the poor, the man of change.”
“God willing his election will be a blessing,” he added.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri also praised the election of the 76-year-old to head the Catholic Church, describing the occasion as a “joyous” one for Catholics worldwide and “all who believe in the principles of humanity, peace, justice, dialogue and moderation.”
“In my name and those who I represent, I urge your holiness to accept my congratulations and devoted hopes on your noble mission,” Hariri said, according to a statement from his office.
Bergoglio was chosen to head the Catholic Church Wednesday, becoming the first pope to be elected from outside Europe in over a millennium.
Hariri said the election was particularly significant for Lebanon.
“Lebanon, which 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 Vatican chimney, signaling the election of a new pope.
Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, who heads the country’s top Sunni administrative council, also congratulated the pope on his election and wished him all the best on his mission.
“The mufti congratulated the pope for 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 issued Thursday said.
For his part, Kataeb party leader Amin Gemayel visited Thursday the Papal Nuncio Gabriel Katchia in Harissa, Mount Lebanon, to congratulate him over Bergoglio appointment, a statement from Gemayel’s office said.
“The election of the new pope puts hope in the heart of Lebanese people and the whole world,” said Gemayel, according to the statement.
Lebanon has a significant Christian population.