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Pope singles out Lebanon and South Sudan in Christmas messages

In a difficult year, Lebanon has suffered through an economic crisis and an explosion whose consequences are still felt deeply across the country
A Christmas tree with names of those who died in the Beirut port explosion is seen near the damaged grain silo (Reuters)

In his Christmas messages on Thursday, Pope Francis promised to visit Lebanon and South Sudan as soon as he could.

The pope traditionally mentions countries in his Christmas Day message, but this year he marked out the two countries that have endured particular difficulties this year.

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"I am deeply troubled to see the suffering and anguish that has sapped the native resilience and resourcefulness of the Land of the Cedars," Francis said, referring to Lebanon, which has been struggling with a deep economic crisis and the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion on 4 August that killed about 200 people, injured thousands, and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The Lebanese people are still awaiting the result of an investigation into blast that destroyed a large area of the capital. Last week, the judge overseeing the investigation suspended the probe after two ministers he charged with negligence requested that he be removed.

Francis expressed "my affection for the beloved people of Lebanon, whom I hope to visit as soon as possible".

He said he hoped the country could "stand apart from conflicts and regional tensions".

He is already due to make a historic visit to Iraq on 5-8 March.

In a separate message written by the pope jointly with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, and Church of Scotland moderator Martin Fair, the three church leaders committed to making a previously delayed trip to majority Christian South Sudan.

A United Nations report said this month that implementing various aspects of a peace accord to end years of civil war had stalled in the country, where floods in September displaced hundreds of thousands of people.