Pope Benedict Arrives in Lebanon, Calls for Halt to Weapons to Syria
(Retrieved from NYTimes on September 14, 2012)
Published: September 14, 2012
BEIRUT — Pope Benedict XVI started a visit to Lebanon on Friday, arriving in a region transformed by popular uprisings and war since his last trip to the Middle East in 2009. The visit coincided with a moment of fresh religious turmoil, marked by spreading protests against an incendiary anti-Muslim video.
Even before protests against the video erupted in half a dozen countries this week, leaving at least nine people dead, the upheaval in the region, including the war in Syria, had complicated the pope’s trip, which he has called a “peace pilgrimage.” The pope’s comments on the changes in the region since the uprisings began in 2011 were certain to be closely scrutinized, especially on Syria, where the deepening civil war has left thousands of people dead and unleashed grisly sectarian violence that has imperiled the country’s diversity. The war is spreading beyond its borders and unsettling neighboring countries including Lebanon, where political factions are divided between Syria’s warring sides.
But, in a speech at the airport, Benedict praised Lebanon as an example of cooperation between different faiths.
“The successful way the Lebanese all live together surely demonstrates to the whole Middle East and to the rest of the world that, within a nation, there can exist cooperation between the various churches” and “at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions,” the pope said. “Like me, you know that this equilibrium, which is presented everywhere as an example, is extremely delicate,” he added. “Sometimes it seems about to snap like a bow which is overstretched or submitted to pressures which are too often partisan, even selfish, contrary and extraneous to Lebanese harmony and gentleness. This is where real moderation and great wisdom are tested. And reason must overcome one-sided passion in order to promote the greater good of all.”
“I also come symbolically to all the countries of the Middle East as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs,” said the pope, who looked tired and walked with a cane.
On the airplane to Lebanon, the pope called for a halt to weapons to Syria, calling the import of arms a “grave sin,” according to a Reuters report on the pope’s remarks to reporters. It was not immediately clear whether the pope was faulting the Syrian government or its opponents, or condemning in general terms, the rapid militarization of the conflict. His comments also served as a sharp rebuke to regional powers, includingIran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that continue to arm the conflict’s combatants.
He also called the Arab uprisings a “cry for freedom” that must include tolerance, Reuters reported.
In Lebanon, banners with Benedict’s likeness lined the highways as Army soldiers in armored troop carriers deployed along a coastal road. The Vatican had played down security concerns, saying the pope would be warmly welcomed in the country, where roughly 30 percent of the population is Christian.
The pope is expected to focus primarily on the continuing difficulties facing Christians in the Middle East, an ancient community whose numbers have thinned perilously in recent decades in the face of wars, occupations and discrimination.
Despite shifts toward elected politics in several countries, the rise of Islamist parties in the region has further unsettled many Christians, who fear groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are seeking to tie aspects of citizenship much more closely to Muslim religious identity.
The protests this week against the United States added new peril to the pope’s trip, and the Vatican has walked a fine line in order not to upset Muslim feelings.
On Wednesday, after news of the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement that focused on a video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, which had instigated riots, saying that “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslims produce “sometimes tragic results” that yield “unacceptable violence.”
On Thursday, Father Lombardi issued a statement denouncing the ambassador’s death, saying that it called “for the firmest possible condemnation on the part of the Holy See. Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence.”
In a dark moment in his papacy in 2006, Benedict angered Muslims when on a visit to Turkey he quoted a Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.” In response, Muslims demonstrated around the world, and an Italian nun was killed in Somalia. The pope later apologized.
In Lebanon, the pope is expected to deliver six speeches, which have likely been carefully vetted so as to cause minimum offense. The Vatican has characteristically played down the political dimensions of the trip, saying that the pope is bringing a pastoral message of peace.
During the three-day trip, the pope is expected to meet Lebanon’s political and religious leaders, along with Middle East bishops and young people.
He will also present a document produced by bishops of the Middle East at a synod, or conference, at the Vatican in 2010, outlining issues of concern to the Catholic Church in the Middle East. The visit culminates with a large outdoor Mass on the Beirut waterfront on Sunday morning, before the pope returns to Rome that evening.
In a speech delivered in Turkey earlier this month, the Rev. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, the secretary for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that in Syria, the Holy See called for “an immediate end to violence from whatever part,” as well as “dialogue toward reconciliation as the necessary path to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
It also sought “to preserve the unity of the Syrian people regardless of ethnicity and religious affiliation” and to ask Syria, “to be also cognizant of the legitimate concerns of the international community.” Father Guixot also called on “the international community to dedicate itself to a process of peace in Syria and the entire region for the benefit and well-being of all humanity.”
Kareem Fahim reported from Beirut and Rachel Donadio from Rome and Vatican City.
Pope Benedict XVI visits Lebanon as 'pilgrim of peace'
(Retrieved from BBC on September 14, 2012)
Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Lebanon with a peace message, saluting the Arab Spring and calling for an end to the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
His three-day visit marks the first papal trip to the country in 15 years.
During his stay, the pontiff will meet politicians and leaders from Lebanon's 18 religious groups. Christians make up 40% of the country's population.
The trip comes as Lebanon - including the Christian community - is deeply divided over the conflict in Syria.
On his flight to Lebanon, the Pope told reporters that Syrian arms imports were a "grave sin".
He also called for an end to the conflict there, saying fundamentalism was "always a falsification of religion".
The pontiff described the Arab Spring as "a desire for more democracy, for more freedom, for more cooperation and for a renewed Arab identity".
A small crowd of dignitaries and cheering supporters with banners greeted Pope Benedict at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut.
He was welcomed by Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman with a 21-gun salute, and with church bells ringing out around the country.
The Pope told President Suleiman he was visiting the country as a "pilgrim of peace".
"Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region," he said.
"The successful way the Lebanese all live together surely demonstrates to the whole Middle East and to the rest of the world that, within a nation, there can exist cooperation between the various churches and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions."
'Country of resistance'
Correspondents say the Pope is expected to express his concern about the dwindling Christian presence in the Middle East.
In Iraq for example, tens of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes by sectarian violence.
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the pontiff will find a very different Lebanon to the one his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, saw in 1997.
The assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 led to the end of Syria's long occupation of the country, an event which was swiftly followed by the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah - a Shia group - is now the power behind the government but Syria remains the defining issue in Lebanese politics, our correspondent says.
Political parties are divided into pro- and anti-Syrian camps and the violence across the border is increasingly pitting Shia and Sunni Muslims against each other in Lebanon.
In addition to the conflict in Syria, recent controversy over a film deemed to be offensive to the Prophet Mohammed has raised tensions in the region ahead of the Pope's visit.
There were reports as the Pope arrived of hundreds of protesters setting alight a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the northern city of Tripoli.
The film, The Innocence of Muslims, believed to have been made by a Coptic Egyptian Christian in the US, has sparked protests across the Middle East and led to the death of the US ambassador to Libya.
Signs welcoming the Pope have been put up along the main airport road into Beirut, including banners erected by Hezbollah reading "Welcome to the country of resistance".
Pope brings peace message to Lebanon as Mideast burns
(Retrieved from thestar on September 14, 2012)
BEIRUT: Pope Benedict XVI left Rome on Friday for a three-day visit to Lebanon, a Middle Eastern country riven by sectarian tensions as fighting rages next door in Syria.
"Lebanon awaits the visit of peace," said a front-page headline of a Beirut paper, referring to the tiny eastern Mediterranean country that is nearly 65 percent Muslim - Sunni and Shiite - and 35 percent Christian.
That echoed the words of the pope himself, who said on Sunday his "trip to Lebanon and, by extension, to the whole of the Middle East, is taking place under the sign of peace.
"The commitment to dialogue and reconciliation must be the priority for all parties involved," he said.
The heavily Christian area just north of Beirut, which runs from the Mediterranean Sea up into the mountains, is where the pope will spend his two nights in Lebanon.
Anticipation there was palpable on Friday morning.
"It's brilliant," said Liliane Khalife, 50. "Everybody is so excited. This visit is a blessing for Lebanon."
Benedict, who left a rainy Rome on an Alitalia flight, is due to arrive at Rafiq Hariri International Airport just before 2:00 pm (1100 GMT) to sunny skies and pleasant temperatures.
He will be received by President Michel Sleiman, the only Christian head of state in the Middle East, and a 21-gun salute, as church bells ring out around the country.
On the highway into Beirut, he will pass through the capital's southern suburbs, a bastion of the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon's multi-confessional government in alliance with some of its Christians.
Prominently posted along the highway are banners in the party's signature colour of yellow - evocative of the Vatican's yellow and white - bearing a picture of the pope and welcoming him to the "country of resistance."
That is a reference to Hezbollah's long-standing battle against Israel.
While religious pluralism and the welfare of Christians in the region are likely to top the agenda, the pope also hopes to advance the church's sometimes difficult relationship with Islam.
He will reach out to the 13 million or more Catholics in Lebanon and the Middle East, asking them to work for peace and democracy alongside moderate Islamists, in a period fraught with fears of a rise of fundamentalism.
Those concerns are particularly poignant as the region is rocked by deadly violence over a film mocking Islam that has cost the lives of the US ambassador in Libya and four other people.
Around 200 protesters took to the streets of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Thursday to express outrage over the US-made film.
Benedict will weigh his words carefully to avoid politically charged comments that could increase religious tensions - and is expected to speak out in favour of a secularism that guarantees cultural and religious freedom.
He will no doubt also call on Lebanon's Christians to unite, divided as they are not only toward the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also over a political vision for their own country.
The pontiff is also expected to call for an end to the conflict in Syria and a halt to arming the two sides.
He will also tackle concern over the exodus of Christians from the region during a presentation of results from the 2010 synod with Middle East bishops.
Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has said he hopes the pope will also use the trip to call for negotiations in Syria, but here too Benedict must tread carefully.
The political class in Lebanon - including people from the Maronite church, Lebanon's largest - is divided, some supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and others backing the rebels.
Lebanese security forces are on high alert, and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said this week that it "will be one of the most successful visits in the history of modern Lebanon."
All roads on which the pope travels will be cut to other traffic, and a no-fly zone covering the entire country was ordered from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.
After his welcoming ceremony, the pope will travel to the mountain town of Harissa, where he will be staying.
While there, he will sign the final report on a synod of bishops he convened two years ago to study the future of Christians in the Middle East.
On Saturday, he will meet Sleiman, a Maronite Christian, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni, as well as Muslim religious leaders and the diplomatic corps in Beirut.
Then, after lunch with eastern patriarchs and bishops in Bzommar, near Harissa, he will meet with Lebanese youth at the Maronite patriarchate in Bkerke, another village in the same area.
On Sunday, he will celebrate an open-air mass at the Beirut City Centre Waterfront and unveil the conclusions of the 2010 synod of bishops, before returning to Rome. - AFP
Pope visits Lebanon torn by Syria crisis
(Retrieved from BBC on September 14, 2012)
Pope Benedict XVI, who is going on a three-day visit to Lebanon, will find much has changed in the region since the last papal visit there, by John Paul II in 1997, writes the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.
The political landscape in Lebanon itself was heavily rearranged - but not radically transformed - after the assassination in 2005 of the man who was prime minister during John Paul II's visit, Rafik Hariri.
His death led to popular demonstrations that, combined with international pressure, induced the Syrians to end a military presence that dated back to 1976.
A year after Hariri's death, Lebanon was shaken by the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, which left the radical Shia movement stronger than ever.
Hezbollah is now the power behind a one-sided government that tilts towards a Syrian regime now battling for survival against a rebellion that refuses to be subdued.
Syria remains the defining issue in Lebanese politics - and Pope Benedict will find his followers deeply divided in that respect.
While the bulk of the Shias, led by Hezbollah, support the Syrian regime, and most Sunnis are against it and back the Sunni-majority rebels, Lebanon's Christians are sharply split between the two camps.
Geography also places the Christians right in the middle between an increasingly armed Sunni north and a Hezbollah-dominated Beirut”
However, Christian leaders play down their differences - and some even see them as a source of strength.
"The Christian parties do not see eye to eye concerning Syria, but this does not mean the Pope will come and see Christians fighting each other for Syria," said Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, a fiercely anti-Syrian faction with its roots in a powerful civil-war Christian militia.
"The Pope will see a flourishing community again, contrary to what many in the West think, but with different parties and different political agendas, this is all."
Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Foundation's Middle East Center in Beirut, believes that, with different factions allied to pro- and anti-Syrian forces, the Christians have inadvertently avoided being targeted as tensions rise.
"In effect in this period it has secured a level of security for them because they are not identified by any other community as 'the enemy'," he says.
He even suggested that, as rivalry between the Shia and Sunni groups deepens, the Christians may be unwittingly creating a kind of political buffer zone by their traditional occupancy of such key posts as president of the republic and commander of the Lebanese army.
"Geography also places the Christians right in the middle between an increasingly armed Sunni north and a Hezbollah-dominated Beirut, and hence the tensions emerging and escalating between Shias and Sunnis during the Syrian crisis have not spilled over into open Sunni-Shia clashes because they are not contiguous," Mr Salem said.
As the Syrian crisis deepens, many have expressed fears that conflict will spill over the border into Lebanon, spreading along the same sectarian fault-lines that devastated the country during its own civil war from 1975 until 1990, leaving scars and divisions that persist.
But Samir Geagea believes that if Syria goes to pieces, it will have the opposite effect on Lebanon.
"Even, let us suppose, if Syria went to fragmentation, I don't see a spillover effect to Lebanon, rather on the contrary, because when they will see the fragmentation of Syria and its effects and its aftermath, everybody would cling more and more to the unity of Lebanon. No, I'm not worried."
If the Lebanese Christians are generally doing all right, other communities have come out of the Arab Spring badly battered by the upheavals.
The Pope is meeting Church leaders from around the region during his Lebanon visit.
He will hear for himself how Iraqi Christian communities, which had survived and often flourished since biblical times, were devastated as Islamist sentiment in both Shia and Sunni communities intensified after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Targeted attacks on churches in Baghdad and elsewhere by Sunni militants in 2010 sped up an exodus of Christians that was already gathering pace, spurred by random violence, social pressures and economic collapse.
While not specifically targeted, Syrian Christians have been caught in the deadly crossfire between the regime and rebels, especially in cities like Homs where largely-Christian quarters became battlegrounds, prompting virtually all the Christians to flee from there.
In Egypt, the large Coptic minority is warily eyeing the new Islamist-dominated government, after a number of post-revolution incidents raised their fears.
The furious regional reaction to the film "Innocence of Muslims" will have done nothing to ease the anxieties felt by many Christians over the rise of Islamist parties and sentiment that has accompanied all of the regime changes.
Against this turbulent background, Pope Benedict - who himself stirred hostility in some Muslim circles in 2006 by quoting a 14th-Century diatribe against the Prophet Muhammad - will be stressing the need for mutual tolerance and coexistence, and trying to encourage his followers to reach out to other communities, stand their ground, and throw themselves into the task of helping construct a new Middle East.
Pope Signs Apostolic Exhortation, Appeals to Christians, Jews, Muslims to 'Root out' Fundamentalism
(Retrieved from Naharnet on September 14, 2012)
Pope Benedict XVI has appealed to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike to "root out" religious fundamentalism, as deadly unrest sweeps the Middle East over a film mocking Islam.
The pope, who arrived in Lebanon on Friday for a three-day visit, has also told the Christian minority in the Middle East not to fear for its future.
His exhortations were made public as he put his signature to recommendations emerging from a synod of bishops he convened two years ago to examine the future of the Christian minority in the region and its relations with Islam and Judaism.
The recommendations were signed during a mass at St. Paul's Cathedral in Harissa, which was attended by President Michel Suleiman and a number of officials.
The focus is a document, known as "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente," that contains a series of recommendations on how they might live better Christian lives and serve as beacons of peace.
The exhortations examine at length secularization, including its extreme forms, and violent fundamentalism.
Referring to the latter, they says that "religious fundamentalism ... seeks to take power for political ends, at times using violence, over the individual conscience and over religion."
The pope appealed "to all the religious leaders of the Middle East to endeavor, by their example and their teaching, to do everything possible to uproot this threat, which indiscriminately and fatally affects believers."
He said political-economic uncertainties, manipulation by some and inadequate knowledge of religion among others contribute to fundamentalism, which he told reporters on his flight to Lebanon leads to the "falsification of religion."
On Thursday, a group of Muslim scholars based in Qatar accused the pope of spreading fear of Muslims among Christians.
The International Union of Muslim Scholars accused him of "fueling sedition" by "planning to sign an apostolic exhortation that contains dangerous messages and ideas."
It said the messages include a "warning from the Islamization of the society and spreading fear among Christians from political Islam in the region.
"It is strange that at the time the pope warns from political Islam, he himself practices large-scale political Christianity," according to the Muslim scholars.
Coinciding with the pope's arrival, anti-American protests over a U.S.-produced film that mocks Islam erupted across the Muslim world, with violence in Sudan, Lebanon and Yemen leaving at least three people dead and dozens wounded.
One demonstrator was killed in clashes with police after an angry crowd of Islamists set fire to a KFC restaurant in north Lebanon, a security source said.
The "apostolic exhortations" signed in Lebanon affirm Christians as an integral part of the Middle East, given their presence there since the first days of the faith.
It also backs the concept of "healthy secularism," rejects violence and stresses the need to struggle against anything that that would reduce the region to having just one religion.
In an address before signing the document, the pope said the Church has been able to "hear the troubled cry and see the desperate faces of many men and women who experience grave human and material difficulties, who live amid powerful tensions in fear and uncertainty, who desire to follow Christ ... yet often find themselves prevented from doing so."
To them he said: "I urge you to fear not, to stand firm in truth and in purity of faith."
"It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride and unity over division."
Pope Signs Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
BY EDWARD PENTINFriday, September 14, 2012 11:45 AM