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Pope says he is a ‘pilgrim of peace’ as he arrives in Lebanon

By on Friday, 14 September 2012

Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman looks on as Pope Benedict XVI speaks during a welcoming ceremony at Beirut's airport (Photo: CNS)

Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman looks on as Pope Benedict XVI speaks during a welcoming ceremony at Beirut's airport (Photo: CNS)

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Lebanon, saying that he comes “as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men”.

In his remarks at a welcoming ceremony at Beirut’s airport, Pope Benedict praised Lebanon, with a mixed population of Christians and Muslims, for its distinctive record of “coexistence and respectful dialogue”.

But speaking in a country that was devastated by a civil war from 1975 to 1990, the Pope acknowledged that Lebanese society’s “equilibrium, which is presented everywhere as an example, is extremely delicate”.

“Sometimes it seems about to snap like a bow which is overstretched or submitted to pressures,” he said.

The Pope urged Lebanese to do everything possible to maintain this social equilibrium, which he said “should be sought with insistence, preserved at all costs and consolidated with determination”.

Earlier in the day, speaking to reporters on the plane from Rome, Pope Benedict addressed some of the turbulence currently afflicting the rest of the Middle East. He praised the Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave that toppled dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and has dragged Syria, just across the border from Lebanon, into civil war.

The Pope said the movement represented positive aspirations for democracy and liberty and hence a “renewed Arab identity”. But he warned against the danger of forgetting that “human liberty is always a shared reality”, and consequently failing to protect the rights of Christian minorities in Muslim countries.

Many Middle Eastern Christians fear that revolution has empowered Islamist extremism in the region, increasing the danger of attacks and persecution of the sort that Iraq’s Christians have suffered since the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Asked about the current exodus of Christians from war-torn Syria, the Pope noted that Muslims, too, have been fleeing the violence there. He went on to say that the best way to preserve the Christian presence in Syria was to promote peace, among other ways by restricting sales of military arms.

Speaking only three days after the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and three of his staff members, the Pope told reporters that he had never considered cancelling his visit to Lebanon out of security concerns, and that no one had advised him to do so.

  • Sweetjae

    “Bless are the peacemakers for they are the children of God” …may Christ always bless you dear Benedict XVI!!

  • David Lindsay

    “Extraordinary and historic”. Thus has the Holy Father’s visit to Lebanon been described. By Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.

    Tomorrow has been declared a public holiday by the Government headed by the legendary Maronite General, Michel Aoun, and including Hezbollah, to which the Christians now look as their last line of defence. People whose view of Lebanon is stuck in the 1980s are precisely that: stuck in the 1980s. They often are about a lot of things.

    Whereas the other side, favoured by those against whom Hezbollah is defending Christian Lebanon, is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia. That Kingdom, like Turkey and Qatar, is funding, arming, and engaging directly in, the Islamist insurrection in and invasion of Syria, to the terror of the Christian population there. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have told their citizens not to visit Lebanon. Mercifully, Benedict XVI is neither Saudi not Qatari.

  • aearon43

    I confess to being quite perplexed by the intricities of Southwest Asian politics. Would you have a moment to explain how Hezbollah (classified as a terrorist organization by the US, UK, and Canada) is looked to by Christians as a last line of defence? I’m just going off of Wikipedia here and would sincerely appreciate any explanation.

    For example one point: Saudi Arabia is generally considered a “Western-friendly” nation, at least to some extent. During my time in the Air Force, Saudi planes were regularly allowed to land at our base and refuel. Obviously, we never saw any Iraqi or Iranian birds. 

  • Furry Animal

    I look at this through the lens of history and wonder on the consistency of it.

  • David Lindsay

    And therein, you summarise the entire problem. Our whole approach is completely detached from reality, notably from the reality that there are indigenous Christians in the Middle East at all. It is dictated by a State founded on their bloody mass expulsion in 1948.

    The President and half of the MPs in Lebanon have to be Christians. Specifically, the President has to be a Maronite Catholic. Yet we prefer Israel and the Gulf monarchs. Madness. Utter, utter madness.

  • aearon43

    I’m sure there may be some realpolitik at work, but I rather doubt the US military is “completely detached from reality.” If there’s one thing I learned from my military service it’s that childish idealism gets you absolutely nowhere. There are certainly many critiques one might make of the American armed forces, but, trust me, naive idealism is definitely not one of them. There is thus some real reason to give deference to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, although of course that reason may be quite self-serving.

    Rather than “madness, utter madness,” oil reserves is probably closer to what is influencing decision making in this regard. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are quite wealthy countries, on par with the wealthier countries of Western Europe and North America. GDP per capita in Lebanon is $15,522, versus $25,466 in Saudi Arabia and $102,943 in Qatar (one of the highest in the world). In contrast, GDP per capita in the United States is $48,386, and is $36,605 in the UK.

    This does not display madness on the part of the West, but it does show a disregard for religious liberty.

  • David Lindsay

    In its day, American Protestant missionary activity has had an important impact in the region. Its universities, untainted by association with British or French colonialism, nurtured generations of Arab nationalist leaders, Muslim and Christian alike. As did those with the most interest in defining the local and
    putatively national identity as Arab rather than Islamic, namely the ancient indigenous Christians. That was, and very largely still is, Arab nationalism: the fruitful encounter between, on the one hand, indigenous Catholicism and Orthodoxy (as well as Anglicanism and Lutheranism), including the Oriental Orthodoxy that is not really Monophysite at all, and, on the other hand, the educational opportunities opened up by American “mainline” Protestants.

    Alas, the numerical decline of Episcopalianism and of “mainline” Presbyterianism, Lutheranism and Methodism in American society has had an impact on, especially, the Republican Party, while the not coincidental decline of those bodies from the doctrinal and moral orthodoxy that, among other things, sends missionaries
    has cut them off from the wider Anglican, “Calvinist”, Lutheran and Methodist worlds.

    However, the wonderful Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Galilee, Elias Chacour, one of the greatest men of the present age and whose Nobel Peace Prize is long overdue, has founded and heads the first Arab university within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. It is a branch of the University of Indianapolis, an institution of the United Methodist Church, the largest “mainline” denomination. He also holds honorary doctorates from Duke and Emory, both of which are United Methodist foundations, and he has been honoured with the World Methodist Peace Award.

    The politically electrifying union of popular Catholicism and Orthodoxy with an academic leadership defined by traditional, not fundamentalist, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism and Methodism in their American expressions has happened before. It was specifically and successfully a bulwark against political Islam, as well as against Marxism. It was called the Arab nationalism
    of the Near East. It is still there. Including – indeed, now primarily – in Israel. And, very demonstrably, among the electors of Egypt. Meanwhile, Iran, with her reserved parliamentary representation for Armenians, Assyrians, Jews (yes, Jews) and Zoroastrians, is aiding the defenders of Christian, Shi’ite, Alawite and Druze Syria, and thus also Lebanon, against the agents of our dear friend and brother, the resurgent Caliphate of Turkey.

    All is far from lost.

    Including in the United States, where this is potentially a unifying force between, on the one hand, WASPs and Midwestern Lutherans (both of whom tend to be Republicans), and, on the other hand, Catholic and Orthodox “white ethnics”, who tend to be Democrats, and among whom Arabs are sometimes already classified, although Jews are not.

  • celtictaff

    Why do Christians including us Catholics conveniently forget the warning of the antichrist, we are clearly told who these people are in 1 John 2:21-23. and we are told because we know it, however uncomfortable it may be to admit it.
    St Paul gives us the correct instruction, in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
    I am not sorry if this offends the more PC minded, but certain truths are too obvious to be ignored.

  • Sweetjae

    You are still commanded by Christ to reach out, share the Gospel and evangelize those you considered “anti-Christ”.

  • FlaviusClemens

    Can there ever be a genuine peace between Christians and Muslims? If Christ is our peace how can we work for a peace with those who reject his authority and do not believe in him?

  • daclamat

    It was gratifying to see the ranks of Lebanese peacekeepers on parade to make sure his holiness could do his pilgrim of peace routine without bother. The day he goes somewhere unheralded unaccompanied by brass bands and gun toting protectors, without fawning appointees and splendour that would have made Solomon blush he might claw back some credibility.

  • Corinthian

    There is n