BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai announced Sunday that Pope Benedict XVI would tour Lebanon on an official visit starting Sept. 14. Rai’s announcement came during an Easter Sunday Mass held at Bkirki.
The head of the Maronite Church said Pope Benedict’s visit would be between Sept. 14-16 and that he would meet top officials, including President Michel Sleiman.
A statement from Sleiman’s office said the visit would affirm the depth of the “historical relations that tie Lebanon with the [Vatican] and will form an occasion to focus on Lebanon’s position, message and role as a witness of freedom and coexistence.”
In November, Prime Minister Najib Mikati communicated to Benedict XVI an official invitation on behalf of Sleiman and the Lebanese people.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi had announced at the time that during his visit to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI would present Middle Eastern bishops an apostolic exhortation.
Leaders of Catholic churches across the Middle East and many believers are expected to travel to Lebanon to take part in the pope’s upcoming visit.
In 1997, deceased Pope John Paul II paid a historic visit to Lebanon and led prayers at the Our Lady of Lebanon Basilica in the Kesrouan village of Harissa. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to welcome Jean Paul II, who made the visit a few years after Lebanon’s bloody 15-year Civil War ended in 1990.
John Paul II had prayed that Our Lady of Lebanon who had watched over the suffering and trials of the Lebanese people could help all those who were suffering worldwide.
In January 2007, a few months after the 2006 war with Israel ended, Pope Benedict XVI made an appeal for peace and prayed that Our Lady of Lebanon would protect the Lebanese from harm and strife.
“To Christians in Lebanon, I repeat the exhortation to be promoters of real dialogue between the various communities, and upon everyone I invoke the protection of Our Lady of Lebanon,” he said.