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Army to implement strict ban on weapons during pope’s visit

Preparations are under way in Downtown Beirut, where the pope is expected to hold a Mass. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army will strictly monitor a temporary invalidation of arms licenses during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon next week, it said Tuesday, amid preparations to ensure security during the prelate’s visit.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flock to Harissa in Kesrouan to greet the pope when he arrives for a three-day visit next Friday. Turnout is expected to be even higher during a holy Mass presided over by the pope on the second day of his visit at the Beirut City Center Waterfront.

“Given the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon between Sept. 14 and 16, the Lebanese Army, in coordination with other security forces in the country, has decided to monitor the strict implementation of the Defense Ministry’s decision to temporarily suspend most arms licenses throughout the country,” the Army said in a statement.

“Bodyguards accompanying ministers, MPs and former MPs, religious dignitaries and diplomats are exempted from the restriction,” it added.

The Army also said that it is strictly forbidden to fly glider aircraft in Mount Lebanon’s Jounieh area between Sept. 7 and Sept. 17.

Meanwhile, preparations by Baabda Palace and Catholic churches across the country continued Tuesday to prepare for the pope’s visit, which comes 15 years after his predecessor Pope John Paul II traveled to the country.

“Preparations have reached an advanced level and today we have started the campaign of registering the names of the Lebanese who will take part in the youth gathering in Bkirki,” said Father Khalil Alwan, secretary-general of the Central Coordination Committee.

According to Alwan, nearly 20,000 young Lebanese between the ages of 15 and 30 will take part in the pope’s meeting with the youth in Bkirki on the second day of his visit.

“Whenever his holiness travels abroad, he has a stop for a meeting with the youth and his holiness wants to keep this tradition,” Alwan said.

Alwan also said that all the programs scheduled during the pope’s visit to Lebanon are given “equal importance” and a number of sub-committees are working in coordination with the Central Coordination Committee to make to make the visit a successful one.

“We have distributed tasks to various sub-committees that will work under the supervision of the CCC through regular meetings,” he said.

Alwan added that the committee is also holding regular meetings with the presidential guard of the Baabda Palace and the Swiss Guard of the Vatican.

On the first day of his arrival, Benedict will sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.

“Pope John Paul II signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for Lebanon and Pope Benedict XVI will sign the one for the Middle East,” Alwan said.

He added that the apostolic exhortation for the Middle East will provide recommendations to Christians and encourage peaceful coexistence between religions.

“This visit will emphasize the important issues facing the Lebanese and will also show that Lebanon is not only a site of wars,” he said.

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani welcomed the pope’s upcoming trip and voiced hope the visit would comfort Christians of Lebanon and the region.

Qabbani also voiced hope that the pope’s visit would help Lebanon regain its role as a place for coexistence between Christians and Muslims, which he said has long been overshadowed by sectarian conflicts.

“We need to emphasize forgiveness and cooperation between us [Christians and Muslims],” Qabbani added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2012, on page 3.

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