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Pope urges Christians of East to brave difficulties
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HARISSA, Lebanon: Pope Benedict XVI urged Friday Christians of the East to be brave and remain loyal to their beliefs and values and encouraged “genuine” dialogue among different religions.

“I urge you not to be afraid but to live in the truth with your beliefs via the language of the Cross,” the Holy See told Christians of the East in a ceremony to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.

Reading the message of the bishops’ synod, the Holy See encouraged “genuine dialogue among religions that believe in one God.”

Addressing churches in the East, he said: “I ask you to achieve the vow of your faith and practice partnership and testimony in your daily lives.”

“I ask all religious figures and civilians and say to them: remain courageous,” the pope said, adding that the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation was of great importance to the entire region.

Benedict also spoke about “the joyful coexistence” between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon, saying it has “contributed to the creation of a very rich culture that distinguishes its social and religious life.”

“We insist on such a truth, we encourage and support it,” he added.

Crowds gathered at St. Paul's Basilica in Harissa, north of Beirut, where the prelate signed the document that earlier in the day he described as the "the road map for Christians for years to come."

Benedict, who arrived at 1.30 p.m. in Beirut, arrived in Harissa at 6 p.m. to the sound church bells in his honor.

The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, according to media reports, is a message for Christians in the region and a call on them not to abandon their land as a result of war or forced immigration.

During his speech upon arrival at Rafik Hariri International Airport, the prelate said his visit aimed at delivering the synod, which he described as "a road map for Christians for years to come," as well as consecrating the work of the Maronite Church.

Wearing yellow and white flags and hats, visitors said they eagerly awaited the pope's message to Christians which they believed would reinforce their presence in the region.

St. Paul’s Basilica was built between 1947 and 1962 and is located south of Our Lady of Lebanon, a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius Lahham III, who welcomed Pope Benedict, began the Mass with a brief word about the German-born preacher and spoke of the synod which he described as a message to Christians and the Arab world.

“You carry a message to Lebanon, the country that is a message in itself, just as it has been called by your predecessor,” Lahham said, referring to late John Paul II during a visit to the country in 1997.

He added that the core of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation was “partnership and testimony.”

“The synod is a message for Christians in Lebanon and the East and it is necessary for the success of their testimony, their message and role in the Arab region,” he added.

He voiced support for the Catholic Church in the Vatican, saying the world is in need of a unified church that is strong enough to carry the principles of love, hope and truth.

Lahham thanked the Vatican for its support to the Palestinian cause, noting that an end to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis could pave the way for the settling of many of the Arab world’s problems.

"A solution to the crisis ... can also hold back the migration of Christians and reinforce their presence,” he added.

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