BKIRKI/BEIRUT: Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday he was moved by the courage of Syrian youth and called for interfaith unity to end violence in the Middle East.
“I am moved by your courage and I pray for you always and I want to tell you that the pope never forgets you,” Benedict told a group of youths of various Arab nationalities during a ceremony at Bkirki, the Seat of the Maronite Patriarchate.
“The pope is saddened by your hardships. You are in my prayers,” Benedict added.
The pope’s comments came at the end of the second day of his three-day visit to this Mediterranean country.
Dressed in black and white, a Christian-Muslim choir chanted a selection of songs from both faiths in a symbol of unity as those gathered outside Bkirki waved flags of various Arab nations, including those of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as the flag of the Vatican.
Balloons arranged in the shape of rosary beads were suspended over the grand stage erected for the occasion and Christian charity groups organized a number of performances in honor of the pontiff, the third Catholic pope to visit Lebanon.
The Holy See also said violence that has swept the region could come to an end through interfaith unity.
“It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together to put an end to violence in the Middle East,” the pontiff, who held discussions earlier in the day with Lebanon’s various religious leaders, said.
He reiterated his praise of Lebanon’s “beautiful coexistence” and urged Muslim youths to work with their fellow Christians.
During the ceremony, Benedict urged Christians not to abandon their land because of an “uncertain future.”
“Unemployment and dangers should not force you to migrate for an uncertain future. Act as the makers of your country's future and play your role in society and the Church,” he said.
"It is not easy to forgive but God's forgiveness should give you the ability to do so because reconciliation and forgiveness pave the way for peace,” he said, calling on Christians to respect and love others regardless of their religious or cultural differences.
The pope also urged the youth to reject superficiality and love of money.
“You know you cannot worship God and money at the same time,” he added.
Patriarch Beshara Rai, who accompanied Benedict in the Popemobile to Bkirki, kicked off the ceremony with a brief speech in which he warned against the rise of religious extremism which he said evoked apprehension in the youth.
“Today the youth are suffering from political, social, economic and cultural crises which affect their faith and leads to a loss to their Christian identity,” Rai said.
“The fears of the youths are aggravated when faced with the phenomenon of religious extremism, which does not allow intellectual or religious differences but encourages violence as a means to achieve goals,” he added.
A representative of the youth in the Middle East addressed the Holy See and said that “this generation lives in an ocean of fears and concerns.”
“In the name of the youth in the Middle East, I want to say that we live in a sea of fears and concerns ... from the security situation to political crises, unemployment and many other substantial difficulties,” the representative said.
“We try to overcome them ... but we feel incapable of effecting change as many of us migrate, looking for a brighter future,” she added.
She also said that the youth refused to immigrate in order to preserve the “unique makeup” of the region and prevent it from becoming religious districts.
The pope said in a speech Saturday at the presidential palace that religious freedom was fundamental for stability and stressed that forgiveness was key to reconciliation to promote harmony between cultures and religions.
During his stop at Baabda, the pope met with Lebanon’s top three officials as well as Muslim religious figures.
The Holy See signed the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East Friday in a ceremony at Saint Paul Basilica in Harissa, north of Beirut, where he urged Christians not to be afraid but brave difficulties facing them in the region.
He also praised Lebanon as a model of coexistence for the Middle East and the world where Christians and Muslims live side by side. -With additional reporting by Stephen Dockery