Lebanon News

Pope urges unity as he departs Lebanon

BEIRUT: Pope Benedict XVI urged Lebanese Sunday to reject strife and continue their model of coexistence before departing Beirut at the end of a rare three-day visit by the head of the Catholic Church to this Mediterranean country.

“I pray to God for Lebanon, that she may live in peace and courageously resist all that could destroy or undermine that peace,” Benedict said in his farewell speech at Beirut’s international airport.

"I hope that Lebanon will fortify the communion among all her inhabitants, whatever their community or religion, that she will resolutely reject all that could lead to disunity, and with determination choose brotherhood," the pope added.

The Holy See also praised the efforts of the president and the government in organizing activities during his stay and said: “In these troubled times, the Arab world and indeed the entire world will have seen Christians and Muslims united in celebrating peace.”

“May God bless Lebanon and all the Lebanese,” the Holy See added as hundreds of people dressed in white and carrying The Vatican flags chanted his name.

The Holy See waved goodbye to onlookers before boarding a Middle East Airlines Airbus 320, which took off at 7.30 p.m. and is headed to the Italian capital Rome.

"But, to that consideration and respect, you added something else [to the trip], which can be compared to one of those renowned oriental spices which enriche the taste of food: your warmth and your affection, which make me wish to return. I thank you for that especially," Benedict said.

President Michel Sleiman, who spoke during the farewell ceremony, thanked the pontiff for his efforts to help Lebanon remain united and said that his country would stay loyal to the message of coexistence.

“We cannot but thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your compassion, care and efforts for the sake of Lebanon and its unity,” the president said after a military band played the national anthems for the Vatican and Lebanon.

“You depart the land of the cedars after bringing it and the East a message of peace and love in a time of historic changes and challenges,” Sleiman said.

Sleiman, the only Christian head of state in the Arab world, also said that the Synod represents a “new hope for Lebanon,” because it carries political, culture and social recommendations.

Benedict’s last stop prior to his departure from Rafik Hariri International Airport was the Syriac Catholic monastery in Charfet, north of Beirut, where he called for the unity of Christians in the Middle East.

During the 30-minute meeting with Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan as well as patriarchs and bishops of non-Catholic denominations, the pope stressed the importance of Christian unity in the Middle East and reiterated his call for Christians not to abandon their land.

Patriarch Younan received the pope upon arrival and accompanied him to the Hall of Honor, where the Holy See signed the monastery’s guest book.

The pontiff, who was welcomed by Lebanese of different faiths during his stay, will deliver a farewell speech before boarding a Middle East Airlines Airbus 320 at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport at 7 p.m.

During his three-day visit, which comes 15 years after the landmark visit of the late Pope John Paul II, the head of the Roman Catholic Church called for interfaith dialogue as a means to bring peace to the region.

In a Sunday morning Mass attended by an estimated 350,000 people at the Beirut Water Front City, the pope urged the Arab countries and the world to propose solutions to end the conflict in Syria.

“Let us ask her [Virgin Mary] to intercede with her divine son for you [Lebanon] and, more particularly, for the people of Syria and the neighboring countries, imploring the gift of peace,” the pope said at the end of the Mass.

“You know the problems that beset the region. There is a tremendous amount of pain ... Why so much death? I call on the international community and Arab countries to propose solutions which respect human rights," he added.

Sleiman, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati as well as MPs and Cabinet ministers attended the Mass. Other politicians in attendance included Future Movement MP Bahia Hariri and several Hezbollah deputies.

During his visit, the Holy See met with various Christian and Muslim figures including Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani who delivered a letter to the pope and said Saturday that “any attack on Christians is in an attack on Muslims.”

The pope, who said he represented a “pilgrim of peace” during his stay in Lebanon, urged Christians in the country and the Middle East not to abandon their land.

In a gathering Saturday with Arab and Lebanese youth at Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate, the pope said he was moved by the courage of Syrian youth and said he was saddened by the hardships of the people there.

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.

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.





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