BEIRUT: The situation in the Middle East is becoming increasingly dangerous and threatens the presence of Christians, Maronite Bishop Michel Aoun said Sunday during a talk with reporters about the pope’s upcoming visit to Lebanon.
“The pope’s synod is a road map for Christians in Lebanon and the Middle East; we all know that Christians are experiencing difficulties due to the political and regional situation and that they are exposed to immigration,” Aoun said.
“The Vatican and the pope are not indifferent to this situation, which is worsening daily and endangering the presence of Christians in the Middle East,” he added.
The bishop, who spoke from his Jbeil diocese, was referring to the 2010 special Synod of Bishops document dedicated to Christians in the Middle East, which Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to hand to Lebanon’s Maronite Church during his three-day visit to the country.
The pope is scheduled to arrive on Sept. 14 and is expected to meet with political and religious figures in the country and hold an open-air mass at Beirut’s waterfront.
Aoun added that the pope’s visit is a message of hope, urging Lebanon’s Christians and Muslims alike to open their hearts and minds and receive the prelate.
“[The pope’s] concern is to preserve the coexistence that we are all urged to practice, not only in Lebanon but in all Middle Eastern countries, especially those that are suffering from fundamental problems threatening the presence of Christians,” he added.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Saturday that next week’s visit is "considered an act of great courage and hope worldwide" as a civil war rages in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon, which has a significant Catholic community, was selected for the Sept. 14-16 trip "before the situation in Syria escalated into an overt and bloody conflict," Lombardi wrote in an editorial for the Vatican weekly Octava Dies.
He said the Arab Spring and the Syrian situation make the Church's engagement with the region's Christian communities even "more urgent."
Lombardi added that problems identified at a special synod of bishops two years ago on the Middle East were now more acute, including issues such as dialogue between Islam and Judaism, religious freedom and democracy. –With AFP