BEIRUT: Pope Benedict XVI inspired a rare moment of political harmony in Lebanon as lawmakers called for the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation for the Middle East.
Benedict signed the Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops on the first day of his visit. The decree calls for interreligious dialogue in the Middle East and a remedy against extremism. It carries recommendations made by the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops which convened in October 2010.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the pope’s visit will restore in Christians a confidence they have lost.
“In this period and amid these circumstances, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit comes at the right time and aims to give meaning to what is happening in the region,” Geagea said.
Geagea said that all Christians should unite in supporting the Exhortation. “This Exhortation does not tackle details but [rather deals with] general principles and broad lines regarding what is happening in the region,” Geagea said.
Batroun MP Butros Harb voiced hope that the pope’s visit, which wrapped up Sunday, would have a strong affect on the region.
“Muslims and Christians should realize they are destined to coexist,” Harb told a local TV station, adding that the “visit sends a message to the Christians of the East that Christianity originated in this region and that they are not guests.”
Vera Yammin, of Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement, dubbed the pope’s visit “historic in the full sense of the term, in this decisive period the region and Christians are witnessing.”
Yammin expressed hope that the Exhortation would be implemented, but doubted that all groups in Lebanon will have the same understanding of the document.
Druze MP Talal Arslan praised the pontiff’s comments about the need to stop the flow of weapons into Syria, calling the pope a “messenger of peace, love, reason and rationality.”
The pope’s visit “is positive and carries a blessing for the Lebanese formula [of coexistence],” Future Movement MP Nuhad Mashnouq said.
The Sunni lawmaker added that the “true purpose of the visit is addressing Christians in the Middle East via Lebanon.”
On Saturday, the pope met with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Speaker Nabih Berri and the heads of Islamic sects at Baabda Palace.
Before the pontiff arrived, Sleiman’s family including his wife, son, two daughters, their husbands and children could be seen waiting for his arrival in the hallway. One of Sleiman’s five grandchildren clutched flowers to give the pontiff.
The pope arrived to a rousing dabke dance and a lush red carpet, complete with a lineup of soldiers holding ceremonial spears.
While waiting for the pope to finish his private meetings, politicians from across the political divide mingled. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, had a long chat. Geagea and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai had a brief conversation.
Eventually, the pope and Sleiman emerged into Baabda Palace to deliver separate speeches.
After the speeches, reflecting the spirit of religious coexistence, Geagea could be seen laughing with the vice president of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan and later on with Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani.
Not only were the politicians in a harmonious mood. Hundreds lining the road to Baabda Palace were a mixed crowd too.
“We are [supporters of] Hezbollah, we came here to welcome the pope,” said one woman, who stood among many others wearing veils and chadors.
“We come from the country of peace and resistance and ... We support the message of the pope, which is that of love, peace and resistance against the occupation,” she said.
The pope’s message is the same as that of Islam, she added.
Odette Abu Zeid, who came from Jisr al-Basha, said the pope’s visit is reassuring for her as a Christian.
“We fear that we might be displaced, but this visit reassures us ... We wish for a better future for Lebanon,” she said, waving both the Lebanese and Vatican flags.
“We have been waiting for this visit for a long time ... This visit brings peace to Lebanon.”