14 September 2012

Pope to Lebanese: I am happy to be here with you

Pope Benedict XVI arrived this afternoon in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, the only country in the Middle East where a person can convert from one religion to another without fear of death.  It is also a country in which eighteen different religions live in basic harmony and the Catholic Church is present is seven different rites.

Photo source: Osservatore Romano/Reuters
Prior to the departure of the Holy Father, John Allen discussed four possibles lenses, if you will, through which this Apostolic Journey can be viewed.  Reuters has a good article exploring the background and political and religious make up of Lebanon.

This morning protesters set fire to a Hardee's and a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the northern city of Tripoli as they chanted, "We don't want the Pope" and "No more insults" in response to a video that ridiculed Mohammed.

In recent days, violence has been spreading throughout the Middle East against the embassies of the United States of America and of Germany.  Despite the spread of this unrest the resulted in the murder of the ambassador of the United States to Libya, "No one ever advised me to cancel this trip and I never took that idea into consideration," the Holy Father said en route to Lebanon, "because I know that as the situation becomes more complicated, it is even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. Therefore the aim of my visit is an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems."

In the midst of this civil result, at the Welcome Ceremony at Rafiq Hariri Airport, Pope Benedict reminded the Lebanese people that the coexistence of religions in one country "will run deep only if it is founded upon a welcoming regard for the other and upon an attitude of benevolence, and if it is rooted in God who wishes all men to be brothers."  He also expressed his confidence that "your country is preparing a fine welcome for me, a warm welcome, the welcome that is given to a beloved and respected brother. I know that your country wishes to be worthy of the Lebanese Ahlan wa Sahlan [welcome]. It is already so, and from now on it will be so even more," he said, adding, "I am happy to be here with you."

The Holy Father has traveled to Lebanon to sign the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, titled Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (Church in the Middle East), which he signed this evening in the Basilica of Saint Paul in Harissa.

Before signing the document, Pope Benedict XVI called the act of exalting the Cross an act of faith, love, and hope.

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