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Pope Arrives in Lebanon

Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman greets Pope Benedict XVI at Rafiq Hariri International Airport in Beirut 14 Sept. The pope arrived in Lebanon saying that he came “as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men.” (Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters) 

17 Sep 2012 – By Francis X. Rocca

BEIRUT (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon Sept. 14, saying that he came “as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men.”

In his remarks at a welcoming ceremony at Beirut’s airport, Pope Benedict praised Lebanon, with a mixed population of Christians and Muslims, for its distinctive record of “coexistence and respectful dialogue.”

But speaking in a country that was devastated by a civil war from 1975 to 1990, the pope acknowledged that Lebanese society’s “equilibrium, which is presented everywhere as an example, is extremely delicate.”

“Sometimes it seems about to snap like a bow which is overstretched or submitted to pressures,” he said. The pope said Lebanon’s social equilibrium “should be sought with insistence, preserved at all costs and consolidated with determination.”

Earlier in the day, speaking to reporters on the plane from Rome, Pope Benedict addressed some of the turbulence currently affecting the rest of the Middle East. He praised the so-called Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave that started in December 2010, leading to the fall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and currently threatening the government of Syria, just across the border from Lebanon.

The pope said the movement represented positive aspirations for democracy and liberty and hence a “renewed Arab identity.” But he warned against the danger of forgetting that “human liberty is always a shared reality,” and consequently failing to protect the rights of Christian minorities in Muslim countries.

Many Middle Eastern Christians fear that revolution has empowered Islamist extremism in the region, increasing the danger of attacks and persecution of the sort that Iraq's Christians have suffered since the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Pope Benedict’s primary reason for visiting Lebanon is to deliver his document of reflections on the 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which was dedicated to Christians in the Middle East.

Asked about the current exodus of Christians from civil-war-torn Syria, the pope noted that Muslims, too, have been fleeing the violence there. He went on to say that the best way to preserve the Christian presence in Syria was to promote peace, among other ways by restricting sales of military arms.

Speaking only three days after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three of his staff members, the pope told reporters that he had never considered canceling his visit to Lebanon out of security concerns, and that no one had advised him to do so.

The pope arrived at the Beirut airport, which was closed to all other air traffic for reasons of security, at shortly before 2 p.m. He was welcomed by Lebanon President Michel Suleiman, a Maronite Catholic, who hailed the pope for bringing the “peace of God in whom all the people of this region believe.”

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Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Arab Spring Synod of Bishops for Middle East