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Vatican never considered postponing papal trip to Lebanon: Cardinal Bertone

Catholic World News - September 13, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Lebanon as a “messenger of peace,” the Vatican Secretary of State said in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone acknowledged that the Pope will be traveling at a time of intense upheaval and anxiety in the Middle East. But he rejected the notion that a major worldwide conflict is brewing between Christians and Muslims. The Christian minority has a special role to play in the Middle East, working for reconciliation and peace, the cardinal said.

“The Pope is not a political commentator!” Cardinal Bertone cautioned. Nevertheless, he said, the Pontiff has followed developments in the Middle East with a keen interest, and has been “very well informed” about the consequences of the “Arab Spring” uprisings. The Pontiff will not comment directly on political events during his stay in Lebanon, the cardinal said, but he will certainly “continue to insist that religion and religious values are an important element of the social fabric.”

The Pope’s principal reason for the trip to Lebanon, Cardinal Bertone emphasized, is to release his apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, and encourage Catholics to persevere in their mission there.

Some observers have raised concerns that the escalating violence in neighboring Syria could spill over into Lebanon. But when asked whether the Vatican had ever considered postponing the papal trip, the Secretary of State replied firmly: “No, never.” He added that the Vatican has not even made any special requests for security for the papal visit, beyond the usual precautions for any trip abroad. The cardinal said that the Vatican had carefully monitored the situation in Lebanon, and confirmed that the country’s people—including religious leaders of all faiths—are anxiously looking forward to the Pope’s arrival.

Commenting briefly on the unrest in Syria, Cardinal Bertone said that it is a mistake to believe that Church officials there have favored the incumbent regime, simply because they have argued against violent upheaval. Nor are Church leaders acting as bystanders in the conflict, he said. “The position of the Church is not neutral,” said the cardinal. “It is quite clear and simple: Violence only leads to more violence. Violence leads to death.”

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