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Pope arrives in Lebanon, notes 'delicate equilibrium' of coexistence

Catholic World News - September 14, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Beirut on Friday afternoon, September 14, for a 3-day visit during which he will release an apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, and encourage reconciliation in a region brimming with political and religious tensions.

The Pope arrived at Rafik Hariri airport--named for the Lebanese prime minister whose in a 2005 bombing is emblematic of the country’s recent turmoil—at 2 pm. He was greeted by Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman and by a large group of political and religious leaders.

“Christians and Muslims welcome you,” announced the Lebanese leader. Sleiman said that Lebanon is proud of its history of peaceful coexistence among believers of different faiths. He said that the country’s people have looked forward to the visit by the Pope as a messenger of peace, and “hope that your visit will bring good to Lebanon and Christians throughout the East.”

In his own remarks at the airport ceremony, Pope Benedict spoke of the long and friendly ties between Lebanon and the Holy See. He remarked that a statue of St. Maron, the patron of Lebanon’s Maronite rite, now stands in St. Peter’s basilica as “a constant reminder of Lebanon in the very place where the Apostle Peter was laid to rest.”

The Pope thanked the many Church leaders who were present to greet him, offering a special acknowledgement to Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the former Maronite Patriarch, and to his successor, Patiarch Bechara Rai. He also took care to “greet very warmly the Orthodox patriarchs and bishops” who were on hand, and spoke about the history of religious cooperation in Lebanon.

Lebanon, the Pope said, has shown the world that “there can exist cooperation between the various churches… and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions.” He added, however, that “this equilibrium…is extremely delicate,” and must be preserved with care.

The Pope reminded his Lebanese hosts that his primary purpose during the visit will be the release of his apostolic exhortation concluding the work of the special Synod for the Middle East. He disclosed the name for the document: Ecclesia in Medio Oriente.

“I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men,” the Pope said as he concluded his address. He offered his prayers for all the people suffering today in the Middle East.

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