As the Islamic world is outraged by the anti Mohamed film produced by an Israeli in the US, Pope Benedict arrives in Lebanon as a great man of peace and friend of all peoples.
The shift towards the Papacy and away from America, for moral leadership, could not be more dramatic and obvious.
The Vatican is on a dramatic, great leap forward, as the world’s caring peacemaker, and is making giant strides towards the role of the world’s ultimate moral leader.
If Benedict can bring mainstream Islam under his moral wings, the stage will be ready for the raising of the curtain on the final false prophet, who deceives the whole world into accepting him as the world’s ultimate moral leader in place of God, in the so called, absence of God.
Could the next pope and final false prophet be the very architect of this movement, of the Vatican onto the world stage as loving peacemaker and moral leader: The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone?
POPE ARRIVES IN LEBANON AS A FRIEND OF ALL THE INHABITANTS OF THE MIDDLE EAST
Vatican City, (VIS) – Shortly before 2 p.m. local time today, Benedict XVI arrived at the international airport of Beirut, which is named after Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon who was killed in a bomb attack in 2005.
The Holy Father was greeted by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Rai, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites; Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, and Naguib Miqati, prime minister of Lebanon.
Pronouncing his first words on Lebanese soil, the Pope recalled how, during President Sleiman’s visit to the Vatican in February 2011, a ceremony had taken place to bless a great statue of St. Maron which stands in a niche on the outside wall of the Vatican Basilica. The presence of that statue, Pope Benedict said, “is a constant reminder of Lebanon in the very place where the Apostle Peter was laid to rest. It witnesses to a long spiritual heritage, confirming the Lebanese people’s veneration for the first of the Apostles and for his successors”.
The Holy Father also expressed his satisfaction at the excellent relations that have always existed between Lebanon and the Holy See, and underlined the ecclesial importance of one of the reasons for his trip, “the signature and the consigning of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, ‘Ecclesia in Medio Oriente'”.
He then went on to thank the Catholic patriarchs for their presence, particularly Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir and his successor Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai. He also greeted Lebanese bishops and, through them, “all the Christians of the Middle East”. The Exhortation, he explained, is “addressed to everyone” and “is intended as a roadmap for the years to come. During these days I am also pleased to be able to meet many representatives from the Catholic communities of your country, so as to celebrate and pray together. Their presence, commitment and witness are a valued contribution and are highly appreciated in the daily life of all the inhabitants of your beloved country”. The Pope also expressed his warm greetings to the Orthodox patriarchs and bishops who had come to welcome him, as well as representatives of the other religious communities in Lebanon.
“Your presence”, he said, “shows the esteem and the cooperation which, in mutual respect, you wish to promote among everyone. I thank you for your efforts and I am certain that you will continue to seek out the paths of unity and concord. I cannot forget the sad and painful events which have affected your beautiful country along the years. The successful way the Lebanese all live together surely demonstrates to the whole Middle East and to the rest of the world that, within a nation, there can exist cooperation between the various Churches, all members of the one Catholic Church in a fraternal spirit of communion with other Christians, and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions.
Like me, you know that this 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 which are too often partisan, even selfish, contrary and extraneous to Lebanese harmony and gentleness. This is where real moderation and great wisdom are tested. And reason must overcome one-sided passion in order to promote the greater good of all”.
“I have also come to say how important the presence of God is in the life of everyone and how the manner of coexistence, this conviviality to which your country wishes to bear witness, 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. The celebrated Lebanese equilibrium which wishes to continue to be a reality, will continue through the good will and commitment of all Lebanese. Only then will it serve as a model to the inhabitants of the whole region and of the entire world. This is not just a human task, but a gift of God which should be sought with insistence, preserved at all costs, and consolidated with determination”.
“I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men. … Looking beyond your country, I also come symbolically to all the countries of the Middle East as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs. … Your joys and sorrows are constantly present in the Pope’s prayers and I ask God to accompany you and to comfort you. Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region. The statue of St. Maron reminds me of what you live and endure”.
Following the welcome ceremony the Pope travelled to the apostolic nunciature in Harissa.
Lebanese Media Coverage
(Vatican Radio) Our correspondent in Beirut Tracey McClure has been looking through the Lebanese newspapers just ahead of Pope Benedict’s arrival. She gives this review of the local press and of the final preparations for the papal visit.
Full text of Tracey’s report: “The Lebanese Church has been preparing for this visit for months, writing up a special prayer for the Holy Father’s visit, holding novenas in the run up to his arrival, Christian and Muslim prayer vigils and lighting colored candles on balconies and rooftops as gentle stars of hope glimmering in the darkness of the night.
Church and political leaders from all the country’s 18 different sects are rallying all the Lebanese to turn out en masse to greet the Pope and follow his visit through the media in a sign of unity as conflict and violence sweep through the region from counties as close as Syria and Iraq to Yemen, Libya and Egypt. A glance at the leading papers here in Lebanon reveals how much is riding on this papal visit and how high hopes are that Pope Benedict will offer a powerful message of peace in response to the violence.
The English language Daily Star offers a front page banner welcoming the Pope with the Vatican and Lebanese flags flying over a blue sky and leads with an article on Thursday’s press conference with one of the chief organizers of the visit, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, who leads “one of the most influential Christian communities” in the region. The paper reports that the Patriarch described the papal visit “as a call for peace in the Middle East and a call for the separation of religion from the state, for building democracy and for the acceptance of the other.” Inside the paper – a full page dedicated to the papal visit and logistics titled “Lebanese of all faiths hope Pope visit heralds peace.”
L’Oriente le Jour, the French daily, opens with an editorial on the papal visit entitled “The Pastor’s anguish” with an overview of the last 15 years in Lebanon and the Middle East since Pope John Paul II was here in 1997. The article describes Pope’s arrival as reviving hopes for peace not just in Lebanon but throughout the Mideast. An Nahar leads with an article entitled “the Pope with us on the 14th of September” describing the anticipation of people here, and picking up on a Vatican Radio interview with Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran. In that interview, the Cardinal said the Pope’s visit to Lebanon is a call to communion among Christians and dialogue with non-Christians. “This,” he said, “is Lebanon!” For in Lebanon, “Muslims, Christians, Druse, everyone goes to school together; they all have the same books, the same professors.” Drawing on his experiences living four years through Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, the Cardinal said “the school (is what) has made Lebanon.” He remarked that the pluralism and coexistence of people of many different faiths in lebanon exist in no other place in “this part of the world” and “must be safeguarded.”
Arab language dailies such as Al Moustakbal and Al Safir run headlines like “All of Lebanon welcomes the Pope” and “Lebanon welcomes the Pope with concern over the situation in Syria” and offer lengthy inserts on the religious and political dimensions of this historic visit and the Apostolic Exhortation that the Pope will be signing as the new mission of the Church in the Middle East. The Armenian daily Aztag offers a first page photo of Pope Benedict welcoming him to the region and reporting on Patriarch Rai’s briefing with the headline “ The Pope’s visit will bring peace to the region” and refers to Lebanese President Michel Sleiman’s and other political leaders’ appeals to the population to make the visit a success.”
2012-09-13 Vatican Radio
“Yesterday in Beirut there was a meeting with Christians and Muslims coming together to pray and reflect on the Holy Virgin…that’s the best answer that Lebanon could give to the situation around the region and the whole world these days”, says Pope Benedict XVI’s representative in Lebanon , Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.
Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure, the Nuncio reflects on Lebanon’s role as a message of peaceful coexistence between people of different religious and cultural backgrounds in the one nationhood.
Q: What are your hopes regarding the situation in Syria which are so dramatic today?
A: “The Holy Father has intervened many times over the past months and even recently on Sunday, saying stop the violence! That’s the first measure needed for the people, we can’t just look at what’s going on, without trying to do something. There is a dramatic humanitarian situation that needs to be addressed and the Holy Father is asking everyone to stop the violence. And to find a way through dialogue the answer to the legitimate aspirations of the people of Syria in a way which also gives guarantees to all its components for a better society. Of course the situation in Syria depends also on the balance of powers in the region and the good will of the international community as a whole. We know that there is a new distribution of powers in this region and so if there is not the presence of all the actors internationally, regionally and locally, there will be no answer to the situation in Syria”.
Q: Pope John Paul used to call Lebanon “a message of pluralism and coexistence between people of different faiths”…yet the country has struggled with tensions remaining from its civil war years and from outside pressures…what future do you hope to see for the Land of the Cedars?
A: The message of Blessed John Paul II came after a long experience of division, but recalling the long, long tradition of Lebanon, of respect, of freedom. And so when he said the famous sentence “Lebanon is more than a message, both for the West and the East” he was giving the main mission of this country. Even now Lebanon has learned from their own suffering and divisions that no one is a winner, everyone is a loser. That is why even in this difficult moment in the region, Lebanon is trying to find a unity to answer positively to the situation avoiding conflicts divisions in respect for the others. It is very important for Lebanon to be shown as an example of a country where diversity and communion could have a place in society, at all levels of society.
The President of this country is Christian – the only one in the whole region. The deputy and his ministers are half Muslims, half Christians. There is no discrimination. That’s the beauty of Lebanon: diversity, respect, freedom and unity”. Listen to the full interview:
2012-09-14 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) On his flight over to Beirut on Friday, Pope Benedict responded to journalists’ questions about war and violence in the Middle East, about the exodus of Christians, the Arab Spring and a growing fundementalism in the region.
Below please find Vatican Radio’s unofficial translation of the press conference:
Q: Holy Father, in these days we’re marking terrible anniversaries, such as 9/11 or the massacre at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps. Close to Lebanon’s borders a bloody civil war is being waged and the threat of violence is always close at hand in other countries as well. With what feelings are you undertaking this journey? Was there a possibility, or did anyone suggest that you should cancel it for security reasons?
A: I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk with you. No one ever advised me to cancel this trip and I never took that idea into consideration, 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. My feelings are above all feelings of gratitude to be able to visit at this time this great country, which – as John Paul II said – is a message of encounter for the three religions in this region. I am grateful to the Lord who has given me this possibility, grateful to all the institutions and people who have worked and continue to work for this occasion. And I am grateful for all those accompanying me in prayer, for this protection through prayer. I am happy and I’m sure that we can be of real service to peace and to people here.
Q: Many Catholics are expressing concern about a growing fundamentalism in different parts of the world and about attacks that target Christians in many places around the globe. In this difficult and often bloody context, how can the Church respond to the imperative of dialogue with Islam that you have always insisted upon?
A: Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion and goes against the meaning of religion which is, instead, an invitation to share God’s peace throughout the world. Therefore the commitment of the Church and of religions is to undertake a purification of such temptations, to illuminate consciences and to try and provide everyone with a clear image of God. We must all respect each other. Each of us is an image of God and we must mutually respect each other. The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism, it must be education and the illumination and purification of conscience to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace.
Q: In the context of the wave of desire for democracy which is underway in many countries of the Middle East through the so-called Arab Spring, and given the social conditions in the majority of these countries where Christians are a minority, is there not a risk of inevitable tensions between the dominant majority and the survival of Christianity?
A: In itself, the Arab spring is a positive thing: a desire for greater democracy, more liberty, more cooperation and a new Arab identity. This cry for liberty, which comes from a more culturally educated and professional young people, who want greater participation in political and social life, is positive progress which has been hailed by Christians as well. Bearing in mind the history of revolutions, we naturally know that this vital and positive cry for freedom risks forgetting one aspect – a fundamental dimension for freedom – which is tolerance of the other. The fact is that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living together with certain rules. This is always the danger, as it is in this case. We must do all we can so that the concept of freedom, the desire for freedom goes in the direction of true freedom and does not forget tolerance and reconciliation which are essential elements for freedom. Thus also the Arab Spring requires a renewal in this centuries -old history. Christians and Arabs have built these lands and must live together. I also believe that it’s important to see the positive elements in these movements and, do all that is possible to ensure that freedom is correctly conceived and corresponds to a greater dialogue rather than the dominion of one over the other.
Q: Holy Father, in Syria, as in Iraq a while ago, many Christians feel obliged to leave their country with heavy hearts. What does the Catholic Church intend to do or say to help in this situation and to stem the flow of Christians from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries?
A: First of all I must say that not only Christians are leaving, but also Muslims. There is a great danger that Christians leave these lands and lose their presence there and we must do all that is possible to help them to stay. The most essential help would be the end of war and violence which causes this exodus. Therefore we must do all we can to halt the violence and encourage the possibility of staying together for the future. What can we do against war? Of course we can always spread a message of peace, insist that violence never resolves problems and strengthen the forces of peace. The work of journalists is important as they can help a great deal to show how violence destroys rather than builds anything, that it is of no use to anyone. Then maybe Christian gestures, days of prayer for the Middle East, for Christians and Muslims, to show the possibilities of dialogue and solutions. I also believe that there must be an end to the import of arms: without weapons, war could not continue. Instead of importing weapons, which is a grave sin, we should import ideas, peace and creativity. We should accept others in their diversity and make visible the mutual respect of religions, the respect for man as God’s creation and love of neighbour as a fundamental element of all religions. We must promote all possible actions, including material ones, to support the end of war and violence so that all can contribute to the rebuilding of the country.
Q Holy Father, You are bringing an Apostolic Exhortation addressed to all Christians in the Middle East. Nowadays this is a suffering population. Apart from prayer and expressions of solidarity, do you see concrete measures that the Churches and Catholics in the West, especially in Europe and America, can take to support their brothers in the Middle East?
A We need to influence public opinion. We must urge politicians to really tackle this issue with all their strength and using all means possible, to work with creativity for peace and against violence. All of us must contribute to this. In a certain sense, it’s a very necessary task on our part of warning, education and purification. In addition, our charity organisations should help in a material sense as well. We have organisations like the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, just for the Holy Land, but similar organisations could also provide material, political and human help in these countries. I would like to say once again that visible signs of solidarity, days of public prayer, can have an impact on public opinion and produce real results. We are convinced that prayer has an effect if it is done with much trust and faith.