In keeping with tradition, Pope Benedict XVI spent today’s general audience reflecting on his recent apostolic trip to Lebanon, calling it an opportunity for dialogue and an opportunity for solidarity with those in “difficult circumstances.”
“It was,” he said Sept. 19 in Paul VI Hall, “a journey I was very keen to make despite the difficult circumstances, because a father must always remain alongside his children when they face serious problems. I was moved by the desire to announce the peace which the risen Lord left to His disciples in the words: 'My peace I give to you.'”
“During my visit, the people of Lebanon and the Middle East … were able to enjoy an important experience of mutual respect, understanding and fraternity, which constitutes a powerful sign of hope for all humankind,” the Pope added.
The trip was important both for his chance to be present to Catholics as his spiritual children, but also to meet with Christians of other traditions and Muslims living in the region.
“It was a poignant ecclesial event and, at the same time, an opportunity for dialogue in a country which is complex but emblematic for the region, thanks to the tradition of cohabitation and diligent collaboration between its various religious and social components,” he said.
Pope Benedict did not neglect to mention the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria and to appeal for peace in the nation and the region at large. The Syrian uprising has led to some 20,000 deaths and at least 200,000 refugees, and has caused spill-over violence in Lebanon.
The Pope said he appreciated the fact that thousands of Lebanese Catholics came to see him despite the trying circumstances, and he praised those who live a life of “faith and witness” in their country.
“I was able to see directly how the Lebanese Catholic communities … offer an important and highly appreciated contribution to the daily life of all the country’s inhabitants,” he recalled.
His trip was the occasion for delivering the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” (On the Church in the Middle East), which was signed at the Melkite Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa. The document was meant to support Catholics of the region in “their faith and communion” and in the New Evangelization.
“I invited Middle Eastern Catholics to fix their gaze on the crucified Christ in order to find, even at times of difficulty and suffering, the strength to celebrate the victory of love over hatred, of forgiveness over revenge, of unity over division,” he said of the document.
Middle Eastern Catholics, the Pope noted, have the “good fortune to live in that part of the world where Jesus was crucified and rose for our salvation, and where Christianity developed,” and exhorted them to “love for their land, despite the difficulties caused by lack of stability and security.”
He was pleased to see young Christians and Muslims celebrate together and encouraged them to “harmony and reconciliation.”
He said, “I am sure that the people of Lebanon, in its varied but well blended religious and social make-up, will know how to witness with renewed impetus to the true peace that comes from faith in God.”
“I hope that the messages of peace and respect that I sought to give, will help the governments of the region to take decisive steps towards peace and a better understanding of the relationship between Christians and Muslims.”
He thanked the Muslim community for welcoming him with “great respect and sincere consideration.”
“Their constant affable presence gave me the opportunity to launch a message of dialogue and collaboration between Christianity and Islam. I believe the time has come to bear sincere and definitive witness together against division, violence and war,” he stated.
Pope Benedict also spent time urging government leaders to dialogue and create a sense of fraternity and solidarity based on the dignity of the human person.
The Pope made the 3-day trip Sept. 14-16 at the invitation of the country's prime minister Najib Mikati last November.
Pope Benedict concluded his reflections on the visit by saying that the “days spent in Lebanon were a wonderful manifestation of faith and religious feeling and a prophetic sign of peace.”