In a speech to Lebanese leaders on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI called for the strengthening of a “culture of peace” that is built upon respect for life, the family and religious liberty.
It is “quite demanding” to achieve peace, the Pope told a gathering of political, cultural and religious leaders at the Presidential Palace in the city of Baabda, Sept. 15. Peace involves “rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them, and, not least, forgiveness. Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.”
He praised Lebanon as a Middle Eastern country where Christianity and Islam “have lived side by side for centuries.” In Lebanon, he said, it is “not uncommon to see the two religions within the same family.” If it is possible to have harmony within the same family, he asked, “why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?”
Pope Benedict had begun the second day of his apostolic visit with a private Mass at the Apostolic Nunciature of Harissa before being taken by car to the Presidential Palace. There he was greeted by the President of Lebanon, General Michel Sleiman. The two men then had a private meeting.
Following further meetings with the President of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, and the country’s Prime Minister, Nagib Mikati, the Pope then held discussions with the leaders of Lebanon’s Sunni, Shiite and Alawite Muslim communities, as well as with leaders of the Druze community.
The Pope’s subsequent address to civil society leaders concerned “understanding and harmony between cultures and religions.”
Religious coexistence and peace, he said, require a “profound transformation of mind and heart” at the level of the individual in order to recover both “a degree of clarity of vision and impartiality” and “the profound meaning of the concepts of justice and the common good.”
Without this, the Pope warned, “all our coveted human ‘liberations’ prove disappointing” as they become “curtailed by our human narrowness, harshness, intolerance, favoritism and desire for revenge.”
In order to build this desired “culture of peace,” however, there has to be a constant need to “return to the wellsprings of our humanity.”
“A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace,” he said, “To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life.”
The effectiveness of our commitment to peace, proposed the Pope, depends on our understanding of human life.
“If we want peace, let us defend life!” he urged.
This approach should lead society to reject not only war and terrorism “but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God.”
Wherever this “truth of human nature is ignored or denied”, he cautioned, it becomes impossible to respect the “grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart.”
Securing peace for future generations requires that we “educate for peace in order to build a culture of peace.”
Education in both the family and the school must focus on “those spiritual values which give the wisdom and traditions of each culture their ultimate meaning and power,” the Pope exhorted. “The human spirit has an innate yearning for beauty, goodness and truth.”
The Pope’s call for peace comes amid armed conflict in Lebanon’s neighbor Syria between government and rebel forces. That conflict has at times reflected religious divisions.