(Retrieved from NYTimes on September 14, 2012)
Pope Benedict XVI visits Lebanon as 'pilgrim of peace'
(Retrieved from BBC on September 14, 2012)
Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Lebanon with a peace message, saluting the Arab Spring and calling for an end to the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
His three-day visit marks the first papal trip to the country in 15 years.
During his stay, the pontiff will meet politicians and leaders from Lebanon's 18 religious groups. Christians make up 40% of the country's population.
The trip comes as Lebanon - including the Christian community - is deeply divided over the conflict in Syria.
On his flight to Lebanon, the Pope told reporters that Syrian arms imports were a "grave sin".
He also called for an end to the conflict there, saying fundamentalism was "always a falsification of religion".
The pontiff described the Arab Spring as "a desire for more democracy, for more freedom, for more cooperation and for a renewed Arab identity".
A small crowd of dignitaries and cheering supporters with banners greeted Pope Benedict at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut.
He was welcomed by Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman with a 21-gun salute, and with church bells ringing out around the country.
The Pope told President Suleiman he was visiting the country as a "pilgrim of peace".
"Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region," he said.
"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 and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions."
'Country of resistance'
Correspondents say the Pope is expected to express his concern about the dwindling Christian presence in the Middle East.
In Iraq for example, tens of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes by sectarian violence.
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the pontiff will find a very different Lebanon to the one his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, saw in 1997.
The assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 led to the end of Syria's long occupation of the country, an event which was swiftly followed by the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah - a Shia group - is now the power behind the government but Syria remains the defining issue in Lebanese politics, our correspondent says.
Political parties are divided into pro- and anti-Syrian camps and the violence across the border is increasingly pitting Shia and Sunni Muslims against each other in Lebanon.
In addition to the conflict in Syria, recent controversy over a film deemed to be offensive to the Prophet Mohammed has raised tensions in the region ahead of the Pope's visit.
There were reports as the Pope arrived of hundreds of protesters setting alight a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the northern city of Tripoli.
The film, The Innocence of Muslims, believed to have been made by a Coptic Egyptian Christian in the US, has sparked protests across the Middle East and led to the death of the US ambassador to Libya.
Signs welcoming the Pope have been put up along the main airport road into Beirut, including banners erected by Hezbollah reading "Welcome to the country of resistance".
Pope brings peace message to Lebanon as Mideast burns
Pope visits Lebanon torn by Syria crisis
(Retrieved from BBC on September 14, 2012)
Pope Benedict XVI, who is going on a three-day visit to Lebanon, will find much has changed in the region since the last papal visit there, by John Paul II in 1997, writes the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.
The political landscape in Lebanon itself was heavily rearranged - but not radically transformed - after the assassination in 2005 of the man who was prime minister during John Paul II's visit, Rafik Hariri.
His death led to popular demonstrations that, combined with international pressure, induced the Syrians to end a military presence that dated back to 1976.
A year after Hariri's death, Lebanon was shaken by the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, which left the radical Shia movement stronger than ever.
Hezbollah is now the power behind a one-sided government that tilts towards a Syrian regime now battling for survival against a rebellion that refuses to be subdued.
Syria remains the defining issue in Lebanese politics - and Pope Benedict will find his followers deeply divided in that respect.
While the bulk of the Shias, led by Hezbollah, support the Syrian regime, and most Sunnis are against it and back the Sunni-majority rebels, Lebanon's Christians are sharply split between the two camps.
Geography also places the Christians right in the middle between an increasingly armed Sunni north and a Hezbollah-dominated Beirut”
However, Christian leaders play down their differences - and some even see them as a source of strength.
"The Christian parties do not see eye to eye concerning Syria, but this does not mean the Pope will come and see Christians fighting each other for Syria," said Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, a fiercely anti-Syrian faction with its roots in a powerful civil-war Christian militia.
"The Pope will see a flourishing community again, contrary to what many in the West think, but with different parties and different political agendas, this is all."
Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Foundation's Middle East Center in Beirut, believes that, with different factions allied to pro- and anti-Syrian forces, the Christians have inadvertently avoided being targeted as tensions rise.
"In effect in this period it has secured a level of security for them because they are not identified by any other community as 'the enemy'," he says.
"Enough of them are allied with one side or the other to neutralise the communal identity as a political identity, and that's a big reason why they are fairly safe and secure in today's Lebanon."
He even suggested that, as rivalry between the Shia and Sunni groups deepens, the Christians may be unwittingly creating a kind of political buffer zone by their traditional occupancy of such key posts as president of the republic and commander of the Lebanese army.
"Geography also places the Christians right in the middle between an increasingly armed Sunni north and a Hezbollah-dominated Beirut, and hence the tensions emerging and escalating between Shias and Sunnis during the Syrian crisis have not spilled over into open Sunni-Shia clashes because they are not contiguous," Mr Salem said.
As the Syrian crisis deepens, many have expressed fears that conflict will spill over the border into Lebanon, spreading along the same sectarian fault-lines that devastated the country during its own civil war from 1975 until 1990, leaving scars and divisions that persist.
But Samir Geagea believes that if Syria goes to pieces, it will have the opposite effect on Lebanon.
"Even, let us suppose, if Syria went to fragmentation, I don't see a spillover effect to Lebanon, rather on the contrary, because when they will see the fragmentation of Syria and its effects and its aftermath, everybody would cling more and more to the unity of Lebanon. No, I'm not worried."
If the Lebanese Christians are generally doing all right, other communities have come out of the Arab Spring badly battered by the upheavals.
The Pope is meeting Church leaders from around the region during his Lebanon visit.
He will hear for himself how Iraqi Christian communities, which had survived and often flourished since biblical times, were devastated as Islamist sentiment in both Shia and Sunni communities intensified after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Targeted attacks on churches in Baghdad and elsewhere by Sunni militants in 2010 sped up an exodus of Christians that was already gathering pace, spurred by random violence, social pressures and economic collapse.
While not specifically targeted, Syrian Christians have been caught in the deadly crossfire between the regime and rebels, especially in cities like Homs where largely-Christian quarters became battlegrounds, prompting virtually all the Christians to flee from there.
In Egypt, the large Coptic minority is warily eyeing the new Islamist-dominated government, after a number of post-revolution incidents raised their fears.
The furious regional reaction to the film "Innocence of Muslims" will have done nothing to ease the anxieties felt by many Christians over the rise of Islamist parties and sentiment that has accompanied all of the regime changes.
Against this turbulent background, Pope Benedict - who himself stirred hostility in some Muslim circles in 2006 by quoting a 14th-Century diatribe against the Prophet Muhammad - will be stressing the need for mutual tolerance and coexistence, and trying to encourage his followers to reach out to other communities, stand their ground, and throw themselves into the task of helping construct a new Middle East.
Pope Signs Apostolic Exhortation, Appeals to Christians, Jews, Muslims to 'Root out' Fundamentalism
(Retrieved from Naharnet on September 14, 2012)
Pope Benedict XVI has appealed to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike to "root out" religious fundamentalism, as deadly unrest sweeps the Middle East over a film mocking Islam.
The pope, who arrived in Lebanon on Friday for a three-day visit, has also told the Christian minority in the Middle East not to fear for its future.
His exhortations were made public as he put his signature to recommendations emerging from a synod of bishops he convened two years ago to examine the future of the Christian minority in the region and its relations with Islam and Judaism.
The recommendations were signed during a mass at St. Paul's Cathedral in Harissa, which was attended by President Michel Suleiman and a number of officials.
The focus is a document, known as "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente," that contains a series of recommendations on how they might live better Christian lives and serve as beacons of peace.
The exhortations examine at length secularization, including its extreme forms, and violent fundamentalism.
Referring to the latter, they says that "religious fundamentalism ... seeks to take power for political ends, at times using violence, over the individual conscience and over religion."
The pope appealed "to all the religious leaders of the Middle East to endeavor, by their example and their teaching, to do everything possible to uproot this threat, which indiscriminately and fatally affects believers."
He said political-economic uncertainties, manipulation by some and inadequate knowledge of religion among others contribute to fundamentalism, which he told reporters on his flight to Lebanon leads to the "falsification of religion."
On Thursday, a group of Muslim scholars based in Qatar accused the pope of spreading fear of Muslims among Christians.
The International Union of Muslim Scholars accused him of "fueling sedition" by "planning to sign an apostolic exhortation that contains dangerous messages and ideas."
It said the messages include a "warning from the Islamization of the society and spreading fear among Christians from political Islam in the region.
"It is strange that at the time the pope warns from political Islam, he himself practices large-scale political Christianity," according to the Muslim scholars.
Coinciding with the pope's arrival, anti-American protests over a U.S.-produced film that mocks Islam erupted across the Muslim world, with violence in Sudan, Lebanon and Yemen leaving at least three people dead and dozens wounded.
One demonstrator was killed in clashes with police after an angry crowd of Islamists set fire to a KFC restaurant in north Lebanon, a security source said.
The "apostolic exhortations" signed in Lebanon affirm Christians as an integral part of the Middle East, given their presence there since the first days of the faith.
It also backs the concept of "healthy secularism," rejects violence and stresses the need to struggle against anything that that would reduce the region to having just one religion.
In an address before signing the document, the pope said the Church has been able to "hear the troubled cry and see the desperate faces of many men and women who experience grave human and material difficulties, who live amid powerful tensions in fear and uncertainty, who desire to follow Christ ... yet often find themselves prevented from doing so."
To them he said: "I urge you to fear not, to stand firm in truth and in purity of faith."
"It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride and unity over division."
Pope Signs Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
BY EDWARD PENTIN
Friday, September 14, 2012 11:45 AM
(Retrieved from National Catholic register on September 14, 2012)
Shortly before 6pm this evening, the Holy Father was driven to the Greek-Melkite Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa, just outside Beirut, to sign the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente - a document summarizing the fruits of the work of the Synod of Bishops on the Church in the Middle East, held in the Vatican in October 2010.
The Pope gave the following speech to the assembled dignitaries:
Dear Brother Bishops and Members of the Special Council of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East,
Distinguished Representatives of the various religious confessions, the world of culture and civil society,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I thank Patriarch Gregorios Laham for his words of welcome, and the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, for his introduction. My warm greetings go to the Patriarchs, to all the Eastern and Latin Bishops assembled in this beautiful Cathedral of Saint Paul, and to the members of the Special Council of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. I am also gratified by the presence of the Orthodox, Muslim and Druze delegations, as well as those from the world of culture and from civil society. I greet with affection the beloved Greek Melkite community with gratitude for your welcome. Your presence makes my signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente all the more solemn; it testifies that this document, while addressed to the universal Church, has a particular importance for the entire Middle East.
Providentially, this event takes place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration originating in the East in 335, following the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection built over Golgotha and our Lord’s tomb by the Emperor Constantine the Great, whom you venerate as saint. A month from now we will celebrate the seventeen-hundredth anniversary of the appearance to Constantine of the Chi-Rho, radiant in the symbolic night of his unbelief and accompanied by the words: "In this sign you will conquer!" Later, Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, and gave his name to Constantinople. It seems to me that the Post-Synodal Exhortation can be read and understood in the light of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and more particularly in the light of the Chi-Rho, the two first letters of the Greek word "Christos". Reading it in this way leads to renewed appreciation of the identity of each baptized person and of the Church, and is at the same time a summons to witness in and through communion. Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!
In examining the present situation of the Church in the Middle East, the Synod Fathers reflected on the joys and struggles, the fears and hopes of Christ’s disciples in these lands. In this way, the entire Church was able to hear the troubled cry and see the desperate faces of many men and women who experience grave human and material difficulties, who live amid powerful tensions in fear and uncertainty, who desire to follow Christ – the One who gives meaning to their existence – yet often find themselves prevented from doing so. That is why I wanted the First Letter of Saint Peter to serve as the framework of the document. At the same time, the Church was able to admire all that is beautiful and noble in the Churches in these lands. How can we fail to thank God at every moment for all of you (cf. 1 Th 1:2; Part One of the Post-Synodal Exhortation), dear Christians of the Middle East! How can we fail to praise him for your courage and faith? How can we fail to thank him for the flame of his infinite love which you continue to keep alive and burning in these places which were the first to welcome his incarnate Son? How can we fail to praise and thank him for your efforts to build ecclesial and fraternal communion, and for the human solidarity which you constantly show to all God’s children?
Ecclesia in Medio Oriente makes it possible to rethink the present in order to look to the future with the eyes of Christ. By its biblical and pastoral orientation, its invitation to deeper spiritual and ecclesiological reflection, its call for liturgical and catechetical renewal, and its summons to dialogue, the Exhortation points out a path for rediscovering what is essential: being a follower of Christ even in difficult and sometimes painful situations which may lead to the temptation to ignore or to forget the exaltation of the cross. It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division. In the light of today’s Feast, and in view of a fruitful application of the Exhortation, I urge all of you to fear not, to stand firm in truth and in purity of faith. This is the language of the cross, exalted and glorious! This is the "folly" of the cross: a folly capable of changing our sufferings into a declaration of love for God and mercy for our neighbour; a folly capable of transforming those who suffer because of their faith and identity into vessels of clay ready to be filled to overflowing by divine gifts more precious than gold (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-18). This is more than simply picturesque language: it is a pressing appeal to act concretely in a way which configures us ever more fully to Christ, in a way which helps the different Churches to reflect the beauty of the first community of believers (cf. Acts 2:41-47: Part Two of the Exhortation); in a way like that of the Emperor Constantine, who could bear witness and bring Christians forth from discrimination to enable them openly and freely to live their faith in Christ crucified, dead and risen for the salvation of all.
Ecclesia in Medio Oriente provides some elements that are helpful for a personal and communal examination of conscience, and an objective evaluation of the commitment and desire for holiness of each one of Christ’s disciples. The Exhortation shows openness to authentic interreligious dialogue based on faith in the one God, the Creator. It also seeks to contribute to an ecumenism full of human, spiritual and charitable fervour, in evangelical truth and love, drawing its strength from the commandment of the risen Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:19-20).
The Exhortation as a whole is meant to help each of the Lord’s disciples to live fully and to pass on faithfully to others what he or she has become by Baptism: a child of light, sharing in God’s own light, a lamp newly lit amid the troubled darkness of this world, so that the light may shine in the darkness (cf. Jn 1:4f. and 2 Cor 4:1-6). The document seeks to help purify the faith from all that disfigures it, from everything that can obscure the splendour of Christ’s light. For communion is true fidelity to Christ, and Christian witness is the radiance of the paschal mystery which gives full meaning to the cross, exalted and glorious. As his followers, "we proclaim Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:23-24; cf. Part Three of the Exhortation).
"Fear not, little flock" (Lk 12:32) and remember the promise made to Constantine: "In this sign you will conquer!" Churches of the Middle East, fear not, for the Lord is truly with you, to the close of the age! Fear not, because the universal Church walks at your side and is humanly and spiritually close to you! It is with this hope and this word of encouragement to be active heralds of the faith by your communion and witness, that on Sunday I will entrust the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente to my venerable brother Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, and to all priests, deacons, men and women religious, the seminarians and all the lay faithful. "Be of good cheer" (Jn 16:33)! Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Theotókos, I invoke God’s abundant gifts upon all of you with great affection! God grant that all the peoples of the Middle East may live in peace, fraternity and religious freedom! May God bless all of you! (Lè yo barèk al-Rab jami’a kôm!)