Pope Benedict XVI says he is arriving in the Middle East with a message of peace as he begins a 3-day Apostolic Visit to Lebanon.
“Dear friends, I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men. Christ says, Salami o-tikum, 'My peace I give to you,'” said the Pope at the official welcoming ceremony at the Beirut’s Rafik Hariri Airport Sept. 14.
“And 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. To them too Christ says: Salàmi o-tikum.”
Pope Benedict was greeted on the tarmac by Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman along with two local children in traditional Lebanese garb bearing flowers.
The Pope has travelled to the Middle East to sign his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Middle entitled “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” which, he said, is “addressed to everyone” as “a roadmap for the years to come.”
The Pope then applauded Lebanon as an example of a Middle East country that has re-built a multi-religious community “despite many sad and painful events which have affected your beautiful country along the years” including a 15-year civil war that only concluded in 1990.
“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,” said the Pope, “and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions.”
The country’s population of 4 million contains an array of different religious groups with around 60 percent of people following some form of Islam. Approximately 39 percent is Christian with the majority of those members of Eastern Catholic churches that are in full communion with Rome.
Pope Benedict recognized that this equilibrium “which is presented everywhere as an example” is, in fact, “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.”
It is for this reason that moderation, wisdom and reason “must overcome one-sided passion in order to promote the greater good of all” so that Lebanon will “serve as a model to the inhabitants of the whole region and of the entire world.”