Rome, Italy, Aug 23, 2012 / 01:17 am
As fighting in neighboring Syria rages on, Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed that he will proceed with his trip to Lebanon as planned.
"The Christians in Lebanon are looking forward to the Holy Father's visit with great joy," Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Boutros Rai told Aid to the Church in Need Aug. 22.
Escalating violence in Syria and increased tensions in Lebanon gave rise to speculation that the Pope would postpone or cancel his Sept. 14-16 trip.
"Of course the visit will go ahead," Cardinal Rai confirmed.
Just last week an assassination plot against Cardianl Rai, who is the highest ranking dignitary in the Maronite Church, was prevented when one of the conspirators informed Lebanon's domestic secret service of the plan.
Large quantities of explosives were intended to detonate along the route of Cardinal Rai's visit to Sunni parliament member Khaled Daher's home in northern Lebanon.
Michel Samaha, a former minister and current supporter of Hezbollah, was involved in the plot and has been arrested and admitted to the plan.
"The preparations for the visit are going ahead without any uncertainty on the part of the Vatican," Fr. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, told reporters Aug. 20.
Fr. Lombardi said a sign that the visit will take place is that a popemobile has already been sent to Lebanon.
This past week violence and tensions from the conflict in Syria have begun to spill over the border into Lebanon, and the assassination plot is among those incidents.
Since March 2011, the armed revolt against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has claimed over 10,000 lives, according to the latest U.N. estimates.
During his visit, the Pope will meet with Cardianl Rai to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Middle East, which is the result of a synod that took place in 2010.
Pope Benedict is set to meet with Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati and celebrate Mass at Beirut's City Center Waterfront.
In a July 29 Sunday Angelus address, the Pope said that he has been following events "with concern" for the "growing and tragic episodes of violence in Syria" which have created a "sad sequence of deaths and injuries among civilians."
In the same speech, he lamented the large number of internally displaced people and refugees who have moved to neighboring countries.
Over 50,000 Christians throughout Syria have fled their homes. In the city of Homs, where much of the fighting has been centered, 90 percent of the Christian population has fled.