Pope calls for Mideast leaders to work for peace

Pope Benedict XVI prayed on Sunday that Middle East leaders work towards peace and reconciliation, stressing again the central theme of his visit to Lebanon, whose neighbour Syria is engulfed in civil war.

"May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence," the pope said at the end of mass on the final day of his trip to Lebanon.

He also appealed to the international community and to Arab countries, in particular, that "as brothers, they might propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person."

In his weekly Angelus, a prayer to the Virgin Mary, he said "let us ask her to intercede with her divine Son... for the people of Syria and the neighbouring countries, imploring the gift of peace.

"You know all too well the tragedy of the conflicts and the violence which generates so much suffering. Sadly, the din of weapons continues to make itself heard, along with the cry of the widow and the orphan.

"Violence and hatred invade people's lives, and the first victims are women and children. Why so much horror? Why so many dead?"

Earlier, the pope said that "in a world where violence constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction, to serve justice and peace is urgently necessary.

"I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity," he added.

And in remarks before leaving Lebanon, he said: "I pray to God for Lebanon, that she may live in peace and courageously resist all that could destroy or undermine that peace."

"I hope that Lebanon will fortify the communion among all her inhabitants, whatever their community or religion, that she will resolutely reject all that could lead to disunity, and with determination choose brotherhood."

The pontiff arrived back in Rome on board a Lebanese airline MEA flight which landed at Ciampino airport around 1935 GMT.

An estimated 350,000 people had gathered under a bright warm sun to join the pontiff as he celebrated a solemn mass on his third and final day in Lebanon.

On Saturday, the frail 85-year-old pontiff urged Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims to forge a harmonious, pluralistic society in which the dignity of each person is respected and the right to worship in peace is guaranteed.

He called for a change of heart that involves "rejecting revenge, acknowledging one's faults, accepting apologies without demanding them and, not least, forgiveness."

He said the universal yearning of humanity for peace can only be realised through community, comprising individual persons, whose aspirations and rights to a fulfilling life are respected.

He said the conditions for building and consolidating peace must be grounded in the dignity of man.

Without pointing fingers, he said "some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence."

Benedict noted that Christians and Muslims have lived side by side in the Middle East for centuries and that there is room for a pluralistic society.

-- 'Two religions within the same family' --

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"It is not uncommon to see the two religions within the same family. If this is possible within the same family, why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?

"The particular character of the Middle East consists in the centuries-old mix of diverse elements. Admittedly, they have fought one another, sadly that is also true. A pluralistic society can only exist on the basis of mutual respect, the desire to know the other and continuous dialogue."

Central to that, the freedom "to profess and practise one's religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone."

Echoing his words, Lebanon's Sunni mufti, or spiritual leader, Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, said the events rocking the Arab world "bring us Muslims and Christians a light that shows us the path to a better tomorrow, though they also bring many dangers that are a threat to us.

"But just as we made our history together in the past, we will also make our future together, based on coexistence."

The pope's outreach to Muslims is particularly poignant as the region is rocked by the deadly violence over the anti-Islamist film that cost the lives of the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans on Tuesday.

Eleven protesters also died as police battled to defend US missions from mobs in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.

On Saturday, the pope met thousands of youth, urging Muslims and Christians to "live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person, so as to build together a free and humane society.

Addressing a number of Syrians among them, he said: "I want to tell you how much I admire your courage," adding that he was "sad because of your suffering and your bereavement."

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