-- ZENIT.org News Agency
Benedict XVI Arrives In Lebanon As 'Pilgrim of Peace'
Begins Historical 3-Day Visit to the Middle East
By Junno Arocho
BEIRUT, Lebanon, SEPT. 14, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI landed this afternoon at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut at the start of his three-day visit to Lebanon. The Holy Father was welcomed by several dignitaries including Lebanese President Michael Sleiman, His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Rai, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, along with other members of the government administration and parliament.
The Pope greeted all present and began his journey to Lebanon with words of gratitude, as well as recalling President Sleiman's visit to the Vatican in February of last year where he took part in a blessing of a statue of St. Maron in the Vatican. "[St. Maron's] silent presence at the side of St. Peter's Basilica is a constant reminder of Lebanon in the very place where the Apostle Peter was laid to rest. It witnesses to a long spiritual heritage, confirming the Lebanese people's veneration for the first of the Apostles and for his successors," the Pope said.
The Holy Father also acknowledged that one of the main reasons for his trip is to participate in the "consigning of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, 'Ecclesia in Medio Oriente.'" After greeting the various patriarchs and bishops of Lebanon, the Pope said that the exhortation is for everyone and that it "is intended as a road map for the years to come."
"During these days I am also pleased to be able to meet many representatives from the Catholic communities of your country, so as to celebrate and pray together. Their presence, commitment and witness are a valued contribution and are highly appreciated in the daily life of all the inhabitants of your beloved country," he said.
Pope Benedict also greeted the Orthodox patriarchs and representatives of other religious communities who were present for his arrival, saying that their presence "shows the esteem and the cooperation which, in mutual respect, you wish to promote among everyone." While acknowledging the violence that the nation has suffered over the years, the Pope applauded the Lebanese people's resolve to live in peace.
"I cannot forget the sad and painful events which have affected your beautiful country along the years. 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, all members of the one Catholic Church in a fraternal spirit of communion with other Christians, and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions," he said.
The Bishop of Rome also said that while he understood that tensions in the region may sometimes make it seem as if it were to "to snap like a bow which is overstretched," that such instances are when great wisdom is tested. Reason, he said, "must overcome one-sided passion in order to promote the greater good of all."
Saying that he came to Lebanon as a "pilgrim of peace," the Pope concluded his greeting saying that he is also looking beyond Lebanon to the rest of the Middle East and comes to them 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."
"Your joys and sorrows are constantly present in the Pope's prayers and I ask God to accompany you and to comfort you," the pope said. "Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region. The statue of Saint Maron reminds me of what you live and endure."
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