-- Catholic News Agency
Pope: Lebanon Can Be Beacon Of Religious Co-existence
BEIRUT, LEBANON, September 16 (CNA/EWTN News) .- At his departure from Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI said the religious co-existence the people of Lebanon showed during his three-day apostolic visit can become an inspiration and model for the rest of the Middle East.
"In these troubled times, the Arab world and indeed the entire world will have seen Christians and Muslims united in celebrating peace," said the Pope at Beirut's Rafik Hariri Airport September 16.
"I thank in particular representatives of the Muslim communities. Through my stay here, I have noticed how much your presence has contributed to the success of my journey."
Throughout Pope Benedict's apostolic visit he has been welcomed by both Christians and Muslims at all his public events. The Lebanese population is 39 percent Christian and 60 percent Muslim.
The Pope thanked God for these occasions and thanked everyone in Lebanon and the Middle East for their prayers, "whatever their origins or religious beliefs."
There had been worries in some quarters before Pope Benedict left for Lebanon on Friday that he was flying into an unpredictable political and religious situation. Neighboring Syria is currently embroiled in a civil-war while there are also increasing anti-U.S. protests across the region. Those worries proved to be unfounded.
Pope Benedict prayed that Lebanon would "continue to be a place where men and women can live in harmony and peace with each other" so as to witness to God's presence in the world and also to the communion between people "whatever their political, social, or religious standpoint."
"I hope that Lebanon will continue to permit the plurality of religious traditions and not listen to the voices of those who wish to prevent it," said the Pope towards the close of his address. He added that the Lebanese people should continue to "resolutely reject all that could lead to disunity, and with determination choose brotherhood."
As if to underline the point, Pope Benedict then received a warm goodbye from all the representatives of Lebanon's religions, including the leaders of the most significant branches of the Islamic faith.
The pontiff then had a final farewell from the President of Lebanon, General Michel Sleiman, as hundreds of cheering Lebanese children waved Papal flags.
The Pope departed on his specially chartered papal plane back to Rome.
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