Vatican City, (VIS) - Benedict XVI dedicated his general audience today to a review of his recent apostolic trip to Lebanon. "It was", he said, "a journey I was very keen to make despite the difficult circumstances, because a father must always remain alongside his children when they face serious problems. I was moved by the desire to announce the peace which the risen Lord left to His disciples in the words: 'My peace I give to you'".
"It was a poignant ecclesial event and, at the same time, an opportunity for dialogue in a country which is complex but emblematic for the region, thanks to the tradition of cohabitation and diligent collaboration between its various religious and social components. In the face of the suffering and drama which persist in that area of the Middle East, I expressed my heartfelt participation in the legitimate aspirations of those dear peoples, bringing them a message of encouragement and peace. I think in particular of the terrible conflict which is ravaging Syria and which causes, apart from thousands of deaths, a flow of refugees who move around the region desperately seeking security and a future. Nor do I forget the difficult situation in Iraq. During my visit, the people of Lebanon and the Middle East (Catholics, representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities and the various Muslim communities), in a serene and constructive atmosphere, were able to enjoy an important experience of mutual respect, understanding and fraternity, which constitutes a powerful sign of hope for all humankind. Yet it was above all the meeting with the Catholic faithful of Lebanon and the Middle East, who were present in their thousands, that aroused a feeling of profound gratitude in my heart for the ardour of their faith and witness".
"I was able to see directly how the Lebanese Catholic communities, thanks to their two-thousand year presence and their hope-filled commitment, offer an important and highly appreciated contribution to the daily life of all the country’s inhabitants", the Pope said. He also expressed his thanks to the country's authorities for "their cordial welcome", a fine expression of "the famous Lebanese hospitality". And he went on: "The Muslims welcomed me with great respect and sincere consideration. Their constant affable presence gave me the opportunity to launch a message of dialogue and collaboration between Christianity and Islam. I believe the time has come to bear sincere and definitive witness together against division, violence and war".
The Holy Father then turned his attention to the events of his apostolic trip, beginning with the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente" in the Greek-Melkite Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa. "On that occasion", he said, "I invited Middle Eastern Catholics to fix their gaze on the crucified Christ in order to find, even at times of difficulty and suffering, the strength to celebrate the victory of love over hatred, of forgiveness over revenge, of unity over division. I assured everyone that the universal Church is closer than ever ... to the Churches in the Middle East. Despite being a 'little flock', they must not fear, in the certainty that the Lord is always with them".
During the meeting with representatives of State institutions and the world of culture, the diplomatic corps and religious leaders, "I indicated", the Pope recalled, "the path to follow to ensure a future of peace and solidarity. This involves working to ensure that cultural, social and religious differences are resolved in sincere dialogue: a new fraternity where what unites us is a shared sense of the greatness and dignity of each person, whose life must always be safeguarded and protected. On that same day", he went on, "I met with the heads of Muslim communities, an event which took place in a spirit of dialogue and mutual benevolence. I thank God for that meeting, The world today needs clear unequivocal signs of dialogue and collaboration, something of which Lebanon has been and must continue to be an example, for the Arab States and for the rest of the world".
Benedict XVI then mentioned the "irrepressible enthusiasm of the thousands of young people from Lebanon and neighbouring countries", who greeted him at the residence of the Maronite Patriarch. "I emphasised their good fortune to live in that part of the world where Jesus was crucified and rose for our salvation, and where Christianity developed, exhorting them to fidelity and love for their land, despite the difficulties caused by lack of stability and security. ... Seeing young Christians and Muslims celebrate in great harmony, I encouraged them to build the future of Lebanon and the Middle East together, and to oppose violence and war. Harmony and reconciliation must be stronger than the forces of death".
During Sunday Mass at the City Centre Waterfront in Beirut, the Pope had encouraged everyone "to live and bear witness to their faith without fear, knowing that the vocation of Christians and of the Church is to bring the Gospel to all without distinction, following the example of Jesus. In a context marked by bitter conflicts, I drew attention to the need to serve peace and justice by becoming instruments of reconciliation and builders of communion. At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, I had the joy of consigning the Apostolic Exhortation which brings together the conclusions of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. ... This document reaches out to all the faithful of that dear region, to support them in their faith and communion, and to encourage them on the path of the ... new evangelisation. In the afternoon, at the headquarters of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate, I then had the joy of a fraternal ecumenical meeting with the Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, as well as representatives of those Churches and of other ecclesial communities".
"The days spent in Lebanon", the Pope concluded, "were a wonderful manifestation of faith and religious feeling and a prophetic sign of peace. The multitude of believers from the entire Middle East had the opportunity to reflect, to talk and especially to pray together, renewing their commitment to root their lives in Christ. I am sure that the people of Lebanon, in its varied but well blended religious and social make-up, will know how to witness with renewed impetus to the true peace that comes from faith in God. I hope that the messages of peace and respect that I sought to give, will help the governments of the region to take decisive steps towards peace and a better understanding of the relationship between Christians and Muslims. For my part, I continue to accompany those beloved people in prayer, that they may remain faithful to their commitments".