2012-09-15 Vatican Radio(Vatican Radio) The director of the Holy See’s Press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi says the message of Pope Benedict’s visit to Lebanon is his very presence here. In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure Fr. Lombardi spoke of the aims, hopes, and expectations surrounding the Holy Father’s pastoral journey, the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente in a moment of turmoil for the Middle East. He asked whether the Apostolic Exhortation might mark the beginning of a “Christian Spring” of reconciliation and unity?
Q: There are very big expectations for this visit which comes at a dramatic time for the Middle East and coincides with a series of terrible anniversaries which we are remembering in these days. Why was this weekend chosen for the papal visit? The Pope himself must feel the weight and importance of this trip...
Father Lombardi: Yes, I think that in this region practically every day or every time of the year has anniversaries that are not happy ones. In this sense, I think that this situation is a situation that requires courage and hope and witness of hope. The Pope will be a pilgrim of peace, a friend of all the men and women of this region, a friend of God, that brings the friendship of god to all and exactly in this situation , I think for this trip in particular, the message of the trip is the presence of the pope – not only what he says – maybe more than what he says: his being with the people in this time, in this land.
Q: In his discourse Friday evening at the signing of the Apostolic Exhortation, the Pope repeatedly spoke of the desperation and suffering of Christians in this region – many of whom experience what he described as “grave human and material difficulties and live in fear – who desire to follow Christ but are often prevented from doing so.” He chose to say these things in Lebanon where, despite isolated but disturbing events in recent days, Christians and Muslims live side by side today in relative harmony. Does the Pope have a special message to offer to other faiths in the region?
Lombardi: “First of all I would say this day in which the Pope signed the Exhortation is the day of the Cross, the glory of the Cross of Christ. This means that through the Cross we go to the Resurrection. The cross is for the Christian is not a sign of desperation but a sign of hope and of love. And then in this sense the pope in his speech has not only spoken of suffering but also of the meaning of this suffering , of the possible value of this suffering to build in love a better world and a new situation. (What’s more), the Pope speaks as a religious leader. He says if we believe in God, God is the foundation of love, brotherhood among all women and men of the world and in this sense he is strongly against fundamentalism that brings the religions one against the other. On the contrary, to be religious, to believe in God means to go toward unity, towards dialogue and brotherhood among all and this was very clear in what the pope said today and is fundamental also in what the (Second) Vatican Council says to us is the common heritage of the big religions in the world Christian and Muslim and also Jews we have not to forget in this region.
Q. Just weeks after the Synod for the Middle East ended in Rome, the first revolutions of the Arab Spring began to sweep across the region. The Apostolic Exhortation, what the Pope calls a “roadmap” for Christians, concluded that synod. Was there ever a doubt that it might not be relevant to today’s Middle East?
Lombardi: Obviously the atmosphere has changed from the time of the celebration of the Assembly of the Synod because the Arab Spring was not yet going on. And now we see a series of problems of a new situation aroused in this region. But the fundament of the exhortation is the Christian witness, that is, we have to be Christian, Catholic, in our time. And, in this sense, the situation can change, but the message of the faith, the fundament of love, hope, dialogue, service of the order of the common good in the society, engagement for all the people that are poor and in difficult situations. These are common principles that are always valid. And then, in this sense, also in this new situation, maybe that this Christian witness is really more necessary.
Q. Some, like Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai have said it’s time for a Christian spring. Does the exhortation in some way mark a beginning, and what is it likely to mean for Christians and Muslims through the reason.
Lombardi: I think (it is ) an inspiring word from Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai because it is true that the exhortation desires to give encouragement, inspiration for the Christians, that may be for some time are suffering and think they have to go away because the situation is too difficult for them. And then, to encourage them to begin here anew, with the solidarity of the Universal Church. To be here is an active, a positive element of the future of their plans . This is a very engaging perspective. If they succeed in doing this, the world will see. But obviously this is one of the intentions of the document.
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