(Vatican Radio) Saturday afternoon saw Pope Benedict XVI meeting with young people from Lebanon, from neighbouring Middle Eastern regions and from much further afar.
As Vatican Radio's Tracey McClure reports, the gathering took place at the Maronite Patriarchate of Bkerké...
After a long day in the Lebanese heat, Pope Benedict found himself smiling and at home in this joyful gathering with thousands of young people from across the world who’d come for his words of encouragement as they face an uncertain future clouded by conflict, economic woes and joblessness .
They came from neighboring countries in conflict; from the Americas and as far away as Australia - in their own way suffering from a rising secularism and loss of human values.
Young people from Syria braved the fighting raging in their country to pray here with the Pope Saturday and bring his message of peace back home. The Holy Father told them he admired their courage and to tell their families that the Pope has not forgotten them; he is saddened by their sufferings and grief and they are in his prayers. “It is time for Muslims and Christians,” he said “to come together to put an end to violence and war.”
Speaking like a father to his children and calling them to a “revolution of love”, Pope Benedict offered powerful words of comfort and reassurance to the Middle East’s young people represented so widely at this gathering. He spoke not just to Christians, but to Muslims who came in the hundreds to say they too are determined to live together with Christians and build a better future with them. Pope Benedict challenged them to do this and when they are older, he said, “to continue to live in unity and harmony with Christians.” Looking at you, he said, “it is vital that the Middle East understand that…Islam and Christianity can live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person.”
Like the Pope, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai spoke of the political, social, economic and cultural crises of today and the need to confirm the Church’s young people in their Christian identity and their attachment to these lands where violence all too often frightens them away. Here in Lebanon, just as many Christians as live here now also live abroad, having fled the violence of civil war and economic woes in search of a better and safer life.
The Patriarch called on the Middle East’s Christians to strengthen their faith in contrast to a growing religious fundamentalism that “negates freedom of conscience and the right to be different” so often in this part of the world.
Addressing the Pope at the start of the evening, one young woman said now, more than ever, young people need the active presence of the Church in the Middle East “crushed by the weight of fear, desperation and suffering. “ The Holy Father’s presence in Lebanon, she said, “defies the logic of war and desperation; it is a sign of peace and hope.”
Another young woman spoke of the “immense” difficulties confronting Christian families here today: the loss of the sacramental worth of marriage, atheism, religious and racial discrimination, and drug and alcohol addiction.
She urged young people to bring the Christian presence into the political and social spheres seeking the common good. The Middle East’s young Christians, she said, aspire to peace and dream of a future without war, a future where they can play an active role in the building together with young people from other religions a civilization of love where freedoms are respected and human dignity is protected. Condemning all forms of violence, she called on young people here to be “living bridges of dialogue and cooperation.”
These young people told the Pope they want to be protagonists in every part of society and also in the Church and the new evangelization, bringing a youthful voice to the way the Church communicates through the media.
The young Christians of the Middle East today, with the future in their hands: bridges of dialogue in a revolution of love.
In Lebanon with Pope Benedict, I’m Tracey McClure