2012-09-15 Vatican Radio(Vatican Radio) Tracey McClure reports on Pope Benedict XVI's courtesy visit on the morning of Saturday 15th of September to the President of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman who received him at the Baabda Presidential Palace in Beirut. Among those present were representatives of the Parliamentary, Governmental, Institutional and Political Authorities of this Middle Eastern nation.
This is a country in festival: tens of thousands of flag waving Lebanese lined the streets north of Beirut to see the Pope driving by in the pope mobile. And on the final stretch up to the presidential palace: an equestrian parade, traditional Lebanese dancers and maidens throwing rice to celebrate the Pope’s arrival.
In the gardens of the presidential palace with Lebanon’s Christian President Michel Sleiman, Pope Benedict planted a sapling Lebanese cedar, the national symbol of this country and a symbol we’ll see as backdrop to Sunday’s big outdoor mass on the Beirut waterfront.
The President called Friday’s meeting historically important, coming at a decisive moment for the region. Describing Lebanon as a land where coexistence is not imposed on the population but is part of the Lebanese identity, President Sleiman offered it as a prototype for others to emulate.
In his discourse, Pope Benedict drew on the image of the cedar as embodying the hopes of the Lebanese people and all the peoples of the Middle East whose region, he said, “seems to endure interminable birth pangs.” And like the cedar, this region requires care to grow to fullness.
He called Mankind one great family that we’re all responsible for. Peace, society, human dignity, the family, dialogue and solidarity, he affirmed, form the core of coexistence and peace. And these turbulent lands can become an example to the world that peace and reconciliation are possible.
The first school of peace, the Pope said, is found in the family. And if we fail to defend life, how can we not reject war, terrorism and assaults on innocent life? “The destruction of a single human life,” the Pope said, “ is a loss for humanity as a whole.”
Some ideologies undermine the foundations of society, the Pope charged, by “directly or indirectly” questioning “the inalienable value of each person…and the family”
“We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence” the Pope said, and challenge them by acting in solidarity with others.
That means peace needs to be taught at every level from the home, to schools, churches and mosques and the places of power. Peace, therefore, must be in our thoughts, words and acts.
Calling people to a conversion of hearts and the rediscovery of “the profound meaning of justice and common good”, the Pope said “Evil, the devil, works… through human freedom” and distorts love of neighbor, “yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death.”
“Rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies…and forgiveness” may be quite demanding, the Pope acknowledged, but “only forgiveness can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.”
Describing armed conflict and war in some places as “full of futility and horror,” the Pope noted that other countries also suffer from “assaults on the integrity and lives” of people – such as unemployment, poverty, corruption, addiction, exploitation, trafficking and terrorism which not only cause “unacceptable suffering” but also drain human potential. Society must also beware of the risk of being “enslaved by an economic and financial mindset which subordinate ‘being’ to ‘having’.”
And in Lebanon, home to 18 different faith communities, the Pope said “Christianity and Islam have lived side by side for centuries.” “It’s not uncommon,” he said, “to find the two religions within the same family. If this is possible,” the Pope asked, “why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?”
Noting the centuries-old mix of cultures in the Middle East, the Pope lamented the fact that it was also sadly true that they have fought one another. “A pluralistic society can only exist on the basis of mutual respect, the desire to know the other and continuous dialogue” he said. And for such dialogue to take place, people must be conscious of the values all great cultures share because they are rooted in the human person.
Calling religious freedom “the basic right on which many other rights depend,” the Holy Father said “The freedom to profess and practice one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone.”
In concluding, the Holy Father said all these reflections can and must be lived out. In this context, Lebanon he stressed, “is called now, more than ever, to be an example.” And he called on politicians, diplomats, religious leaders and society “to testify with courage that God wants peace” and is entrusting it to all of us.
In Lebanon with the Pope Benedict, I’m Tracey McClure