Pope urges Christian unity at Syriac Catholic monastery

The Daily Star
Pope Benedict XVI waves to faithful as he arrives to conduct an open-air mass service at Beirut City Center Waterfront, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Pope Benedict XVI called for the unity of Christians in the Middle East during a visit Sunday to the summer residence of the Syriac Catholic patriarch.

The Syriac Catholic monastery in Charfet, north of Beirut, was the pope’s last stop prior to his departure, ending a three-day visit to Lebanon amid regional turmoil particularly in neighboring Syria.

During a 30-minute meeting with Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan as well as patriarchs and bishops of non-Catholic denominations, the pope stressed the importance of Christian unity in the Middle East, urging Christians not to abandon their land.

Patriarch Younan, who resides at the Syriac Catholic patriarchate in Beirut for most of the year, received the pope upon arrival and accompanied him to the Hall of Honor, where the Holy See signed the monastery’s guest book.

The pontiff, who was welcomed by Lebanese of different faiths during his stay, will deliver farewell speech before boarding a Middle East Airlines Airbus 320 at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport at 7 p.m.

During his three-day visit, which comes 15 years after the landmark visit of the late Pope John Paul II, the head of the Roman Catholic Church called for interfaith dialogue as a means to bring peace to the region.

In a Sunday morning Mass attended by some 350,000 people at the Beirut Water Front City, the pope urged the Arab countries and the world to propose solutions to end the conflict in Syria.

“We pray to the Virgin Mary to help all the peoples of the region, especially the Syrian people,” the pope said at the end of the Mass, which for many people was the highlight of his three-day historic visit to Lebanon.

“You know the problems that beset the region. There is a tremendous amount of pain … Why so much death? I call on the international community and Arab countries to propose solutions which respect human rights,” he added.

President Michel Sleiman, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati as well as MPs and Cabinet ministers attended the Mass. Other politicians in attendance included Future Movement MP Bahia Hariri and several Hezbollah deputies.

During his visit, the Holy See met with various Christian and Muslim figures including Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani who delivered a letter to the pope and said Saturday that “any attack on Christians is in an attack on Muslims.”

The pope made several remarks during his “pilgrim of peace,” urging Christians in Lebanon and the Middle East not to abandon their land and not to be afraid but to brave the difficulties they face.

In a gathering Saturday with Arab and Lebanese youth at Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate, the pope said he was moved by the courage of Syrian youth and said he was saddened by the hardships of the people there.

He reiterated his praise of Lebanon’s “beautiful coexistence” and urged Muslim youths to work with their fellow Christians.

During the ceremony, Benedict urged Christians not to abandon their land because of an “uncertain future.”

“Unemployment and dangers should not force you to migrate for an uncertain future. Act as the makers of your country’s future and play your role in society and the Church,” he said.

The Holy See signed the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East Friday in a ceremony at Saint Paul Basilica in Harissa, north of Beirut, where he urged Christians not to be afraid but brave difficulties facing them in the region.

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