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The true face of the Church

The Visit that Benedict XVI has just made to Lebanon was naturally a Journey of peace. Most of the media noted this. And their comments were a positive sign that emphasized the Pope's courage. Yet his itinerary in the lands where Christianity was born and developed in the first centuries had a far deeper meaning, since in a certain way, in showing the Church's true face it summed up all the Pope's Journeys.

The days in Lebanon will remain in the annals of the Pontificate for more than one reason. First of all because of the attention that the Holy See has always paid – and that  Benedict XVI is paying today – to the Middle East. Indeed, it suffices to remember that the Pope has been four times in six years to the lands where Christianity was born and developed in the first centuries, visiting Turkey, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Cyprus and Lebanon.

The Visit to the Land of Cedars, as its President Michel Sleiman understood well, acquired a special importance;  over and above what was expected, he was present at all the public meetings of the Visit. Welcomed with a warmth which was not mere good manners, Benedict XVI was seen in person by a huge number of the Lebanese, even if only fleetingly after long waits lining the streets in Beirut, where, on  his last day, he was greeted with olive branches.

And the Pope reciprocated the attention, sympathy and affection with important support for Lebanon. It is a small modern nation but with very old and biblical roots; Lebanon has always been accustomed to coexistence, through an often dramatic history and yet, in its happier moments, it has been an example for the entire region. And as such the Pope presented it in his Farewell Address, calling to mind the wood of the cedars of Lebanon, which was destined for the most sacred place,  the sanctuary of God.

Thus Benedict XVI hopes that today too Lebanon may continue to be present there, as a place of harmony that will testify to the existence of God and of communion among people, “whatever their political, social, or religious standpoint”. It is therefore an exemplary task in a region tormented for too long by violence and war, until the Syrian tragedy which recurred several times in the Pope's words and gestures.

With his Visit the Pope has left many things and not only to Lebanon. Starting with the demanding document, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente , which resulted from the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the region. Moreover, Benedict XVI personally consigned this text, also translated into Arabic,  not only to the representatives of the various Catholic communities, but also to the most important exponents of the other Christian denominations and of Islam. And the Pope was listened to with interest and respect by Lebanon's Muslim leaders.

However one event of these days in Lebanon will be remembered: those who saw in this gentle man of God, rendered transparent by the years – in a Journey which he wanted and adhered to with impressive courage – the true face of the Church. A face which Benedict XVI was able to show to all, explaining it later in a comment spoken off the cuff to the Catholic Patriarchs after the Meeting with young people, saying that the Christian identity is summed up in the open heart of Jesus.

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St. Peter’s Square

June 18, 2018

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