· The Pope explains the meaning of his Visit to Lebanon where he arrived on Friday morning, 14 September ·
On arrival in Beirut, an invitation to make the Lebanese model an example for the Middle East and for the world
I never thought of giving up this Journey. Benedict XVI repeated these words without hesitation in answering the questions put to him by journalists this morning, Friday, 14 September, on his customary in-flight interview on the way to Beirut. The Pope never hesitated. If anything the aggravation of tensions and the ever more complicated situation has heightened his desire to offer a sign of brotherhood and an invitation to dialogue to all the Middle Eastern peoples, whose suffering, as in the dramatic context of the Syrian crisis, will not end until the trafficking of arms destined for the militants is stopped, he said.
Having stated this, the Pope addressed questions and issues that have recently become hot topics. Recalling two tragic events which have marked the recent past of the region and of the world – the massacre in 1982 in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, in Lebanon itself, and the attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001 – he spoke of the anxiety in the face of the fundamentalism and aggression which claim many Christian victims. He then mentioned the risk to which Christians themselves, since they are a minority, are subject in countries where the so-called “Arab Spring” has burst into bud, with an explicit reference to the situation in Syria. Lastly, he emphasized the value of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation which he will consign on Sunday, 16 September, and the role which the Churches in Europe and in the Americas can play to sustain their brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
In a certain sense the Pope's answers anticipated the topics that will be the focus of the Visit to Lebanon, where, he recalled, three monotheistic religions coexist which have made dialogue their lifestyle.
The Pope also made a clear condemnation of violence: a practice, he said, which must always be rejected, wherever it comes from. One of the messages he intends to take with him to Lebanon, but in spirit, to the whole of the Middle East, is, precisely, the rejection of violence and the rediscovery of dialogue. And this dialogue is proving particularly difficult with fundamentalism, which, he affirmed, is the denial of religion. It is thus the Church's task to invite people to purify their consciences and their hearts, to encourage the ability to see the real image of God in others.
However, Benedict XVI judged the “Arab Spring” positively because, at least in its original intention, it seeks to promote democracy and cooperation. It is a cry of freedom, he said, which comes from a youth culturally raised to seek solidarity and coexistence. Yet the Pontiff did not overlook the danger of losing sight, in this process, of the freedom of others. Even though Christians are always ready to collaborate with respect for all, the fact remains that the concept of freedom, he explained, must always be seen in the dimension of tolerance. The Pope is nevertheless convinced that the “Arab Spring” expresses the desire to live side by side. And in this sense he also judges positively the movements that aim to achieve the full participation of all in the social and political life of every country.
The achievement of a peaceful and orderly society according to this criterion of coexistence would also stem the constant haemorrhage of Christians from the Middle East. Even though, the Holy Father explained, it is not only Christians who are fleeing from certain situations but also many Muslims. However Christians certainly run the risk of disappearing from certain realities. What can the Church do in this case? In the meantime she can try to make people understand that violence and war are what primarily force people to flee. It is necessary to spread the message of peace in the world just as it is indispensable to halt the systematic arms trade wherever war breaks out. It would be necessary instead to import solidarity rather than weapons. In this regard, the Pope thinks, the main thing is to try to convince politicians to commit themselves to promote peace and not violence. Because violence, he concluded, does not build peace and obtains no other result than human suffering.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 16, 2018
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