- Kuwait Times Extra
BEIRUT: Pope Benedict XVI urged Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims yesterday to forge a harmonious, pluralistic society in which the dignity of each person is respected and the right to worship in peace is guaranteed. Speaking to political and religious leaders on the second day of a three-day trip to Lebanon, he stressed that people must repudiate vengeance, acknowledge their own faults and offer forgiveness to each other.
Thousands of people, mostly Christians and including many children, had lined the road leading to the palace in bright but pleasant morning sunshine, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope as he headed to the presidential palace. Among them were Egyptians, Iraqis, Jordanians and Palestinians who came to witness the first papal visit to Lebanon since the late John Paul II came in 1997. The frail-looking 85-year-old pontiff, walking with the aid of a cane, first met President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Christian.
Then, before talks with the Muslim leadership, he met Prime Minister Nagib Mikati, a Sunni, and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite. Lebanon has an unwritten but rigorously followed tradition that the three top jobs are always reserved for members of those respective faith communities. Those who desire to live in peace must have a change of heart, Benedict said, and that involves “rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them and, not least, forgiveness.”
He said the universal yearning of humanity for peace can only come about through community, comprised of individual persons, whose aspirations and rights to a fulfilling life are respected. Lebanon is a multi-faith country in which Muslims make up about 65 percent of the population and Christians the balance. The pope came with a message of peace and reconciliation to it and to the wider Middle East, which have been torn by violence, often sectarian, over the years. “Why did God choose these lands? Why is their life so turbulent,” he asked.
“God chose these lands, I think, to be an example, to bear witness before the world that every man and woman has the possibility of concretely realising his or her longing for peace and reconciliation. This aspiration is part of God’s eternal plan and he has impressed it deep within the human heart.” The pope said the conditions for building and consolidating peace must be grounded in the dignity of man. Poverty, unemployment, corruption, addiction, exploitation and terrorism “not only cause unacceptable suffering to their victims but also a great impoverishment of human potential. We run the risk of being enslaved by an economic and financial mindset, which would subordinate ‘being’ to ‘having’.”
Without pointing fingers, he said “some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence.” Cultural, social and religious differences should lead to a new kind of fraternity “wherein what rightly unites us is a shared sense of the greatness of each person and the gift which others are to themselves, to those around them and to all humanity.”
“Verbal and physical violence must be rejected, for these are always an assault on human dignity, both of the perpetrator and the victim.” Benedict noted that Christians and Muslims have lived side by side in the Middle East for centuries and that there is room for a pluralistic society. “It is not uncommon to see the two religions within the same family. If this is possible within the same family, why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?
“The particular character of the Middle East consists in the centuries-old mix of diverse elements. Admittedly, they have fought one another, sadly that is also true. A pluralistic society can only exist on the basis of mutual respect, the desire to know the other and continuous dialogue.” Central to that, the freedom “to profess and practise one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone. The loss or attenuation of this freedom deprives the person of his or her sacred right to a spiritually integrated life.”
On Friday, the pontiff had already urged the region’s religious leaders to strive to “root out” fundamentalism, which he said “indiscriminately and fatally touches” believers of all faiths. He also unveiled a series of recommendations to Christians in the region that emerged from a synod of bishops he convened in 2010 to address their future and their relations with other faiths, particularly Islam. On the street leading to the palace, Zeina Khoury, a Maronite who lives nearby, said “this is a blessing for Lebanon.” The pope’s visit is “important because it can bring us peace and because it reminds us of the importance of living together.”
The pope’s outreach to Muslims is particularly poignant as the region is rocked by the deadly violence over the anti-Islamist film that cost the lives of the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans on Tuesday. After leaving the presidential palace, will have lunch with Eastern patriarchs and bishops at the Armenian Catholic patriarchate in the mountain village of Bzommar outside the capital. His final public act for the day will be a meeting with Lebanese youth, both Christians and others, in the nearby village of Bkerke. The pope retuns to Rome today after celebrating an open-air mass at Beirut City Centre Waterfront. – AFP
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