Syrian conflict casts shadow over Pope Benedict’s trip to Lebanon — Vatican envoy

September 10, 2012

(Workers hang a poster of Pope Benedict XVI in preparation for his arrival for a three-day visit to Lebanon, in Jounieh, north of Beirut September 4, 2012. Pope Benedict XVI will visit Lebanon from September 14-16. REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi)

The civil war in Syria will cast a long shadow on Pope Benedict’s trip to neighboring Lebanon next weekend but the Vatican is “tranquil” about his security after receiving guarantees from the country’s fractious religious groups, the papal envoy to Beirut said on Monday.

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia told Reuters he hoped the situation in Syria would not drown out the main purpose of the trip – to focus attention on the problems and aspirations of the entire Middle East.

“You certainly can’t close your eyes to a situation of violence. The drama in Syria looms over this trip but there is also the wider horizon of the Middle East,” Caccia said in a telephone interview from Beirut.

“The Syrian question takes priority because it is an emergency but the whole trip cannot be reduced to a political question regarding Syria,” he said.

There are fears that the Syrian conflict could spill over into Lebanon and reignite civil war among the country’s rival religious groups. Lebanon’s population is 60 percent Muslim with the rest almost all Christian.

While there have been fears in some quarters that the papal trip is too dangerous, Caccia said “I am as tranquil as humanly possible” and the Church had “reasonable guarantees” that the visit would not be disrupted.

“Clearly security forces are on alert. Security is always a priority during papal visits, particularly in this (regional) context, which is a heated one,” he said.

“But I must honestly say that as far as the Lebanese components are concerned, no sector has expressed opposition to this trip. All the communities – Christians, Muslims, Sunni, Shi’ite, Druze and Alawites – have reacted positively to the trip.”

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