Pope Benedict to visit Mideast in the shadow of Syria’s civil war

September 12, 2012

(A poster of Pope Benedict XVI is installed at a highway in the suburbs of Beirut September 12, 2012. Pope Benedict makes a religiously delicate and potentially dangerous trip to Lebanon this weekend to appeal for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East as civil war rages next door in Syria. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi )

Pope Benedict makes a religiously delicate and potentially dangerous trip to Lebanon this weekend to appeal for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East as civil war rages next door in Syria.

The 85-year-old pope, making his 24th international trip and fourth to the Middle East, will spend three days preaching unity among Christians and peace between Christians and Muslims during his time in the Lebanese capital Beirut from Friday to Sunday.

“I urge all Christians in the Middle East, whether they be long-established or recently arrived, to be builders of peace and agents of reconciliation,” he said during his general audience on Wednesday.

Benedict will hold two major open-air events and meet with representatives of all of Lebanon’s myriad Christian and Islamic communities and political leaders. Such a rich religious tapestry, the pope said on Wednesday, “can only continue if it (the Middle East) lives in permanent peace and reconciliation”.

The Vatican realizes the pope will be preaching peace in Beirut while only 50 km (30 miles) away Syria’s civil war goes on. Opposition groups say more than 27,000 people have been killed in an uprising that began almost 18 months ago, and clashes have occasionally spilled into Lebanese territory.

It will be the closest the pope comes to a military conflict in any one of his trips since his election in 2005 and will unfold amid growing alarm in Lebanon, given that Lebanese sectarian divisions resemble those in Syria.
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