Pope Benedict urges Arab leaders to seek peace in turbulent Middle East

September 16, 2012

(Pope Benedict XVI conducts an open air mass at Beirut City Centre Waterfront, with two large mosques in the background September 16, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Pope Benedict urged Arab leaders on Sunday at a huge open-air Mass in Lebanon to work for reconciliation in a Middle East riven by Syria’s civil war and blazing with fury over a film mocking the Muslim Prophet Mohammad.

“May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East, the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence,” the pope said in a prayer after Mass that organisers said was attended by 350,000 people.

Activists say more than 27,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 18-month-old, mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect that grew out of Shi’ite Islam.

Few Christians, who form about 10 percent of Syria’s population, have joined the uprising, fearing that it could bring hostile Islamists to power in a fight raging just 50 km (30 miles) east of Benedict’s Mass in Beirut.

Addressing worshippers on the Mediterranean seafront, close to the front-line of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, Benedict said Lebanese people “know all too well the tragedy of conflict and…the cry of the widow and the orphan”.

“I appeal to the Arab countries that, as brothers, they might propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person,” the 85-year-old pontiff said.

Peace between warring factions and among the many religious groups in the Middle East has been a central theme of his visit to Lebanon, along with his call to Christians not to leave the region despite war and growing pressure from radical Islamists.

Read the full story by Dominic Evans and Erika Solomon here.
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