Whenever he travels abroad, Pope Benedict delivers a series of speeches that journalists scan for their relevance to the situation in the country he’s visiting. This aspect has been especially important here in Lebanon, a multi-faith country that suffered through a 15-year-long civil war (1975-1990) fought along sectarian lines and now watches nervously as Syria’s bloody civil war unfolds along sectarian lines only 50 km (30 miles) from Beirut. So the majority of our stories have focused on his calls for an end to the violence in Syria and greater efforts to promote peace and religious co-existence in the region.
Another part of the story is the enthusiastic welcome Christians and some Muslims have given the pope as a messenger of peace. We’ve quoted several of them in our news stories. But our journalists, especially Erika Solomon, an Arabic-speaking American, have gathered so many of these quotes that I wanted to post a large selection of them here. They give more of the human flavour of the visit and what it means for the Christians who hear the pope’s message.
On Saturday evening, Pope Benedict addressed a youth rally outside the Maronite Patriarchate, which sits atop a mountain north of Beirut, overlooking the Mediterraneaan Sea (here’s our news story). There was a group of about 250 Iraqi Chaldean and Syriac Christians who had come from Baghdad and Irbil and were waving Iraqi and Kurdish flags. Iraq once had about 1.5 million Christians but the number are now believed to have dropped to fewer than 850,000 out of a population of around 30 million because of killings by militant Islamists and emigration abroad following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Click here for more on Iraqi Christians.