09/21/2006, 00.00
LEBANON – VATICAN

Rise above controversy about pope, say Lebanese bishops on day for peace

by Youssef Hourany

Religious services are scheduled as well as a roundtable with Christian and Muslim representatives, and a candlelit procession in the heart of Beirut. Mgr Matar has called on all to read the text of the address of Benedict XVI.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Day of Prayer for Peace in the Middle East, marked today in Lebanon on the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches, will feature a series of spiritual and religious manifestations it will also provide the opportunity to defend Pope Benedict XVI, who is still coming in for harsh criticism from some quarters.

The Day includes a roundtable conference on the theme "for a just peace", with the participation of the Maronite archbishop of Beirut, Mgr Paul Matar, the Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, Mgr Georges Khodr, the Shiite mufti of Tyre, Sheikh Ali El Amin, and a scholar on inter-faith dialogue, Ridwan El Sayed.

This afternoon, the Greek Melchite metropolitan of Beirut and Jbeil, Mgr Youssef Kallas, presides over a Eucharistic Celebration for peace in the region, in the Greek-Melchite Cathedral of Beirut. The participation of many believers from all religious rites is expected. This will be followed by a prayer vigil in the cathedral and a candlelit procession through the centre of Beirut, as a sign of solidarity with peace builders and as a sign of protest against those who do not want to conserve the identity of Lebanon. An appeal to live this day of prayer "in a spirit of pardon, tolerance and acceptance of the other, even in his diversity", was launched by Mgr Paul Matar.

As for the controversy about the address of the Pope in Regensburg, the Maronite bishop of Beirut underlined the need to "put an end to useless discussions that are ruining the social peace of the country" and he invited all to read the pope's address carefully. In this regard, Mgr Matar criticized the article published in the newspaper El Nahar, written by journalist Sarkis Naoum, because it's "content is false, attributing to the pope what he did not say". He invited journalists to be more objective in tackling a theme as difficult as the conference text of the pope. The article referred to by Mgr Matar is entitled "Western confrontation with Islam continues" and it maintains that the pope, after his election, has frequently shown himself to be against Islam and not too much in favour of dialogue with Muslims, inviting Christians to be more in solidarity, to confront and defend themselves from Islam.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Ambassador in Lebanon, Jawad El Hayiri, told AsiaNews he thought protests about the pope's conference were "useless uproar" and he invited all to reread the pope's text.

The ambassador lamented the massive exodus of Christians from Iraq: "Baghdad is nearly without a Christian presence and this contradicts history, because Christians have been present in the country since before the birth of Islam. Thanks to the new government, which makes no distinction between citizens, the country should be reborn according to ancient tradition, which Christians were a part of. All Christians who had to leave Iraq in the last three years should return to take the places waiting for them."

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