Beirut (AsiaNews) - The meeting with young Christians and Muslims on the esplanade of Bkerké was certainly the most touching moment which the pope thanked them for. However, since his arrival in Lebanon crowds of Muslims, Sunnis and Shias, surrounded Benedict. Indeed, many Muslim voices insisted on the importance of coexistence with Christians in the Middle East, especially when a church is attacked or Christians are killed. All this is new and important. Messages of peace and well wishes for the pope and the Church that emerged these days in Lebanon are that much more important given the recent flare-up in tensions and confrontation between East and West, and the attack against Western diplomatic missions and symbols by extremist Muslim groups.
Lebanon's Grand Mufti Mohammed Rachid Qabbani gave Benedict XVI a letter during a meeting with Lebanese dignitaries at Baabda Presidential Palace. In it, the head of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims warmly welcomed the head of the Catholic Church, reiterating his support for public freedoms, above all religious freedom. He noted the "privileged relations" between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are "their message to the world."
On Friday, when the pope arrived at Beirut airport, the grand mufti was absent. This led to speculation and concerns. Qabbani later explained that he was absent because he had to preside over Friday prayers. At the same time, according to protocol, he cannot be represented by any deputy when the Lebanese president is present at a ceremony. For this reason, the message he gave the pope was that more significant.
"Muslims and Christians in Lebanon and all Arab countries are one nation," he said. "They have equal rights and duties. If one issue affects one of them, they all work together to solve it. They want to realise their common goals respecting human dignity, public freedoms, first of all religious freedom. We Muslims believe that any attack against a Christian compatriot is an attack against all Muslims, and that any attack against a church is an attack against a mosque."
"Developments that are affecting the Middle East are bringing great hopes and marking the way of our joint future as Christians and Muslims; however, they are also bringing dangers that threaten all of us. And since we built once a common past, we can equally build a common future together."
"We support the appeal to the Christians of the Mashrek (the Arab East) to preserve their presence in the Arab world. We also support the exhortation that is addressed to them to fulfill their role within a shared national action, confident that this will preserve the social fabric of this part of the world."
"We back your appeal for equality of all citizens in terms of rights and duties, without discrimination of religion, confession or race. This is a national principle that will guarantee security for all."
"We respect the privileged relations between Muslim and Christian leaders in Lebanon at the personal, national and spiritual levels. These relations have always been safety valves given the many domestic issues that have affected us. These relations have been maintained in practice and are Lebanon's message to the East and the world, which we hold dear."
Hezbollah and Amal
Even Hizbollah and Amal, Shia movements, warmly welcomed the pontiff to Lebanon.
Commenting on Benedict XVI's visit, Lebanon's Agriculture Minister, Hussein Hajj Hassan, who is a member of Hizbollah, said, "Lebanon is a harbour of civil and intellectual dialogue not only between Islam and Christianity, but also among Muslims as well as among Christians."
Amal lawmaker Ali Khreiss said several times that Imam Moussa Sadr always said, "Lebanon and the Middle East could not survive without Muslim-Christian coexistence."
"The application of the Apostolic Exhortation for Muslims and Christians will be the most important instrument against the world Zionist plot. For Ali Khreiss, such a plot is meant to break up the region in small confessional states.
 Imam Moussa Sadr (1928-1978) was a Lebanese of Iranian origin who set up a social and political movement for Lebanon's Shia communities. Amal developed out of it. Involved with the poor and open to dialogue with Christians, he disappeared mysteriously on 31 August 1978 during a visit to Gaddafi's Libya.