Damascus (AsiaNews) - "The Pope's
trip to Lebanon will be a
beacon for the entire Middle East, especially
for the Christians of Syria. I hope that the presence of the Pope encourages
the international community to help both parties in conflict to lay down their
arms and come to the negotiating table to end the carnage. " This is the
hope of Msgr. Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, a few hours ahead of the
visit of Benedict XVI to Lebanon, which begins today and ends September 16.
"The Pope - says Zenari - has been closely following the situation in Syria for months and has never ceased to raise his voice in public meetings. He knows what the Syrian Christians and their bishops want, who for more than a year trying to witness to peace in the country bent by sectarian and ethnic hatred. "
The Nuncio said that given the critical conditions in the country, most of the population are unaware of the visit, given poor access to newspapers and television. However, parishes and dioceses are doing everything possible to call the faithful to this important event. "The situation in Aleppo and Damascus in some areas is dramatic - says the prelate - there is fighting between rebels and the army in every corner of the country." The insecurity of roads and airports, used by Assad as to launch his warplanes and targeted by Free Syrian Army artillery, means the Syrian bishops cannot travel to greet the pontiff. "The bishops of Aleppo - says Zenari - sent a letter of welcome, where they explain their situation. But they will be there in prayer."
The apostolic visit to Lebanon will be the occasion for the signing and publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The first stage starts today at 13.45 with arrival at the airport and the speech before the authorities. At 18.00 the Pope will visit the Basilica of St Paul in Harissa to sign the Apostolic Exhortation. Tomorrow morning the presidential palace in Baabda, Benedict XVI will meet the main political authorities, including President Michel Suleiman and representatives of the Muslim religious community. The pontiff will dine with the Christian patriarchs of Lebanon. In the evening there will be the long-awaited meeting with young people in the square in front of the Maronite Patriarchate of Bkerké. On September 16, the final day of the visit, in the morning the Pope will celebrate Mass for the delivery of the Apostolic Exhortation. In the afternoon there will be an ecumenical meeting in the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate of Charfet, before leaving for the airport scheduled for 19.00 hours local time.
The pope's visit to Lebanon is on the same days of the visit to Syria by Lakhdar Brahimi, UN and the Arab League Special Envoy. After the failure of his predecessor Kofi Annan, Brahimi represents one of the last chances of finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict involving all parties involved.
Born of the March 2011 protests during the Arab Spring, the Syrian crisis has left more than 20 thousand dead and hundreds of thousands of displaced people, of which over 120 thousand have crossed the borders and found hospitality in refugee camps set up by governments and international organizations in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. (S.C.)