07/20/2006, 00.00
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Pope calls for a day of prayer for Lebanon on Sunday

Benedict XVI appeals for an immediate ceasefire, the opening of humanitarian corridors to help civilian populations, and the beginning of "reasonable and responsible negotiations to end the objective conditions of injustice that exist in the region".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – In a statement released by the Vatican Press Office, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his great concern for the worsening situation that is affecting the Middle East and its peoples. For this reason, the Pope has called for a day of prayer for Lebanon next Sunday, July 23. He has also called on all parties to agree to a ceasefire, to the opening of humanitarian corridors to help the civilian populations, and to the start of "reasonable and responsible negotiations that would end the objective conditions of injustice that exist in the region". The Holy Father also reaffirmed Lebanon's right to its territorial integrity and sovereignty, Israel's right to security and peace, and the Palestinians' right to their own state.

This is the third statement Benedict XVI has made in the last few days in favour of Lebanon. In it he has asked the faithful to call upon God to offer the gift of peace, but he also demanded that aid be immediately delivered to the civilian populations. In doing so he reiterated the Holy See's position on the Mideast situation.

For the Pope this coming Sunday should be "a special day of prayer and penitence". In his appeal, he urges "pastors and the faithful of all Churches and all believers to plead with God for the precious gift of peace".

In particular, Benedict XVI is hopeful "that prayers might reach the Lord so that fighting between the parties may end, that humanitarian corridors may be open to bring help to those suffering, and that reasonable and responsible negotiations may start with the goal of ending the objective conditions of injustice that exist in the region", which he had already called for in last Sunday's Angelus.

In the statement, the Holy Father says if "the Lebanese have a right to see the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty respected" so do the "Israelis have a right to live in peace in their own state, and Palestinians have a right to their own free and independent homeland."

And "in this painful moment, His Holiness also calls on charitable organisations to bring help to the populations affected by this cruel conflict."

Friday of last week when the current crisis was breaking out, the Pope spoke from Les Combes, in Italy's Valle d'Aosta region where he is taking a restful break. On that occasion he urged people to pray, "especially for an end to the violence". Before that he had met Carmelite sisters from a nearby convent, whom he had thanked for praying on behalf of humanity, which "is greatly suffering in the Holy Land, Lebanon and other parts of the world", and to whom he also urged to pray for "the terrorists because they don't know of the pain they are inflicting, not only on others but especially on themselves".

Two days later, following Sunday's Angelus, he had said that "objective violations of the law and of justice" are at the root of the "cruel contrapositions" in the Middle East; none the less, neither the terrorist acts, nor the reprisals can be justified, especially when civilians are the ones who must bear their "tragic consequences".

Last Friday, Cardinal Sodano voiced his disapproval of Israel's attack against Lebanon, a "free and sovereign nation".

"A State's right to self-defence," he said on Vatican Radio, "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations".

"Once again, it appears obvious that the only path worthy of our civilization is that of sincere dialogue between the contending parties".

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