Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Today's meeting between Benedict XVI and Lebanese President Michel Sleiman (pictured) shows Lebanon's importance in the eyes of the Holy See. The unofficial audience was held in connection with the president's visit to Rome as leader of a group of 500 Lebanese who tomorrow will attend the consistory currently underway in which the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai will receive the cardinal's biretta, thus becoming the fourth Maronite patriarch to be elevated to the status of cardinal.
Invited by the patriarch, Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, head of Hizbollah political council, should be part of the Lebanese delegation.
President Sleiman, who under Lebanon's constitution must be a Christian Maronite, had a private meeting with the pontiff that lasted 15 minute. As gift, he brought a photo album of the pope's pastoral visit to Lebanon in September. The pope spoke about the trip and both he and Sleiman looked through the album.
The visit to the pope is a way to "thank the pope for his September visit and for elevating the patriarch among the princes of the Church," said some members of the president's entourage.
This morning, President Sleiman also met with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
Benedict XVI's trip in September gave him an opportunity to appeal again for peaceful coexistence and cooperation among all Lebanese irrespective of their different religions, this in a country he described as a "model" for the entire Middle East.
On that occasion, the pope expressed the Holy See's closeness to Christians, as well as solidarity for the difficulties they now face. He urged them not to leave the country, and this despite the rise of radical Islamism across the region.