Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The situation in Lebanon and the plight of Christians in the Middle East were the themes at the heart of the meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon this morning in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. After the audience, conducted in a "climate of great cordiality" - as stated in the press release issued by the Holy See - the prime minister visited the Secretary of State Card. Tarcisio Bertone accompanied by Msgr. Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.
Benedict XVI and Hariri stressed the importance of Lebanon, which for decades has been a model of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. The hope - said the statement - is that "through the exemplary coexistence" of different religious communities that comprise the country, it will "remain a 'message' for the Middle East region and the entire world."
Among other things the Lebanese government recently announced its intention to establish an Islamic-Christian holiday in the name of the Annunciation of Mary. It will have a "national" rather than "religious" stamp and will complement that of the Annunciation, not replace it. However, the new holiday aims to strengthen the "symbol of unity" among the Lebanese in the name of the Virgin Mary - who is also revered by followers of Mohammed - and "encourage the image of Lebanon as a 'Country' symbol of pluralism and tolerance", as often repeated by John Paul II.
Pope Benedict and Saad Hariri also stressed the need to find a "just and comprehensive solution to the conflicts that cause bloodshed in the Middle East. To achieve this goal - continues the statement - it is important to promote "intercultural and interreligious dialogue" that is a harbinger of peace and justice.
The Christians of the Middle East are victims of sectarian violence and persecution, which moves the faithful to abandon their places of origin in search of safety. In this perspective, the forthcoming Special Meeting of the Synod of Bishops of the Middle East - scheduled 10 to 24 October 2010 – was mentioned, which will seek solutions to the mass exodus that threatens to empty the region of a Christian presence. Benedict XVI and Hariri recalled "the importance of the work of Christians in the country" that is applied to "the entire society, especially through its educational, health and welfare institutions."