Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "The world today needs clear and strong sign of dialogue and cooperation" and " seems to me the time has come for Christianity and Islam to give a united, sincere and decided testimony against divisions, violence and wars. " On his return from Lebanon, the subject of his reflections to eight thousand people present at the general audience at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI repeated his call for dialogue and coexistence launched several times over the weekend from the Land of the Cedars.
The journey from September 14
to 16 "was - the Pope said - a trip that I had strongly wanted, despite the
difficult circumstances, considering that a father should always be near his
children when they encounter grave problems. I was moved by a sincere desire to
announce the peace that the risen Lord gave to his disciples and summarized in
the words "My peace I give to you'".
It "was a moving ecclesial event and, at the same time, a provident opportunity for dialogue lived in a complex but emblematic country for the entire region, because of its tradition of coexistence and fruitful cooperation between the different religious and social components. In the face of the suffering and tragedies that continue in that area of the Middle East, I expressed my heartfelt closeness to the legitimate aspirations of those dear people, bringing them a message of encouragement and peace. I am thinking in particular of the terrible conflict that torments Syria, causing, in addition to thousands of deaths, a stream of refugees that pours into the region desperately seeking security and a future; neither have I forgotten the plight of Iraq ."
The "main" aim of the visit was to give the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente to the Churches of the region, " to reach all the faithful of that dear land, to support them in their faith and communion and encourage them on the path of the much hoped for new evangelization"and the very first appointment of the first day was in fact the signing of the document in the Greek-Catholic church of St. Paul in Harissa. " On that occasion I invited Catholics in the Middle East to fix their gaze on Christ Crucified to find the strength, even in difficult and painful contexts, to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge and unity over division. I assured them all that the universal Church is closer than ever, with affection and prayer, to the Church in the Middle East: they, despite being a "little flock", need not fear, knowing that the Lord is always with them. The Pope does not forget them".
The Pope described the visit as "extraordinary days" lived "with enthusiasm in a relaxed and constructive atmosphere", an "important experience of mutual respect, understanding and brotherhood, which is a strong sign of hope for all humanity."
But it was above all about his meeting with the Catholics of the region. On the second day, in Bkerke, the residence of the Maronite Patriarch, " the irrepressible enthusiasm of thousands of young people from Lebanon and from neighboring countries." " I encouraged them to be firm in their faith, trusting in Christ." " Seeing young Christians and Muslims celebrate in great harmony, I encouraged them to build together the future of Lebanon and the Middle East and to oppose violence and war. Harmony and reconciliation must be stronger than the forces of death" .
In Mass on Sunday morning, with faithful from all over the Middle East, " I urged everyone to live and to witness their faith without fear, knowing that the vocation of the Christian and the Church is to bring the Gospel to all without distinction, following the example of Jesus in a context marked by bitter conflicts, I drew attention to the need to serve peace and justice by becoming instruments of reconciliation and builders of communion".
"I hope - he concluded - that the messages of peace and respect that I wanted to give, will help governments of the region to take decisive steps towards peace and a better understanding of the relationship between Christians and Muslims."