Beirut (AsiaNews) - "I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men ": Benedict XVI, in his first speech after his arrival, immediately states the reason for his presence in the Land of the Cedars , as a witness of peace. He repeats the greeting of Christ twice, "Salàmi ō-tīkum " (My peace I give to you) ", once referring to Lebanon, once to the entire Middle East:" also come symbolically to all the countries of the Middle East as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs. To them Christ says: " Salàmi ō-tīkum. '"
The papal plane landed at Rafic Hariri airport at 13:45. As he alighted from the plane, the pontiff was welcomed by President Michel Sleiman and his wife, by the Shiite Nabih Berri, speaker of parliament, and the Sunni Naguib Miqati, premier. Patriarch Bechara Boutros Raï and many Orthodox and Muslim leaders were also present, as well as groups of young people at a discreet distance.
President Sleiman, in his welcome address recalled the greatness of Lebanon, the contribution of Christians to the culture of the Middle East, the tragedy of war and the Palestinian refugees who invaded the small state in the 1970s. Benedict XVI did not mention any political issues, but had careful words regarding the human drama of the population of the region, " Your joys and sorrows are constantly present in the Pope's prayers and I ask God to accompany you and to comfort you. Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region "
The pope had been invited several times to go to Lebanon. The president had invited him in 2008 and 2011, when a large statue of Saint Maron was blessed at the Vatican, which "reminds me - he said - of what you live and endure."
In addition to the response to this invitation, the Pope adds another reason for his coming, "the important ecclesial event of the signature and the consigning of the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente". He thanks all the bishops for their presence, "as well as to those who have travelled to pray with me and to receive this document from the hands of the Pope himself". In this regard it should be noted none of the Syrian bishops of Aleppo are present as they are unable to travel because of the war that has inflamed the country for more than 16 months.
The Apostolic Exhortation, although destined to the whole world, is "a roadmap for the years to come" for the Christians of the Middle East. It is intended to help Christians mature in their "communion and mission" within Middle Eastern societies.
Benedict XVI seems to suggest the Lebanese model as an example of community and social engagement: " The successful way the Lebanese all live together surely demonstrates to the whole Middle East and to the rest of the world that, within a nation, there can exist cooperation between the various churches, all members of the one Catholic Church in a fraternal spirit of communion with other Christians, and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions. Like me, you know that this equilibrium, which is presented everywhere as an example, is extremely delicate. Sometimes it seems about to snap like a bow which is overstretched or submitted to pressures which are too often partisan, even selfish, contrary and extraneous to Lebanese harmony and gentleness".
For the pope, the foundation of a harmonious coexistence is based on the religious dimension of life, personal and social level, without the distortions of secularism exaggerated in the West. "I have also come - said the pope - to say how important the presence of God is in the life of everyone and how the manner of coexistence, this conviviality to which your country wishes to bear witness, will run deep only if it is founded upon a welcoming regard for the other and upon an attitude of benevolence, and if it is rooted in God who wishes all men to be brothers. The celebrated Lebanese equilibrium which wishes to continue to be a reality, will continue through the good will and commitment of all Lebanese. Only then will it serve as a model to the inhabitants of the whole region and of the entire world. This is not just a human task, but a gift of God which should be sought with insistence, preserved at all costs, and consolidated with determination".
No mention was made of ongoing tensions provoked by an anti-Islamic film made by a mysterious American Jew, nor ensuing violence. But in emphasizing the "presence of God" and the " welcoming regard " and "good will toward each other," the pope has shown a possible path forward to overcoming the conflict of civilizations that many fear and foment.