09/16/2012, 00.00
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Pope: peace in the Middle East needs "workable solutions" that respect dignity and everyone's rights

Benedict XVI appeals to the international community and Arab nations to end "the din of weapons" in Syria and "neighbouring countries." Hundreds of thousands of people attend the Mass in which Benedict XVI hands the Apostolic Exhortation 'Ecclesia in Medio Oriente' to the bishops of the Middle East. He calls on Christians to be "servants of peace".

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The international community and Arab nations must "propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person" and "cease to see in the other an evil to be eliminated."

In the last day of his visit to Lebanon, Benedict XVI celebrated the only open air Mass of his trip. At Beirut's City Center Waterfront, Catholic communities from across the Middle East were represented by 300 bishops who have come for the publication of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation 'Ecclesia in Medio Oriente'. At the end of the Mass, the pope "handed" them the document.

Lebanon's president, Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Catholic according to the country's complex constitution, was present along with a huge crowd of perhaps 400,000 in front of the sea.

In his greetings, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi expressed hope for a Christian "spring."

As worshippers prayed, the word "peace" echoed on several occasions. In fact, the presence of few soldiers from the United Nations military force was a reminder that this country has not yet signed a peace treaty with Israel, whilst Damascus lies only 90 kilometres away.

Benedict XVI's homily also touched on peace. In it, the Holy Father called on Christians to do everything in their power to achieve it.

In the Angelus, the Holy Father appealed to the international community, especially Arab nations, to reach peace in Syria and "neighbouring countries." Although not mentioned, they clearly refer to Israel, Iraq and of course Lebanon.

"You," he said, "know all too well the tragedy of the conflicts and the violence which generates so much suffering. Sadly, the din of weapons continues to make itself heard, along with the cry of the widow and the orphan. Violence and hatred invade people's lives, and the first victims are women and children. Why so much horror? Why so many dead? I appeal to the international community! I appeal to the Arab countries that, as brothers, they might propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person! Those who wish to build peace must cease to see in the other an evil to be eliminated. It is not easy to see in the other a person to be respected and loved, and yet this is necessary if peace is to be built, if fraternity is desired (cf 1 Jn 3:8-12). May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence! May men understand that they are all brothers! Mary, our Mother, understands our concern and our needs. Together with the Patriarchs and Bishops present, I place the Middle East under her maternal protection (cf. Propositio 44). May we, with God's help, be converted so as to work ardently to establish the peace that is necessary for harmonious coexistence among brothers, whatever their origins and religious convictions."

Earlier, during the Mass, the pontiff said we must become "servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity. This is an essential testimony which Christians must render here, in cooperation with all people of good will."

In commenting the passage in the Gospel in which Jesus asks his disciples, ""Who do men say that I am?" Benedict XVI said, "They give very different answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets! Today, as down the centuries, those who encounter Jesus along their own way give their own answers. These are approaches, which can be helpful in finding the way to truth. But while not necessarily false, they remain insufficient, for they do not go to the heart of who Jesus is."

As Peter said, he is the messiah, but "a Messiah who suffers, a Messiah who serves, and not some triumphant political saviour. He is the Servant who obeys his Father's will, even to giving up his life. This had already been foretold by the prophet Isaiah in today's first reading. Jesus thus contradicts the expectations of many. What he says is shocking and disturbing. We can understand the reaction of Peter who rebukes him, refusing to accept that his Master should suffer and die! Jesus is stern with Peter; he makes him realize that anyone who would be his disciple must become a servant, just as he became Servant."

"Following Jesus means taking up one's cross and walking in his footsteps, along a difficult path which leads not to earthly power or glory but, if necessary, to self-abandonment, to losing one's life for Christ and the Gospel in order to save it. We are assured that this is the way to the resurrection, to true and definitive life with God. Choosing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who made himself the Servant of all, requires drawing ever closer to him, attentively listening to his word and drawing from it the inspiration for all that we do. In promulgating the Year of Faith, which is due to begin next 11 October, I wanted each member of the faithful to renew his or her commitment to undertaking this path of sincere conversion."

Speaking again about today's readings, the pope noted, "Saint James tells us to what extent our walking in the footsteps of Jesus, if it is to be authentic, demands concrete actions. 'I, by my works, will show you my faith' (Jas 2:18). It is an imperative task of the Church to serve and of Christians to be true servants in the image of Jesus. Service is a foundational element of the identity of Christ's followers (cf. Jn 13:15-17). The vocation of the Church and of each Christian is to serve others, as the Lord himself did, freely and impartially. Consequently, in a world where violence constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction, to serve justice and peace is urgently necessary for building a fraternal society, for building fellowship! Dear brothers and sisters, I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity. This is an essential testimony, which Christians must render here, in cooperation with all people of good will. I appeal to all of you to be peacemakers, wherever you find yourselves."

In concluding, the pope said, "May God bless Lebanon; may he bless all the peoples of this beloved region of the Middle East, and may he grant them the gift of his peace."

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