Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The pope is "saddened" and "concerned" over the situation in Lebanon and the entire Middle East, where the conflicts continue and persecution against Christians is on the rise. "Only when the countries involved can determine their own destiny, and the various ethnic groups and religious communities accept and respect each other fully, will peace be built on the solid foundations of solidarity, justice and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples."
The visit to the Vatican by Aram I, catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians, located in Antelias, near Beirut, gave Benedict XVI the opportunity to express the "deep concern" of the Holy See for Lebanon and the entire Middle East - where "tensions and conflicts continue to frustrate all efforts to foster reconciliation and peace at every level of civil and political life" - but also to emphasize the progress in the journey of ecumenism.
Having recalled the positive role played by the see of Cilicia in the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, "we must be hopeful that this dialogue will continue to move forward, since it promises to clarify theological issues which have divided us in the past but now appear open to greater consensus." "I am confident," he continued, "that the current work of the International Commission - devoted to the theme: 'The Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church' - will enable many of the specific issues of our theological dialogue to find their proper context and resolution."
"Surely the growth in understanding, respect and cooperation which has emerged from ecumenical dialogue promises much for the proclamation of the Gospel in our time."
The pope finally recalled the "unspeakable suffering" that the Armenian people have experienced in the twentieth century, as the culmination of their Christian testimony.
At the end of the meeting, held in the Sala dei Papi, Benedict XVI and Aram I presided over an ecumenical celebration in the "Redemptoris Mater" chapel in the apostolic palace.
The visit of Aram I to the Vatican - where he went in 1997 for a meeting with John Paul II (in the photo) - will include another meeting with the pope, on Wednesday, and a series of events including a visit to the basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, a prayer meeting at Santa Maria in Trastevere, the celebration of vespers in the church of San Bartolomeo on the Isola Tiberina, dedicated to the martyrs of the twentieth century, conversations with Vatican leaders, from Cardinal Bertone to Cardinal Kasper to Cardinal Tauran, and a lecture at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, on Tuesday, on the topic "The Christians in the Middle East."