Beirut (AsiaNews) - Speaking to journalists on the plane taking him to Beirut this morning, Benedict XVI said that the Arab spring was "a positive thing" as long as it is open to "tolerance of the other," whereas, "Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion". The Church and other religions must purify themselves from this temptation. Peace in Syria requires an end to arms imports.
The pontiff's trip to Lebanon, where he will sign the Apostolic Exhortation 'Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,' comes a day after more demonstrations and violent acts take place in the Muslim world over a blasphemous movie over Muhammad. In Lebanon's neighbour Syria, the civil war continues as tensions between Iran and Israel continue. Hovering in the background are possible attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Yet, "No one ever advised me to cancel this trip," Benedict XVI said. "I never took that idea into consideration, because I know that as the situation becomes more complicated, it is even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. Therefore the aim of my visit is an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems." Indeed, the pope said that he was "happy" and "sure" for "all those accompanying me in prayer".
When a journalist asked him about the growth of fundamentalism, and fears for Christian lives, the pontiff replied, "Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion and goes against the meaning of religion [. . .] Therefore, the commitment of the Church and of religions is to undertake a purification [. . .], to illuminate consciences and to try and provide everyone with a clear image of God. We must all respect each other. Each of us is an image of God and we must mutually respect each other."
Another question underscored the ambiguities of the Arab spring in various countries. Born out of a desire for democracy, these popular revolts are now leading to fundamentalist governments, which might stifle minorities, especially Christians.
Speaking perhaps for the first time on this issue, Benedict XVI said, "In itself, the Arab spring is a positive thing: a desire for greater democracy, more liberty, more cooperation and a new Arab identity. This cry for liberty, which comes from a more culturally educated and professional young people, who want greater participation in political and social life, is positive progress, which has been hailed by Christians as well. Bearing in mind the history of revolutions, we naturally know that this vital and positive cry for freedom risks forgetting one aspect-a fundamental dimension for freedom-, which is tolerance of the other. The fact is that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living together with certain rules." Hence, "it's important to see the positive elements in these movements and, do all that is possible to ensure that freedom is correctly conceived and corresponds to a greater dialogue rather than the dominion of one over the other.
Another question was about Syria and the Christian exodus from this country and the Middle East. In his answer, the pope noted that "not only Christians are leaving, but also Muslims". Still, "There is a great danger that Christians leave these lands and lose their presence". For this reason, "we must do all that is possible to help them to stay."
"What can we do against war? Of course we can always spread a message of peace, insist that violence never resolves problems." Benedict XVI suggested that Christians organise days of prayer for the Middle East, showing the possibility of dialogue and solutions to problems between Christians and Muslims.
"I also believe," he added, "that there must be an end to the import of arms: without weapons, war could not continue. Instead of importing weapons, which is a grave sin, we should import ideas, peace and creativity. We should accept others in their diversity and make visible the mutual respect of religions, the respect for man as God's creation and love of neighbour as a fundamental element of all religions."
The Holy Father also reiterated the importance of prayer and of "visible signs of solidarity" towards Middle Eastern Christians, which "can have an impact on public opinion and produce real results," and thus change situations.