02/16/2006, 00.00
vatican - lebanon
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Prime Minister Siniora illustrates Lebanon's difficult situation to the Pope

In an audience at the Vatican this morning, Lebanese p.m. spoke to the Pope of his meeting with the various religious leaders in Lebanon, the Mohammad caricatures, attacks in the Christian quarter of Beirut and violence among various religious groups.  The Vatican reaffirms its closeness to "that noble Nation."

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The current situation "in Lebanon and in the Middle East in general, underlining the shared commitment to working to educate populations towards reconciliation and peace, in the respect of human rights and in particular of religious freedom": these were, according to a Vatican statement, the main topics of conversation between Benedict XVI and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, received today in the Vatican.  The meeting was described as "very cordial."

According to the Holy See Press Office statement, the Lebanese Prime Minister's visit "was meant to confirm the great devotion of the people of Lebanon for the Roman Pontiff, and the Holy See in general, which has always been close to that noble Nation."  In meetings that Siniora had with the Pope and with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, "special consideration was given to the situation of Christians and to the contribution that they intend to give to the country's progress along the lines set out, on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, by Pope John II, of venerable memory, in the Apostolic Exhortation, "A new hope for Lebanon."

According to Lebanese journalists who are travelling with the Prime Minister in Italy, Siniora was planning to report on the results of his recent meeting with the leaders of the various religions (Muslims and Christians of various denominations) present in Lebanon, from which emerged a unanimous condemnation against violence, the Mohammad caricatures, attacks in the Christian quarter of Beirut, and violence among various religious groups.  "I want to be the Prime Minister of all Lebanese," Siniora had said, "and to weave a bond between all the country's religions."

Siniora, who is a Sunni Muslim, visited the Vatican with an entourage of 11 persons, which included his wife Huda, Foreign Affairs Minister Fawzi Salloukh, Social Affairs Minister Nayla Moawad, the Minister for Relations with Parliament, Michel Pharaon, Information Minister Ghazi Al Aridi and Culture Minister Tarek Mitri.  The latter, an Orthodox Christian, gave as a gift to the Pope the German edition of his book, "In the Name of God?", along with a card saying that, with this gift,  the Minister wished "to witness his filial love" and to thank Benedict XVI for his "affection" toward "the sister Church" of the Orthodox.  Mitri recalled having already met with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, a meeting which also Benedict XVI remembered.

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