09/03/2012, 00.00
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Patriarch Rai: Welcome pope by overcoming Lebanon's divisions

by Fady Noun
The head of the Maronite Church calls on Lebanese Christians to anticipate the papal visit (14-16 September) with love and truth. During his visit, the pope will sign an Apostolic Exhortation written in the wake of the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East. In a statement, the patriarch stressed the important role Christians can play in a new "Arab spring" but bemoaned divisions and hatreds among Arab countries.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai urged the Lebanese not to let their divisions compromise the welcome they will give Pope Benedict XVI when he visits the country between 14 and 16 September.

Yesterday, the pontiff alluded to his forthcoming trip to the Middle Eastern country where he will sign an Apostolic Exhortation, issued in response to the Synod of Middle Eastern Churches held in the Vatican in October 2010.

After the Angelus prayer at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI, said in French, "to the Lebanese present this morning, I assure you of my prayers and my joy to visit your beautiful country soon. I cordially bless you all."

"We are getting ready to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon," the patriarch said during a pastoral visit to Mound Lebanon. "Let us welcome him with our typical sense of hospitality. We live in a privileged age in which Lebanon has an important role to play. It is no accident that the pope is coming to Lebanon and that it is from here that he will issue his message to the East."

However, "We cannot accept that this role may be compromised by our divisions and differences, or by economic and social crises [. . .]. The pope will be among us for the sake of Eastern Christians. The document that he will sign here is much more than a document. It is what the Holy Spirit tells the Churches of our times. It is the harbinger of a new spring for the Church and holds the vital principle for an Arab spring."

During his address, the patriarch also bemoaned that nothing was learnt from Lebanon's long civil war (1975-1990) in Syria. "At least, let the Lebanese learn from the past," he said.

Similarly, Patriarch Rai also looked at the sorry state of social and political relations in Lebanon. What he sees are "hardened hearts" as well as "lies and hypocrisy that pollute relations," not to mention "deep hatreds in men and women that flare up at the least pretext."

In view of its divisions, the Arab world "needs the Christians of Lebanon and the Arab world." Christians, the patriarch said, "are neither a minority, nor just passing through". They "bring the Gospel's message of peace, born in this part of the world to which we have the honour to belong."

"In these days of anticipation and preparation, we are witness of love and truth in Lebanon and the whole region," he said in concluding.

"It has been our mission since we experienced difficult circumstances beginning in 1975. May a path of justice be carved in the desert of oppression, a path of love in the desert of hatred, a path of truth in the desert of lies, and a path of humility in the desert of pride."

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