On Pope Benedict XVI’S Apostolic Journey to Lebanon
“Concord and reconciliation must be stronger than the forces of death”

VATICAN, SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today in the Paul VI Hall. The Holy Father dedicated today’s audience to reflecting on his recent Apostolic Journey to Lebanon.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like briefly to return in mind and heart to the extraordinary days of my recent Apostolic Journey to Lebanon. It was a visit I greatly desired to make despite the difficult circumstances, seeing that a father should always be close to his children when they are facing serious problems. I was moved by the sincere desire to announce the peace that the Risen Lord left to his disciples, with the words: “My peace I give you - سلامي أعطيكم” (John 14:27). The principle purpose of my visit was the signing and consigning of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente to representatives of the Catholic Communities of the Middle East as well as the other Churches and ecclesial communities, and also to Muslim leaders.

It was a moving ecclesial event and, at the same time, a provident occasion for dialogue in a country that is complex but emblematic for the entire region, thanks to its tradition of coexistence and of fruitful cooperation between the different religious and social elements present. Confronted by the sufferings and tragedies that continue in that area of the Middle East, I expressed my heartfelt closeness to the legitimate aspirations of those dear people, bringing them a message of encouragement and peace. I am thinking particularly of the terrible conflict plaguing Syria, which in addition to thousands of deaths, is causing a stream of refugees to pour out of the region in a desperate search for security and for a future; nor can I forget the plight in Iraq.

During my visit, the people of Lebanon and the Middle East -- Catholics, representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial communities and of the various Muslim communities -- lived with enthusiasm an important moment of mutual respect, understanding and brotherhood in a relaxed and constructive atmosphere, which constitutes a powerful sign of hope for all mankind. But above all, it was the encounter with the Catholic faithful of Lebanon and the Middle East, who were present in the thousands, which aroused sentiments of deep gratitude in my soul for the zeal of their faith and their witness.

I thank the Lord for this precious gift, which offers hope for the future of the Church in those areas: young people, adults and families motivated by the tenacious desire to root their lives in Christ, to remain anchored to the Gospel and to walk together in the Church. I renew my gratitude to all those who worked tirelessly for my visit: the Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon with their staff, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, consecrated persons and lay faithful, who have a precious and meaningful presence in Lebanese society. I was able to see firsthand that the Lebanese Catholic communities, through their two thousand year presence and their hopeful commitment, offer a significant and valued contribution to the daily lives of all of the country’s inhabitants.  

A grateful and respectful thought goes to the Lebanese authorities, institutions and associations, to the volunteers and to all those who offered their prayerful support. I cannot forget the cordial welcome I received from the President of the Republic, Mr. Michael Sleiman, as well as from the various sectors of the country and from the people: it was a warm welcome, in accord with famous Lebanese hospitality. Muslims welcomed me with great respect and sincere regard: their constant and engaging presence gave me the opportunity to propose a message of dialogue and of collaboration between Christianity and Islam: it seems to me that the moment has come to join in giving a sincere and decisive testimony against divisions, against violence and against wars. The Catholics who came from neighboring countries fervently expressed their deep affection for the Successor of Peter.

After the beautiful ceremony upon my arrival at Beirut airport, the first meeting was particularly solemn: the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostlic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, in the Greek-Melkite Basilica of St. Paul at Harissa. On that occasion, I invited Middle Eastern Catholics to fix their gaze on Christ Crucified in order to find the strength -- even in difficult and painful contexts -- to celebrate the victory of love over hate, of forgiveness over revenge and of unity over division. I assured everyone that the universal Church is closer than ever, through the affection of prayer, to the Churches in the Middle East: though they are a “little flock” they should not fear, in the certainty that the Lord is always with them. The Pope does not forget them.

On the second day of my Apostolic Journey I met with representatives of the Institutions of the Republic and of the world of culture, the diplomatic Corps and religious leaders.  To them, among other things, I indicated a way forward to promote a future of peace and solidarity: by working to ensure that cultural, social and religious differences arrive through sincere dialogue at a new fraternity, where what unites [them] is the shared sense of the greatness and dignity of every person, whose life must always be defended and protected. On the same day, I had a meeting with the leaders of the Muslim religious communities, which took place in a spirit of dialogue and mutual goodwill. I thank God for this meeting. The world today needs clear and powerful signs of dialogue and collaboration, and in this regard Lebanon was and must continue to be an example for Arab nations and for the rest of the world.

In the afternoon, at the residence of the Maronite Patriarch, I was greeted with uncontainable enthusiasm by thousands of young people from Lebanon and the surrounding countries. This gave rise to a joyful and prayerful moment that will remain indelibly impressed in so many hearts. I emphasized their good fortune in living in that part of the world where Jesus died and rose for our salvation, and where Christianity developed, and I exhorted them to be faithful to and to love for their native land, despite the difficulties caused by the lack of stability and security. In addition, I encouraged them to be steadfast in the faith, by trusting in Christ, the source of our joy, and to deepen their personal relationship with Him in prayer, and also to be open to the great ideals of life, of family, of friendship and of solidarity. As I looked upon young Christians and Muslims celebrating in great harmony, I encouraged them to build the future of Lebanon and the Middle East together, and together to oppose violence and war. Concord and reconciliation must be stronger than the forces of death.

On Sunday morning, there was the very intense and well-attended moment of the Holy Mass at Beirut’s City Center Waterfront, accompanied by the evocative songs that characterized the other celebrations as well. In the presence of numerous bishops and a great crowd of the faithful from every part of the Middle East, I wished to exhort everyone to live the faith and to bear witness to it without fear, in the knowledge that the vocation of the Christian and of the Church is to carry the Gospel to everyone without distinction, after the example of Jesus.  In a context marked by bitter conflicts, I drew attention to the necessity of serving peace and justice, by becoming instruments of reconciliation and builders of communion. At the conclusion of the Eucharistic celebration, I had the joy of consigning the Apostolic Exhortation, which gathers together the conclusions of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the Middle East. Through the Eastern and Latin Patriarchs and Bishops, the priests, consecrat ed and lay faithful, this document is intended to reach all the faithful of that dear region, in order to support them in the faith and in communion, and to spur them on to the greatly anticipated new evangelization.

In the afternoon, at the See of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate, I then had the joy of a fraternal ecumenical meeting with the Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs and representatives of those Churches, as well as the ecclesial communities.

Dear friends, the days spent in Lebanon were a splendid manifestation of faith and religious feeling and a prophetic sign of peace. The multitude of believers from all over the Middle East had the opportunity to reflect, to converse and above all to pray together, and to renew their commitment to root their lives in Christ. I am certain that the people of Lebanon, in its varied but well amalgamated religious and social makeup, will know how to bear witness with new momentum to true peace, which comes from trust in God. I hope that the various messages of peace and esteem that I wished to give may help governments of the region to take decisive steps forward toward peace and toward a better understanding of Christian-Muslim relations. For my part, I continue to accompany those beloved peoples in prayer that they may remain faithful to the commitments they have assumed. To the maternal intercession of Mary, who is venerated at so many and such ancient Lebanese shrines, I entrust the fruits of this pastoral visit, as well as the good intentions and just aspirations of the entire Middle East. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today I would like to reflect on my recent Apostolic Journey to Lebanon. It had as its first priority the consigning of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente to the representatives of the Catholic Church from Lebanon and throughout the Middle East. I also had occasion to meet representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities from the region, as well as Muslim leaders. I was able to speak from the heart, to stand before the sufferings and the dramatic events in the Middle East, and to express my prayerful encouragement for the legitimate aspirations for peace there. I was deeply moved by the faith of the local Church, and I asked the faithful to keep their gaze fixed on Christ crucified, therein finding the strength amid trying circumstances to celebrate the victory of love over hate, of forgiveness over revenge, and of unity over division. I wish also to express my gratitude to the Muslim community, whose leaders welcomed me warmly, and to whom I proposed a message of dialogue and of collaboration. Finally, my thanks go once more to all who worked to make my Visit to Lebanon so memorable, and I assure all the dear people of the Middle East of my prayers and affection.

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I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present today at this audience, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Malta, Australia, Taiwan and the United States. Upon all of you, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

Lastly, with special affection my thoughts turn to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Dear young people, may friendship with Jesus be for you the source of joy and support in making decisive choices; may it comfort you, dear sick, in difficult moments and give you relief in body and spirit. Dear newlyweds, may you remain continually united to Christ in order faithfully to live out your vocation in mutual love.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]