By Ann Schneible
ROME, SEPT. 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- In his journey to Lebanon, a country wounded by religious conflict, Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed as a messenger of peace and reconciliation, furthering ecumenical dialogue among the many churches rites and denominations that flourish throughout the country.
During his ecumenical meeting, held Sunday at the monastery of Our Lady of Deliverance, the Holy Father addressed patriarchs, bishops and representatives of Protestant communities of the country. This monastery, as the Pope noted, is of particular importance to the Syrian Catholic Church of the Antiochian tradition, of which Ignace Joseph III Younan is the Patriarch.
Included among the Christian denominations throughout Lebanon are the evangelical Churches – such as the Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, and so forth – which are united under the Evangelical Supreme Council of Syria and Lebanon. Although conflict has made it difficult to estimate the exact number of evangelical Christians in Lebanon, Syrian Evangelical pastor Riad Jarjour, former General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, told Vatican Radio that most are based in Beirut.
The Orthodox Churches, whose leaders Pope Benedict XVI addressed, have a significant presence within Lebanon. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Father Boulos Wehbe said that an estimated 400,000 Orthodox Christians are living in Lebanon, divided throughout six diocese, all under the Patriarch of Antioch who is based in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
During his address, Pope Benedict made special mention of the Syrian Antiochene Church. “In the course of its glorious history,” he said, its members have given “a testimony to an ardent love for Christ, which has caused it to write some heroic pages of this history, right up to the present, by remaining committed to the faith even to the point of martyrdom.
“I encourage this Church,” the Holy Father continued, “to be for the peoples of the region a sign of the peace that comes from God as well as a light that keeps their hope alive.”
Addressing the various leaders of faiths, Pope Benedict asked those present to respond to the call of Christ “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21). “In these unstable times,” he said, “so inclined to the violence which your region knows so well, it is even more necessary that Christ’s disciples give an authentic witness to their unity, so that the world may believe in their message of love, peace and reconciliation. This is a message that all Christians, and we in particular, have been commissioned to hand on to the world, a message of inestimable value in the present context of the Middle East.”
Pope Benedict petitioned religious leaders to work toward “full communion with each other.” Through common prayer, he said, “we must constantly return to our one Lord and Saviour. For, as I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Ecclesia in Medio Oriente’ which I have the pleasure of consigning to you, ‘Jesus draws into unity those who believe in and love him.'”
Turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Benedict asked her to “intercede with her Son for us, so that we may be delivered from every evil and from all forms of violence, and so that the Middle East may at last know a time of reconciliation and peace,” concluding: “May the words of Jesus that I have so often cited during this journey, ‘My peace I give to you!’ (Jn 14, 27), be for all of us the common sign that we will give in the name of Christ to the peoples of this beloved region, which longs to see those words fulfilled!”
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