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Pope nears end of multifaith Lebanon visit

Pope Benedict XVI has rounded off his three-day visit to Lebanon after praising its multifaith society and urging Muslims and Christians to end suffering, especially in neighboring Syria.

The pontiff gave an open-air mass before 350,000 in central Beirut. On Saturday, he met Muslim and Christian leaders at the Marionite Christian center near Beirut and thanked young Muslims who attended the gathering.

"It is vital that the Middle East in general, looking at you, should understand that Muslims and Christians can live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person," the pope said, adding that such freedom is a religious right.

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Pope in Lebanon, calls for peace

Lebanon's population of 4 million, which lived through a sectarian war from 1975 until 1990, is predominantly Muslim - including Shiites, Sunnis and Alawites - alongside a diverse Christian minority that makes up about 40 percent.

The pope met numerous politicians on his visit, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni; parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite; and President Michel Suleiman, a Marionite Christian.

Sunnis reaffirm friendship

Lebanese Sunni Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani handed Benedict a letter saying that "any assault on any Christian citizen means an attack on Islam."

"Christians and Muslims form a single nation," the letter said.

The pope has met Lebanese of many different faiths. Photo: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Benedict met Lebanon's secular and religious leaders

Benedict also met 220 Chaldean Christians, who had traveled from war-scarred Iraq. In Baghdad in October 2010, 44 worshippers and two priests were killed in an attack on a Syriac Catholic Church. The atrocity was claimed by al Qaeda.

The pope had begun his trip to Lebanon on Friday with a call for an end to arms supplies to Syria, where for months rebels have defied the forces of President Bashar Assad. Delivering weapons was a "grave sin," the pope said.

A Vatican spokesman said the pope was also being kept informed of the protests throughout the Muslim world against an anti-Islam video recently disseminated on the Internet.

The last papal visit to Lebanon was by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

ipj/rc (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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