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A difficult mission

Diana Hodali/aiSeptember 16, 2012

A final Mass in Beirut was the culmination of Pope Benedict's three-day visit to Lebanon. He used his trip to appeal to all people in the region for peace and hope.

Pope Benedict XVI (picture: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GettyImages)
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Magda and her daughter Magali Suleiman had been up since six in the morning in order to catch a glimpse of the pope. "Actually, I felt closer to Pope John Paul II, but since Benedict XVI is in Lebanon, I also feel close to him," 23-year old Magali said. The two Christians were among the 300,000 people who had come as pilgrims to attend the final Mass of the pope in the center of Beirut.

Final Mass in Lebanon (picture: dw/d.hodali)
Benedict's final Mass took place under the scorching Beirut sunImage: DW/Hodali

Maximum security

The pope came as a "pilgrim of peace" to them to Lebanon and seemed unfazed by the tensions surrounding the visit. Neighboring Syria is rocked by civil war and fury over an anti-Islam film made in the US has spurred violent protests and clashes across the entire Muslim world.

During the mass, everything went according to schedule. The security measures were stronger than ever, there were helicopters circling the area, soldiers set up roadblocks and every visitor had to pass through a metal detector. At the entrance, Magda and Magali, like all the others in attendance, got a bottle of water, a Bible and a hat - essential gear when the sun is burning down. The crowd had to wait for several hours in the summer heat until the pope arrived.

Pope Benedict with bishops at the Mass (picture: REUTERS/Steve Crisp)
The pope appealed to Christians not to leave the Middle EastImage: Reuters

"I think it will start on time - after all, Pope Benedict is a German," Magda joked. And she was right. Exactly at ten o'clock local time, Pope Benedict arrived to the cheering of the crowd. Magda and Magali were among the chorus of countless voices shouting "Benedito, Benedito!"

A mass for the people

The mass was held in French and Arabic; intercessions were also read in Armenian and in English, showing that the event was held for all the people in the region. Pope Benedict called on all people of the Middle East to be "servants to peace and reconciliation." To achieve this, Christians and members of all other religions would have to contribute, he said.

Benedict also spoke about the situation in Syria. He told an enthusiastic crowd, "May God give your country, may God give Syria and the Middle East the gift of peace of the hearts, of silence of the guns and of the end of all violence." He called on the international community and the Arab countries to suggest realistic solutions "that will respect the dignity, rights and religion of every person."

An appeal for peace

Pope Benedict had already urgently appealed for peace to the peoples of the Middle East on the second day of his trip to Lebanon. They would have to "say 'no' to retaliation," to "verbal and physical violence" and accept a "pluralistic society," the 85-year old pontiff said.

However, he did not speak about the current violent protests against the anti-Islam film produced in the US even though Lebanon's second city, Tripoli, had been the site of clashes.

Lebanonas an example

Despite the ongoing violence in the region, Pope Benedict never considered cancelling his trip. Quite the contrary - it was important, he said, "to make a point of encouragement and dialogue against violence." And instead of bringing weapons to Syria, ideas for peace should be brought, the pope said.

The pope explicitly praised the Arab Spring as the young generation's cry for more democracy and freedom. Again and again he pointed to Lebanon as a model of religious tolerance. In the run-up to his trip, he had called on Christians in the Middle East not to abandon their home countries.

On his first day in the country, Benedict signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which included recommendations for the Christians in the region made during a special assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops in 2010. Signing this document, which calls for stronger cooperation between the different Christian denominations in the region, was the original reason for his trip to Lebanon.

At the end of Sunday's Mass, Pope Benedict handed the document to the Catholic religious leaders, saying it should serve as a guideline for the Christians of the region. But even the visit itself was for many a sign of hope in insecure times. For Magda and Magali, seeing the pope has given them the confidence to stay in Lebanon. "The visit has showed us that we don't have to leave - his trip came just at the right time."