Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon next week is “considered an act of great courage and hope worldwide” as a civil war rages in neighbouring Syria, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Saturday.
Lebanon, which has a significant Catholic community, was selected for the September 14-16 trip “before the situation in Syria escalated into an overt and bloody conflict,” Lombardi wrote in an editorial for the Vatican weekly Octava Dies.
He said the Arab Spring and the Syrian situation make the church’s engagement with the region’s Christian communities even “more urgent”.
He added that problems identified at a special synod of bishops two years ago on the Middle East were now more accute, issues such as dialogue between Islam and Judaism, religious freedom and democracy.
Lebanon has been battling to contain an eruption of violence triggered by the events in Syria, including a spate of mass kidnappings that recalled the dark days of the country’s own civil war.
Benedict is expected to bring a message of peace for the Middle East on his three-day trip.
The 85-year-old German pontiff is set to meet with various religious leaders in multi-faith Lebanon and emphasise in particular the need for peaceful coexistence between Christian and Muslim communities in the region.