Pope appeals for peace upon arrival in Lebanon (+video)
Considering the crisis in Syria and recent diplomatic violence in the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon Friday trying to calm nerves.
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The pope arrived in Lebanon for a three-day visit despite the recent unrest in region — including the war in neighboring Syria, a mob attack that killed several Americans in Libya, including the U.S. ambassador, and a string of violent protests across the region stemming from an anti-Islam film.
"I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace," the pope said upon his arrival in Beirut. "As a friend of God and as a friend of men."
But just hours after his arrival, violence erupted in northern Lebanon over the anti-Islam film produced in the United States called "Innocence of Muslims." The movie ridicules the Prophet Muhammad, portraying him as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.
According to Lebanese security officials, a crowd angry over the film set fire Friday to a KFC and an Arby's restaurant in the northeastern city of Tripoli, sparking clashes with police. Police then opened fire, killing one of the attackers, the officials said.
At least 25 people were wounded in the melee, including 18 police who were hit with stones and glass. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media.
Lebanese authorities enacted stringent security measures for the pope, suspending weapons permits except for politicians' bodyguards and confining the visit to central Lebanon and the northern Christian areas. Army and police patrols were stationed along the airport road.
Speaking to reporters aboard his plane, the pope, who is 85, said he never considered canceling the trip for security reasons, adding that "no one ever advised (me) to renounce this trip and personally, I have never considered this."
The pope denounced religious fundamentalism, calling it "a falsification of religion."
He also praised the Arab Spring uprisings, which have ousted four long-time dictators.
"It is the desire for more democracy, for more freedom, for more cooperation and for a renewed Arab identity," the pope said.
The turmoil stemming from the Arab Spring has deeply unsettled the Middle East's Christian population, which fears being in the cross-fire of rival Muslim groups.
Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians in the Mideast — nearly 40 percent of Lebanon's 4 million people, with Maronite Catholics being the largest sect. Lebanon is the only Arab country with a Christian head of state.