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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Benedict, the third pope to visit Lebanon after Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II in 1997, will be addressing concerns by the region's bishops over the plight of Christians in the Middle East. War, political instability and economic hardships have driven thousands from their traditional communities, dating to early Christianity in the Holy Land, Iraq and elsewhere.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Pope visits the world
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Also Friday, the pope called for an end to weapons imports to Syria. Syria's rebels have said they desperately need weapons to fight Syrian President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime.
"The import of weapons must be stopped, because without the weapons import the war could not continue," he said. "Instead of the weapons import, which is a grave sin, we should import ideas of peace and creativity and find solutions to accept each other with our differences."
The pontiff was welcomed by top leaders, including the Lebanese president, prime minister and parliament speaker, as well as Christian and Muslim religious leaders. Cannons fired a 21-shots salute for the pope.
"Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region," he said upon arrival.
After a ceremony at the airport, Bendict's convoy drove through Beirut as army aircraft flew overhead for protection. The pope was on his way to the mountain town of Harisa, where he will stay at the Vatican embassy.
The papal visit comes amid fears that Syria's conflict might spill over to Lebanon. Clashes in Lebanon between Syrian groups over the past months have claimed the lives of more than two dozen people and left scores wounded.
The Christian community in Lebanon is divided between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Among Assad's supporters is former Lebanese prime minister and army commander Michel Aoun, a strong ally of the militant Hezbollah group. Hezbollah's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah welcomed the pontiff's visit, describing it as "extraordinary and historic."
"I cannot forget the sad and painful events which have affected your beautiful country along the years," Benedict XVI said, referring to Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war that left about 150,000 people dead.
"Looking at your country, I also come symbolically to all countries of the Middle East as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs," he said.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi did not rule out that the pope would meet some supporters of Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group that has risen steadily over the decades from anti-Israel resistance group into Lebanon's most powerful military and political force. The U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Lombardi declined to say what the Vatican's position is on the group.
IN PICTURES: The Pope visits the world