Lebanese Muslim leaders welcome Pope Benedict’s visit

On the eve of his visit to Lebanaon, many Shiite and Sunni clerics are putting out the welcome mat to Pope Benedict.

The clerics are hoping Benedict’s visit will strengthen coexistence and help allay Christian fears over their fate in a region in tumult.

Noting that Muslims and Christians alike have concerns about the rapid changes in the region, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Rashid Qabbani said, “We will work to eliminate the concerns that have arisen from the changes in the Arab world”.

For his part, Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hasan al-Amin described the pope’s trip as a “blessed visit,” linking it to late Pope John Paul II’s visit to Lebanon in 1997.

“It is a sign that Lebanon has a great place in the Vatican,” Amin said.

The scholar said that the impact of the pope’s visit would be felt not only by Christians but by all Lebanese.

“The Christians are a major part of the Lebanese structure, and the pope’s visit emphasizes coexistence between Muslims and Christians in the country,” he said.

In his Angelus message on Sunday the pope said his journey comes “under the sign of peace”.

Despite the “dramatic situation” of a region torn by “incessant conflict,” people “shouldn’t resign themselves to violence or worsening tensions,” he added.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, attempted to dispel fears that the trip might be canceled. But Lombardi admitted that the decision to go ahead with the Lebanon trip despite growing tensions is “an act of great courage” for the 85-year old pontiff.

Further emphasising the need for peace, and in the wake of the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three staff members in Libya and the unrest triggered by a U.S.-made amateur film hostile to Islam, the Vatican has decried disrespect toward all religions and deplored all violence as unacceptable.

“Profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols of the various religions are an essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples,” said Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi.

“The serious consequences of unjustified offense and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers are once again evident in these days, as we see the reactions they arouse, sometimes with tragic results, which in turn nourish tension and hatred, unleashing unacceptable violence,” Lombardi said September 12 in a written statement that was also translated into Arabic.


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