x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pope prays for Middle East leaders to work for peace

Pope Benedict XVI prayed that leaders in the Middle East work toward peace and reconciliation, in his homily at an open-air mass on Beirut's waterfront.

BEIRUT // Pope Benedict XVI prayed that leaders in the Middle East work toward peace and reconciliation, in his homily at an open-air mass on Beirut's waterfront.

"In a world where violence constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction, to serve justice and peace is urgently necessary," he said.

"I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity."

An estimated 350,000 people had gathered under a bright warm sun as the pontiff celebrated a solemn Sunday mass on the final day of his visit to Lebanon, where Middle East peace and reconciliation have been his central theme.

In his homily, he stressed the need for service by Christians, noting that Jesus Christ came into the world not to be a powerful political leader, but a servant.

"This is how God shows his love; he becomes our servant and gives himself to us," the Pope said.

And for people to show their faith, they must follow that example by their actions.

"Service is a foundational element of the identity of Christ's followers. The vocation of the Church and of each Christian is to serve others, as the Lord himself did, freely and impartially."

As Benedict, 85, arrived a half-hour before the service, the popemobile briefly came to a halt as jubilant crowds pressed in around it, cheering and waving Vatican and Lebanese flags.

An excited Mariana Khoury, 15, wearing a headscarf inscribed in Arabic with the words "you promised and you came," said "we want to promise to him that we will be the future of the Church and guard our love for Jesus."

The backdrop to the raised platform on which the altar is set is in the shape of the country's Cedar of Lebanon, and live cedars and olive trees, the symbol of peace, were placed around the platform.

The frail-looking pope, who has been walking with a cane, arrived in Lebanon on Friday to a warm welcome from all parts of the country's multi-faith society and has dedicated his visit to the message of peace.

On Saturday, he urged Christians and Muslims to forge a harmonious, pluralistic society in which the dignity of each person is respected and the right to worship in peace is guaranteed.

He also stressed that people must repudiate vengeance, acknowledge their own faults and offer forgiveness to each other.

Those who desire to live in peace must have a change of heart, Benedict said, and that involves "rejecting revenge, acknowledging one's faults, accepting apologies without demanding them and, not least, forgiveness."

He said the universal yearning of humanity for peace can only be realised through community, comprising individual persons whose aspirations and rights to a fulfilling life are respected.

Lebanon is a multi-faith country in which Muslims make up about 65 per cent of the population and Christians the balance.

The pope came with a message of peace and reconciliation both to Lebanon and to the wider Middle East, which have been torn by violence, often sectarian, over the years.

He will have lunch in the mountain village of Harissa, where he has been staying, and then attend a late afternoon ecumenical meeting.

He was scheduled to leave for Rome at 7pm (8pm UAE) after addressing some final words to his hosts at Rafiq Hariri International Airport.