Pope’s Message of Peace in Lebanon Marred by Muslim Protest

September 14, 2012  

Pope Benedict XVI issued a call for reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims on Friday at the start of a three-day visit to Lebanon, as a deadly Islamist protest marred his arrival, AFP reported.

Stressing the key element of his visit, he urged religious leaders in the Middle East to work to “root out” fundamentalism, which he said “indiscriminately and fatally touches” believers of all three religions.

His message, drawn up before he left Rome, came as a protester died and 25 other were hurt in clashes with police after Islamists angered by a U.S.-made film mocking Islam torched a KFC restaurant in the northern city of Tripoli.

Among other slogans, the demonstrators in Tripoli chanted: “O Muslims, shout it out, we don’t want the pope.”

Even before his plane touched down, Benedict was attacked by a Qatar-based group of Muslim scholars, who accused him of seeking to sow divisions between the two religions.

In a Thursday statement quoted by AFP, the International Union of Muslim Scholars accused him of “fuelling sedition between partners (in Lebanon)” by “planning to sign an apostolic exhortation that contains dangerous messages and ideas.”

It claimed the messages include a “warning from the Islamization of the society and spreading fear among Christians from political Islam in the region.

In Beirut, however, a crowd of dignitaries and around 100 cheering supporters welcomed the pontiff at Rafiq Hariri International Airport, one holding up a banner that read “Joy to Lebanon. The pope has arrived.”

The 85-year-old pope was greeted by Lebanon’s Christian President Michel Sleiman and a 21-gun salute, AFP reported.

Addressing the Lebanese people, he said, “The celebrated Lebanese equilibrium which wishes to continue to be a reality will continue through the goodwill and commitment of all Lebanese.

“Only then will it serve as a model to the inhabitants of the whole region and of the entire world,” he said.

The pope appealed “to all the religious leaders of the Middle East to Endeavour, by their example and their teaching, to do everything possible to uproot this threat, which indiscriminately and fatally affects believers of all religions.”

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church leader said last week he will ask the pope to recognize the Palestinian state when he arrives in Lebanon.

Patriarch Gregory III Laham, the spiritual head of Lebanon’s second largest Catholic community, said he planned to thank the Holy See and its leaders for their “firm and unwavering position on the (Palestinian) cause.”

He also planned to ask the Holy See to “recognize the Palestinian state in compliance with the resolutions and decisions of the international community and international law.”

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