Benedict XVl Arrives in Beirut Bringing Peace Message to Lebanon as Mideast Burnsإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Pope Benedict XVI arrived on Friday for a three-day visit to Lebanon, to bring a message of peace for the Middle East.
His plane arrived at Beirut international airport to a massive official, media, and popular reception.
The official reception was headed by President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Najib Miqati with their respective wives.
Religious pluralism and the welfare of Christians in the region were likely to top pope's agenda, but the pontiff was also expected to call for an end to the conflict in Syria and a halt to arming the two sides.
He will no doubt also call on Lebanon's Christians to unite, divided as they are not only toward the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also on a political vision for their own country.
But the Vatican has said the pontiff will avoid intervening politically in his comments on Syria or tell Christians where their alliances should lie.
The pope, 85, faces a packed schedule in Lebanon, which will take him from the presidential palace in the Mediterranean seaside capital of Beirut to important Christian towns in the nearby mountains.
He will reach out to the 13 million or more Catholics in Lebanon and the Middle East, asking them to work for peace and democracy alongside moderate Islamists, in a period fraught with fears of a rise of fundamentalism.
The pope hopes to advance the church's sometimes difficult relationship with Islam. While in Lebanon, he will meet not only local Christian leaders but Muslim ones as well.
His choice of Lebanon for his Middle East trip is not a casual one: the multi-confessional society -- in which top political posts are split among religious groups -- was hailed by pope John Paul II as a model for the region.
As the balance of power continues to shift in the region and with Christian minorities increasingly agitated, the emphasis will be on religious pluralism.
Benedict will weigh his words carefully to avoid politically charged comments that could increase religious tensions -- and is expected to speak out in favor of a secularism that guarantees cultural and religious freedom.
He will also tackle concern over the exodus of Christians from the region during a presentation of results from the 2010 synod with Middle East bishops.
He has already received a request to recognize the Palestinian state and the important role of the Palestinian cause in the Arab world.
And Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has said he hopes the pope will also use the trip to call for negotiations in Syria.
Benedict must tread carefully. The political class in Lebanon -- including people from the Maronite church, Lebanon's largest -- are divided, some supporting the Assad regime and others backing the rebels.
On Thursday, al-Rahi said "the pope will definitely call for an end to the spiral of violence and to hatred, which are pointless.”
In the run-up to the pope's visit, Lebanese security forces are on high alert, and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said this week that it "will be one of the most successful visits in the history of modern Lebanon."
After his welcoming ceremony, the pope will head to Harissa in the mountains northeast of the capital, where he will be staying.
While there, he will sign the final report on a synod of bishops he convened two years ago to study the future of Christians in the Middle East.
On Saturday, he will meet Suleiman and Najib Miqati, as well as Muslim religious leaders and the diplomatic corps in Beirut.
Then, after lunch with eastern patriarchs and bishops in Bzommar, near Harissa, he will meet with Lebanese youth at the Maronite patriarchate in Bkirki, another village in the same area.
On Sunday, he will celebrate an open-air mass at the Beirut City Center Waterfront and unveil the conclusions of the 2010 synod of bishops.
He returns to Rome on Sunday evening.