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Pope, Lebanese Leaders Call for Religious Peace

  • VOA News

Pope Benedict XVI (L) shakes hands with Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman as he arrives at Baabda Presidential Palace near Beirut, September 15, 2012.

Pope Benedict XVI (L) shakes hands with Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman as he arrives at Baabda Presidential Palace near Beirut, September 15, 2012.

Pope Benedict is calling on Lebanon to be a model of peace and religious freedom in the tumultuous Middle East.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church met with Lebanese officials and religious leaders Saturday at the presidential palace in Beirut, where he was met by cheering crowds.

The pope said Christians and Muslims in Lebanon have shared the same space for centuries and that families often have members of both religions. He asked, "If this is possible in one single family, why would it be impossible at the level of the society as a whole?"

One of the Lebanese leaders at the meeting, Sheikh Mohammad Rachid Qabbani, gave Pope Benedict a letter saying he considers any attack on a Christian an attack on all Muslims.

During a speech to young people late Saturday, the pope also expressed sympathy with youth in Syria. The pope said he admired their courage, adding this is a time for Christians and Muslims to come together "so as to put an end to violence and war."

Earlier, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman also spoke about Syria, gripped by 18 months of fighting between government forces and rebels. Mr. Suleiman said Lebanon would continue to care for Syrian refugees and wished the Syrian people would attain freedom and democracy through dialogue and other peaceful means.

Upon arrival in Lebanon Friday, the pope said he has come to the region as a "pilgrim of peace." The trip comes days after deadly Muslim protests in the region, triggered by a film produced in the United States mocking Islam's leader, the Prophet Muhammad.

Pope Benedict says he never considered canceling his trip to Lebanon because of security concerns brought on by violence in the region.

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