By Francis X. Rocca Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Less than a week before traveling to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI voiced solidarity with victims of war in the Middle East and called for continuing efforts to bring peace to the region.
“I understand the anguish of the many Middle Eastern people who are every day immersed in sufferings of every kind,” the pope said Sept. 9, after praying the Angelus with pilgrims at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, 18 miles southeast of Rome.
The pope expressed concern specifically for those who, “in search of a peaceful place, leave their family and professional life and experience the precariousness of being exiles.”
“We must not resign ourselves to the violence and aggravation of tensions,” the pope said. “Commitment to dialogue and reconciliation should be a priority for all the parties involved, and should be supported by the international community.”
Pope Benedict will visit Lebanon Sept. 14-16 to present his document of reflections on the 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which was dedicated to Christians in the Middle East. He will also meet with representatives of local Christian and Muslim communities, and address political and cultural leaders.
The visit occurs against the backdrop of unrest in neighboring Syria, where soldiers have been battling forces seeking an end to the rule of President Bashar Assad, leaving thousands of civilians dead and displacing hundreds of thousands of refugees since March 2011.
The pope’s remarks in Lebanon are likely to mention, or at least allude to, other regional conflicts as well.
Last week, the Lebanon-based leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church released his prepared welcoming remarks for the pope, including a call for the Vatican to use its “moral and diplomatic leadership” in support of “international recognition of the Palestinian state.” According to the remarks by Patriarch Gregorios III, such recognition “would be the most precious good that could be won for the Arab world in all its Christian and Muslim denominations.”
The Vatican maintains diplomatic relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and supports the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The closing document of the 2010 synod on the Middle East lamented the plight of Palestinians under the “Israeli occupation” as well as the “suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live.”
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Editors: A video report on the pope’s Angelus remarks is available on the CNS Brightcove viewer and at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjtMfoVMmS0.
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