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Pope to speak of ‘true Arab Spring’ values
Pope Benedict XVI will say “a true Arab Spring” can come when Christian-Muslim values unite, an Eastern Catholic leader said ahead of the pope’s Lebanon trip.
“War is not launched by Islam or Christianity, but by states, troublemakers or mercenaries,” Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Beshara Rai told reporters ahead of the pope’s three-day visit beginning in Beirut Friday.
“Islam and Christianity should unite in values in order to lay down the foundations for a true Arab Spring,” he said, adding a true Arab Spring would be marked by peace and reconciliation among peoples.
“The Arab Spring we want is the one that will enhance Muslim-Christian coexistence,” Rai said in Bkirki, about 10 miles northeast of Beirut. Bkirki is the seat of the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See of Rome.
Rai said the pope chose Lebanon for his Middle East trip “because he considers this country a joining point between Christians and Muslims.”
Lebanon has the Middle East’s largest percentage of Christians, accounting for nearly 40 percent of Lebanon’s 4 million people.
Maronite Catholics are the largest sect, representing about 20 percent of the population. They trace their heritage back to the 4th century.
Lebanon recognizes 18 sects of four religions — Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Druze.
The pope, who in Lebanon was to be about 30 miles from the Syrian border, will also call for an end to the Syrian crisis, Rai said.
“The pope will definitely call for putting an end to the cycle of violence in Syria and a stop to any financial or armed support to both the Syrian regime and opposition,” he said.
The 85-year-old pontiff was expected to meet with Lebanese officials and religious leaders Friday and Saturday and to hold a meeting with Christian youths.
He is to celebrate mass Sunday at the Beirut waterfront, where up to 80,000 people are expected to attend.
His pastoral visit to Lebanon is the first by a pope since John Paul II’s May 1997 visit. Benedict is the third pope to visit the country, after Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II.
It is Benedict’s 24th international trip and his fourth to the Middle East.
The Lebanese government declared Saturday an official holiday in Benedict’s honor.
Copyright 2012 by United Press International