September 15, 2012 in Nation/World

Pope visiting Lebanon amid Middle East strife

Victor L. Simpson Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Pope Benedict XVI stands next to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman as he waves to the crowd at the international airport in Beirut on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

He’s third

pontiff to go

Benedict is the third pope to visit Lebanon after Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II in 1997. Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians in the Mideast – nearly 40 percent of the country’s 4 million people, with Maronite Catholics being the largest sect. Lebanon is the only Arab country with a Christian head of state.

BEIRUT – Pope Benedict XVI appealed for peace and reconciliation among religions Friday as violence over an anti-Islam movie spilled over into Lebanon within hours of his arrival in the tumultuous region.

The pope flew into Lebanon for a three-day visit despite the recent unrest – including civil war in Syria, a mob attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, and a string of violent protests across the Middle East stemming from the film, produced in the United States, which insults Islam.

“I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace,” the 85-year-old pope said upon arrival in Beirut, speaking under a canopy at the airport on a sultry afternoon. “As a friend of God and as a friend of men.”

He denounced religious fundamentalism, calling it “a falsification of religion.”

The crowd at the pope’s arrival was small as security kept most people away from Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, which is named after a former prime minister who was assassinated in a 2005 bombing that some blame on the regime in Syria.

The pontiff was welcomed by top leaders, including the Lebanese president, prime minister and parliament speaker, as well as Christian and Muslim religious leaders.

“Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region,” he said.

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