Pope's Arab World Visit

(SNS News Service -Israel..4/24..AP) A senior Shiite Moslem cleric Wednesday criticized Pope John Paul II's blessing of Israel but nevertheless welcomed the pontiff's upcoming trip to Lebanon.

The pope plans to visit Lebanon May 10-11 and will meet with Christian and Moslem political and religious leaders.

The focus of the pope's visit will be his release of an "apostolic exhortation," or formal response, to a meeting of Lebanese bishops at the Vatican in 1995. In their message, the bishops called for the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces from Lebanon.

The pope's blessing of Israel, during a meeting at the Vatican with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last year, and the Holy See's recognition of the Jewish state have angered Moslem leaders in Lebanon.

"We reject the Vatican's recognition of Israel as well as the Pope's blessing of Israel," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"With all due respect, we consider that the pope's move does not conform with the values brought by Jesus Christ," the bearded 62-year-old cleric said at his residence in the Haret Hreik southern suburb, a stronghold of the Iranian-backed Hizbullah guerrilla group.

Fadlallah, a senior Shiite religious authority worldwide, is widely thought to be the spiritual guide of Hizbullah.

The movement opposes the US-sponsored Mideast peace process and has vowed to torpedo it through attacks on Israeli troops occupying a border enclave in Southern Lebanon.

A papal visit to Lebanon was first planned for 1994 but was put off then, for security reasons.

Next month's 31-hour trip will be the first by a pontiff to this Arab nation, where Christians make up 45 percent of the 3.2 million population.

Security at the pope's public appearances this week at the Vatican was beefed up after Italian intelligence said he could be the target of Islamic radicals.

Hizbullah, the main Islamic militant group in Lebanon, has spoken approvingly of the pope's visit.

"If you want peace, work for justice." -- Pope Paul VI/Reinhold Niebuhr * "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke

Wael M. Ahmed University of Kentucky Phone:(606)273-3122 E-mail: wmahme00@pop.uky.edu World Wide Web Page: http://sac.uky.edu/~wmahme00/