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Pontiff Makes Special Appeal for Lebanon
Echoes Fears Expressed by Maronites

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Concerned about Lebanon and all the Mideast, Benedict XVI appealed to the faithful to pray for the convulsed region and he called on national and international authorities to exercise responsibility.

"I follow with heartfelt concern all that is happening in the Middle East, where the possibilities for a solution to the crisis besetting the region alternate with tensions and difficulties that cause fears of new violence," the Pope told the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square today to pray the midday Angelus.

"Lebanon deserves a special mention, on whose soil, today as yesterday, men who are different on the cultural and religious plane, are called to live together to build a nation of dialogue and coexistence, and to favor the common good," the Holy Father said.

He continued: "That is why, in the face of recent events, I share the strong fears expressed by the patriarch, His Beatitude the Lord Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, and by the Maronite bishops in the communiqué they published last Wednesday."

"Together with them, I appeal to the Lebanese and to their political leaders to be interested exclusively in the good of the country and harmony between its communities, inspiring their commitment in that unity that is the responsibility of one and all, and that requires patient and persevering efforts, along with confident and permanent dialogue."

Benedict XVI added his hope that "the international community will help to identify urgent, peaceful and just solutions, necessary for Lebanon and for the whole Middle East" and invited all to pray "in this grave moment."

In a message read during the funeral service of 34-year-old Maronite Christian Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese minister of industry, slain in Beirut on Nov. 21, Benedict XVI called for an "autonomous and increasingly fraternal" Lebanon, and lamented that "unspeakable act."

Dark forces

During the General Audience of Nov. 22, the Pope said: "In the face of the dark forces that are seeking to destroy the country, I invite all Lebanese not to allow themselves to be conquered by hatred but rather to strengthen their national unity, justice and reconciliation, and to work together to build a future of peace."

Political tensions continue in the country and, as Vatican Radio alerted last Thursday, the pro-Syrian and Hezbollah opposition, which recently took to the streets, had called for a new protest in Beirut against the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The latter is supported by the West and by moderate Arab countries.

In this context, the Maronite prelates launched a new appeal on Wednesday for the country's pacification.

"We see no other solution than to turn to the constitutional institutions, and by the latter we understand Parliament, which must resolve the government crisis," Bishop Bechara Rai of Byblos of the Maronites said Thursday on Vatican Radio.

"We cannot let protests in the streets resolve our problems," he said. "We must act through institutions. This has been the appeal. Demonstrations serve to express opinions; in a democratic environment, however, solutions must be found through institutions."

"We have a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, because of the repercussion of the conflict in Iraq," the prelate added. "Therefore, we have launched this appeal, because if the protests continue there is a danger of a clash between Sunnis and Shiites."