Pope Benedict exhorts Lebanese Christians to 'be peacemakers'
Pope extends a special prayer to neighboring nation, Syria
The heat was intense heat and the humidity unbearable - but that didn't stop the thousands of faithful who swarmed to see Pope Benedict XVI give his open-air mass service in Beirut, Lebanon. The pope offered a very special prayer of peace for the neighboring nation of Syria, which has remained in a state of strife and turmoil for over a year.
The pope urged Lebanese Christians in particular to be peacemakers amid the "grim trail of death and destruction" around the world.
A throng of an estimated 350,000 people greeted him as part of his three-day visit to Lebanon. Like most other nations that comprise the Arab world, regional fury among Muslims has broiled over due to a U.S.-made internet video, "Innocence of Muslims" insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
"May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East, the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence," the pope said in a prayer.
Beirut's waterfront, which was close to the front line in Lebanon's 1975-1990 Civil War, was jammed by adherents early Sunday morning. Crowds chanted "Be-ne-di-cto" while waving Vatican flags and wearing white baseball caps that read "I give you my peace" in Arabic.
"I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity," the 85-year old pontiff said in his homily. "This is an essential testimony which Christians must render here, in cooperation with all people of good will. I appeal to all of you to be peacemakers, wherever you find yourselves."
The Pope appeared in his bullet-proof, glass-encased "Popemobile" and sat on a big stage shaped like a Cedar tree, which is the symbol of Lebanon in front of a sea of Middle East Christians.
About 35 per cent of the region's Christians live in Lebanon, which is the largest single Christian community in the area.
"It was a pleasure to have him in Lebanon," a witness said after the Mass. "Here we have both Muslims and Christians, and the Pope helps us be together."
Security was heavy in Beirut throughout his visit. Lebanese army troops patrolled the streets in armored personnel carriers and set-up roadblocks, while army helicopters hovered overhead.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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