Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pope En Route to Lebanon: Import Peace, Not Weapons, to War-Torn Mideast

Hezbollah banners welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Beirut (The Lebanaon  Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT, Lebanon, SEPT. 14, 2012 ( Here is a Vatican Radio transcription and translation of Benedict XVI's reponses to journalists' questions during his flight to Beirut today. The Holy Father answered various questions regarding war and violence in the Middle East, the rise in fundamentalism in the region and the Arab Spring.
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Q: Holy Father, in these days we’re marking terrible anniversaries, such as 9/11 or the massacre at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps. Close to Lebanon’s borders a bloody civil war is being waged and the threat of violence is always close at hand in other countries as well. With what feelings are you undertaking this journey? Was there a possibility, or did anyone suggest that you should cancel it for security reasons?
A: I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk with you. No one ever advised me to cancel this trip and I never took that idea into consideration, because I know that as the situation becomes more complicated, it is even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. Therefore the aim of my visit is an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems. My feelings are above all feelings of gratitude to be able to visit at this time this great country, which – as John Paul II said – is a message of encounter for the three religions in this region. I am grateful to the Lord who has given me this possibility, grateful to all the institutions and people who have worked and continue to work for this occasion. And I am grateful for all those accompanying me in prayer, for this protection through prayer. I am happy and I’m sure that we can be of real service to peace and to people here.

Q: Many Catholics are expressing concern about a growing fundamentalism in different parts of the world and about attacks that target Christians in many places around the globe. In this difficult and often bloody context, how can the Church respond to the imperative of dialogue with Islam that you have always insisted upon?
A: Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion and goes against the meaning of religion which is, instead, an invitation to share God’s peace throughout the world. Therefore the commitment of the Church and of religions is to undertake a purification of such temptations, to illuminate consciences and to try and provide everyone with a clear image of God. We must all respect each other. Each of us is an image of God and we must mutually respect each other. The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism, it must be education and the illumination and purification of conscience to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace.

Q: In the context of the wave of desire for democracy which is underway in many countries of the Middle East through the so-called Arab Spring, and given the social conditions in the majority of these countries where Christians are a minority, is there not a risk of inevitable tensions between the dominant majority and the survival of Christianity?
A: In itself, the Arab spring is a positive thing: a desire for greater democracy, more liberty, more cooperation and a new Arab identity. This cry for liberty, which comes from a more culturally educated and professional young people, who want greater participation in political and social life, is positive progress which has been hailed by Christians as well. Bearing in mind the history of revolutions, we naturally know that this vital and positive cry for freedom risks forgetting one aspect – a fundamental dimension for freedom – which is tolerance of the other. The fact is that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living together with certain rules. This is always the danger, as it is in this case. We must do all we can so that the concept of freedom, the desire for freedom goes in the direction of true freedom and does not forget tolerance and reconciliation which are essential elements for freedom. Thus also the Arab Spring requires a renewal in this centuries -old history. Christians and Arabs have built these lands and must live together. I also believe that it’s important to see the positive elements in these movements and, do all that is possible to ensure that freedom is correctly conceived and corresponds to a greater dialogue rather than the dominion of one over the other.

Q: Holy Father, in Syria, as in Iraq a while ago, many Christians feel obliged to leave their country with heavy hearts. What does the Catholic Church intend to do or say to help in this situation and to stem the flow of Christians from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries?
A: First of all I must say that not only Christians are leaving, but also Muslims. There is a great danger that Christians leave these lands and lose their presence there and we must do all that is possible to help them to stay. The most essential help would be the end of war and violence which causes this exodus. Therefore we must do all we can to halt the violence and encourage the possibility of staying together for the future. What can we do against war? Of course we can always spread a message of peace, insist that violence never resolves problems and strengthen the forces of peace. The work of journalists is important as they can help a great deal to show how violence destroys rather than builds anything, that it is of no use to anyone. Then maybe Christian gestures, days of prayer for the Middle East, for Christians and Muslims, to show the possibilities of dialogue and solutions. I also believe that there must be an end to the import of arms: without weapons, war could not continue. Instead of importing weapons, which is a grave sin, we should import ideas, peace and creativity. We should accept others in their diversity and make visible the mutual respect of religions, the respect for man as God’s creation and love of neighbour as a fundamental element of all religions. We must promote all possible actions, including material ones, to support the end of war and violence so that all can contribute to the rebuilding of the country.

Q: Holy Father, You are bringing an Apostolic Exhortation addressed to all Christians in the Middle East. Nowadays this is a suffering population. Apart from prayer and expressions of solidarity, do you see concrete measures that the Churches and Catholics in the West, especially in Europe and America, can take to support their brothers in the Middle East?
A:: We need to influence public opinion. We must urge politicians to really tackle this issue with all their strength and using all means possible, to work with creativity for peace and against violence. All of us must contribute to this. In a certain sense, it’s a very necessary task on our part of warning, education and purification. In addition, our charity organisations should help in a material sense as well. We have organisations like the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, just for the Holy Land, but similar organisations could also provide material, political and human help in these countries. I would like to say once again that visible signs of solidarity, days of public prayer, can have an impact on public opinion and produce real results. We are convinced that prayer has an effect if it is done with much trust and faith.

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