9/20/12 | 1272 views
A Message of Hope, Amid Strife
No one could have foreseen that Pope Benedict XVI’s long-planned visit to Lebanon last weekend would come in the midst of a raging crisis in the always-volatile Middle East.
Yet the message the pope brought with him—of peace, service and respect and the importance of true religious freedom—resonated in a special way. Indeed, his high-profile presence was a message in itself, of courage, tolerance and hope in a region exploding in violent protests over an American-made amateurish online video that denigrated Islam.
Arriving in Beirut just three days after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three of his staff members in the first wave of violence, the 85-year-old pope said he had never considered canceling his trip and that no one had advised him to do so.
“I never thought of it,” he told reporters on the flight going over, “because I know that the more complicated a situation becomes, the more necessary it is to send this signal of fraternity, encouragement and solidarity.”
Pope Benedict, in his speeches and homilies prepared well before the visit, did not directly address the eruption of violence allegedly over the anti-Islamist video.
But in the major document on Catholicism in the Middle East that he presented on the trip, the pope called on Christians to engage in dialogue with their neighbors of other faiths while also warning against religious fundamentalism that thrives on “economic and political instability, a readiness on the part of some to manipulate others, and a defective understanding of religion.”
The pope did not, however, denounce the so-called Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave that started in December 2010, leading to the fall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and currently threatening the government of Syria.
In his comments to reporters, the pope said the movement represented positive aspirations for democracy and liberty and hence a “renewed Arab identity.” But he warned against the danger of forgetting that “human liberty is always a shared reality,” and consequently failing to protect the rights of Christian minorities in Muslim countries.
Many Middle East observers, including many Christian leaders, fear that the Arab Spring movement has empowered Islamist extremism in the region. This week, in fact, as protests spread throughout the Arab world, there were reports that the Obama administration was bracing for an extended period of turmoil and instability in the region and was considering a number of options, including the possibility of scaling back diplomatic activities.
With events happening so quickly and so unpredictably, we can only pray that the situation will calm down enough to allow for a reasonable road forward. A peaceful Middle East is vital to the strategic and economic interests of the United States, vital to the continuing presence of Christians and Christianity in the birthplace of our faith, and vital to the peace of the world.
Browse our archive of photos