Pope Benedict’s Visit Brings Mixed Blessings to Lebanon
The Lebanese people, along with a large gathering of their “closest neighbors,” spent three days removed from their usual political concerns. They were blessed with an extraordinary guest, Pope Benedict XVI, who is considered sacred throughout the world. The pope greeted the Lebanese people by saying: “Lebanon has always been part of the house of God.”
About This Article
During his visit to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI brought mixed blessings. He united people and helped demonstrate that Lebanon is not totally divided along sectarian lines. But he did not mention the word Palestine or the suffering of Palestinians.Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Observations on the pope’s visit to Lebanon and the absence of the Palestinian issue from his discourse
Author: Talal Salman
First Published: September 17, 2012
Posted on: September 17 2012
Translated by: Joelle El-Khoury
Categories : Lebanon
The very cultured pope expressed his admiration for Lebanon, which he described as “a witness to truth and coexistence.” He urged the Lebanese people to reject strife and to strengthen fraternal feelings. The pope compared the mosaic of Lebanese society to spices that add flavor to food.
The Lebanese people took a short break from their heavy political, economic and social concerns. Christians have felt reassured by his visit, knowing that they are not abandoned and that they have someone who cares for them and their lives, and that they have a future in their own land. As for Muslims, they were hospitable and cordially welcomed the honorable guest, who occupies a holy place in the heart of believers.
The presence of the youth overshadowed that of the politicians, who — only because of protocol — ran to take a picture with the guest, whose holiness derives from his position at the head of the church. They took a picture with him only so that they can use it for electoral purposes, to hide behind his blessings as they enter sectarian battles. Thus, they exploit this opportunity for purposes that directly oppose what the pontiff is preaching and working to achieve.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed the thousands upon thousands of young people who came in masses to Our Lady of Lebanon shrine in Harissa, Bkerke and Biel to attend the Masses. They listened with joy to the statements of the sacred pope — who is weighted with blessings — and chanted religious songs and slogans that were prepared specifically for this occasion.
The pope — whose old age suggests righteousness and whose eyes shine with intelligence — mentioned Lebanon and the Lebanese people frequently throughout his speeches and employed the blessings of his position and his faith. However, the Synod — that the pope launched in Beirut — was addressed to “the people of the Middle East” and exclusively involved patriarchs and bishops who had come from across the Middle East to receive the text. This text will require years of debate, especially given that it concerns the doctrine of all Christian denominations, not only the Catholic Church.
However, Palestine was totally absent from the pope’s speech. The pontiff did not mention a single word regarding Palestine, its people or their tragedy, which is unprecedented throughout human history. Some Palestinians are Christians, and grew up alongside their Muslim brothers learning about the holy sites of Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem. No other people have been uprooted from a land that was theirs. Palestinian women, children and men — including the elderly — have all been displaced in the world. As for those who decided to stay, they have suffered from unprecedented racial persecution that went beyond denying them the right to own their own land. Racism has been legalized in Israel, which considers Palestine to be “the world’s Jewish state.”
It was striking that his Holiness — who was just a few steps away from the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps — didn’t include in his speech the gross injustices and massacres that were perpetrated there during the Israeli invasion in 1982. Even if he did not want to name the massacres’ planners and perpetrators, he should have mentioned them. This is particularly true given that a number of Lebanese politicians have exploited these massacres to justify their eligibility for the presidency and other leadership roles. Moreover, the “Palestinian presence” in Lebanon is frequently brought up, with politicians claiming that the naturalization of the Palestinians would cause a sectarian imbalance and turn Christians fears into horror.
It is not the fault of the pope — who is well informed about history and geography — that he used the term “Middle East” to refer to our region, as long as the people of this region do not object to the use of this colonial term. This term eliminates the identity of this land and its people and transforms it into public domain. The Israeli occupier is considered the owner of this land, along with the foreign colonizer. They maintain power, whether through military strength, economic and financial influence or a political blockade imposed on several “owner-less” countries in this geographic region.
The visit, which brought happiness to the Lebanese people, has transformed this faithful country into a platform to announce the Synod. This Synod aims at bringing together various Christian denominations, regardless of differences in race and country.
Since “freedom of religion is the pinnacle of all freedoms, starting with religious tolerance and including all forms of secular freedom,” the pontiff knows that what some Christians have experienced in this region is not a “privilege,” but rather is part of what some Muslims have experienced in many countries. Although the reasons for this may seem to be sectarian, they are in fact political. They are part of the conflict for power and have nothing to do with the place of God in the hearts of believers. The pope’s knowledge on this matter is derived from his high position, his international acquaintance as well as the Vatican’s historical knowledge of countries from East to West.
The experience of the Christians in Iraq, for example. cannot be compared to that of its Muslims. Whether they are Sunni or Shiite, they have suffered at the hands of a regime that claimed to be secular. This suffering has included mass killings and displacements that took on a sectarian character and pushed millions of people — under the US occupation — to evacuate their homes. They have also distracted them from their real enemies, which are represented by a local tyranny, foreign colonizers, or both.
Moreover, this strife — which was initiated by regimes that were affiliated with foreign countries and that are hostile to their own people — does not affect Christians alone, but rather targets all of those who are living under a dictatorship. Thankfully, the persecution involves everyone. It is true that the pope was able to reassure Christians, but their real guarantee is a real guarantee to the entire people. Christians in this land are not foreign nationals, they are natives. Any government or tyrant who oppresses them would destroy his entire country. The feeling of security that they feel is derived from the people’s unity and success in bringing down tyranny, which seeks to strike national unity and make it easy to deal with the people by describing them as fragments of communities and sects that it is impossible to unify. Therefore, it is necessary to protect the spiritual communities… And if the Vatican is concerned with the Christians presence, thus it has the obligation - by virtue of its stature – to show its humanitarian care about the country’s all citizens, especially that the country’s unity is a guarantee to all its citizens.
It is an honor for Lebanon to welcome the pontiff. The Lebanese people — all of them, regardless of their beliefs — have proven that they are all honored. They have also proven that they are unified and they offered a special welcome to a special guest by uniting. Perhaps they should thank the pope, for giving them the opportunity to confirm their unity. All of the Lebanese people have shown respect and appreciation to the Vatican for its role in fortifying Lebanon’s unity, and the message that Lebanon represents.
Nations can only be measured by their natives. One of the characteristics of this small nation is that, despite all its misfortunes, its natives still believe in it and are steadfast in the face of those who exploit sectarian differences to establish their leaderships by dividing the country into fiefdoms ... All this takes place through democratic means, which are saturated with sectarian instincts, such as the electoral law. This law would certainly turn this political division into hostile sectarian cantons that are dominated by leaders of communities who maintain their positions by exploiting divisions that lead to strife.
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