Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pope to visit Lebanon, meet Christians, Muslims in September

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI will present a papal document addressing the church's concerns in the Middle East, meet with representatives of local Christian and Muslim communities, and address political and cultural leaders on a three-day visit to Lebanon Sept. 14-16.

Pope Benedict's primary task on the trip will be to present a document, called an apostolic exhortation, based on the deliberations of a special synod of bishops held at the Vatican in 2009.

That two-week meeting, which was attended by 185 bishops, most of them from the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See, focused on the precarious circumstances of 5.7 million Catholics in 16 Middle Eastern countries.

A document released by participants at the end of the synod called for "religious freedom and freedom of conscience" in Muslim lands, a theme Pope Benedict is likely to address on his visit.

Planning for the pope's trip to Lebanon occurs against the backdrop of unrest in neighboring Syria, where soldiers have been battling forces seeking an end to the rule of President Bashar Assad, leaving thousands of civilians dead since March 2011.

At the Vatican in June, Pope Benedict called on the international community to end the Syrian conflict, and told Catholics from the Middle East that he prayed Mary would "watch over the upcoming trip that -- if it pleases God -- I will make to Lebanon" in September.

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