Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of his concerns about the crisis in the Middle East, stressing it is “vital” to resolve the conflicts that continue across the region.
|Pope Benedict XVI
During a meeting at the Vatican Feb. 24 with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, the two leaders discussed “recent events in certain Arab States, with the parties expressing their shared conviction that it is vital to resolve the ongoing conflicts in the region,” according to a Vatican statement.
The Vatican said the meetings, which also took place between Vatican and Lebanese officials, "served to highlight how Lebanon, because of the presence of various Christian and Muslim communities there, stands as a message of freedom and respectful coexistence, not only for the region, but for the whole world."
"In this context, it is increasingly necessary to promote collaboration and dialogue between religious confessions," the Vatican said.
The talks included a discussion about "the importance of civil and religious authorities being committed to educating consciences in peace and reconciliation.”
The Pope and the president also spoke about "the delicate situation of Christians in the entire region” and the “contribution they can make for the good of society as a whole.” Christians have been emigrating from much of the Middle East in large numbers, mainly due to poor economies, Islamist violence, and political instability.
The Pope last referred to the uprisings taking place in the region on Feb. 6 when Egypt's revolution was reaching its peak. He said then that he was closely monitoring events and that he was praying that the region “may rediscover tranquillity and peaceful coexistence, in a shared commitment for the common good."
The Pope and Church leaders are preferring to keep their distance from commenting too directly on the crisis in the Middle East because at the moment the reasons for the uprisings are largely not religious but economic and social. Instead, churches are focusing on their usual role of providing pastoral or medical care, especially for those caught up in the violence.
However, Church experts say religious freedom, a subject which Pope Benedict focused on at the beginning of this year, may again come to the forefront in the coming months as the region either embraces democracy or allows Islamist extremists to take power.
For the Pope, religious liberty forms the basis of all human rights, and is crucial to the building of a just and peaceful social order. It can best be achieved, he believes, by dialogue and collaboration between religions.
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