The forgotten tragedy of Syria’s Christians; World leaders ignore their plight

October 10, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-world, Persecution, Syria, United Kingdom, United Nations, USA, World

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Syria, October 4, 2012 : British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama last week made key statements at the UN about the conflict in Syria. They both spoke strongly against President Bashar al-Assad and condemned the atrocities committed by his troops, calling for regime change.

But there was no word about the grave abuses being committed by the opposition forces whom Britain, the US and other Western powers are supporting. Just over a week before Mr. Cameron and Mr. Obama addressed the UN, Human Rights Watch released a report that documented evidence of armed opposition groups in Syria subjecting detainees to ill-treatment and torture, and committing extrajudicial or summary executions.

Nor did the British and US premiers make any mention of the terrible plight of the Christian community in Syria, which has been deliberately targeted by the rebels from almost the very beginning of the 18-month uprising.

Barnabas Fund has been gathering information from trusted contacts on the ground in Syriaand has decided to release some of this information so that the sufferings of Christians there can no longer be ignored by the international community. This report is by no means exhaustive; it is intended to illustrate something of the breadth and depth of the crisis that has engulfed Syria’s Christian community.

The country’s 2.3 million Christians have been well treated and enjoyed considerable freedoms under President Assad regime and are consequently assumed to be supporters of his government. Their vulnerability has intensified with growing numbers of Islamist militants joining the opposition campaign.

- barnabas team

Muslim protesters torch Buddhist temples, homes in Bangladesh

October 2, 2012 by admin  
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A temple burnt by Muslims is seen in Cox's Bazar September 30, 2012

A temple burnt by Muslims is seen in Cox's Bazar September 30, 2012

Bangladesh, September 30, 2012: Hundreds of Muslims in Bangladesh burned at least four Buddhist temples and 15 homes of Buddhists on Sunday after complaining that a Buddhist man had insulted Islam, police and residents said.

Members of the Buddhist minority in the Cox’s Bazar area in the southeast of the country said unidentified people were bent on upsetting peaceful relations between Muslims and Buddhists.

Muslims took to the streets in the area late on Saturday to protest against what they said was a photograph posted on Facebook that insulted Islam.

The protesters said the picture had been posted by a Buddhist and they marched to Buddhist villages and set fire to temples and houses.

Police said they had deployed extra security forces and banned gatherings in Buddhist-dominated areas.

“We brought the situation under control before dawn and imposed restrictions on public gatherings,” said Salim Mohammad Jahangir, Cox’s Bazar district police superintendent.

Many people in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh have been angered in recent days by a film made in California that mocks the Prophet Mohammad.

Muslims in Bangladesh and beyond have also been outraged by violence over the border in Myanmar where members of the majority Buddhist community clashed with minority Muslims this year.

Police had escorted the man accused of posting the insulting photograph and his mother to safety, Jahangir said.

Sohel Sarwar Kajal, the Muslim head of the council in the area where the arson took place, said he was trying to restore communal peace.

“We are doing everything possible to quell tension and restore peace between the communities,” he told reporters.

- reuters

Nigerian Terrorist attack on Catholics condemned by US lawmakers

October 1, 2012 by admin  
Filed under newsletter-asia, Nigeria, Persecution, USA, World, World

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Boko Haram is now officially affiliated with Al-Qaeda and is believed to be a threat to the United States mainland
Boko Haram is now officially affiliated with Al-Qaeda and is believed to be a threat to the United States mainland

Nigeria, September 28, 2012: On Thursday, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Pastor Laolu Akande, Executive Director of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN), blasted the terrorist group Boko Haram for the bombing of a Catholic church in northern Nigeria. The terrorist group — an al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist organization — killed a woman and a child and injured 48 other churchgoers.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the latest atrocity waged by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria. The bombing at Saint John’s Catholic Church in Bauchi is the latest in ongoing, coordinated attacks by Boko Haram on Catholic and other Christian churches in Nigeria, including the 2011 Christmas Day and 2012 Easter Day bombings,” said Rep. King.

Nigeria
“The Muslim world exploded over a ridiculous YouTube video and the Obama administration couldn’t apologize enough, but Christians being murdered, tortured and having their churches burned to the
ground by Muslims appears to be ignored by Obama and his sycophants,” said counterterrorism expert and former police commander George Wilkinson.

Since January 2011, these terrorist attacks have killed over 1,500 Nigerian Christians, according to the Nigerian government.

“Boko Haram is closely tied to al-Qaeda’s regional affiliates in North and East Africa, and presents a potential threat to our Homeland and citizens. With a renewed sense of urgency, we once again call upon the U.S. Department of State to formally designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” said King.

Twice this year, Rep. King and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, have requested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

Last year, under the leadership of Subcommittee Chairman Meehan, the Committee released a bipartisan report entitled, “Boko Haram – Emerging Threat to the U.S. Homeland” and convened a related hearing.

Pastor Akande and other Nigerian-American Christians established CANAN on Sept. 11, 2012, to address the Boko Haram terrorist killings in Nigeria and other broader issues related to Nigerian-Americans.

Boko Haram is an Islamic sect that believes politics in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt and apostate Muslims. It is waging a war against them in order to set up a separate caliphate.

- examiner, usa

UN: Muslim world questions Western freedom of speech

October 1, 2012 by admin  
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Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 28, 2012
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 28, 2012

United Nations, September 28, 2012: Muslim leaders were in unison at the United Nations this week arguing that the West was hiding behind its defense of freedom of speech and ignoring cultural sensitivities in the aftermath of anti-Islam slurs that have raised fears of a widening East-West cultural divide.

A video made in California depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a fool sparked the storming of U.S. and other Western embassies in many Islamic countries and a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan this month. The crisis deepened when a French magazine published caricatures of the Prophet.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was time to put an end to the protection of Islamophobia masquerading as the freedom to speak freely.

“Unfortunately, Islamophobia has also become a new form of racism like anti-Semitism. It can no longer be tolerated under the guise of freedom of expression. Freedom does not mean anarchy,” he told the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Friday.Egypt’s newly elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, voiced similar sentiments in his speech on Wednesday.

“Egypt respects freedom of expression, freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone,” he said. “We expect from others, as they expect from us, that they respect our cultural specifics and religious references, and not impose concepts or cultures that are unacceptable to us.”

Mursi was one of the first leaders to be democratically elected after Arab Spring r evolutions that led to changes in the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year.

Western states that backed the uprisings have urged these countries to quickly foster democratic reforms and adhere stringently to human rights principles and basic freedoms.

They fear a more austere version of Islam could hijack the protest movements. Most Western speakers at the United Nation defended freedom of speech, but shied away from calls by Muslim leaders for an international ban on blasphemy.

While repeating his condemnations of the video, U.S. President Barack Obama staunchly defended free speech, riling some of those leaders.

“The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy,” Obama said in a 30-minute speech dominated by this theme.

‘Clash of Civilizations’

Speaking after Obama, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, where more than a dozen people were killed in protests against the anti-Islam film, demanded insults to religion be criminalized.

“The international community must not become silent observers and should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression,” he said.

Highlighting the anger of some, about 150 protesters demanded “justice” and chanted “there is no god but Allah” outside the U.N. building on Thursday. One placard read: “Blaspheming my Prophet must be made a crime at the U.N.”

Foreign ministers from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation met on Friday. The film topped the agenda.

“This incident demonstrates the serious consequences of abusing the principle of freedom of expression on one side and the freedom of demonstration on the other side,” OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told reporters.

Human Rights First and Muslim Public Affairs Council, two U.S.-based advocacy groups, warned of the risks of regulating such freedoms.

“Countless incidents show that when governments or religious movements seek to punish offences in the name of combating religious bigotry, violence then ensues and real violations of human rights are perpetrated against targeted individuals,” they said in a joint statement.

The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, dominated by developing states, has passed non-binding resolutions against defamation of religion for over a decade. Similar ones were endorsed in the U.N. General Assembly.

European countries, the United States and several Latin American nations in the council opposed the resolutions, arguing that while individual people have human rights, religions do not, and that existing U.N. pacts – if enforced – were sufficient to curb incitement to hatred and violence.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle attempted to dampen talk of a clash of civilizations on Thursday.

“Some would have us believe that the burning embassy buildings are proof of a clash of civilizations,” Westerwelle said in his U.N. address. “We must not allow ourselves to be deluded by such arguments. This is not a clash of civilizations. It is a clash within civilizations. It is also a struggle for the soul of the movement for change in the Arab world.

- reuters

Dalai Lama: Marxism is finished, the world hungers for religion

September 28, 2012 by admin  
Filed under newsletter-asia, Tibet, Vietnam, World

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Dalai Lama: Marxism is finished, the world hungers for religionHimachal Pradesh, September 27, 2012: The spiritual leader meets a delegation of liberal Vietnamese executives. “Sharing wealth is an attractive principle, but regimes have always sought to control human lives and thoughts. That is unacceptable.”

The Communist economic system “is based on ideas that are barely 200 years old and whose influence is declining, whilst Buddhism and other religions have thousands of years and continue to attract the world’s attention,” the Dalai Lama told a group of Vietnamese executives. “Even if the world Marx imagined has some points that can be shared, the way regimes control human life and thought is unacceptable,” he told his audience, made up mostly of liberal managers and economists from Vietnam who have little sympathy is Hanoi.

The group of 102 delegates represents Vietnam’s Tibetan Buddhists, about half from the North and half from the South, members of the Vietnamese CEO’s Club, a liberal group tolerated by the regime.

Tibet’s spiritual leader met them in Dharamsala where Tibetan exiles are holding a big summit to decide the approach to take vis-à-vis the wave of self-immolations that has swept their homeland.

Tomorrow afternoon, summit delegates will present a joint motion after four days of debate.

The Dalai Lama, who will close the great gathering tomorrow, wanted to meet the Vietnamese group.

“There are times and situations in which external factors limit the sense of religion,” he explained. “However, this should not frighten us because all we need is to develop a warm and open heart to live in a positive manner. Sharing wealth as Communists preach is a good thing, in theory, but it has never been applied.”

In answering a mother who wanted to know how to live a good family life, he jokingly said, “I am 76 years old and do not have children. I think it is a bit late to start a family; so I will not dare answer your question.”

“Children like all the people we care for need attention and care. It is necessary that they grow up in freedom to develop according to their own inclinations.”

One of the delegates asked the Dalai Lama to travel to the Spratly or the Paracel Islands, which China and Vietnam claim, to start the construction of a temple that could appease recent nationalist tensions agitating the continent.

“Rather than temples, I’d like to see the construction of study centres,” the Nobel Prize laureate said. “In any event, such a place would be more useful in Saigon or Hanoi than on a small island.”

The meeting was widely covered by Tibetan media, which have stressed the closeness between the Chinese and the Vietnamese Communist parties.

The “liberal” delegation had some hurdles to clear before it could get the visa to travel to India, but in the end, they were able to meet the spiritual leader.

For this reason as well, the Dalai Lama chose not to take part in the summit but meet instead participants.

-asianews

Why calls for a global blasphemy law must be resisted

Why calls for a global blasphemy law must be resistedSeptember 27, 2012: Violent protests against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims have sparked renewed calls for an international law banning the defamation of religion, chiefly Islam.

These have come from unsurprising quarters, such as Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Tuesday 25 September, Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which comprises 56 Muslim-majority states, called for expressions of “Islamophobia” to be curbed by law. Erroneous comparisons are being made with laws that criminalise anti-Semitism; these rightly protect individuals from prejudice purely on the basis of their racial identity, as opposed to protecting beliefs and ideas from criticism or challenge. What the OIC is seeking is in no way to be equated with, for example, Britain’s archaic and toothless blasphemy law; rather it is a privileged and protected status for Islam.

This is not a new campaign by Muslim leaders. For twelve years, the OIC campaigned for a “Defamation of Religion” UN resolution. Support began to diminish as Western nations realized the consequences for freedom of speech, and in 2011 the OIC moderated its demands. The latest resolutions have shifted focus, seeking to protect individuals from discrimination or violence rather than protecting particular religions from criticism.

The danger now is that, in the face of intensifying and widespread Muslim violence in response to perceived offences to Islam, Western states will give in to fear and sacrifice vital freedoms in the interests of global security.

Sadly, a number of senior Anglican leaders have already surrendered. In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon dated 15 September, four bishops called for a UN declaration to outlaw “intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith”.

Their appeal came, they wrote, “in view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and in view of the fact that in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide”.

These Anglican leaders (the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusa­lem and the Middle East, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, the Rt Revd Dr Bill Musk, Area Bishop for North Africa, and the Rt Revd Dr Grant Le­-Marquand, Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa) are no doubt well intentioned, attempting to protect their vulnerable churches from Islamist violence and even their eradication. But in the same way that paying the ransom demands of hostage-takers only encourages kidnappings, giving in to Islamist violence will only strengthen the hand of extremists.

While Barnabas Fund absolutely condemns Innocence of Muslims and indeed any use of language, images or media that is abusive towards the leaders of other religions, the violent Islamic response that has caused dozens of deaths and the destruction of property is entirely unjustifiable and reprehensible. The charge of “blasphemy” or “offence” should not be used either as a reason to engage in violence or as a reason to curtail freedom of speech and conscience.

A global blasphemy law must be firmly resisted for a number of reasons. Firstly, it directly contradicts existing human rights law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

It is quite proper for the law to protect individuals from discrimination or violence on account of their beliefs, but it is not the role of states to protect beliefs per se.

Secondly, a law against the defamation of religion would in reality protect Islam more than other religions. The fervency that drives the extremists and the fear that grips their targets, as recent events have evidenced, would see to that. While Christians try to follow Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek” in response to insults and attacks, Muslims are called instead to restore their honour when it has been taken from them, and doing this is more important to them than life itself.

Christianity is one of the most maligned religions in the world; Christ is routinely abused, ridiculed and misrepresented in films, television programmes, adverts and articles. Christians have had to learn to bear the pain this causes them in order for the full freedoms that form the basis of any civilized and democratic society to be upheld.

As the debate over the conflict between Western freedoms and Islamic sensitivities continues, it is essential to understand that Muslims believe power and honour rightly belong to them. The Quran says:

“But honour, power and glory belong to Allah and to His Messenger [Muhammad], and to the believers.” (sura 63, verse 8 )

Thirdly, a global blasphemy law would put Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim-majority contexts in a position of increased marginalization and danger. One has only to look at the effect of “blasphemy laws” in specific countries such as Pakistan, where Christians and other non-Muslims are extremely vulnerable to false accusations. Many people spend years languishing in prison and are sometimes even murdered over the flimsiest accusation of blasphemy. Criminalizing blasphemy in Pakistan has not resulted in greater harmony between religious groups; it has given the full force of the law to Islamic sensitivities, which has only served to exacerbate tensions between Muslims and minorities.

Finally, the calls from Muslims for protection and respect for Islam are outrageously hypocritical given the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities in most Muslim-majority contexts. Christians are routinely and systematically discriminated against, persecuted and violently attacked; in some countries, especially in the Middle East, there is a deliberate Islamist campaign to eradicate Christianity altogether.

While there remains such demonstrable lack of respect within Islam for other religions and their followers, demands for a global blasphemy law cannot and should not be taken seriously.

And those who may be prepared to sacrifice vital freedoms in the misguided belief that this will afford protection from extremist violence would do well to remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous words:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

- barnabas edit

Hezbollah launches a week of protests against anti-Islam film

September 19, 2012 by admin  
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Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah

Lebanon, September 17, 2012: A few hours after the conclusion of Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon, in a televised address the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, announced seven days of protests against a blasphemous film about Muhammad and against the United States, where it was produced.

Nasrallah pointed out that he intentionally waited for the departure of Benedict XVI before launching the initiative. “Those who should be held accountable, punished, prosecuted and boycotted are those directly responsible for this film and those who stand behind them and those who support and protect them, primarily the United States of America”. He said that Arab and Islamic governments should press for an enforceable international law banning insults to Islam and other religions.”

Nasrallah also asked Muslim Arab countries to press for an international law prohibiting insults to Islam and other religions.

The protests will be held this afternoon in Beirut, in the southern suburbs, where Hezbollah has a very strong following, on Wednesday in Tyre, Baalbek Friday and Saturday in Bint Jbeil, Sunday in Hermel and eastern Bekaa.

He also asked Muslims around the world to demonstrate against the film which, he described as “the worst attack ever on Islam, worse than The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, the burning of the Koran in Afghanistan and the cartoons in the European media.”

Just a few days ago, the United States launched some sanctions against the Hezbollah leader Nasrallah and two others for their support for Bashar al-Assad. Since 2001, the U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist group.

In Lebanon, in these days of the Pope’s visit there were no demonstrations against the film except in northern Lebanon, in Tripoli, where the population is predominantly Sunni.

But the protests against the blasphemous film are spreading in much of the Islamic world, supported mostly by fundamentalist Muslims. This morning, about 1,000 people demonstrated in Kabul (Afghanistan). Yesterday a rally in Karachi (Pakistan) ended with clashes between police and demonstrators, with one dead.

Most governments in the Islamic world, while condemning the film, however, are distancing themselves from the violence and protests that followed, most notably Libya, where on the night of September 11, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was attacked and Ambassador Chris Stevens and three staff members killed.

Yesterday, on a US television broadcast, president of Libya’s interim assembly Magarief Mohammed said that his government has arrested 50 people connected to the consulate attack. Magarief said some of those arrested are not Libyans, and are linked to al-Qaida, from Mali and Algeria. He called the others who were arrested “sympathizers of al Qaeda.”

But Libyan interior minister Fawzi Abdel A’al has said that only four people were arrested, while the other – about 50 – have only been detained for questioning.

According Magarief, the attack on the consulate was planned some months before by “foreigners” who used protests against the blasphemous film to attack the target.

In contrast, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said yesterday that the government’s preliminary information indicates that the  attack on the consulate was not planned.

- asianews

Cardinal Gracias appointed Synod Father

September 19, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Church, India, newsletter-lead, Vatican, Vatican City, World, World

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Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Vatican City, September 19, 2012: Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, as one of the 34 Synod Fathers for the next month’s Bishops Synod in Rome.

Another Indian in the list is Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, prior general of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate congregation.

The 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops scheduled for October 7-28 will address the theme “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”

The Synod Fathers include 10 cardinals, one patriarch, 11 archbishops, eight bishops and four priests.

The other Asian in the list is Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Manila, Philippines.

The participants in the Synod of Bishops are called the Synod Fathers.

They include patriarchs, major archbishops, metropolitans of the Eastern Catholic Churches, bishops elected by the Eastern Catholic Churches, bishops elected by the Episcopal Conferences, ten representatives of clerical religious institutes, the heads of the departments of the Roman curia, and other representatives appointed by the Pope.

Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops on September 15, 1965 in response to the desire of the participants of the Second Vatican Council to foster the spirit of collegiality they experienced at the council.

The Synod opens with the celebration of Mass and the hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit).

The Synod sessions are closed to the public and the Synod Fathers are bound by secrecy about the proceedings and the votes.

If needed, the Commission for Information on the Synod holds press conferences about specific matters related to the Synod.

The last synod held four years ago addressed the theme, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

- visnews

Protests over Muhammad video: Indonesia’s moderate Muslims call for calm

September 17, 2012 by admin  
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Protests over Muhammad video in Jakarta, Indonesia

Protests over Muhammad video in Jakarta, Indonesia

Indonesia, September 15, 2012: The leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest moderate Muslim organization in the country, condemns the violence and attacks on embassies in other countries. Muslims have a right to protest, but must do so through other channels. Jakarta tightens security around the embassies and closes down Youtube.

The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest moderate Islamic organization in the country has responded to protests against the blasphemous film about Muhammad and is calling on all Indonesian Muslims to remain calm.
“We can not hide our criticism – said Said Aqil Siradj, NU President – we strongly oppose any message, word, or video image against our prophets, Moses, Isaac, Jesus and Muhammad. It’s Morally wrong to spread these feelings of hatred against Muslims pushing Islam to respond with equal hatred. Faced with a crowd of young Muslims in Ciberon (West Java), the NU leader, however, invited those present to choose a different way of expressing their dissent for these offenses: “There is no need to lash out at the diplomatic missions of other countries and commit acts of vandalism. The protest can be done in a peaceful manner and through other appropriate channels”.
Meanwhile, in Jakarta authorities have increased security around foreign embassies, prepared for possible attacks by Islamic extremists. Despite various events across the country, the situation is calm. Yesterday Hibuth Tahrir, the radical Muslim group organized a peaceful protest in central Jakarta heading in procession to the Embassy of the United States. To avoid emulations and prevent radical leaders fomenting hatred, the government blocked access to YouTube and put social networks under strict surveillance.
- asianews

Pope Benedict XVI Takes Message of Tolerance to Lebanon

September 17, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Church, Lebanon, Lebanon, newsletter-lead, Vatican, Vatican City, World, World

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Pope Benedict XVI, standing next to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, waves to the crowd at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday. The pope urged peace during a time of great turmoil in the Middle East.

Pope Benedict XVI, standing next to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, waves to the crowd at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday. The pope urged peace during a time of great turmoil in the Middle East.

Lebanon, September 14, 2012: • Such revolutions, “there is always a danger of forgetting a fundamental aspect of liberty: tolerance for others and the fact that human liberty is always a shared liberty.” “We must do everything possible” to encourage tolerance and “reconciliation.”Pope

Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Lebanon on Friday with a message of tolerance that took on wider resonance as protests over an anti-Muslim video produced in the United States spread to about 20 countries.

Soon after the pope’s plane touched down in Beirut for his first visit to the region since 2009, protesters 50 miles away attacked American restaurant chains in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Soldiers opened fire on the protesters, killing one and wounding more than two dozen other people, officials said.

As the pope stepped onto the tarmac, looking tired and using a cane, he was welcomed by cheering crowds and children bearing flowers. Benedict, who has stumbled in the past when speaking of Islam, made no mention of the protests, instead praising Lebanon as an example of cooperation among faiths.

“Like me, you know that this equilibrium, which is presented everywhere as an example, is extremely delicate,” he said. “Sometimes it seems about to snap like a bow which is overstretched or submitted to pressures which are too often partisan.”

He added, “This is where real moderation and great wisdom are tested.”

The Vatican had played down security concerns, saying the pope would be warmly welcomed for his three-day visit to Lebanon, where more than 30 percent of the population is Christian and posters bearing his likeness lined the highway. On his plane en route to Lebanon, Benedict told reporters, “Nobody has advised me to cancel this voyage,” according to an informal transcript provided by the Italian daily La Stampa. “I never thought of it,” he said, “because I know that the more complicated a situation becomes, the more necessary it is to send this signal of fraternity, encouragement and solidarity.”

In keeping with Benedict’s longstanding plan for the trip, the message appeared to be aimed principally to bolster Christians in the region, an ancient community whose numbers have dwindled in recent decades because of wars, occupations and discrimination.

At a meeting with religious leaders at St. Paul’s Basilica outside Beirut on Friday evening, the pope signed a Vatican document on the state of Christians in the region.

“A Middle East without Christians, or with only a few Christians, would no longer be the Middle East,” Benedict said in the document, “The Church in the Middle East,” which is the product of a meeting of bishops at the Vatican in 2010.

Benedict said that Christians in the Middle East should be allowed “full citizenship” and not considered “second-class citizens or believers,” adding that their steady decline in the region was leading to “human, cultural, and religious impoverishment.”

The pope also focused on the war in Syria, a deepening civil conflict that has left thousands of people dead and poses a growing threat to regional stability. Adding emphasis to his previous calls for an end to the violence, he called for a halt to arms imports by both sides in the conflict.

“The importing of arms cannot continue,” the pope said. “Instead of importing arms, which is a grave sin, one should import ideas of peace, creativity, find solutions for accepting everyone in his otherness.”

Those comments, which seemed aimed at the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the growing number of militias fighting to topple him, also served as a sharp rebuke to regional powers, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which continue to funnel arms into Syria.

The pope also spoke for the first time about the wave of uprisings that have transformed the region since his last visit. “I would say it’s a positive thing: it’s the desire for more democracy, more liberty, more cooperation and a renewed Arab identity,” Benedict said.

But he also added that amid such revolutions, “there is always a danger of forgetting a fundamental aspect of liberty: tolerance for others and the fact that human liberty is always a shared liberty.” He added, “We must do everything possible” to encourage tolerance and “reconciliation.”

In a dark moment in his papacy in 2006, Benedict angered Muslims when on a visit to Germany he quoted a Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.” In response, Muslims demonstrated around the world, and an Italian nun was killed in Somalia. The pope later apologized.

This week, amid the spreading unrest over the anti-Muslim video, the Vatican has walked a fine line to prevent causing similar offense. On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement that focused on the video, saying that “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslims produce “sometimes tragic results” that yield “unacceptable violence.” The statement came after news emerged of the death ofJ. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, but before the United States confirmed it.

On Thursday, Father Lombardi issued a statement denouncing the ambassador’s death, saying that it called “for the firmest possible condemnation on the part of the Holy See.”

“Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence,” the statement said.
But by Friday evening, the spokesman sought to distance the pope from the growing controversy and any comment that could cause distress. “The visit,” Father Lombardi said, “is a message in itself.”

Kareem Fahim reported from Beirut, and Rachel Donadio from Rome and Vatican City. Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

- reuters

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