Hundreds of thousands of people converged on Beirut’s waterfront as Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass yesterday on the final day of his visit to Lebanon, in which he has repeatedly called for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.
Benedict, 85, arrived a half hour before the service, and his passage was briefly brought to a halt as jubilant crowds pressed in around the popemobile, cheering and waving Vatican and Lebanese flags.
An estimated 350,000 people gathered in bright, warm sunshine to join the pontiff as he celebrated mass.
An excited Mariana Khoury, 15, wearing a headscarf inscribed in Arabic with the words “you promised and you came,” said “we want to promise to him that we will be the future of the Church and guard our love for Jesus.”
The backdrop to the raised platform on which the altar was set was in the shape of the country’s Cedar of Lebanon, and live cedars and olive trees, the symbol of peace, were placed around the platform.
The frail-looking pope, who has been walking with a cane, arrived in Lebanon on Friday to a warm welcome from all parts of the country’s multi-faith society and has dedicated his visit to the message of peace.
On Saturday, he urged Christians and Muslims to forge a harmonious, pluralistic society in which the dignity of each person is respected and the right to worship in peace is guaranteed.
He also stressed that people must repudiate vengeance, acknowledge their own faults and offer forgiveness to each other.
Those who desire to live in peace must have a change of heart, Benedict said, and that involves “rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them and, not least, forgiveness.”
He said the universal yearning of humanity for peace can only be realized through community, comprising individual persons whose aspirations and rights to a fulfilling life are respected.
Lebanon is a multi-faith country in which Muslims make up about 65 percent of the population and Christians the balance.
The pope came with a message of peace and reconciliation both to Lebanon and to the wider Middle East, which have been torn by violence, often sectarian, over the years.
He was to have lunch in the mountain village of Harissa, where he has been staying, and then attend a late afternoon ecumenical meeting before returning to Rome.