Maronite priest says Muslims will welcome Pope to Lebanon

Rome, Italy, Sep 14, 2012 / 02:03 am (CNA).- The Rector of Rome’s Pontifical Maronite College predicts that all the people of Lebanon – Muslims included – will welcome Pope Benedict XVI to their country at the start of Apostolic Visit Sept. 14-16.

“Muslims are also waiting for the Holy Father’s visit and there will certainly be many who await the moments Pope’s arrival at the airport and drive to the nunciature,” said Msgr. Antoine Gebran who was back in his homeland recently to witness preparations for the 3-day visit at first hand.

“One of the Muslim leaders said, ‘We must welcome the Pope with the streets covered in roses.’ That is, it’s a sign of eastern spirituality.”

Msgr. Gebran spoke to CNA before this week’s outbreak of militant Muslim protest against United States diplomatic missions in the Middle East. The violence was sparked by the posting on YouTube of extracts of a low-budget US film mocking the Prophet Mohammed, the 6-7th century founder of Islam.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11 a mob stormed the United States consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi which left four Americans dead including the US ambassador to the country, J Christopher Stevens.

While similar protests have not emerged so far in Lebanon, recent events are likely for form a backdrop to Pope Benedict’s discussions with Muslim leaders on Saturday, Sept. 15. Msgr. Gebran feels that the Pope has a particular ability to bring peoples and religions together.

“All await the Pope with pleasure, because they see the Pope not only as a religious, Catholic or state leader, no, in Lebanon there are many state leaders. They see him as a symbol, as the successor of Peter and an apostle of peace.”

The Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. It forms just one element within Lebanon’s patchwork of religious communities.

It is estimated that around 60 percent of Lebanese citizens are Muslim with an even split in numbers between Shia and Sunni Islam. There is also a small but historically significant Druze community.

The Christian population constitutes about 39 percent of the population manifested in various Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Maronite Church is the largest such Christian group with 23 percent of the population as adherents.

“So, the papal visit important for everyone: Catholic Christians, Orthodox Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims and the Druze,” Msgr. Gebran suggested.

The highpoint of the Papal Visit will be the Pope’s signing of his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East on Friday Sept. 14.

“The most important part of the visit is to confirm that he chose Lebanon because in Lebanon all of these confessions are found, not only Catholics or Orthodox, but all of the communities that believe in God,” said Msgr. Gebran.

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