Hopeful Signs as Benedict Arrives in Lebanon

John Allen has these truly surprising reactions:

Last week, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, announced that Saturday would be declared a national holiday in honor of the pope’s arrival. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has publicly welcomed the visit, describing it as “extraordinary and historic.”

Other Muslim leaders have also struck positive notes, including Grand Mufti Sheikh Rashid Qabbani, a Sunni. “The regimes in the Arab world are changing, and we all want to have security and equality and justice. I hope the pope’s visit will reflect that,” Qabbani said.

Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hasan al-Amin was equally enthusiastic. “Christians are a major part of the Lebanese structure, and the pope’s visit emphasizes coexistence between Muslims and Christians in the country,” he said.

On Wednesday night, the “Asia News” agency reported that Christians and Muslims came together in Beirut’s Museum Square to stage a prayer vigil in advance of the pope’s arrival. Musical bands played, and Muslim read verses from the New Testament while a Christian read passages from the Qur’an.

Moreover, there’s wide regional interest. In Egypt, Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, said it’s vital the papal trip go ahead.

“This visit is a great opportunity to show that peace is the only possible alternative to hatred and war,” Greiche said.

“Benedict XVI’s presence a few kilometers from Syria is a message of solidarity and dialogue for the Middle East, and for the Christian and Muslim populations that are the protagonists of the Arab Spring and the Islamic factions fighting each other,” he said.

At the same time, Greiche hinted at the delicate balancing act awaiting the pope – expressing sympathy for wounded Muslim sensitivities, while also rejecting extremism and defending his own flock. While Egyptian Muslims are up in arms about an obscure American film, Greiche said, no one is objecting to what he described as routine “insults and attacks against Christians” in Egyptian media controlled by Muslim groups.

Is it possible that this good and wise man could bring some message of peace and reconciliation that could douse some of these flames?   Let’s pray that he can.

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