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December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
11 September 2012
Greg Kandra




On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's historic trip to Lebanon, veteran Vatican observer John Allen helps place this visit into its many contexts:

Quite often, how an event is framed beforehand determines judgments after the fact about whether it was a success or a failure. In the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s 14-16 September trip to Lebanon, which unfolds against the backdrop of ongoing violence in Syria, there seem to be four basic competing frames. …

First, there’s the official line from Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, asserting the pope is not traveling as a “powerful political leader” but as “the head of a religious community” whose mission is to confirm the Christians of the region “who serve the communities in which they live through the witness of their lives.” …

Second, there’s the frame proposed by Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit who lived in Syria for 30 years prior to being expelled in June for his advocacy of the anti-Assad uprising. On Tuesday, Dall’Oglio finished an eight-day hunger strike in Rome intended to raise awareness about the Syrian situation.

Dall’Oglio issued a statement Tuesday expressing hope that the papal visit to Lebanon, the closest Benedict is every like to come to Syria, will be an occasion for unmasking the “lies of the regime” under Assad, and for demanding that the Christian nations of the West stop “giving the regime the possibility of spilling more Syrian blood.” …

Third, there’s the frame offered by Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, who has suggested the papal trip should be a “line of last defense” stand in favor of Christian survival all across the Middle East.

As is well known, Christians today are estimated to represent no more than 5 percent of the population of the Middle East, down from 20 percent in the early 20th century. From 12 million today, the consensus estimate is that the Christian population of the Middle East will likely be 6 million in 2020. The decline is due to a number of factors, including lower birth rates, economic and political stagnation, and rising insecurity and the threat of Islamic radicalism. …

Finally, there’s a fourth frame suggested by Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian scholar based at St. Joseph University in Beirut: extolling Lebanon itself as a model for the Islamic future, one based on moderation, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. …

[Father Samir] published an essay Tuesday in advance of the pope’s trip pointing out that Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East where a citizen can convert from one religion to another “without the risk of being killed or severely marginalized.”

Read the rest at the National Catholic Reporter’s site.



Tags: Syria Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI