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Young Lebanese See Papal Visit as Sign of Hope

21 Aug 2012 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Lebanon’s younger generation of Catholics sees Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 14-16 visit to their country as a sign of hope in a region embroiled with violence.

Marielle Boutros, a 25-year old Maronite Catholic from Jbeil who teaches science at a Catholic school, said the pope’s visit “means that even though we are suffering and don’t have stability, there is someone in this world who cares for us and wants us to stay here.”

“That’s why he’s coming here, to tell us to stay here and not to quit our cause,” she said.

Firas Wehbe, a 34-year old Maronite Catholic who heads up the sales unit of a bank, said the pope’s visit “is a sign of hope for the youth, a support for them to stay in their country and the Middle East, especially with the turbulent situation around us.”

Wehbe said that when Pope John Paul visited Lebanon in 1997 and the country was under Syrian occupation, it was “a bad situation.”

“But now, it’s all the region,” Wehbe said. “So I think that this visit is a sign from God, a message for us to resist in a Christian way: through our beliefs, to stay here in the holy lands and to live our lives according to the Bible. Otherwise, we can go everywhere in the world. But here, we have a message to live all together with other religions, especially Muslims.”

“I’m talking from personal experience, because I live in Tripoli, which is 90 percent Muslim,” Wehbe said. “In fact, we don’t have problems as Christians, but the city is experiencing political problems related to the situation in Syria. The conflict in Syria is affecting the city, but we hope it will end soon.”

Clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in Tripoli in May and June killed up to 25 people.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said despite instability from Syria that has spilled across Lebanese borders, preparations for the trip “are proceeding without any uncertainties on the Vatican’s part.” In fact, he said, the popemobile has already been shipped to Lebanon.

During his visit, Pope Benedict will present a major document addressing concerns expressed at the 2010 Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, but on Sept. 15 he is expected to meet with about 30,000 young people at Bkerke, the patriarchal seat of the Maronite Catholic Church, north of Beirut.

Father Toufic Bou Hadir, president of the Maronite Patriarchate’s Youth Department, has been planning the visit with a team of youth representatives from Lebanon’s Catholic rites — Maronite, Syriac, Armenian, Chaldean, Melkite, Coptic and Latin — as well as representatives of Scout associations, apostolic movements, students, nongovernment organizations, youths with special needs, religious and seminarians, and representatives of other Mideast countries.

“The Middle Eastern countries are now living a so-called ‘spring.’ But a lot of places are seeing that spring turning into winter and fall because we see blood and terror around us,” said Father Bou Hadir, referring to the instability in the region.

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Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Christian-Muslim relations Middle East Synod