Pope Benedict XVI will bring a message of peace for the Middle East on a three-day trip to Lebanon in September, the Vatican said Tuesday, amid rising tensions due to the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
The 85-year-old German pontiff will meet with a variety of religious leaders during his visit to multi-faith Lebanon, which will be his 24th foreign trip since he was elected pope in 2005 and is one of his most sensitive missions.
There had been reports last month that the pope’s visit was in doubt because of the unrest in Syria, which has had a knock-on effect on northern Lebanon.
The pope is expected to emphasise the need for peaceful coexistence between Christian and Muslim communities in the Middle East, as well as caution against the growing exodus of Christian minorities from the birthplace of Christianity.
The pope will begin his visit on September 14 with a trip to the Basilica of Saint Paul in Harissa around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Beirut.
On September 15 he will meet with President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati and then go on to meet Muslim religious leaders.
He will then visit the Armenian Catholic patriarchate in Bzommar and meet with young people in front of the Maronite patriarchate in Bkerke.
The centrepoint of the visit is expected to be the pope’s message of peace at an open-air mass on September 16 at the City Centre Waterfront in Beirut, which will be followed by a visit to the Syrian Catholic patriarchate.