Pope makes peace appeal at open-air Mass in Beirut

Associated Press Modified: September 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm •  Published: September 16, 2012
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BEIRUT (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI made a sweeping appeal Sunday for peace in Syria and the Middle East, decrying the violence "which generates so much suffering."

Speaking at an open-air Mass before a huge crowd, he urged the international community and Arab countries in particular to find a solution to end the conflict in neighboring Syria.

"Why so much horror? Why so many dead," Benedict said, lamenting that "the first victims are women and children."

With pilgrims from across the Middle East in the crowd he said Christians must do their part to end the "grim trail of death and destruction" in the region.

"I appeal to you all to be peacemakers," Benedict said.

Benedict spoke from an altar built on land reclaimed with debris from Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, pressing ahead with his call for peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.

Later in the evening, the pope boarded a Lebanese Middle East Airlines jet that took off to Rome.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said local organizers put the crowd at some 350,000 people.

Benedict said that justice and peace are needed in building "a fraternal society, for building fellowship."

Fadia Kiwan, a political science professor at Beirut's St. Joseph University, said the pope's visit is political and its message is that "the West does not want Christians to leave the Middle East."

She added that the visit calls "for living together between Muslims and Christians."

"This is a visit of political interest more than religious interest. It is political visit that should help in reducing tension between Christians and Muslims in general," she said.

The 85-year pope, wearing green vestments, appeared to be holding up well in the Mediterranean heat.

Helicopters flew overhead and soldiers set up roadblocks and patrolled streets in downtown Beirut.

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