This past weekend, Pope Benedict XVI courageously journeyed to Lebanon—neighboring tumultuous Syria, Israel, Iraq and Iran. Why wasn’t this historic visit covered by major news networks? In journalism, “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.” Personally, I’d rather not let mainstream media tell me which stories are important!
Contrary to the conflict in most news stories, Pope Benedict XVI came as “a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs.” Every human being, and especially us Catholics, should heed five important lessons from his various activities in Lebanon:
ONE: The World Must Not Forget Middle Eastern Christians
How often do you pray for the Christians in the Middle East? Westerners visiting that region may ask the native Christians, “When did you convert?” To which most Middle Eastern Christians would proudly respond: “Never! I am a descendant of the first Christians!” In our ignorance, we Westerners often forget that Our Lord chose the Middle East to be his homeland; he chose the Jewish and Arab peoples to be the his first disciples!
In Lebanon, our Holy Father expressed gratitude for their faithful 2,000-year witness: “How can we fail to thank God at every moment for all of you, dear Christians of the Middle East! How can we fail to praise him for your courage and faith? How can we fail to thank him for the flame of his infinite love which you continue to keep alive and burning in these places which were the first to welcome his incarnate Son? How can we fail to praise and thank him for your efforts to build ecclesial and fraternal communion, and for the human solidarity which you constantly show to all God’s children?”
We would do the Body of Christ a disservice if we failed to love and pray for Middle Eastern Christians.
TWO: In Times of Discord, Solidarity Has Power
Given all the violence that has recently developed in the Middle East, you’d think that the Holy Father would’ve at least thought about cancelling this trip to Lebanon. But his response? “I never took that idea into consideration, because I know that as the situation becomes more complicated, it is even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity.”
Normally, our human tendency in conflict is: Fight, or Flight. But Christ asks us to go beyond what is natural, to the supernatural. The Holy Father said: “Experiencing together moments of friendship and joy enables us to resist the onset of division, which must always be rejected! Brotherhood is a foretaste of heaven!”
THREE: Mutual Respect is Not Optional
We’re quick to identify enemies, especially in foreign policy and times of strife. Isn’t it easier to say, “Those people,” instead of “My brothers”?
Pope Benedict XVI encouraged tens of thousands of young Middle Easterners gathered with him to be examples of the mutual respect to which God calls us. “Christ asks you,” he said, “to do as he did: to be completely open to others, even if they belong to a different cultural, religious or national group.” The Pope reminded political leaders in the Middle East, “In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable,” made in God’s image and likeness. Therefore, we are commanded by Christ to love one another.
FOUR: Strengthening the Family Will Strengthen Society
Lebanon’s President was extremely impressed and moved by the Holy Father’s address to government and religious leaders. President Suleiman said, “All the people and the politicians of the Middle East should hear, read and meditate on this speech of the Pope.”
So, what did the Pope say? Fundamentally, he spoke about how to strengthen global society: “A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life.”
FIVE: True Religion Spreads Peace
Nowadays, we Americans are used to being engaged in war somewhere overseas—particularly in the Middle East. But as Catholics first and Americans second, we need to examine each war according to Catholic teaching before expressing our support. Pope Benedict XVI gave a counter-cultural message while in Lebanon: “We must promote all possible actions, including material ones, to support the end of war and violence so that all can contribute to the rebuilding of the country,” he said.
Even en route to the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI asserted, “The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism,” emphasizing that religion “must be education and the illumination and purification of conscience to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”