Pope Meets Lebanese President

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman met for a private audience in which Lebanon was highlighted as a nation that embodies the principles of freedom and interreligious harmony.

The pope welcomed Suleiman to the Vatican Feb. 24.

In addition to the 30-minute papal audience, Suleiman also met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican foreign minister.

The Vatican said the meetings “served to highlight how Lebanon, because of the presence of various Christian and Muslim communities there, stands as a message of freedom and respectful coexistence, not only for the region, but for the whole world.”

“In this context, it is increasingly necessary to promote collaboration and dialogue between religious confessions,” the Vatican said.

The talks also included a discussion about “the importance of civil and religious authorities being committed to educating consciences in peace and reconciliation,” it said.

“The hope was expressed that the formation of the new government may favor the desired stability of the nation, which is called to face important internal and international challenges,” the Vatican said.

The discussions also touched on the situation in the Middle East, especially regarding recent events “in certain Arab states, with the parties expressing their shared conviction that it is vital to resolve the ongoing conflicts in the region,” it said.

The leaders also spoke about the “delicate situation of Christians in the entire region, and to the contribution they can make for the good of society as a whole,” the Vatican said.

Before the private talks began, the pope and Suleiman talked about a Feb. 23 ceremony in which the pope blessed a statue of St. Maron, the fourth-century hermit who founded the Maronite Catholic Church.

Suleiman and the Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, attended the ceremony, which took place in front of the niche where the enormous marble statue was placed on the outer wall of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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