Pope Benedict XVI praised Lebanon’s religious tolerance and diversity today as an example for the entire Middle East as his toured the country for a second day.
Speaking to government, religious and social leaders, Benedict said the freedom to worship forms the foundation for many other liberties.
He said other countries should look to Lebanon’s history of families of mixed religion.
“If it is possible in families why not in entire societies? … Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem,” the pontiff said, according to The Associated Press.
Practicing religion “without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone,” Benedict added.
Lebanon is a country of more than 4 million people, the majority of whom are Muslim – Sunni, Shi’ite or Alawite.
More than 1.3 million Christians – following over 12 different churches – live in Lebanon, according to Reuters.
For example, Benedict spoke with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman (a Maronite Christian), Sunni Prime Minister Najib Mikati and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi’ite.
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The country survived a sectarian civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990.
Thousands, not all of them Christians, lined Lebanon’s streets to greet the pope as he drove past in his bulletproof Pope mobile.
“We came to support the pope and also get support from him, because our experience has been that when we listen to him, we are touched and we are helped in our lives,” Muslim Amira Chabchoul told Reuters.
Benedict’s visit came as protests raged across the Middle East, including Lebanon, in reaction to a low-budget film made in the US called “The Freedom of Muslims.”
The film casts the Prophet Muhammad as an abusive figure; it’s said to have triggered an armed mob into storming the US consulate in Benghazi earlier this week.
The militants killed US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three of his staff.
While he didn’t name it directly, the pope also alluded to problems in Syria.
“There are countries suffering from poverty, unemployment and terrorism leading to unacceptable pain for people who turn into victims,” he said. “Every human being is a member of humanity; we must try to unite and spread the culture of peace and family values, through teaching children the meaning of peace at school and at home.”
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