POPE CELEBRATES OUTDOOR MASS ON BEIRUT WATERFRONT — Pope Benedict XVI celebrates an outdoor mass on the waterfront in Beirut Sept. 16 wrapping up his three-day visit to Lebanon. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope calls Middle Eastern Christians to suffering, service
By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
BEIRUT (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged the suffering of
Christians in the Middle East, reassuring them and urging them to promote
peace through religiously inspired service to their societies.
“Your sufferings are not in vain,” the pope told a crowd
of at least 350,000 at a sweltering outdoor mass at Beirut’s City
Centre Waterfront Sept. 16. “Remain ever hopeful because of Christ.”
In his homily, Pope Benedict commented on the day’s reading from
the Gospel of St. Mark, in which Jesus foretells his death and resurrection.
Jesus is a “Messiah who suffers,” the pope said, “a
Messiah who serves, and not some triumphant political saviour.”
Speaking in a region riven by sectarian politics, where
party loyalties are often determined by religious affiliation, the pope
warned that people can invoke Jesus to “advance agendas which are
not his, to raise false temporal hopes in his regard.”
Pope Benedict told his listeners, whose travails of war and economic
insecurity he had acknowledged repeatedly throughout his visit, that
Christianity is essentially a faith of redemptive suffering.
“Following Jesus means taking up one’s cross and following
in his footsteps along a difficult path which leads not to earthly power
or glory but, if necessary, to self-abandonment, to losing one’s
life for Christ and the Gospel in order to save it,” he said.
Yet Pope Benedict also cited another of the day’s mass readings,
the epistle of St. James, to emphasize the spiritual value of “concrete
actions” and works, concluding that “service is a fundamental
element” of Christian identity.
Addressing a region where Christian-run social services,
including schools and health care facilities, are extensively used by
the Muslim majority, the pope stressed the importance of “serving the poor, the outcast
and the suffering,” and called on Christians to be “servants
of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.”
“This is an essential testimony which Christians must render here,
in co-operation with all people of goodwill,” Pope Benedict said.
During the homily, the only sound was the pope’s
voice and its echo from the loudspeakers. Many people leaned over and
bowed their heads with eyes closed, so they could concentrate more deeply.
Sheltered from the sun only by white baseball caps and
the occasional umbrella, people had already packed the city’s central
district by 8 a.m., almost an hour-and-a-half before the pope arrived
in the popemobile, which took him to the foot of the altar. In temperatures
that rose into the high 30s, the pope celebrated mass under a canopy
while bishops and patriarchs on either side wiped their brows and fanned
themselves with programs.
Following the mass, the pope formally presented patriarchs
and bishops of the Middle East with a document of his reflections on
the 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which was dedicated to the region’s
Christians. In the 90-page document, called an apostolic exhortation,
the pope called for religious freedom and warned of the dangers of fundamentalism.
In an earlier ceremony at the Melkite Catholic Basilica of St. Paul in
Harissa Sept. 14, Pope Benedict had signed the document calling on Catholics
in the Middle East to engage in dialogue with Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim
A section dedicated to inter-religious dialogue encouraged
Christians to “esteem” the region’s dominant religion, Islam,
lamenting that “both sides have used doctrinal differences as a
pretext for justifying, in the name of religion, acts of intolerance,
discrimination, marginalization and even of persecution.”
Yet in a reflection of the precarious position of Christians
in most of the region today, where they frequently experience negative
legal and social discrimination, the pope called for Arab societies to “move
beyond tolerance to religious freedom.”
The “pinnacle of all other freedoms,” religious freedom is
a “sacred and inalienable right,” which includes the “freedom
to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s
beliefs in public,” the pope wrote.
It is a civil crime in some Muslim countries for Muslims to convert to
another faith and, in Saudi Arabia, Catholic priests have been arrested
for celebrating mass, even in private.
The papal document denounced “religious fundamentalism” as
the opposite extreme of the secularization that Pope Benedict has often
criticized in the context of contemporary western society.
Fundamentalism, which “afflicts all religious communities,” thrives
on “economic and political instability, a readiness on the part
of some to manipulate others, and a defective understanding of religion,” the
pope wrote. “It wants to gain power, at times violently, over individual
consciences, and over religion itself, for political reasons.”
At a gathering of some 20,000 young people from several Middle Eastern
countries gathered outside the residence of the Maronite patriarch in
Bkerke, the pope urged young Christians in the Middle East not to flee
violence and economic insecurity through emigration, but to draw strength
from their faith and make peace in their troubled region.
Pope Benedict asked young Christians, whose population is diminishing
across the Middle East, not to abandon their homelands.
Warning against escapism, the pope urged his listeners
not to “take
refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics
or the bleak world of pornography.”
He acknowledged that online social networks are interesting,
but said they “can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between
the real and the virtual.” He called money a “tyrannical
idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart.”
Offering encouragement, the pope invoked the inspiration
of the first Christians, inhabitants of the Middle East who “lived
in troubled times and their faith was the source of their courage and
“Courageously resist everything opposed to life: abortion, violence, rejection of and contempt for others, injustice and war,” Pope Benedict said. “In this way you will spread peace all around you.”