September 14, 2012. (Romereports.com)
Among tight security the Pope came to St. Paul’s Melkite Greek basilica of Harissa, the most important shrine to the Virgin Mary in the Middle East. There he signed an official document on the situation of Christians in the region.
Upon entering, the Pope blessed the participants and the Eastern patriarchs, with a cross in his hand instead of a staff.
He also greeted the president, Michel Suleiman, who is Christian, as well as several Muslim representatives following the meeting from the front row.
The Pope explained that the new document has been prepared from the reflections of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which was held in Rome in October 2010. It was participated by 255 bishops and religious leaders from the area.
That is why the first thing the pope noted was the difficulties faced by Christians in the Middle East.
“The entire Church was able to hear the troubled cry and see the desperate faces of many men and women who experience grave human and material difficulties, who live amid powerful tensions in fear and uncertainty, who desire to follow Christ – the One who gives meaning to their existence – yet often find themselves prevented from doing so”.
The Pope said he knows the situation of experiencing discrimination and the social problems they encounter. But he asked them not to lose hope.
“It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division”.
The gathering included many elements of the Melkite Greek tradition, such as the Gospel reading in Arabic or the chanting from this Eastern tradition of the Catholic Church.
One of the most curious moments was the exchanging of gifts. The Melkite Greek Patriarch gave the Pope this beautiful set of silverware, an artisan item from Lebanon.