Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
Pope Benedict XVI waves to faithfuls from his Pope-mobile upon his arrival to conduct an open-air mass service at Beirut City Center Waterfront, Sunday.
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Pope Benedict XVI held a huge open-air mass on Beirut’s waterfront on Sunday, urging Christians to be peacemakers amid the “grim trail of death and destruction” around the world.
He addressed a crowd of 350,000 people as part of his three-day visit to Lebanon, which has been overshadowed by regional fury among Muslims over a U.S.-made internet video insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
"May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East, the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence,'' the pope said in a prayer.
The first faithful made their way to Beirut’s waterfront – close to the front line in the 1975-1990 civil war - at 7 a.m. local time Sunday (midnight Saturday ET) chanting “Be-ne-di-cto” while waving Vatican flags and wearing white baseball caps that read “I give you my peace” in Arabic.
The turnout for the Pope’s message of peace was huge, despite intense heat and humidity.
In his homily, the Pope urged Christians in the Middle East to work against what he called the "the grim trail of death and destruction" in the world.
"I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity," the 85-year old pontiff said. "This is an essential testimony which Christians must render here, in cooperation with all people of good will. I appeal to all of you to be peacemakers, wherever you find yourselves."
His call for peace was addressed in particular to neighboring Syria, extending a special prayer to those suffering the consequence of the raging civil war.
The Pope arrived in his iconic bullet-proof, glass-encased ‘Popemobile’ and sat on a big stage shaped like a Cedar tree - the symbol of Lebanon - in front of a sea of Middle East Christians.
Bilal Hussein / AP
An aerial view of the Lebanese capital's waterfront where Pope Benedict XVI held a mass in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday.
About 35 per cent of the region’s Christians live in Lebanon – the largest single Christian community in the area.
“We hope that peace will reign in the Middle East…we need it,” said Elias, an accountant from Beirut.
“It was a pleasure to have him in Lebanon,” resident Roni Nakur said immediately after the Mass. “Here we have both Muslims and Christians, and the Pope helps us be together.”
Christine, a technology teacher, traveled from Egypt to see the Pope. “I am so happy,” she said. “We need peace…Egypt needs peace, all the world needs peace. I hope it comes soon”.
Security was tight in Beirut throughout his visit, but particularly visible on Sunday. Lebanese army troops patrolled the streets in armored personnel carriers and set-up roadblocks, while army helicopters hovered overhead.
During his visit, the pope said that Lebanon's coexistence of Christians and Muslims continue to be an example to all the Middle East countries.
Lebanon is increasingly viewed as a model of religious tolerance after years of civil war and sectarian violence.
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