Pope calls for peace as violence hits Lebanon
BY VICTOR L. SIMPSON Associated Press
Saturday, September 15, 2012
9/15/12 at 5:06 AM
Pope Benedict XVI appealed for peace and reconciliation among religions Friday as violence over an anti-Islam movie spilled over into Lebanon within hours of his arrival in the tumultuous region.
The pope flew into Lebanon for a three-day visit despite the recent unrest - including civil war in Syria, a mob attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya and a string of violent protests across the Middle East stemming from the film.
"I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace," the 85-year-old pope said upon arrival in Beirut, speaking under a canopy at the airport on a sultry afternoon. "As a friend of God and as a friend of men."
The crowd at the pope's arrival was small as security kept most people away from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport.
The pontiff was welcomed by top leaders, including the Lebanese president, prime minister and parliament speaker, as well as Christian and Muslim religious leaders. "Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region," he said.
But just hours after the pope arrived, violence erupted in northern Lebanon over "Innocence of Muslims," a film that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad, portraying him as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.
Lebanese authorities tightened security for the pope, suspending weapons permits except for politicians' bodyguards and confining the visit to central Lebanon and northern Christian areas. Army and police patrols were stationed along the airport road.
Earlier Friday, speaking to reporters aboard his plane, the pope said he never considered canceling the trip for security reasons, adding that "no one ever advised (me) to renounce this trip and personally, I have never considered this."
He also praised the Arab Spring uprisings, which have ousted four long-time dictators.
"It is the desire for more democracy, for more freedom, for more cooperation and for a renewed Arab identity," the pope said.
The papal visit comes amid fears that Syria's conflict might ignite tensions in Lebanon. Clashes in Lebanon between Syrian groups in recent months have killed more than two dozen people and left scores wounded.
Original Print Headline: Pope calls for Mideast peace
Pope Benedict XVI leads a ceremony in St. Paul Basilica in Harissa, near Beirut, on Friday. The pontiff appealed for peace Friday at a time of deep turmoil in the Middle East, calling the flow of weapons into Syria a "grave sin." ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AP