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Pope Benedict XVI greets people from his popemobile in Bkerke on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Pope celebrates open-air mass in Lebanon

Thousands of people converged on Beirut’s waterfront as Pope Benedict XVI prepared to celebrate Sunday mass on the final day of his visit to Lebanon, in which he has repeatedly called for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

Benedict, 85, arrived a half hour before the service, and his passage was briefly brought to a halt as jubilant crowds pressed in around the popemobile, cheering and waving Vatican and Lebanese flags.

Initial estimates put attendance at tens of thousands of people, who had gathered in bright, warm sunshine.

An excited Mariana Khoury, 15, wearing a headscarf inscribed in Arabic with the words “you promised and you came”, said: “We want to promise to him that we will be the future of the Church and guard our love for Jesus.”

The backdrop to the raised platform on which the altar is set is in the shape of the country’s Cedar of Lebanon, and live cedars and olive trees, the symbol of peace, were placed around the platform.

The frail-looking pope, who has been walking with a cane, arrived in Lebanon on Friday to a warm welcome from all parts of the country’s multi-faith society and has dedicated his visit to the message of peace.

On Saturday, he urged Christians and Muslims to forge a harmonious, pluralistic society in which the dignity of each person is respected and the right to worship in peace is guaranteed.

He also stressed that people must repudiate vengeance, acknowledge their own faults and offer forgiveness to each other.

Those who desire to live in peace must have a change of heart, Benedict said, and that involves “rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them and, not least, forgiveness.”

He said the universal yearning of humanity for peace can only be realised through community, comprising individual persons whose aspirations and rights to a fulfilling life are respected.

Lebanon is a multi-faith country in which Muslims make up about 65 per cent of the population and Christians the balance.

The pope came with a message of peace and reconciliation both to Lebanon and to the wider Middle East, which have been torn by violence, often sectarian, over the years.

He will have lunch in the mountain village of Harissa, where he has been staying, and then attend a late afternoon ecumenical meeting.