Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Priest warns of security risk in pope trip to Lebanon

The pope's safety could be at risk during a planned visit to Lebanon next month, a Jesuit priest who was recently forced to leave Syria warned.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit Lebanon from September 14-16 to bring a message of peace and call for greater respect for religious pluralism.

Even though his special protective car -- the "popemobile" -- has been sent to Beirut, questions are swirling about the safety of a trip to a country linked to the raging conflict in Syria.

The pope "must ask for help from a secret service that can guarantee his security. Because the Lebanese services are not sufficient in this situation," Father Paolo Dall'Oglio warned.

Lebanon's Sunni communities largely oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while its Alawites, who belong to the same minority as the Syrian leader, are pro-Damascus. Deadly clashes between the two groups are on the rise.

Dall'Oglio was kicked out of Syria in June over his activism.

He added that Lebanon is fraught with risk because the current Lebanese government "is in some ways still tied to the Syrian regime".

Christians and Muslims pray side by side at an ancient Syrian monastery that Dall'Oglio restored, and the priest has been a constant voice calling for a democratic solution to the Syrian crisis.

The priest said he hoped the pope would show that Christians "support human rights, are for civil emancipation and have taken a historic stance against political corruption and totalitarianism."

"They must be sincere partners with Muslims in the construction of a brotherly and non-discriminatory Middle East."

Syria has a small but influential Christian minority that has traditionally enjoyed harmonious relations with the Muslim majority as well as with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor, Hafez.

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