Pope Arrived inLebanon
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Date: 97-05-10 08:00:55 EDT
Filed at 7:16 a.m. EDT By The Associated Press BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- Pope John Paul II brought a message of religious harmony today to Lebanon, a country recovering from a devastating civil war between its Christian and Muslim citizens.
The pontiff flew into Beirut International Airport on an Alitalia jetliner amid unprecedented security -- including tanks and armored vehicles. He was met by Catholic patriarchs and the nation's leaders, who by tradition come from its major sects -- Maronite Catholic President Elias Hrawi, Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Shiite Muslim Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Hrawi took the pope's arm to lead him along a red carpet from the aircraft under bright, sunny skies. The pope wore a scarf emblazoned with a cedar tree, Lebanon's national symbol. Anxious to show off its postwar image, Lebanon has had workers cleaning the streets -- and repaving some of them -- around the clock. But also mindful of its years of violence, the country is not taking any chances. About 20,000 soldiers and police were deployed to guard John Paul II.
Along streets aflutter with red-and- white Lebanese flags and yellow-and-white Vatican banners, soldiers with automatic rifles stood at 20-yard intervals amid the crowds. Others watched from rooftops as helicopters patrolled overhead. The pope, looking frail, bent over and kissed a container of earth from Lebanon, a practice he follows in each country he visits. Speaking briefly to an airport crowd that included Muslim as well as Christian leaders, the pope made a plea to all Lebanese to play a role in rebuilding the country after the 1975-1990 civil war that divided Lebanon by religion. ``Everyone is invited to engage in the service of peace and reconciliation ... so violence will never triumph over dialogue, nor fear and caution over confidence, nor hatred over fraternal love,'' he said. ``On the eve of the third millennium, Lebanon should, while preserving its special riches and remaining as it is, be able to open to the developing realities of modern society,'' he said.
The pope drove into Beirut in his glass-enclosed ``Popemobile,'' waving to tens of thousands of people who lined the highway from the airport. The head of Lebanon's largest Christian sect, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, rode with him. Many in the crowd were Christian students, wearing t-shirts and white baseball caps. But women in Muslim veils also watched -- and waved -- as the pope passed. The crowd waved small Lebanese and Vatican flags, but some also waved the green flag of the Shiite militia Amal. Many people chanted ``Baba, Baba,'' Arabic for pope. Others showered the pope with rice and rosewater, a traditional Lebanese greeting, and women ululated in Arab fashion.
As his heavily guarded convoy left the city's Muslim sector across the Green Line that divided Beirut in the days of civil war, buildings with gaping holes from artillery fire were visible in the background. In the Christian sector, people released doves and balloons in the yellow and white Vatican colors. One major reason for the pope's visit is to respond to the declaration of a 1995 synod of Lebanese Catholics at the Vatican that urged both Israeli and Syrian forces to withdraw from Lebanon.
The pope said he will call his response ``A New Hope for Lebanon,'' and added the document is ``an invitation to all Lebanese to open with confidence a new page in their history.'' The pope referred to the foreign troops on Israel's soil. He urged the international community ``to help the Lebanese people live peacefully within a national territory recognized and respected by all.'' The pope spoke in French, but said in Arabic at the end of his address, ``God bless you.''
Hrawi said that Lebanon wanted peace and made a pointed reference to Israeli troops occupying parts of Lebanon and neighboring Syria, which holds political sway over the Lebanese government. ``There will be no peace without the liberation of the occupied territory of the south, the western Bekaa and the Golan,'' he said. The south and western Bekaa are in Lebanon, while the Golan was captured by Israel from Syria.
This is the first official papal visit to Lebanon, whose 3.2 million people belong to 18 religious sects. Pope Paul VI made a brief unofficial stop at the airport in 1964, but never went into the city.