The Vatican confirmed on Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon will go ahead as planned, despite growing tension in the region after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya by a mob enraged by an anti-Islam film.
The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican was closely monitoring developments in the region but there were no signs of specific security concerns for Benedict's trip so far.
Benedict is scheduled to leave Friday for a three-day visit to Lebanon despite rising instability spilling over from a deadly civil war in neighboring Syria. The visit is also a signal of the Vatican's concern for Christian minorities in the Middle East who feel under threat after the upheavals of the Arab spring revolutions.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hailed the "Holy Father's brave visit to Lebanon" in Washington Wednesday and lamented the "thousands upon thousands" of persecuted Christians fleeing the Middle East.
"These Christian families want to stay in the ancient lands of their birth but too often make the diffucult decision to leave as a result of harrassment or violent threats by extremists," said Dolan.
Lombardi said Benedict will restate his "message of dialogue and respect for all believers of different religions" during his visit.
The attacks against U.S. diplomatic compounds in Libya and Egypt were allegedly sparked by an American-produced film that satirizes Islam and the prophet Muhammad.
In his statement, Lombardi also warned against the "tragic results" of "unjustified offense and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers." He said such provocations have the effect of nourishing "tension and hatred, unleashing unacceptable violence."
Lombardi stressed that "profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols" of different religions is an "essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples."
Alessandro Speciale writes for Religion News Service. Via RNS.