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Pope Benedict XVI will visit Lebanon from September 14 to 16, the Vatican announced on Sunday.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati invited the pontiff to visit in November last year during a visit to the Vatican.

This will be the second trip to the region for Benedict, who visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in 2009.

“The pope will come to support Christians so that they are united,” Gregory III Laham, the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, said last month after meeting with the pontiff.

Patriarch Gregory, who is headquartered in Damascus, heads the second-largest Catholic community in the Middle East, with some 700,000 followers in Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and Syria.

Al Rai confirms visit

Lebanon Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai also confirmed on Sunday Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon and stressed the need to distance Lebanon from regional axes.

He said during his Easter mass: “We are cooperating with President Michel Suleiman to ensure Lebanon’s neutrality so that it remains an oasis of peace, justice, and dialogue between cultures.”

“These efforts should also enable Lebanon to act as a bridge between East and West,” he added.

“Lebanon’s value lies in its cultural and religious diversity, which is at the heart of democracy,” said the patriarch.

President Michel Suleiman’s office issued a statement in which he said that the visit would affirm the depth of the “historical relations that tie Lebanon with the [Vatican] and will form an occasion to focus on Lebanon’s position, message and role as a witness of freedom and coexistence.”

Easter Sunday Message

In his Easter Sunday message Pope Benedict XVI has urged the Syrian regime to heed international calls to end bloodshed and commit to dialogue.

After celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Benedict voiced hope that Easter’s joy would comfort Christian communities suffering because of their faith.

He denounced terrorist attacks in Nigeria that have hit Christians and Muslims alike and prayed for peace in coup-struck Mali.

The pope struggled with hoarseness throughout the Mass before a crowd of more than 100,000 faithful. Only hours earlier he had led a three-hour nighttime Easter vigil inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Agencies

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