Pope says religious freedom is necessary for Middle East peace
Published: September 17, 2012
BEIRUT (CNS) -- Peace will not come to the Middle East until its nations enjoy religious freedom, since only the free practice of faith can inspire the region's diverse peoples to unite around basic human values, Pope Benedict XVI said Sept. 15. The pope addressed a multifaith gathering of Lebanon's political, religious and cultural leaders at the presidential palace in Baabda on the second day of a three-day visit to the country. Pope Benedict's travels coincided with a wave of often-violent protests -- prompted by an American-made film denigrating Islam -- in at least a dozen Muslim countries. On Sept. 14, protesters denounced the papal visit during a demonstration in the Lebanese city of Tripoli; one person died and 25 were wounded in a clash that followed. In his speech to the nation's leaders, the pope did not refer specifically to any of the region's many past or present conflicts, including the current civil war in neighboring Syria, but noted that the "centuries-old mix" of cultures and religions in the Middle East has not always been peaceful. Peace requires a pluralistic society based on "mutual respect, a desire to know the other, and continuous dialogue," the pope said, and such dialogue in turn depends on consciousness of sharing fundamental human values, cherished and sustained in common by different religions. Thus, he argued, "religious freedom is the basic right on which many rights depend."
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