CLAMPINO AIRPORT, Italy, (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI flew out of Rome on Friday at the start of a three-day visit to Lebanon, a country riven by sectarian tensions as fighting rages in neighbouring Syria.
The visit by the 85-year-old pontiff comes as the region is also engulfed in protests over an amateur US-made movie mocking Islam, unrest that has killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other US officials in Benghazi.
During his trip, the pope is expected to call on the world to stop arming belligerents on both sides of the Syrian crisis and to encourage the ever-diminishing Christians in the Middle East to stay in the region.
He will no doubt also call on Lebanon’s Christians to unite, divided as they are not only toward the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also on a political vision for their own country.
But the Vatican has said the pontiff will avoid intervening politically in his comments on Syria or tell Christians where their alliances should lie.
The pope faces a packed schedule in majority-Muslim Lebanon, which will take him from the presidential palace in the Mediterranean seaside capital of Beirut to important Christian towns in the nearby mountains.