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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pope meets with Lebanese Prime Minister, encourages care for Middle East Christians, peaceful demonstrations against Muslim cartoons

Vatican City, Feb. 16, 2006 (CNA) - Earlier today, Pope Benedict XVI met with Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, to whom he stressed the need for peace in the troubled Holy Land--particularly for Christians, and regarding violence over recent Danish cartoons, found offensive to many Muslims.

The Prime Minister, who was accompanied by an official Lebanese delegation, also met with Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano.

According to a communique released by the Vatican, the aim of the visit was to confirm “the great devotion of the Lebanese people towards the Roman Pontiff, and towards the Holy See in general, which has always remained close to that noble country.”

The Vatican press office noted that “opinions were exchanged concerning the current situation in Lebanon and in the Middle East in general, highlighting the joint commitment to work towards educating people in reconciliation and peace, while respecting human rights, especially that of religious freedom.”

Prime Minister Siniora told reporters after the meeting that the Pope had been supportive of peaceful demonstrations in the Arab world over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed--something Islamic law forbids.

A number of violent clashes and protests have broken out in recent weeks after a Danish newspaper published the questionable cartoons.

Earlier this month, the Vatican spoke out against both the cartoon’s publication as well as the violent response on the part of many Muslims.

"The pope”, Siniora said, “was very supportive of the peaceful expression of opinion in the Arab world, the Muslim world, because he condemns himself, as well, the efforts that are being made by others to trespass on the freedom and the convictions of other people."

The Vatican also noted that the meeting particularly focused on the situation of Christians in the Middle East and the contribution which they intend to make to the progress of Lebanon.

In this vein, strong reference was also made to guidelines laid down, prior to the Jubilee 2000 year in the Apostolic Exhortation "A new hope for Lebanon." That document was written by the late Pope John Paul II.

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