Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Vatican Sends Special Envoy 'to Bring Hope' to the People of Lebannon
Posted on August 16, 2006

By Gerry O'Connell in Rome:

In an extraordinary expression of concern, Pope Benedict XVI has sent Cardinal Roger Etchegeray as his special envoy to the Lebanon to convey his "concrete solidarity" and "spiritual closeness" to 'the martyred population" of that war-destroyed land, and to "all those who are suffering" in the Middle East.

Before leaving Rome on Sunday morning, the 83-year-old French cardinal was tightlipped and would only say that his mission was "to bring hope" to the Lebanese people. The Vatican emphasised that the cardinal's visit was "strictly religious" but sources suggested that he hopes to meet with the country’s political leaders. He will convey to them Pope Benedict's concern, solidarity and closeness to all the people of the Lebanon – Christian and Muslim alike.

Shortly after his departure for Lebanon, the Israeli Cabinet voted to accept the UN resolution envisaging an end to hostilities on Monday morning.The Lebanese Cabinet had reached a similar agreement the day before the cardinal departed. From Beirut, the cardinal drove to Harissa, to the mountain top shrine of Our Lady of the Lebanon overlooking the Bay of Jounieh. He celebrated Mass on August 15 – the feast of the Assumption - at the Pope's request. The country’s Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nashrallah Sfeir, concelebrated with him.

The French cardinal, a former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, also acted as Pope John Paul II’s special envoy to many of the world’s trouble spots, and the Lebanese were delighted that the Pope sent his envoy to their country. Cardinal Sfeir told Vatican radio: "The Pope's envoy will be able to see with his own eyes what is happening in the Lebanon. "We will join him in pray to ask God to inspire and enlighten our (political) leaders, so that they can put an end to this war. We thank the Holy Father for this paternal gesture towards our people."

The Vatican did not ignore the fact that more than 100 Israeli citizens in Lebanon and Israel died as a result of Hezbollah rockets and fire and that many thousands were displaced from their homes.To recognise this, the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, and the Palestinian-born Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, concelebrated a Mass for Peace at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

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