Pope to visit Lebanon in September

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI will present a papal document addressing the church's concerns in the Middle East, meet with representatives of local Christian and Muslim communities, and address political and cultural leaders on a three-day visit to Lebanon Sept. 14-16.

Pope Benedict's primary task on the trip will be to present a document, called an apostolic exhortation, based on the deliberations of a special Synod of Bishops held at the Vatican in 2010.

That two-week meeting, which was attended by 185 bishops, most of them from the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See, focused on the precarious circumstances of 5.7 million Catholics in 16 Middle Eastern countries.

A document released by participants at the end of the synod called for "religious freedom and freedom of conscience" in Muslim lands, a theme Pope Benedict is likely to address on his visit.

Planning for the pope's trip to Lebanon occurs against the backdrop of unrest in neighboring Syria, where soldiers have been battling forces seeking an end to the rule of President Bashar Assad, leaving thousands of civilians dead since March 2011.

At the Vatican in June, Pope Benedict called on the international community to end the Syrian conflict and told Catholics from the Middle East that he prayed Mary would "watch over the upcoming trip that - if it pleases God - I will make to Lebanon" in September.

Here is the schedule for the trip as released by the Vatican July 3. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses:

Friday, Sept. 14 (Rome, Beirut, Harissa)

- 9:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.), Departure from Rome's Ciampino airport for Beirut, Lebanon.

- 1:45 p.m. (6:45 a.m.), Arrival ceremony at Beirut's Rafiq Hariri International Airport. Speech by pope.

- 6 p.m. (11 a.m.), Visit to St. Paul's Basilica in Harissa and signing of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Speech by pope.

Saturday, Sept. 15 (Baabda, Bzommar, Bkerke)

- 10 a.m. (3 a.m.), Courtesy visit with President Michel Suleiman at the presidential palace in Baabda. Also private meetings with the president of the parliament and the prime minister.

- 10:50 a.m. (3:50 a.m.), Meeting with leaders of Muslim communities at the presidential palace in Baabda.

- 11:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.), Meeting with Cabinet ministers, government officials, diplomats, religious and cultural leaders at the presidential palace in Baabda. Speech by pope.

- 1:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.), Lunch with the patriarchs and bishops of Lebanon, members of the Synod of Bishops and the papal entourage at the Armenian Catholic patriarch's residence in Bzommar.

- 6 p.m. (11 a.m.), Meeting with young people in the square outside of the Maronite patriarch's residence in Bkerke. Speech by pope.

Sunday, Sept. 16 (Beirut, Harissa, Charfet)

- 10 a.m. (3 a.m.), Mass and presentation of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation for the Middle East at Beirut City Center Waterfront. Homily by pope. Recitation of the Angelus. Remarks by pope.

- 1:20 p.m. (6:20 a.m.) Lunch with the papal entourage at the nuncio's residence in Harissa.

- 5:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.), Ecumenical meeting at the residence of the Syriac Catholic patriarch in Charfet.

- 6:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m.), Farewell ceremony at Rafiq Hariri International Airport in Beirut. Speech by pope.

- 7 p.m. (12 p.m.), Departure for Rome.

- 9:40 p.m. (3:40 p.m.), Arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970