VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials, papal trip organizers and the Maronite patriarch who is supposed to be one of Pope Benedict XVI’s hosts in Lebanon Sept. 14-16 all say the trip is a go.
The thing is, however, violence related to the conflict in Syria has been reported in Tripoli, about 43 miles north of Beirut where the pope will spend most of his time. As the Vatican newspaper reported on its front page this afternoon, there are widespread fears that violence between groups in Syria could spill over the border and ignite more trouble in Lebanon between groups who support and those who oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, has said the Vatican has no doubt the pope’s trip will take place, and, in fact, the Vatican already has shipped the popemobile to Beirut.
Yesterday, Maronite Archbishop Camille Zaidan of Antelias, chairman of the Lebanese bishops’ committee preparing the trip, reviewed the steps being taken to ensure a safe and successful papal trip. He also announced the popemobile had arrived.
Also at the briefing, Father Abdo Abu Kassem denied “recent rumors which suggested that the visit will be postponed.”
In addition, yesterday the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reported their conversation with Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai. The pope’s visit is not in jeopardy, he told a delegation from the charity. “Of course the visit will go ahead.”
There is no doubt that Vatican officials and Lebanese Catholics want the pope to make the trip. However, they also have an obligation to ensure the safety of the pope and of the thousands of people who would come to see him in Lebanon.
While church leaders continue preparing the trip, they also are asking for prayers that the violence cease.