Pope wraps up Mideast visit, nets criticism

Pope wraps up Mideast visit, nets criticism

BEIRUT - Hürriyet Daily News
Pope wraps up Mideast visit, nets criticism

Pope Benedict arrives in his popemobile to hold mass in downtown Beirut. AP Photo

The spiritual leaders of Middle Eastern Christian communities have expressed their disappointment with the outcome of Pope Benedict XVI’s landmark trip to the region, saying they had hoped to present their problems to a greater degree.

The spiritual leaders were planning to bring the current situation of the Christian communities and the high tension in Syria to the pontiff’s agenda, but were largely unable to do so.

“We wished to talk about the situation of the Christians in the Middle East, especially in Syria, but our time was very limited,” Mor Theophilus Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon George Saliba told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Saliba also touched upon the attacks that have increased the tension in the Middle East and commented on the assassinations last week of four U.S. diplomatic officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, as he criticized the anti-Islam movie “The Innocence of Muslims” that led to the incidents.

“The movie is disturbing and scandalous. No one has the right to insult others’ beliefs in such a way. The Middle East is already a field of conflicts, and this movie will [stir up] the area still more,” Saliba said.

Everyone, including Christians and Muslims, is suffering from the rising tension in the region, the metropolitan said. “People in the Middle East want to stop this pain as soon as possible, including both Christians and Muslims.”

Reisyan also called the movie “scandalous,” adding that the movie would trigger violent actions in the region and stated that not only Christians but also Muslims were under threat in Syria. “The Innocence of Muslims,” produced by a filmmaker in the United States, ridicules Islam and insults the Prophet Muhammad.

‘Patriarchate won’t return to Turkey’

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, is conducting negotiations in order to bring the Syriac Orthodox and Catholic patriarchates in Damascus and Lebanon back to Turkey. Both Patriarchates were exiled from Turkey during the 1930s, but Saliba said such a move was unlikely to occur.

“We are determined to stay here, where they respect us the very most. We don’t have any intention of leaving here,” he said.

When asked what he thought about the emigration of the community due to the conflicts in the region, he said, “Here is our homeland, so we should keep our existence in this land.”

Reisyan also said Syrian Armenians should stay in the region. “As Syrian Armenians, we have never been a party to a conflict where brothers shed each other’s blood and never will be. We hope peace will prevail in the region as soon as possible.”