BEIRUT - Amid fury over a US-made film defaming Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him), Pope Benedict XVI called Sunday, September 16, for promoting Muslim-Christian harmony in the Middle East.
"May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East, the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence," the pope said in an open-air mass in Beirut, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity."
The call comes amid turbulent that rocked the Middle East and the Muslim world over a US-made film insulting Prophet Muhammad.
At least nine people were killed in days of violent protests against the film, produced by an American-Israeli real estate developer.
The defamatory movie has sparked worries of straining relations between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East and the world.
The pope's call also comes in the height of a popular uprising in Syria against the 11-year rule of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Activists say more than 27,000 people have been killed in Syria's 18-month-old, mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Few Christians, who form about 10 percent of Syria's population, have joined the uprising, fearing that it could bring hostile Islamists to power in a fight raging just 50 km (30 miles) east of Benedict's Mass in Beirut.
On Saturday, Pope Benedict called on Muslims and Christians to "live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person, so as to build together a free and humane society.
Pope Benedict, who arrived in Lebanon on Friday, concluded his three-day visit to the tiny Arab country earlier Sunday.
Peace in the Middle East has been a central theme of his visit to Lebanon, along with his call to Christians not to leave the region following the rise of Islamists to power in several Arab countries.
"In a world where violence constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction, to serve justice and peace is urgently necessary," Benedict said.
Pope Benedict appealed to Arab leaders to work for reconciliation and unity in the turbulent region.
"I appeal to the Arab countries that, as brothers, they might propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person," the 85-year-old pontiff said.
"It is not uncommon to see the two religions within the same family. If this is possible within the same family, why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?
"The particular character of the Middle East consists in the centuries-old mix of diverse elements.
Admittedly, they have fought one another, sadly that is also true. A pluralistic society can only exist on the basis of mutual respect, the desire to know the other and continuous dialogue."
Echoing the Pope's message, Lebanon's Sunni mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani said the turmoil rocking the Arab world is a chance to come closer.
The events "bring us Muslims and Christians a light that shows us the path to a better tomorrow, though they also bring many dangers that are a threat to us, Kabbani said.
"But just as we made our history together in the past, we will also make our future together, based on coexistence."
Pope Benedict angered Muslims worldwide in 2006 after quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.
His lecture triggered criticisms from Muslim countries, scholars and intellectuals and strained ties between the Vatican and the Muslim world.
The pontiff has repeatedly said the words did not reflect his personal views but stopped short of a clear apology to Muslims.He also drew the ire of religious leaders after issuing a document titled Dominus Jesus, which clearly stated that Christianity was the only true path to salvation.