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Pope analyzes revolts in Middle East with President of Lebanon

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Uploaded on Feb 24, 2011

February 24, 2011. Michel Sleiman, the president of Lebanon, visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican for the second time. He is the only Christian president in the region. They exchanged views on the riots that have been sweeping through the Middle East and asked for an urgent resolution to the conflicts. Speaking in French, they also discussed the struggles for Christians in the Middle East.


The two spoke privately for about 30 minutes. According to the Vatican, they have highlighted the importance of collaboration and dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and stressed that "the presence of Christians and Muslims in Lebanon is a message of freedom and respectful coexistence throughout the Middle East.

The official statement underlines the importance of civil and religious authorities to educate the consciences for peace and reconciliation.

Sleiman was accompanied by his wife. He gave the Pope a sixteenth century gold and ivory incense burner, which came from a Maronite monastery.
The Maronite Syriac Church of Antioch (Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ ܡܐܪܘܢܝܬܐ ܕܐܢܛܝܘܟܝܐ‏‎ ʿīṯo suryaiṯo māronaiṯo d'anṭiokia, Arabic: الكنيسة الأنطاكية السريانية المارونية‎ al-kanīsa al-antākīyya al-seryānīyya al-mārwnīyya , Latin: Ecclesia Maronitarum) is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See of Rome (in other words, Maronites are Catholics). It traces its heritage back to the community founded by Maron, an early 5th-century Syriac monk venerated as a saint. The first Maronite Patriarch, John Maron, was elected in the late 7th century. Although reduced in numbers today, Maronites remain one of the principal ethno-religious groups in Lebanon and they continue to represent the absolute majority of Lebanese people when the Lebanese diaspora is included. Unique amongst Eastern Christians, the Maronites are Catholics, who have remained in communion with the Bishop of Rome since the Great Schism.
Before the conquest by Arabian Muslims reached Lebanon, the Lebanese people including those who would become Muslim and the majority who would remain Christian, spoke a dialect of Aramaic.Syriac (Christian Aramaic) still remains the liturgical language of the Maronite Church. The members of the Maronite Church are a part of the Syriac people; though they have, over time, developed a distinctive Maronite character, this has not obscured their Antiochene and Syriac origin.
It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Antioch, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, became a center for Christianity. According to Catholic tradition, the first Bishop was Saint Peter before his travels to Rome. The third Bishop was the Apostolic Father Ignatius of Antioch. Antioch became one of the five original Patriarchates (the Pentarchy) after Constantine recognized Christianity.
St. Maron, a contemporary and friend of St. John Chrysostom, was a monk in the fourth century who left Antioch for the Orontes River to lead an ascetic life, following the traditions of Anthony the Great of the Desert and Pachomius. Many of his followers also lived a monastic lifestyle. Following the death of Maron in 410 AD, his disciples built a monastery in his memory and formed the nucleus of the Maronite Church.
The Maronites held fast to the beliefs of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. When 350 monks were slain by the Monophysites of Antioch, the Maronites sought refuge in the mountains of Lebanon. Correspondence concerning the event brought papal and orthodox recognition of the Maronites, which was solidified by Pope Hormisdas (514-523 AD) on February 10, AD 518. A monastery was built around the shrine of St. Maro after the Council of Chalcedon.
The martyrdom of the Patriarch of Antioch in 602 AD left the Maronites without a leader, a situation which continued because of the final and most devastating Byzantine--Sassanid War of 602--628. In 687 AD, the Emperor Justinian II agreed to evacuate many thousands of Maronites from Lebanon and settle them elsewhere. The chaos and utter depression which followed led the Maronites to elect their first Patriarch, John Maroun, that year. This, however, was seen as a usurpation by the Orthodox churches. Thus, at a time when Islam was rising on the borders of the Byzantine Empire and a united front was necessary to keep out Islamic infiltration, the Maronites were focused on a struggle to retain their independence against imperial power. This situation was mirrored in other Christian communities in the Byzantine Empire and helped facilitate the Muslim conquest of most of Eastern Christendom by the end of the century.

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