ROME (JTA) – Against widening violent Middle East protests sparked by an anti-Islam film, Pope Benedict XVI began a two-day visit to Lebanon declaring that he was there as a “pilgrim of peace” to the entire region.
“Looking beyond your country, I also come symbolically to all the countries of the Middle East as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs,” he said on his arrival in Beirut on Sept. 14.
On the eve of the pope’s trip, the Vatican significantly sharpened its condemnation of the Sept. 12 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. diplomatic staff members.
"The very serious attack organized against the United States diplomatic mission in Libya, which led to the death of the ambassador and of other functionaries, calls for the firmest possible condemnation on the part of the Holy See,” said a statement Sept. 13 by the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. “Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence. Along with our sadness, mourning and prayers for the victims, we again express the hope that, despite this latest tragedy, the international community may discover the most favorable ways to continue its commitment in favor of peace in Libya and the entire Middle East."
The statement updated an initial Vatican statement that had not mentioned the murders of the diplomats and had come under criticism for not having condemned the violence in firm enough terms. In that statement Lombardi, apparently referring to the anti-Islam film that had sparked the protests, had decried the “tragic results” of “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslim sensitivities.