As reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation continue to pour in, the Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon says Pope Benedict remains in the hearts and prayers of Christians in the Middle East as he retires. Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, who has acted as the Holy See’s ambassador to Lebanon since 2009, says he and others in the Middle East want to send the Pope a ‘big, big thanks’ for all he has done for the Church. He recalls the Pope’s September 14-16, 2012 visit to Lebanon, the pontiff’s last apostolic journey abroad, as a “tremendous success.”
The reason of the Pope’s visit Archbishop Caccia reminds us, was “to sign and deliver the Apostolic Exhortation which was the result of a long work of the entire Church in the Middle East together with the dicasteries in Rome and the Holy Father himself.” The Exhortation, which the Church sees as a road map guide to its future in the region, is fruit of the work carried out by the Middle East’s bishops in their 2010 Synod in the Vatican.
“The visit was a tremendous success for the participation of the Lebanese, for the participation of all kinds of persons – not just Catholic – but I would say all the Christians. And not just Christians - all the denominations of the Muslim world: Sunni, Shia, Druze, Alawites,” says the Archbishop.
“It was a really amazing welcome and everybody was happy to welcome him as a person speaking from God and having a message of peace. That was the slogan of the visit: ‘I give you my peace.’ And that was very well understood by everyone. It was also an occasion for all the Lebanese to find out again and again to live together is possible; to live together is beautiful and to live together is the future of the country and of all the region.”
Pope’s last international trip
“Of course now, after the amazing announcement of the (Pope’s) resignation, we look at that visit as the last one of (his) international trips abroad. So we treasure his message even more than before. We are very thankful for what he said, what he did and to have decided to come despite all the problems of the region.”
Pope Benedict went to a region embroiled in war and violence bearing the message, ‘I leave you my peace.’ What hopes does the Nuncio feel the Pope leaves behind him for the region as he reaches the end of his term as Pope?
“I think that the hope of all the Successors of Peter are a hope that the world in which everybody could believe freely, able to worship God, able to live in solidarity and fraternity. That’s for sure the message that Christ left us but is also the desire of all human beings. And in that way, the Holy Father is also the voice of the human family who says that we want a different world – a better world. And the Church is trying to keep alive the hope and those who do works of justice, work in favour of those who suffer, those who are in need, to say that it’s not just hope for the intervention of God, but it’s also a challenge and it’s also a call for us to act according to our faith. This is also the message, the beautiful message for this Lenten season: faith, in the Year of the Faith, goes always together with charity. Love in action.”
Exhortation for a new dynamism in Church
Archbishop Caccia also expresses his hope that the Exhortation will help give a new “dynamism” to the Church in the Middle East.
“I will say there are two main subjects: one, internal to the Church, to the Christian world, is a subject relating to relations of different rites in the region. The duty of the Patriarchs, bishops, clergy, lay people, the role of education , the role of health care… so there are aspects which regard the inner life of the Christian community. And in that sense, the Exhortation can put a new dynamism in this body (of the Church) which is a very alive body but needs also to find a common direction to (follow).”
“And the other important aspect of the Exhortation is the relation between this Christian community with the broader community, the civil society, humanity, and especially with its relation with the Muslim world. And it is very important to say that the Exhortation, and the Holy Father’s…speeches were very well received.”
Muslim interest in work of Church
Archbishop Caccia gives an example of how well received the Exhortation and the Pope’s words were received:
“Last week, in these days, I was invited by the Makassed which is a (Muslim Sunni) institution for young students, to talk about the Exhortation. But this is just one of the many meetings, activities, ideas that have started since the arrival of the Holy Father in Lebanon. So I think that he put a new dynamism also in these important relations between the Christian community and (our) fellow brother Muslims, especially in the Middle East.”
Regional challenges to face new Pope
Noting the continued violence and political upheaval in the region, Archbishop Caccia says
“the Middle East is trying to find its own way … to building a better society with freedom, human dignity at the core – not just in declaration but in practice.”
“We are witnessing a movement, cultural and social movement, which started two years ago. And the fruit of this movement is not yet clear. But we are confident that in this process, some good results will arrive. And also the Christians are called to take part and to give their own witness about the value of the human being, of the value of justice, about the value of culture – their patrimony which helps, together with the others, to build new societies in which religious freedom is a core value for everybody.”
“I would also like to remember that we are in the 17th centenary of the Edict of Milan, of (the Roman Emperor) Constantine which for the first time gave freedom of religion to all the Roman Empire. It’s important (to understand) that that’s something (which) was needed at that time but is still needed today.”
Personal words of farewell for Pope Benedict
Asked if he would like to impart a message to Pope Benedict through Vatican Radio, Archbishop Caccia says, “It happened to me to make a short speech when he was in Lebanon and I thanked him for his ministry, for his person, for the effort he made to come to Lebanon and the program (there) was very heavy I would say. But he did this with a very good spirit in a way that was very successful. But I also told him that he could go back to Rome with comfort in his heart because he has seen how much people, Christians, love him. (Also) how much it (was) important for everybody to listen to a word which (speaks in support of) values which are the deepest for every human life.”
“We also assured him of our continual prayers for him, for his person, for his ministry. And I think also there was a nice coincidence: the last visit before arriving at the (Beirut) airport (to return to Rome) was a very short stop-over to the Carmelite convent where the sisters, in silence and reclusion, pray always for the Holy Father. And thinking that he will join this community in prayer in the future weeks is also a kind of comfort that really prayer is something that can change the world. And we are united with him and we count on his prayers for us, for all the Church and for all humanity. We say to him: ‘a big, big thanks’ and we tell him of all our love and assure him of our prayers now and for the weeks and years to come.”