The Bible took centre stage during the recent visit to Lebanon by Pope Benedict XVI. Not only did the pope point to Scripture as a source of unity, peace and hope for the Middle East’s minority Christian population, but hundreds of thousands of people received special editions of the New Testament from the Bible Society of Lebanon.
‘My peace I give to you’ (John 14:27) was the theme of the papal visit, and was printed, along with the pope’s photo, on the New Testaments.
“200,000 copies were distributed during various events during the weekend of the papal visit, generating a great deal of interest and excitement,” notes Bible Society General Secretary Dr Michael Bassous.
Held their New Testaments up high
“More than 22,000 young people held their New Testaments up high as they gathered at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerke to pledge to uphold the Word of God and read it daily. This was broadcast on local and international television channels.
“One young woman who was interviewed said of her New Testament: ‘This is the most precious gift we have received during this papal visit.’”
The remaining copies of the New Testament were given to the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered near Beirut’s sea front for the pope’s Sunday mass.
“Several media channels focused on these New Testaments, including the secular channel, MTV-Lebanon,” comments Dr Bassous. “The presenter, Denise Rahme, encouraged people to treasure their New Testaments and read them at home. One of our board members, Sister Bassima Khoury, was also on the programme and emphasised the importance of reading the Bible.”
Dr Bassous also took part in a live television broadcast on Middle Eastern Christian satellite channel SAT-7 the day the pope arrived in Lebanon.
A message to all Christians in the Middle East
“We must understand the significant of this papal visit as a message to all Christians in the Middle East that our presence and witness in this troubled region is needed and crucial,” he told viewers.
One of Pope Benedict XVI’s purposes for visiting Lebanon was to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East. In the exhortation, the pope writes to the region’s Christians:
Unity and respect
“Strive to live in unity and respect, and in fraternal communion with one another in mutual love and esteem, so as to be credible witnesses to your faith… God will hear your prayer, he will bless your way of life and give you his Spirit to enable you to bear the burden of the day. For ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ (2 Corinthians 3:17)
“To Christians who were experiencing similar situations Saint Peter wrote the following words of exhortation which I willingly address to you:
“‘Now who is there to harm you, if you are zealous for what is right? … Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ the Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.’ (1 Peter 3:13-15)”