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Pope's visit to Lebanon a peace pilgrimage

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy -- Pope Benedict XVI characterized his trip to Beirut later this week as a pilgrimage for peace for the entire Middle East region and its anguished people.

Benedict told pilgrims Sunday at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, that while finding solutions for the Middle East's problems seems difficult, people "shouldn't resign themselves to violence or worsening tensions."

During his three-day visit to the Lebanese capital, which begins Friday, he plans to meet with Lebanese authorities as well as Christians from Lebanon and other nearby countries.

"I am not unaware of the often dramatic situation endured by the populations of this region which has been for too long torn by incessant conflict," Benedict said.

"I understand the anguish of many Middle Easterners steeped daily in sufferings of every kind, which afflict sadly, and sometimes mortally, their personal and family life."

The pontiff urged the international community to support efforts at dialogue and reconciliation, as he stressed "the importance for the whole world of a stable and lasting peace in the entire region.

"My apostolic voyage in Lebanon, and by extension in the Middle East in its entirety, comes under the sign of peace," Benedict said.

In recent weeks there was concern that the 85-year-old pontiff's visit might be derailed by spillover in parts of Lebanon, among other countries, from the fighting in neighboring Syria, where an uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad has already killed thousands.

But the Vatican has assured the faithful that despite a climate of tensions in Lebanon the pilgrimage is going forward.

Benedict's visit is also aimed at encouraging his flock in the Middle East.

Some Christian communities in the region have suffered for their faith, including terror attacks in Iraq.

The pope's schedule includes celebrating Mass in Beirut and attending a gathering with youth.

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