…by Anura Guruge
This will be Benedict XVI’s (266) 25th trip abroad, the much publicized trip to Mexico and Cuba in March 2012 having been his 24th (even if the Vatican maintains otherwise). This is his first trip outside of Italy since the Mexico-Cuba trip.
This is the first papal trip to Lebanon since May 1997, when John Paul II (#265) was there for 2 days — eight days ahead of his 77th birthday. So, Benedict XVI, at 85, will be the oldest pope to visit Lebanon. He was, however, already in 2009, the oldest pope to travel to Vatican ‘Asia’, when he visited Israel and Jordan.
The prima facie rationale for this trip (the only trip so far scheduled for the remainder of 2012) is to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which took place at the Vatican, October 10-24, 2010. Per recent practice, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation circumscribes (i.e., essentially brings to a close) a Synods; the Exhortation not being an edict or a statement on doctrine but a recommendation to the community. The Synod prior to the October 2010 Middle East one was the ‘II Special Assembly for Africa’ in October 2009. The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation for this Synod was delivered by the pope on November 19, 2011, during his trip to Benin. So this trip echos that template of delivering the Exhortation in a country related to the topic of the Synod. That said, this is but another goodwill, feel good trip for the embattled pope. His trips abroad are becoming the rare highlights of his papacy.
Friday, September 14, 2012
9:30 am (Rome time): Depart from Ciampino Airport, Rome’s auxiliary airport catering for chartered and corporate flights. The pope used this airport to fly to both Spain and Germany in 2011, though he used Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, Italy’s main airport for his trips to Benin and Mexico-Cuba.
1:45 pm (Lebanon time, 1 Hour ahead of Rome): Land at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut — after a nominally ’3 hour’ flight.
Welcome ceremony at airport.
Travel to Harissa — about 12 miles from Beirut, at an elevation ~2,000′ above sea level. Given the elevation, the road to its is full of ‘hairpins’ and there is even an option to take a 9 minute (ski) gondola trip. It is possible that the pope will use an helicopter to get there. Harissa is a key Christian pilgrimage site with a shrine to ‘Our Lady of Lebanon‘ (Notre Dame du Liban) highlighted by a huge, 15-ton bronze statue — which was (of course) visited by John Paul II in 1997. The Vatican does not mention whether the pope will visit the shrine, though it would be incongruous for the pope to visit Harissa without making some symbolic gesture to the shrine — given that he is a devout Marian.
The pope, however, will visit the Byzantine-style, Melkite Greek Catholic Basilica of St. Paul, located just below the shrine. It is at this ‘Greek’ church that the pope will sign the the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
Most likely for security reasons, the Vatican does not mention where the pope will be staying during his trip to Beirut. There is a nuncio to Lebanon, Gabriele Giordano Caccia — with the nunciature at Harissa. The pope might stay at the nunciature (provided it is big and salubrious enough for the pope), or he might stay at a local monastery.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
10 a.m. (local time): Travel to the Presidential palace at Baabda (an outskirt of Beirut) to pay a courtesy visit to the President of Lebanon, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the parliament.
The pope will then meet with leaders from the Muslim community in Lebanon. Following that he will deliver a speech to Lebanese government officials, Lebanese dignitaries, diplomats and local VIPs.
Lunch: At the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate of Bzommar (northeast of Harissa) with Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon and members of the Special Council for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.
6 pm: Address to the youth in front of the Maronite Patriarchate at Bkerke — southwest of Harissa, just outside Beirut proper.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
10 am: Celebrate Mass at Beirut City Center — waterfront and deliver the the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Followed by Angelus.
Lunch: At the apostolic nunciature at Harissa.
5.15 pm: Ecumenical gathering in the Syro-Catholic Patriarchate of Charfet — close to Bkerke, again just below Harissa.
7 pm: Depart for Rome from Beirut.