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Pope at Greek Melkite Basilica of St Paul 's Harissa


(Vatican Radio ) Tracey McClure is currently in Lebanon travelling with Pope Benedict XVI who is on a three day Apostolic visit to this nation. She brings us a report on his visit to the Greek-Melkite Basilica of St Paul's Harissa where he went on Friday evening to sign the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente ".
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Wearing crimson and white vestments and clearly at ease in this beautiful shrine Pope Benedict smiled as Patriarch Laham welcomed him in German to celebrate this important event together on this Feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross.
Byzantine chants accompanied the ceremony here at St Paul’s - an eastern rite Catholic shrine recalling an ancient Byzantine tradition in its interior layout and its richly gilded mosaics decorating its domes and apses. The basilica is part of a big mid 20th century complex also comprising a major seminary. Upon entering here, Pope Benedict could not fail to notice the sweeping sail-like roof top of the Maronite run Basilica, Our Lady of Lebanon which stands not far behind and where his predecessor, Pope John Paul II famously called this country a “message” for the Middle East.
The signing here of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente marks a landmark moment for the Catholic Church in Lebanon whose faithful account for a majority of Christians who make up a little less than half of Lebanon’s four million inhabitants. The Greek Melkite and Maronite churches are just two of the six different ancient eastern rites in communion with Rome that are present in the Middle East.
And the Patriarchs and bishops of five of these are/were present here tonight to witness the signature of this historic document which the Pope upon his arrival called a “roadmap” for Christians for years to come.
With the Pope in Lebanon, I’m Tracey McClure