Pope Benedict XVI concluded his three-day visit to Lebanon on Sunday (September 16th), during which he made various appeals for peace in the Middle East.
The pontiff called on Muslims and Christians to put an end to war and violence.
The Pope said he hoped that the Apostolic Exhortation for the Middle East, which he signed upon his arrival on Friday, would serve as a road map for dialogue between cultures and religions.
He added that he also hoped that Lebanon's model of co-existence be preserved and replicated in all Middle Eastern countries and urged Christian Lebanese youth to hold on to their homeland.
Maronite Archbishop of Beirut Boulos Matar told Al-Shorfa, "The Apostolic Exhortation announced that Christians are an integral part of the Arab world, and called on the peoples of the region to co-operate and be partners in destiny, so that there will be no minorities."
"Through our presence as a church, we will call for dialogue in Lebanon to serve as a model of co-existence, peace and respect for others, just as the Pope said," he added. "It is incumbent upon us to rise above and assuage our problems, and find solutions [for them]."
Lebanon's Grand Jaafarite Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Abdel Emir Qabalan said he hoped politicians in Lebanon would learn the principles of compassion and ethical dealings, and commit to the principles that have been called for by all parties.
"Lebanese [citizens] and officials must wager on upholding the values we all believe in, and not rely on others to [tell them] how to build their homeland, [which is] a country of sectarian pluralism, equality, justice, compassion and partnership between all Lebanese, Christians and Muslims," Mufti Qabalan told Al-Shorfa.
Sheikh Khaldoun Armit, Secretary General of the Islamic Sharia Council, said, "The Pope's visit to Lebanon is an affirmation of dialogue between the religions and cultures and a rejection of the notion of clash of civilisations, as confirmed by [Saudi] King Abdullah, who called for the establishment of multiple sites and centres for cultural and religious dialogue when he visited the Vatican a few years ago."
"While the Pope's personal mission ended upon his leaving Lebanon, the overall mission continues as the responsibility of Lebanese officials and political, religious and popular leaders to realise the calling of this country," Sheikh Armit said.
This should take place "on the Lebanese level first, and on the regional level as well, underscoring the importance for Muslims and Christians to work side by side to build a virtuous society that strives to foster love, peace, and compassion [in this region] filled with messages of faith," he added.
Dr. Mohammed al-Sammak, member of the Islamic-Christian National Dialogue Committee, told Al-Shorfa that the new Exhortation contains sections on dialogue, Islam, Judaism and the Catholic Church, in addition to other churches.
Implementing the Exhortation is "a multifaceted and interrelated process that addresses a myriad of topics, at the crux of which are Islamic-Christian relations, on the basis of religious, individual, and collective freedoms," he said.
Al-Sammak said the Pope's call "requires a shared responsibility to consolidate equality among citizens and religious freedom for Muslims and Christians by combating extremism and restlessness together, because extremism deprives both Muslims and Christians of religious freedom."
"The next step is for us to work together based on guidance from the Exhortation, a copy of which was received by all the representatives from the churches of the region," he added.
Abbas al-Halabi, another member of the Islamic-Christian National Dialogue Committee, told Al-Shorfa, "The Pope's stance and Exhortation will intensify the momentum of the Muslim-Christian dialogue in the Arab region."
"Dialogue is not new in Lebanon, as it is practiced in daily life between Muslims and Christians," al-Halabi said, adding that it must be promoted further "through practical programmes that start with education and do not end with politics".
"The Lebanese formula does not belong to the Lebanese but is rather entrusted to them," al-Halabi said. "We must strive to make it succeed in order to introduce it to the Arab world, at a time when Arab Spring countries are seeking to build states free of oppression and based on freedom and democracy."
Habib Shlouk, political analyst, expert in papal affairs and journalist at Annahar newspaper, said the Pope's statements, letters, and Exhortation are implementable, provided there is a will to pursue their implementation.
Shlouk said despite all the Arab revolutions that took place, "things remained under control by virtue of the dialogue that all Muslim and Christian leaders and authorities in the world appealed for."
This is because everyone believes "dialogue is essential to reaching the desired goal and is unavoidable in a region known for the co-existence of its religions", he added.
The Pope's visit culminated with a celebratory ceremonial mass on the Beirut City Centre Waterfront on Sunday, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
Following the mass, the pontiff called on Arab countries and the international community to find "viable solutions" to the conflicts that are bloodying the region and Syria specifically.
"I appeal to the international community, I appeal to Arab countries […] to put forth viable solutions that respect the dignity, rights and religion of every person," the pontiff said, adding, "May God grant [Lebanon], Syria and the Middle East the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence."
George Sabra, member of the opposition's Syrian National Council, told Al-Shorfa the Pope's visit is "a precious opportunity for the region, and our revolution".
"The Pope's call will reflect positively on Christians in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular, because it gives them confidence in themselves and in the future, and helps build real bridges with the rest of the community," Sabra added.