Pope urges Christians to be peacemakers in Middle East

Pope Benedict urged Christians to work for peace during sermon in Lebanon.

Pope Benedict XVI. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - Pope Benedict on Sunday urged Christians of the Middle East to work for peace to counter "the grim trail of death and destruction" in the world, in a sermon delivered in Lebanon as civil war raged in neighbouring Syria.

Benedict was speaking at an open-air mass on Beirut's Mediterranean seafront attended by 350,000 worshippers and leaders of Lebanon's Christian and Muslim communities.

Peace between warring factions and among the many religious groups in the Middle East has been a central theme of his visit to Lebanon, along with his call to Christians not to leave the region despite war and growing pressure from radical Islamists.

Activists say more than 27,000 people have been killed in Syria's 18-month-old mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Few Christians, who form about 10 percent of Syria's population, have joined the uprising against Assad, fearing it could bring hostile Islamists to power in Damascus.

Benedict appealed on Friday for an end to the import of weapons into Syria, branding it a "grave sin" and saying a halt to the arms flow could help end the civil war.

"In a world where violence constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction, to serve justice and peace is urgently necessary," Benedict said at the mass, praying for "Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation"