Postcard from... Beirut

 

It is an unfortunate truth that it is possible to tell the religious make-up of most areas in Lebanon by the imposing posters of the political leaders that adorn the roadside.

Martyrs, militia leaders and party bosses – dead and alive – stare out over their constituents in a constant reminder of the physical divisions that still exist in the country.

But a new face has appeared by the side of the road in recent weeks. Posters of Pope Benedict XVI have been hoisted in areas of Beirut where Christian leaders are rarely seen.

On the road that runs from the airport to downtown, through the poor southern suburbs that are a stronghold of the Shia militants and the political party Hezbollah, the Pope now smiles down upon drivers.

Alongside him were banners put up by the group itself that read: "Welcome to the land of the resistance."

It is fair to say that the vast majority of Lebanese saw the Pope's visit to their country – at a time of great instability in the region – in a positive light.

It did not matter that while the Pope praised Lebanon's religious coexistence, a few hundred protesters in the northern city of Tripoli, who were angry at a film that insulted the Muslim ProphetMohamed, shouted chants against his trip. They were the minority.

While much has been made of the things that divide Lebanon, the Pope's visit served as a timely reminder that there still exists a strong desire for unity among the Lebanese.

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