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BEIRUT -- Pope Benedict XVI took leave of Lebanon on Sunday urging its people, Christian and Muslim, to reject anything that might divide them and to choose brotherhood.
"I pray to God for Lebanon, that she may live in peace and courageously resist all that could destroy or undermine that peace," he said at the close of a three-day visit to a country with 18 officially recognised faith communities.
"I hope that Lebanon will fortify the communion among all her inhabitants, whatever their community or religion, that she will resolutely reject all that could lead to disunity, and with determination choose brotherhood."
His remarks were particularly poignant as a civil war raging in neighbouring Syria has caused rifts among Lebanon's political class, with Muslims and Christians divided in their stance towards President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
It also comes as the world is rocked with deadly protests by Muslims angered over a US-made film that mocks Islam.
Speaking of his time in Lebanon, the pope said "the Arab world and the entire world will have seen, in these troubled times, Christians and Muslims assembled to celebrate peace."
"It is a tradition in the Middle East to receive a guest with consideration and respect as you have done. I thank you all.
"But, to that consideration and respect, you added something else, which can be compared to one of those renowned oriental spices which enriches the taste of food: your warmth and your affection, which make me wish to return."
Referring to the biblical story in which King Solomon asked Hiram, from what is now the Lebanese city of Tyre, to build the temple in Jerusalem, the pope recalled that furnishings from Lebanese cedars adorned the interior.
So Lebanon was "present in the sanctuary of God, in the holy place and in the holy of holies. May the Lebanon of today, and her inhabitants, also dwell in the sanctuary of God!
"May Lebanon continue to be a place where men and women can live in harmony and peace with each other, in order to give the world not only a witness to the presence of God... whatever their political, social or religious standpoint."