.- Pope Benedict XVI has placed the Middle East under the “maternal protection” of Our Lady and has asked her to help bring peace to war-torn Syria and the entire region.

“May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence! May men understand that they are all brothers!” said the Pope in his midday Angelus address Sept. 16. 

“May we, with God’s help, be converted so as to work ardently to establish the peace that is necessary for harmonious coexistence among brothers, whatever their origins and religious convictions.”

The pontiff addressed a vast open-air congregation of over 350,000 following the conclusion of Sunday Mass on Beirut’s waterfront. Many of those in attendance were from neighboring countries, including Syria. Syria has been torn by internal conflict since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

“You know all too well the tragedy of the conflicts and the violence which generates so much suffering,” said the Pope to those assembled. He lamented that in Syria “the din of weapons” is now heard alongside “the cry of the widow and the orphan.”

“Violence and hatred invade people’s lives, and the first victims are women and children. Why so much horror? Why so many dead?” he asked.

The United Nations currently puts the death toll in the Syrian conflict at over 20,000.

The Pope then appealed to the international community and “brother” Arabs to “propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person!”

Continuing a key them of his three-day Apostolic Visit to Lebanon, he called for the dignity of the human person to be respected in all situations. “Those who wish to build peace”, he said, “must cease to see in the other an evil to be eliminated.”

“It is not easy to see in the other a person to be respected and loved, and yet this is necessary if peace is to be built, if fraternity is desired.”