Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Lebanon on Sept. 14-16, marking his first visit to the Middle East since the Arab Spring and his fourth overall to the region (after Turkey in 2006, the Holy Land in 2009 and Cyprus in 2010). It’s also the closest he’s likely to get to the current chaos in Syria.

The official purpose is to present the conclusions from the Vatican’s Synod on the Middle East in October 2010. Lebanon is an obvious launching pad, since Christians make up roughly 40 percent of the country’s total population of 4 million, the largest Christian footprint in percentage terms in the Middle East. It’s also, of course, one of the few places in the region where the pope’s safety can be reasonably assured.

While current events form the subtext to the trip, anyone hoping for high political drama probably should prepare for disappointment.

If things hold to form, Benedict XVI seems unlikely to outline a bold new vision for the Arab world, nor to strike a sharply defined stance on Syria, even if the present carnage is somehow still unfolding. Instead, the trip shapes up as an experiment in whether Benedict’s basically "apolitical" vision of the Christian future in the Middle East has legs. [Link]