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Pope Begins Lebanon Visit Warning Against Fundamentalism

Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival at Beirut's airport on September 14.
Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival at Beirut's airport on September 14.
Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Lebanon on the first visit by a Roman Catholic pontiff to that country in 15 years.

During his three-day visit, the pope is expected to stress the need for unity among the different Christian churches in the region and appeal for reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.

His visit comes amid concerns about Syria's conflict spilling over into Lebanon and violent protests against the United States in the Middle East and North Africa over a private film project that mocks the Prophet Muhammad.

The pope, speaking after he arrived in Beirut, said he had come to Lebanon as "a pilgrim of peace."

He warned that fundamentalism is "always a falsification of religion." 

"Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion and is against the essence of religion, which aims at reconciliation and creation of the peace of God in the world," Benedict said.

Just hours after the pope arrived, at least one person was killed during a violent protest in the northern city of Tripoli against the U.S.-made anti-Islam film.

The pope also praised the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted long-time authoritarian leaders but said freedom should not come at the cost of intolerance.

"The cry for freedom, which is so important and positive, is always at risk of forgetting a fundamental aspect of freedom that is the tolerance for the other," he said.

He called for an end to weapons imports to Syria where rebels are fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Thousands have been killed since protests and insurrection began in March 2011.

Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East -- around 40 percent of the country's 4 million people.

The 85-year-old Benedict is on his fourth visit to the Middle East as pope. His predecessor, John Paul II, visited Lebanon in 1997.

Based on reporting by AFP and BBC

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