BEIRUT — Pope Benedict XVI told Syrians at a rally for young people Saturday that he admired their courage and that he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering.
On a day of appeals for religious freedom in the region, he said it was time for Muslims and Christians to work together against violence and war. He spoke on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, a country with the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. He arrived amid a wave of violent demonstrations over an anti-Islam film across the Muslim world.
Addressing the rally, Benedict said he understood that there were young people present from Syria in the crowd of some 20,000 people.
"I want to say how much I admire your courage," the pope said, speaking French. "Tell your families and friends back home that the pope has not forgotten you."
Traveling to Lebanon on Friday, Benedict called for a halt in weapons deliveries to Syria, but he did not draw a distinction between the government and rebel sides. Lebanon has given refuge to nearly 70,000 of a quarter-million Syrians who have fled their country's increasingly bloody civil war.
The turmoil stemming from the Arab Spring has deeply unsettled the Middle East's Christian population, which fears being caught between rival Muslim groups. Part of the pope's mission in Lebanon is convincing his flock to remain in the region despite war, sectarian violence and hardship.
"It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war," he said.
Earlier Saturday, he appealed for religious freedom, calling it central to stability in a region bloodied by sectarian strife.
"Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem," he said, speaking in French to government officials, foreign diplomats and religious leaders at the presidential palace in Mount Lebanon in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
He held up Lebanon, which is still rebuilding from a devastating 1975-1990 civil war largely fought on sectarian lines, as an example of coexistence for the region.
He said Christians and Muslims in Lebanon share the same space — at times in the same family — and asked, "If it is possible in families why not in entire societies?" Marriages where husband and wife are from different religious groups are not uncommon in Lebanon.
He said the freedom to practice one's religion "without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone."