Pope Benedict XVI said Mass in Lebanon Sunday during his first visit to the Middle East, which is seeing dwindling Christian numbers and where Christians fear Islamists will gain power now that secular dictators have fallen.
Lebanon has the region's second-largest Christian population, after Egypt. The pope spent his three-day visit promoting peace and religious tolerance.
Lebanese masked gunmen from the al-Mokdad clan gather for a news conference in Beirut's southern suburbs on Aug. 15. The Mokdads, a large Lebanese Shiite Muslim clan, said they kidnapped at least 20 Syrians to try to secure the release of a family member abducted by Syrian rebels near Damascus this week.
In Lebanon, a wave of kidnappings and an alleged plot to destabilize the country with bombings — both related to the uprising in Syria — are shaking Lebanon's precarious sectarian balance.
That's been apparent on al-Mokdad Street in south Beirut, which has been tense in recent days. The Mokdads are a large Shiite clan who control the street that is named for them. Young men with pistols in their pockets cruise the street on motor scooters, acting as the clan's lookouts.
Syria's turmoil has been spreading into Lebanon, where residents say Syrian soldiers have crossed the border and killed civilians. Here, Lebanese army soldiers patrol in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, earlier this month, where clashes broke out between pro- and anti-Syria gunmen.
A rash of kidnappings in Lebanon over the weekend, coupled with deadly cross-border attacks by the Syrian army, are all worrying signs that Syria's troubles are continuing to spill over into its smaller and weaker neighbor.
In the most recent incidents, a Sunni sheik known to support the Syrian uprising was abducted. In retaliation, several Alawites aligned with the Syrian government were taken. Days before that, the Syrian army shot several people on Lebanese territory.