Benedict will weigh his words carefully to avoid politically charged comments that could increase religious tensions — and is expected to speak out in favour of a secularism that guarantees cultural and religious freedom.
He will also tackle concern over the exodus of Christians from the region during a presentation of results from the 2010 synod with Middle East bishops.
He has already received a request to recognise the Palestinian state and the important role of the Palestinian cause in the Arab world.
And Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has said he hopes the pope will also use the trip to call for negotiations in Syria.
Here too Benedict must tread carefully. The political class in Lebanon — including people from the Maronite church, Lebanon’s largest — are divided, some supporting the Assad regime and others backing the rebels.
On Thursday, Maronite Patriarch Bishara Rai said “the pope will definitely call for an end to the spiral of violence and to hatred, which are pointless, and for those who finance and arm both sides in the conflict to stop doing so.”
In the run-up to the pope’s visit, Lebanese security forces are on high alert, and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said this week that it “will be one of the most successful visits in the history of modern Lebanon.”
The pontiff will arrive at Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri International Airport early in the afternoon to a 21-gun salute. After his welcoming ceremony, he will travel to Harissa in the mountains northeast of the capital, where he will be staying.
While there, he will sign the final report on a synod of bishops he convened two years ago to study the future of Christians in the Middle East.
On Saturday, he will meet President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni, as well as Muslim religious leaders and the diplomatic corps in Beirut.
Then, after lunch with eastern patriarchs and bishops in Bzommar, near Harissa, he will meet with Lebanese youth at the Maronite patriarchate in Bkerke, another village in the same area.
On Sunday, he will celebrate an open-air mass at the Beirut City Centre Waterfront and unveil the conclusions of the 2010 synod of bishops.
He returns to Rome on Sunday evening.