Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday announced a planned Vatican mission to Syria will not go ahead and said he had dispatched an envoy to Lebanon instead to meet refugees and Christian community leaders.
"Unfortunately different circumstances and developments have not rendered possible this initiative in the way we had hoped. I have therefore given a special mission to Cardinal Robert Sarah," the pope said in St Peter's Square.
Benedict also called for peace in Syria and highlighted the "immense suffering" of civilians, urging all sides in the conflict to pursue "paths that lead to a just cohabitation and an adequate political solution".
"We have to do everything possible before it is too late," he said.
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The Vatican had announced last month that it would send a high-level delegation to Syria including top Vatican officials and peace building experts but it was seen as politically risky and potentially dangerous.
Sarah, a Guinean cardinal, heads up the Cor Unum Pontifical Council, a Vatican department that oversees the Catholic Church's charity work.
Benedict said that Sarah in Lebanon will meet spiritual leaders and faithful from Christian churches present in Syria, hold a coordination meeting of Catholic charities and meet with refugees who have fled Syria.
Sarah's mission to Lebanon began on Wednesday and will last until Saturday.