Pope Praying for Mideast Peace While on Vacation

Pope Benedict XVI prayed Tuesday at a shrine at the foot of Mount Blanc for "concrete results" toward ending the fighting in Lebanon.

"It seems to me that in this moment, something is moving," Benedict told reporters on his return from a visit to the Our Lady of Healing shrine where he prayed for peace.

"I believe that prayers are not in vain," said the pontiff, who had urged faithful worldwide on Sunday to join him in prayers for the Middle East.

Asked about a conference on the crisis to be held Wednesday in Rome, Benedict said: "Now let us pray fervently so that this conference tomorrow in Rome may truly bring fruits and concrete results for peace, and for a solution of the problems which goes to the roots" and achieves a "stable and lasting" peace.

Participants at Wednesday's meeting include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other key players in the crisis. The Vatican will attend the conference as an observer.

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Benedict's July 11-28 holiday in this Alpine hamlet has coincided with the escalation of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The fighting has caused civilian casualties in both countries, and has cause heavy damage in Lebanon.

Benedict's concern for the situation in the Middle East has cast a shadow over his mountain vacation in the Aosta Valley north of Turin.

On Sunday, Benedict visited a tiny church with a pristine white steeple perched on a hilltop surrounded by snowcapped mountains.

But the pontiff spent his time there praying, not marveling at the view. The 18th-century church in Rhemes Saint George was packed with most of its 206 villagers on the day the pope had set aside for worldwide prayers for peace in the Middle East.

"Seeing all this beauty, the peace the Lord gives me, I am all the more struck by the suffering of others," Benedict told reporters after a walk in the mountains.

This is Benedict's second summer in the village of Les Combes, a vacation spot he inherited from his predecessor, John Paul II.

He stays in a secluded stone-and-wood chalet, looking out on Mount Blanc — the highest peak in the Alps — and surrounded by pine forests. Italian police and Vatican security guards patrol the grounds.

Unlike John Paul, a hiker in his youth who often took daylong mountain tours, the 79-year-old Benedict spends most of his time at the chalet or taking afternoon walks in the woods.

He devotes his mornings to writing and reviewing upcoming speeches and documents. He also is working on a book, but is keeping the subject matter secret.

"It's better not to talk about it. What if one doesn't finish?" he quipped with reporters. However, recent leaks in Italian newspapers say the book is about Jesus and is aimed at the faithful.

On one of his outings, the pope crossed the border into nearby Switzerland to visit a monastery where monks breed the famous St. Bernard rescue dogs.

Benedict, a cat owner before becoming pope, was photographed bending down to pat a puppy.

When he goes walking, Benedict wears his white papal cassock and gold pectoral cross but exchanges his red loafers for a pair of brown suede trekking shoes. He is accompanied by aides and his private secretary, the 49-year-old Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, a fellow Bavarian who in his youth was a ski instructor.