Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi expressed regret at the “shameful” criticism of his planned visit to the Holy Land to accompany the pope, urging the Lebanese to resolve their problems rather than create new ones.
In remarks to An Nahar daily published on Monday, al-Rahi said it was his duty to greet Pope Francis in his trip to Jerusalem later this month, in addition to church laws that a patriarch should make pastoral visits every five years.
“I know very well that Israel is an enemy state and occupies Lebanese territories too. I respect Lebanese laws,” he said, adding that he would not meet with Israeli officials.
Al-Rahi regretted that “some Lebanese wanted to create problems out of nothing.”
“Let us resolve our problems rather than create new ones,” he told An Nahar.
The patriarch, who is also a cardinal, urged the people “to stop talking about this subject.”
“It is a shame that the world would have to hear (such a thing) from us,” he said.
His remarks came as church officials appeased fears that al-Rahi would be making a historic mistake in the first visit of a Maronite patriarch to Israel since the state was founded in 1948.
They said the patriarch would avoid political meetings and would not seek to normalize ties with Israel.
But despite efforts to appease critics, As Safir daily said Monday that a delegation of Christian parliamentary and political personalities, who oppose the Jerusalem trip, would visit al-Rahi upon his return from Europe to urge him to back off from his decision.
The delegation could also visit the papal ambassador to Lebanon to “explain to him the sensitivity of the issue and warn him that al-Rahi’s trip to the occupied territories would have repercussions on Lebanon.”
As Safir said that several church officials have also criticized the planned trip after al-Rahi took a quick decision to accompany the pope without thoroughly discussing the matter with them.
But Bishop Boulos Sayyah denied to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) that any of the bishops had objections to the trip.
He also said that Bkirki’s doors were open to visitors.
The Maronite patriarch’s visit was not also clear of problems from the Israeli side.
Diplomatic sources said Israel informed the Vatican that it had conditions on al-Rahi’s trip, including not shaking hands with any Israeli official.
The sources told An Nahar that Israel could inform al-Rahi about a decision to send a delegation to visit him in an effort to embarrass him, a move that would prompt the patriarch to reassess his decision to go there.