BEIRUT: Bkirki is adamant about keeping the situation of the Lebanese who fled to Israel at the end the occupation on the agenda, saying that the visit of seat of the Maronite Patriarch to the Holy Land restored hope for an end to their ordeal.
“The visit of the patriarch to the Holy Land has never been done on a pastoral level, and it was aimed at checking on a community living in enforced isolation from their brethren, and their churches in the region,” the Gathering of Maronite Bishops said in a statement following a meeting chaired by Rai.
“[Rai’s] visit also gave hope to a resolution over the issue of the Lebanese exiled in Israel, [showing] that the spirit of reconciliation between the country's citizens is possible and so is the ability to turn the page on the war, similar to the Mount Lebanon reconciliation process.”
Rai’s visit to Israel caused controversy in Lebanon, especially among Hezbollah officials and southern Lebanese. His subsequent meeting with the Lebanese who had fled the country after the withdrawal of Israeli troops from south Lebanon in 2000 provoked further ire.
Hezbollah and many residents in south Lebanon consider those who fled as “traitors,” in light of their cooperation with Israel during the 22-year occupation of the region. Those who have returned to Lebanon received light sentences, but a number of them emigrated to the West or remained in Israel.
The gathering also criticized MPs who have been boycotting Parliament sessions to elect a new president, saying such a move placed the country at a “great risk,” given worrying developments in the region.
“The stance by some parliamentarians to refrain from entering the Parliament and cast their ballot in the presidential election ... is unacceptable and places the country at great risk, particularly amid the regional developments that threaten to change the map of the Middle East and dismantle the states, which will have repercussions on Lebanon,” it said.
“The absence of a president ... represents an absence of a state, and it is a danger to the unity of the country as well as its security ad economy.”
The bishops deplored events in Iraq and Syria and “what innocent people are suffering from, Christians and non-Christians alike, as a result of the conflicts.”
They demanded the return of the two kidnapped bishops and all detained priests.
“The fathers call on the people of the East to break the cycle of violence that is threatening their fate, and work on resolving the conflicts in peaceful ways until they reach a comprehensive reconciliation. Everyone should recognize the rights of others and build their societies on equal citizenship.”