BEIRUT: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Sunday with Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during the prelate's visit there.
According to the National News Agency, Abbas honored Rai with the highest Palestinian order called "the Star of Jerusalem" in the presence of a number of Palestinian officials, including Prime Minister Rami Hamadallah and several ambassadors.
The Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah was also present.
Earlier, Rai attended the open-air mass led by Pope Francis at the Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Although his visit to occupied Jerusalem has stirred controversy in Lebanon, with some describing it as a mistake, Rai stood firm on his trip, maintaining that he means to reinforce the Christian identify in the city.
Rai’s visit is the first by the head of the Maronite Church to the Holy Land since the state of Israel was founded in 1948, and is intended to fit in with Pope Francis’ three-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and Palestine that began Saturday.
Rai has also said that his visit was aimed at welcoming the pope to Jerusalem and Jordan, which he said fell under his church prerogative as the patriarch of the east and the Antioch.