TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai paid a long-awaited visit to Tripoli Friday to celebrate a Mass on the eve of the St. Maroun holiday, after postponing the visit twice due to the precarious security situation in Lebanon’s second-largest city.
Delivering his sermon at St. Maroun Church in Tripoli, Rai said that the city remains in his heart, and saluted its officials for doing their best to preserve it as a model of coexistence.
“Although painful events forced us to postpone visiting ... Tripoli and its people remain in our hearts and prayers.
“We came today, on the occasion of St. Maroun’s holiday ... to affirm our appreciation for the city and its people,” Rai said.
“We pray so that the city of Tripoli enjoys security and peace and preserves its civilized character of coexistence,” he added.
Since March 2011, when the Syrian uprising began, Tripoli has experienced several waves of violence due to clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Armed clashes often break out between residents of Tripoli neighborhoods Jabal Mohsen, which supports Assad, and Bab al-Tabbaneh, where anti-Assad sentiments run high.
Tight security measures were taken by the Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces during Rai’s visit.
Rai saluted the religious, political and security officials of Tripoli for the efforts they are making to safeguard Tripoli as a space for dialogue and peaceful coexistence.
“I salute our brother and friend, the city’s Mufti Sheikh Malek Shaar, hoping that he will return to us safe.”
Shaar, the mufti of Tripoli and the north, has been living outside Lebanon since December when he became aware of a plot to assassinate him.
Rai explained that St. Maroun’s teachings call for people to be faithful to one’s nation and be tolerant of all religions and cultures.
Shaar described Rai’s visit to Tripoli as a “golden and precious opportunity” in comments to reporters.
“His eminence wanted to honor Tripoli by visiting it today. I wished that he had delayed it so that I would be able to receive him but still it is special,” Shaar told the Central News Agency.
The mufti said that although the visit was brief, it was successful.
Attending the Mass were Bishop George Bou Joudeh, the head of Tripoli’s Maronite Diocese and an array of bishops. Economy Minister Nicholas Nahhas was there representing Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Tripoli politicians, a host of MPs and security officials were also present.