BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Cardinal Beshara Rai attended a ceremony in Damascus marking the enthronement of the new patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, John X Yazigi Sunday.
The cardinal said that Yazigi’s ordination comes at hard times for Syria, voicing solidarity with the Syrian people.
“We came here to confirm our love and solidarity with our people and to declare we carry together the bible of peace and human dignity,” said Rai.
“Everything being said and asked for of reforms and human rights and democracies, these are not worth the blood of an innocent human being shed,” he added.
For his part, Yazigi thanked Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and other officials for supporting or attending the ceremony.
He expressed hope for the reaching of a “peaceful political solution so that violence ends and the country returns to stability and peace.”
Yazigi also saluted Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, saying that anything that goes wrong in either Lebanon or Syria would be “harming us deeply.”
Snipers deployed on the rooftops around Holy Cross church in the heart of Damascus on Sunday as dignitaries from Middle East churches arrived for the enthronement.
Guests bearing official invitations were whisked through metal detectors at the door, but their chauffeurs were prohibited from parking, and throngs of devotees had to watch the liturgy on a giant screen outside.
Only Rai and Catholic Patriarch Gregory Laham represented their churches in person.
Other denominations sent representatives, a member of the organizing committee told AFP outside the church in the city's Qassaa district.
Presidential Affairs Minister Mansour Azzam, a key adviser to Bashar al-Assad, was also among ministers representing the embattled government at Yazigi's enthronement.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad was also present and TV footage showed Rai talking to him as he entered the church to attend the ceremony.
Opposition MP Butros Harb voiced concern Sunday that the Syrian regime will exploit Rai’s visit politically to give the illusion that the Maronite Church is taking his side in the conflict.
“I know that the visit is religious, but I fear that the Syrian regime will give the trip a political dimension to spread rumors that the Maronite Patriarchate is supporting one Syrian side at the expense of the other, and ultimately engage the church in the Syrian conflict,” said Harb who spoke to the Kataeb-run voice of Lebanon radio station.
Meanwhile, Future MP Nidal Tohme said that no political dimension should be given to the visit.
“Let’s not give the issue more than it bears,” said the Akkar lawmaker addressing his visitors Sunday.
“There are Christians in Syria and it is normal that the patriarch checks how they are doing especially in such critical circumstances. This has nothing to do with politics,” said Tohme.
During his historic visit to Syria, the first by a head of the Maronite Church since Lebanon’s independence from France in 1943, Rai voiced solidarity Saturday with Syrians and expressed hope for an end to the nearly two-year old conflict.
According to Rai, his trip aimed to show that there is unity, friendship and cooperation between the Maronite and the Orthodox churches and all the churches in Syria.
Bishop Samir Mazloum said over the weekend that there was no political dimension to Rai’s visit and that the cardinal would not meet any Syrian officials during his stay.
Commenting on the news, President Michel Sleiman said that Rai’s visit to Damascus should not be politicized, adding that he supported the patriarch’s trip.
John X Yazigi, bishop of Western and Central Europe, was elected Greek Orthodox patriarch of the Levant and Antioch, succeeding Patriarch Hazim Ignatius IV who died in December 2012.
The election took place during a gathering of 18 bishops from Greek Orthodox archbishoprics around the world who met in Lebanon to elect Hazim’s successor.
Like Hazim, Yazigi is also Syrian. He was born in Latakia in 1955.- with AFP