BEIRUT: The French Embassy in Beirut confirmed long-standing and solid ties between French authorities and Lebanon’s Maronite Church in a statement issued following talks Wednesday between French Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki.
The embassy statement, which was issued a few hours following talks, stated that Pietton told Rai French authorities were “happy to have received him” in France.
“[French authorities] confirm that the visit of the patriarch is part of a long-standing tradition that reflects solid and unbreakable ties with the Maronite Patriarchy, which is a key national authority in Lebanon,” the statement added.
Rai and Pietton met one week after Paris voiced disappointment and regret over the Maronite religious leader’s controversial comments relating to the situation in Syria and Hezbollah’s weapons.
But the French Embassy said the remarks will not influence bilateral relationships with the Church.
However, the French Embassy statement expressed regret over the controversy that followed the patriarch’s comments, adding that the “polemic” that followed Rai’s visit will not influence France’s ties with the Maronite Church.
“The polemic that followed the Patriarch’s visit to France is regrettable and shouldn’t have taken place,” said the embassy statement.
“In all cases the [controversy] will have no influence on the solid ties that unite France to the Maronite Church and Lebanon,” it added.
Speaking during a visit to France earlier in September, Rai sparked controversy when he linked the fate of Hezbollah’s weapons to the termination of Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory and the return of an estimated 350,000 Palestinian refugees to their homes in Palestine.
Rai also said Syria’s President Bashar Assad should be given a chance to carry out political reforms in the face of the six-month-old uprising demanding his ouster.
The religious leader also warned that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria would threaten the presence of Christians there.
Rai’s remarks were initially met with criticism by several Lebanese parties, mostly from the March 14 coalition, but that soon subsided after the patriarch said his remarks had been taken out of context.
Meanwhile, both the French Embassy statement and Rai’s media adviser Walid Ghayyad described Wednesday’s talks as positive.
“The patriarch’s meeting with the French ambassador was excellent,” Ghayyad told The Daily Star, adding that talks were “frank and open.”
Ghayyad said Rai and Pietton discussed a wide range of key issues and dismissed media reports this week suggesting that the French diplomat visited Bkirki to “interrogate” the patriarch about his recent stances.