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Rai marks one year as dispute with LF politicians simmers

Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, attends an interview with Reuters in Bkirki, north of Beirut, February 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Sharif Karim)

BEIRUT: The spat between Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea showed no signs of abating Thursday, as Bkirki marked the one-year anniversary of the patriarch’s election to lead the Maronite church.

In an interview with Voice of Lebanon Radio Station, Geagea said Thursday that his party would voice its objections to any “harmful” political statements made by Bkirki.

“Our approach to the issue is very clear. When we hear some views that are harmful, we should comment on it and do no more than that,” the LF leader said.

In Bkirki, Rai welcomed visitors and wellwishers offering their congratulations and the church’s bells rang in morning to mark the first anniversary of his election by Maronite bishops to succeed Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir.

Although Geagea said that there are still no meetings between LF and Rai planned, he did not rule out a meeting in the future. “I don’t know, we will see,” said Geagea, in an answer to a reporter’s queston.

Earlier this week, Rai criticized Geagea for misinterpreting his comments on the developments in Syria in an interview with Reuters last week.

“Those who read the statement ‘There is no God but God’ as simply ‘There is no God’ are ignorant,” Rai told reporters on his arrival back in Beirut late Tuesday.

In an interview with the Qatari Al-Watan newspaper this week, Rai, who was in Qatar on visit, indirectly criticized Geagea, referring to him sarcastically as someone with “prophetic” powers

“I am not as prophetic as Samir Geagea, to be able to read the intentions of Christians in Syria,” said Rai.

For his part, Batroun MP Antoine Zahra said that a patriarch who wants to be a father to all cannot adopt sarcastic rhetoric.

“He who wants to be a righteous guide and a father to all, does not make a sarcastic response to his followers,” said Zahra.

In the Reuters interview, Rai reiterated his fears for Christians in the region amid the ongoing crisis.

Rai said he feared the violence in the Arab world could turn the so-called Arab Spring into an Arab winter.

The patriarch’s stance on the situation is Syria has stirred controversy on previous occasions

A few months after being elected head of the Maronite Church, Rai told reporters in a visit to Paris that Assad should have been given a more time to implement reform.

Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat, who was among the visitors to Bkirki, said that Christians should have a clear stance on the ongoing developments in Syria and condemn the brutality from which Syria’s Muslims and other groups suffer.

“Just like Lebanon’s Muslims sympathize with the Iraqi and Egyptian Christians, Christians should also sympathize with Muslims in Syria,” said Fatfat following his meeting with Rai.

Also in Bkirki, Mexican ambassador to Lebanon Jorge Alvarez congratulated Rai on the anniversary of his taking office. “We discussed Rai’s upcoming pastoral visit to Mexico, and we are preparing for it with pride,” said Alvarez.

“Rai’s visit to Mexico will show the strong and friendly relations between the Lebanese and Mexican peoples,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 16, 2012, on page 3.

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