BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Muslim and Christian religious leaders will meet in a spiritual summit at the weekend to discuss fast-moving developments in the region, media reports said Sunday.
The March 25 meeting, at the Maronite patriarchate in Bkirki, will consider ways to insulate Lebanon from the repercussions of the popular upheavals in the region, through dialogue between the country’s feuding parties whose political differences have been sharpened by the yearlong uprising in Syria.Last year, Christian and Muslim spiritual leaders met twice, in Bkirki and at Dar al-Fatwa – the seat of the Grand Sunni mufti – with the aim of defusing political and sectarian tension in Lebanon as a result of the widening rift between the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition.
Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, – who will chair Sunday’s meeting – began a pastoral visit to Egypt Saturday and said Sunday Beirut might host a summit of Christian-Muslim spiritual leaders in the Middle East at the end of the year.
Speaking to reporters during a meeting in Cairo with Catholic Coptic Patriarch Cardinal Antonius Najib, Rai said spiritual leaders in the region are responsible for reconciling the conflicting viewpoints in the Arab world amid the extremism that has emerged in more than one country as a result of popular upheavals roiling the Arab world.
Rai said his pastoral visit to Egypt was designed to express solidarity with the other Christian churches and with the Egyptian people, who have experienced instability as a result of the uprising that led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak last year.
Rai also offered his condolences to the Orthodox Coptic Church over the death of Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Copts, who died of a heart attack Saturday at the age of 88.
He said he had an appointment to meet Shenouda during his visit to Egypt. Rai praised Shenouda “as a good shepherd who led his church for several years with wisdom and care.”
Speaking in a sermon during a Mass he led at the Saint Joseph Cathedral in Cairo, Rai said: “Among the reasons for this pastoral visit is to express solidarity with the church in Egypt, with all its Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical churches, and with the Egyptian people to pray with them for peace and stability in this country.”
He said he hoped Egypt would regain its “beautiful identity and civilized message and continue its big historical role in the Arab world and the international community, while enjoying a just and comprehensive peace and stability and a good honorable living.”
Rai added that another reason for his visit to Egypt was to strengthen “links of brotherhood and cooperation” between the Maronite Church and these churches in “a spirit of partnership.”
Rai’s visit to Egypt came as part of a regional pastoral tour which has taken him to Jordan and Qatar. It also came amid a new split within the Maronite community following Rai’s controversial statements on the unrest in Syria and Hezbollah’s arms which jolted the Christian heartland last year.