BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Sunday his visit to the Chouf region has as its objective furthering reconciliation between Christians and Druze.
“My visit aims at continuing down the path of reconciliation between the residents of this region; I am committed to this reconciliation with you in the spirit of partnership and love,” Rai said before a group of reporters during his meeting with MP Walid Jumblatt at the latter’s Mukhtara residence
In 2001, former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir embarked on a historic visit to the Chouf region and met with Jumblatt. The visit was dubbed the "Reconciliation of the Mountain," as it sought to bring together Christians and Druze who fought against each other in the 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War.
The fighting forced many Christians to leave their homes. Despite the return of most Christians in the years since the end of the war, a number of villages remain almost deserted of their Christian inhabitants, owing to lingering disputes between them and their Druze neighbors.
Rai, who praised Jumblatt’s role in pursuing reconciliation in the region, said that the return of those who were displaced should be supported “financially and morally.”
He also stressed the importance of adopting a new electoral law in the country that would allow every Lebanese the chance to choose his or her representative.
Rai, the head of the Maronite Church, oversaw the drafting of a proposal by a Maronite committee which called for dividing Lebanon into small districts based with proportional representation.
Jumblatt has rejected proportional representation, saying such a law is aimed at diminishing his influence.
Upon his arrival at Mukhtara, Rai was met by Jumblatt. He was then greeted by tens of scouts and other well-wishers waving Lebanese flags and offering him flowers.
Jumblatt, surrounded by Druze and Christian religious figures, said that the 2001 agreement finalized the reconciliation and expressed the hope that the wound finally be healed with Rai’s visit.
“Some of those who returned home as well as some residents have placed obstacles in the face of the  reconciliation,” the PSP leader said without elaborating.
“We carefully follow all [Rai’s] moves and his seeking to strengthen coexistence and we wish him all the best,” Jumblatt added.
Earlier Sunday, Rai celebrated a Mass marking the opening of St. Antonius Church in the Chouf town of Fawwara, which was attended by Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun, Minister of the Displaced Alaaeddine Terro, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan and former ministers.
During his sermon, Rai urged the Lebanese to welcome Pope Benedict XVI on his three-day visit to Lebanon starting Sept. 16, saying that the pope will reveal to Christians their identity and message as well as the challenges they face.
The pope's visit aims at delivering the 2010 special Synod of Bishops document, which is dedicated to Christians in the Middle East.
"[The Synod] should lead us to a Christian Spring which should in turn contribute to a true Arab Spring, bringing back the Arab world's unity and solidarity, so that it becomes part of modernity and globalization and achieves unity through diversity,” Rai said.
Speaking to a local radio station, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Akram Shehayeb said Rai's visit comes to affirm coexistence in Lebanon during a difficult phase.
"The visit is a continuation of the historic reconciliation launched by former [Maronite] patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in 2001 in the mountain,” he said.