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Rai, Jumblatt pledge continued reconciliation

Jumblatt receives Rai in Mukhtara.

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai met with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt in Mukhtara Sunday to highlight efforts to reconcile the Chouf’s Christians and Druze and facilitate the return of Lebanese who were displaced during the Civil War.

The visit was aimed as cementing the historic reconciliation between Bkirki and the Druze leadership 11 years ago.“Reconciliation is part of our [Christian] message and is also a Druze message and both our cultures urge us to uphold these efforts to complete this reconciliation,” Rai told reporters and a number of religious delegations taking part in the meeting at Mukhtara Palace Sunday.

The Maronite patriarch was welcomed by dozens of scouts and local well-wishers at his stop in Mukhtara during his weekend visit to the Chouf.

Before a joint news conference Rai and Jumblatt held for the religious delegations, they had a closed-door meeting. Both Jumblatt and Rai hailed the historic reconciliation when Rai’s predecessor, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, visited Jumblatt.

Sfeir’s 2001 visit to the Chouf was dubbed “the Reconciliation of the Mountain.” While many of the displaced have yet to return to their hometowns in Chouf, the visit marked a turning point in Christian-Druze relations after the two communities fought bloody battles against each other in the 1980s. The battles forced many Christians to flee their towns.

Rai reiterated that in order to complete the reconciliation that began in 2001, all displaced should return to their hometowns without exception.

“A complete reconciliation should include the right of all displaced people to return to their homes and such reconciliation is a national responsibility for both communities,” the patriarch added. For his part, Jumblatt praised Rai’s visit and said that some of those who returned to their hometowns, as well as some of those who stayed, had not worked sincerely toward a complete reconciliation between the two communities in the Chouf.

Jumblatt stressed reconciliation between Christians and Druze instead of settling of land disputes. He called for removing structures built on lands that had been left by those who fled during the war.

“Reconciliation of humans is more important than of stones ... The houses that have been built on other people’s land should be removed,” Jumblatt said.

Rai also said that he supports a new electoral law that would allow both Lebanese expatriates and residents to democratically choose their representatives.

“We are looking forward to an electoral law that ensures the rights of both residents and expatriates in electing their representatives and holding them accountable,” he added.

Earlier Sunday, Rai celebrated a mass marking the inauguration of St. Antonius Church in the Chouf town of Fawwara. The mass was also attended by Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun, Minister of the Displaced Alaaeddine Terro, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan and several former ministers.

During his sermon, Rai urged the Lebanese to welcome Pope Benedict XVI on his three-day visit to Lebanon starting Sept. 14.

The pope will deliver the Apostolic Exhortation of the Synod of Bishops for 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, during the inauguration of the church.

Speaking to a local radio station, Aley MP Akram Shehayeb said Rai’s visit to the Chouf 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.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 10, 2012, on page 1.

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