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Rai’s Syria visit a message of hope for Christians: Jumblatt

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai (L) is greeted by Syrian Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Faisal Mikdadas they arrive to attend the enthronement of Syria's Greek Orthodox leader Yuhanna X Yazigi at the Holy Cross church in Damascus. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said Monday that Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s visit to Damascus over the weekend sent a positive signal to Christians throughout the war-torn country.

“The visit of Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Rai to Damascus, at the peak of the stormy war, gave a message of hope for Christians in Syria,” the Druze leader said in his weekly editorial for the PSP-owned Al-Anbaa newspaper.

“[The visit] stresses the importance of protecting diversity in the Levant at a moment when the sound of the cannon, fighting jets, bullets and Takfiri fatwas come at the expense of coexistence between sects,” the PSP leader added.

Over the weekend, Rai attended the enthronement of John X Yazigi as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East in a Mass at the Holy Cross Church in Damascus. Yazigi replaced Ignatius Hazim, who passed away in December.

Rai’s visit to Syria, the first since the two countries gained independence, was opposed by some Lebanese politicians from the March 14 coalition. The patriarch argued that the visit was “merely pastoral.”

Among others, Speaker Nabih Berri and Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the vice-president of the Higher Shiite Council, phoned Rai Monday to extend their good wishes for the St. Maroun holiday and praise his Syrian trip.

Aley MP Fadi Habr, from the Kataeb party, said that Rai’s attendance during the Mass was pastoral and came at a Vatican request.

Speaking to a local radio station, Habr expressed fear that the Syrian regime would exploit Rai’s visit.

“His visit is for all Syrians,” he said. “Syria is not the property of Bashar Assad, but of its people who have the right to choose their own ruler.”

Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan voiced his support for Rai’s remarks in Damascus, in which the patriarch said “no so-called reforms, human rights or democracy” are “worth the blood of one innocent man.”

“This stance ... comes in line with the Vatican strategy to protect the church from the relentless Zionist attack launched against it whether in our region or in other world continents,” he said, addressing a local delegation in the Mount Lebanon town of Choueifat.

Former Prime Minister Salim Hoss hailed Rai’s time in Syria as “historic” and meaningful.

“We are proud of this visit, and we hope that it will be repeated for the sake of the Arab nation,” Hoss said in a statement.

Kesrouan MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr, from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, said Rai demonstrated courage.

“He proved that Maronites never champion isolationist projects as they were once accused [of doing] by those who oppose the entity of Lebanon,” Abi Nasr said in a statement. “Maronites [have always] championed openness, communication and cooperation in this Levant.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 12, 2013, on page 3.

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