Lebanon News

Hezbollah visits Bkirki to congratulate Patriarch Rai

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai welcomed Friday a Hezbollah delegation after nearly two years of severed ties with Rai’s predecessor, as the newly elected patriarch reiterated Bkirki’s commitment to its principles while leaving the door open for discussion over divisive issues Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc leader, Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, said the party was optimistic with regard to Rai’s public stances, and expressed hope in the patriarch’s capability to unite the Lebanese.

“We have positive expectations after we carefully read what the patriarch has dubbed as the foundations of his tenure, which will be based on love and partnership,” Raad said.

Rai’s election comes at a critical time in Lebanese politics, particularly after March 14 parties escalated their campaign against Hezbollah, describing the party’s weapons as illegitimate.

In an interview to be published by Al-Massira magazine, Rai said Bkirki’s stance on Hezbollah’s weapons was “well-known,” referring to former Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir’s traditional positions calling for restricting arms to state institutions, but refrained from directly criticizing the party.

“We address such issues in the monthly statement of the Council of Maronite Bishops. I do not express my personal opinion on these sensitive subjects, but instead I discuss it with bishops and then we issue an official monthly statement,” Rai said.

Rai called for dialogue to reach an agreement over disputed issues, but only to guarantee Lebanon’s stability, independence and sovereignty.

“The dispute among the Lebanese is over details and strategies rather than principles, which everyone is calling for, particularly Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,” Rai said following Raad’s visit.

Rai said the meeting with Hezbollah officials did not address the issue of the party’s weapons.

Addressing the stalled formation of a new government, Rai said he hoped for the formation of a technocrat cabinet.

“As a Lebanese, I hope for a technocrat cabinet. We can’t continue in a tug of war. Socially and economically, we are no longer capable of tolerating the situation,” Rai said.

Rai also expressed openness toward Damascus, albeit on a pastoral level, saying he would undertake a visit to Syria to connect with the Maronite community. Rai told reporters that the patriarchate’s relations with Syria should not only be addressed from a political perspective.

“We talk about Syria because we have dioceses there. Our relation is with our dioceses. The Maronite patriarch must visit all Maronite dioceses once every five years. We will certainly visit all dioceses including the ones in Syria,” Rai said.

“The visit isn’t political. We should differentiate between the state and the church. We will make a pastoral visit.”

Sfeir, a staunch critic of Syrian intervention in Lebanese affairs, never visited Damascus during his 25 years as patriarch.

Rai was joined by Sfeir for a meeting with Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the deputy head of the Higher Shiite Council, who visited Bkirki accompanied by a delegation of clerics.

Qabalan said the state would grow strong only through Muslim-Christian unity, based on national coexistence.

“That is why we want Bkirki to be a capital and pillar of the Lebanese community. We are ready to cooperate with the patriarch to build Lebanon on a solid basis,” Qabalan said.

In separate visits to Bkirki, Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, and caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, accompanied by MPs from Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, offered their congratulations to the new patriarch. Jumblatt who would is expected to visit Bkirki soon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 19, 2011, on page 2.




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