Lebanese cardinal says political leaders must unite to save nation
Catholic News Service photo
Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X and Cardinal Bechara Rai, Lebanon's Maronite patriarch, talk in Bkerke, the Maronite patriarchate north of Beirut, where they issued a joint statement June 13 calling for the release of two Syrian Orthodox bishops kidnappe d April 22 in northern Syria while on a humanitarian mission.
Catholic News Service
BEIRUIT — Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, visited a predominantly Muslim city hit by explosions and called on political leaders to come up with a plan to save Lebanon.
The cardinal visited Lebanon's largely Sunni Muslim city of Tripoli Aug. 25 to extend his condolences to the families of victims of twin bombings there two days earlier.
"Isn't all this innocent blood enough reason for reconciliation?" he asked.
At least 45 people were killed and 500 injured Aug. 23 when car bombs exploded outside two Sunni mosques, including one where Friday prayers were in progress. The bombs were the deadliest one-day violence in Lebanon since the country's 1975-1990 civil war.
Tripoli, 50 miles north of Beirut and less than 25 miles from the Syrian border, has experienced sporadic brutal clashes between Sunni supporters of Syria's opposition movement and Alawites connected with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
An explosion Aug. 15 in the mostly Shiite Muslim Beirut suburb of Ruwais, considered a stronghold of the Islamist group Hezbollah, killed more than 25 people and injured more than 300 others.
During his visit to Tripoli, Cardinal Rai visited Sunni clerics and political representatives and made clear that Muslims and Christians were united in their sorrow.
"We extend our condolences and say that we're also feeling what you're feeling because the disaster affected everyone," he said.
He said the "the same hand of evil orchestrated the Tripoli bombings" and the Ruwais bombings, "and I tell you in the name of the Maronite church that ... (both) ... are our tragedies because we are one body and one family."
Cardinal Rai -- who has repeatedly implored Lebanon's rival political leaders to put aside their differences and return to the stalled national dialogue to solve the country's problems -- chided the politicians, saying that such attacks would not have occurred if leaders were unified.
"All those who fell were killed as a result of the absence of harmony, frankness and dialogue. Had we been united and had we shouldered the responsibility of building the state, we wouldn't have reached the disasters we're witnessing today," he added.
The patriarch called for finding "a salvation plan for the sake of Lebanon."
Earlier that day, in his homily at the Divine Liturgy at Diman, the summer seat of the Maronite Catholic Church in northern Lebanon, Cardinal Rai said the responsibilities of political leaders "at a time of national catastrophes requires them to steer Lebanon away from regional and sectarian conflicts," he said.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Catholic, also appealed to rival political leaders, calling upon them to safeguard the country. He urged feuding parties to return to stalled national dialogue discussions without conditions and to dissociate the country from regional conflicts.
In a televised address Aug. 24, Sleiman said he shared people's worries, citing "the mounting terrorist danger and fears of Lebanon descending into strife."
In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 23 following the Tripoli blasts, Cardinal Rai said 'there is a plan to intensify interconfessional conflict in the Muslim world, between Sunnis and Shiites.'
'Unfortunately this is a policy that comes from abroad,' the cardinal emphasized. 'There are countries, especially Western ones but also Eastern ones, that are fomenting these conflicts.'
Cardinal Rai warned that Lebanon's tradition of coexistence is now in danger because of growing conflict between Muslims.
'We Christians,' he said,' have been living alongside Muslims for 1,400 years, and we have spread the human and moral values of ... plurality and modernity in these lands. Thanks to the presence of Christians, in our daily lives in all of these Arab countries we have created a certain moderation in the Muslim world.'
But, he lamented, the region is now 'watching the total destruction of everything that Christians have built over the past 1,400 years."
Cardinal Rai said he already has written to Pope Francis twice to 'explain to him what is happening' and to tell him 'the whole truth."
'Unfortunately, the aim is to destroy the Arab world, and Christians are the ones paying the price,' he said.