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06/17/2010 11:33
Patriarch Sfeir tells Sarkozy, Christian emigration from the Middle East should be stopped
(Retrieved from AsiaNews on June 20, 2010)

The cardinal is visiting France and meeting major government and political leaders. The issues discussed include Hizbollah’s weapons, which most Lebanese would like to see gone, and relations with Syria, which “have not always been the way they ought to be.”

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The number of Christians in Lebanon and the Middle East is declining rapidly because of conflict, regional tensions as well as a persistent economic crisis that drives many to seek the future elsewhere. The issue is one of great concern for the Catholic Church, as Benedict XVI has said on several occasions, the latest during his visit to Cyprus, and an issue that  Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir raised during his meetings yesterday in France.

Cardinal Sfeir raised the matter during his meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who shares the view that the presence of Christians in the Middle East is a guarantee against intolerance.

“The emigration of young Lebanese must be stopped,” the patriarch said later during a press briefing with reporters. “They cannot be blamed for leaving in search of work. But whilst those who go to Arab countries can come back, it is harder for those who go to Australia or Canada.”

Lebanon’s domestic situation was another important topic Card Sfeir discussed during his Paris visit. He stressed the importance of security, this, a day before (i.e. today) a discussion on national defence is set to start in Beirut.

Indeed, Hizbollah is armed, and has “its own strategy and interests”. If the parties in the ruling coalition government (14 March movement) want to see only one armed force on Lebanon’s soil, Hizbollah claims that it needs its own weapons in case of potential Israeli attacks.

However, “Most Lebanese are not in favour of two armies within the same state,” the patriarch said.

Relations with Syria were the last major issue discussed. During a meeting with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, the cardinal said that Lebanon wants good relations with all its neighbours, especially its closest, Syria. “However, relations have not always been the way they ought to be.”