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Maronite patriarch holds court as honored guest in Zghorta
    May 28, 2011    By Antoine Amrieh
  (Retrieved from The Daily Star on JUne 04, 2011)

ZGHORTA, Lebanon: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai kicked off a two-day visit to Zghorta Friday, ahead of a second gathering of Christian political leaders set to take place under his sponsorship early next month.

On his first visit to the Zghorta since succeeding Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in March, Rai met with political figures from both March 14 and March 8 camps at the Mar Maroun Church in the Aqaba area.

In a rare event, Marada Movement leader Sleiman Franjieh and former Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad, two prominent rival leaders, joined Rai in the church’s guest hall, along with caretaker Minister of State Youssef Saade, MPs Estfan Dweihi and Salim Karam, and former lawmakers.


Following the meeting, Mouawad praised Rai’s role in bringing Christian leaders together, adding that the role of the politicians is to agree on the founding principles of the Maronite sect. “I hope that Rai’s visit will help us find common ground,” Mouawad told the reporters in a likely reference to Friday’s gathering with the patriarch and her political rival.

For his part, Franjieh emphasized that the Marada Movement has always supported Bkirki in religious matters, while reserving his right to differ with the patriarchate over matters of state.

“When Bkirki’s political stances coincide with ours, then we will certainly support Bkirki’s political stances,” Franjieh added.

In a statement, Rai also expressed support for political differences but said that such differences should be in the interest of national unity.

“We are with democracy, diversity and pluralism that serve national unity,” said Rai.

“Lebanon’s value is when we act upon these shared principles and shared choices for the service of the Lebanese, the society and the country.”

Rai also held a meeting with Zghorta’s 21-member municipal council, which has the largest number of Maronite members of any municipal council in the country.

His visit to Zghorta comes just days before the second gathering of high-profile Christian political leaders in Bkirki on June 2.

Rai hosted the first gathering in Bkirki in April, urging Christian political leaders to focus on matters of mutual concern for the Christian community in the country.

While April’s meeting brought together only four key leaders, the gathering in June is expected to include a number of Christian lawmakers in addition to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Marada Movement head Sleiman Franjieh.

On the second day of his visit to Zghorta, Rai will hold political meetings with lawyer Tawfiq Mouawad and Ziad Makari, and will meet separately with Michel Mouawad, the son of Nayla Mouawad.

The patriarch also has meetings scheduled with representatives of the FPM and LF in Zghorta.

Rai will also hold a Mass attended by politicians and leaders in Zghorta before he heads back to Bkirki Saturday evening.

Separately, Pope Benedict XVI designated Rai as a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church.