Al-Rahi Travels to Jerusalem despite Barrage of Criticismإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi traveled Friday to the Holy Land via Amman on a religious visit that has angered Hizbullah, a sworn enemy of Israel.
The state-run National News Agency said al-Rahi was accompanied by Bishop Boulos Sayyah and Bkirki spokesman Walid Ghayyad.
The patriarch took a private plane from Rafik Hariri International Airport. He did not make a statement before his trip, NNA said.
“I took the permission of the president and the premier to visit the Holy Land. I am committed to Lebanese laws,” he told France 24 TV network after landing in Amman.
He stressed that the supporters of his visit were more than those objecting it.
Angered by a question, al-Rahi walked out of the interview after stressing that he respects Lebanon and its sovereignty and that he will not meet during his visit with “any civilian or political official.”
And although the program host urged him not to leave, the patriarch insisted on his protest move, saying “I did not come here to hear condemnations.”
“Enough with raising this issue. You do not want to understand,” al-Rahi added.
The patriarch's visit is the first by a Lebanese religious official to the Holy Land since the state of Israel was established in 1948 and is intended to fit in with Pope Francis' three-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that begins Saturday.
Al-Rahi has come under intense fire from media outlets that support Hizbullah. Some of them have described the visit as a “historic sin.”
But he has insisted "it's not a political visit, it's a religious one."
"The pope is going to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He is going to the diocese of the patriarch, so it's normal that the patriarch should welcome him," he told Agence France Presse on Thursday.
"It's also normal that the patriarch goes to visit his diocese's parishes," said al-Rahi.
While the patriarch will not be a part of Pope Francis' official delegation, he will welcome the pontiff in Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and then visit the Maronite community in the Galilee, in Israel, Sayyah said.
Al-Rahi will not participate in any political meetings with Israeli officials, but he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Lebanese law prohibits all contact with Israel, technically still at war with Lebanon, and bans citizens from having business dealings with Israelis.
Any Lebanese who travels to the Jewish state can face charges of treason.
One exception is Lebanon's Maronite clergy, who are allowed to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the faithful there.
The last top Maronite cleric to visit Jerusalem was Patriarch Bolus Moochy. He traveled to Jerusalem in 1964 to receive the pope in the eastern part of the city, ruled then by Jordan.
Hizbullah has recently warned that al-Rahi's visit would have "negative repercussions.”
Party representatives visited him in Bkirki last week.
“We hope al-Rahi would take into consideration our stance on his visit to Jerusalem,” Hizbullah's politburo chief Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed said.
“Al-Rahi's visit would have negative repercussions in Lebanon and the region,” the official told reporters in Bkirki.
But the cardinal has said he was going to the Holy Land "to say Jerusalem is Arab, and I have authority over it."
"Jerusalem is our city, our city as Christians before anyone else."
"The Christians have been there for 2,000 years, while Israel was created in 1948."
Al-Rahi also faces criticism for his plan to visit 2,500 Lebanese who fought in the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army.
They moved to Israel when the Jewish state ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.
Many Lebanese regard them as traitors and want to see them punished.