Al-Rahi: It's My Duty to Welcome Pope in Jerusalem and I Ask Those against My Visit Not to Come to Bkirki

Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi announced on Tuesday that it is his duty to welcome Pope Francis in Jerusalem, asking those against his visit "not to come to Bkirki."

"I am the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of regions expanding from Turkey to Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and to Iran,” al-Rahi stated upon his arrival at Rafik Hariri International Airport coming from France.

"It is my duty to welcome the Pope in any country in these regions,” he said.

The head of the Maronite Church elaborated: “Jerusalem is our city as Christians before anyone else, and it is an Arab city. I am going there to say this is our city. We have (religious) authority there and we have people who follow our church. I am going home and I am going to see my people. We have been present in Haifa and Galilee long before Israel.”

“I am a Patriarch and I have a duty to visit my people,” he reiterated.

“I ask the Lebanese to respect me and I am not asking anyone to accept my visit.”

“Those bothered by my visit, I ask them not to come to Bkirki. These are my duties and I am going to fulfill them,” he remarked.

Al-Rahi assured reporters that he will not hold talks with any Israeli official.

“I know Lebanon is in enmity with Israel but I have nothing to do with Israel. I am going to see my people and I have said I will not meet with anyone. I have nothing to do with political affairs I deal with church-related matters only.”

“I am going to defend the land along with (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas. This is your land and you have the right to defend it,” he said, addressing the Palestinian people.

Al-Rahi is expected to travel to the Holy Land to welcome the pontiff during his brief May 24-26 visit.

He would be the first patriarch to do so since the creation in 1948 of Israel, with which Lebanon is technically at war.

Lebanese citizens are banned from entering Israel, but Maronite clergy may to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the estimated 10,000 faithful there.

While some considered the visit a “historical mistake that opens the door for normalization with Israel,” Church authorities have repeatedly assured that it has a strictly religious character.



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