Lebanese Priest Will Not Meet Israeli Officials During Holy Land Visit
Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai will not meet Israeli officials when he travels to Jerusalem in three weeks with Pope Francis, according to The Daily Star, citing the head of the Catholic Media Center on Saturday.
“The visit is in the framework of welcoming Pope Francis to the patriarchal territory, and not accompanying him on a trip,” Father Abdo Abu Kasm said in a statement. “The patriarch will not meet any Israeli official and rumors about attempts to normalize relations [with Israel] are merely part of media analyses and are inaccurate.”
Pope Francis will begin his first official visit to the Holy Land on May 24, for what will be a very packed three-day weekend, in which he will be joined by Cardinals from around the world, as well as rabbis and other clergy and supporters he made in his homeland of Argentina.
On Friday, Cardinal Rai told AFP: “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.” Dismissing any local political significance of the trip to Jerusalem, Rai said, “It is not a political visit but a religious one.”
The Daily Star on Friday wrote: “Political sources said a problem that might arise during the visit was that if Rai arrived with Francis on the same day, he would be compelled to shake hands with Israeli officials, including the president and prime minister, who would be on hand to welcome the pope at the airport. Because Lebanon considers itself technically in a state of war with Israel, Lebanese citizens and officials are banned under Lebanese laws from visiting Israel. Rai’s predecessor, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, had apologized to Pope Paul II, refusing to go along on his visit to Israel and instead joining him only on his trip to Jordan.”
On Saturday, The Daily Star noted that Rai has also made trips to Syria, unlike Sfeir, who refused to embark on such trips given Damascus’ role in Lebanon at the time.
Abu Kasm, of the Catholic Media Center, also told the newspaper that the patriarch would also visit Maronite parishes in the Holy Land and most likely agree to an invitation from President Mahmoud Abbas for an official visit.