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Maronite Patriarch Visits United States

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai, center, smiles during a news conference at the headquarters of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in New York 20 Oct. Patriarch Rai was in the U.S. visiting Maronite Catholic communities in several states. H e was also scheduled to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Patriarch Rai is flanked by Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA president, and Archbishop Paul N. Sayah, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate in Beirut. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)  

25 Oct 2011 – by Beth Griffin

NEW YORK (CNS) — Unless Middle Eastern countries support religious freedom and respect human rights, the “Arab spring” movement will devolve into an “Arab winter,” said Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai.

Patriarch Rai said the “Arab spring” movement holds much promise, but its leaders must “adopt a separation between religion and state.” He said such a system exists in his native Lebanon and “respects all religions and all values of each religion.”

“We wish to see freedom practiced in those countries. We wish to see the values of human rights and democracy implemented,” he told a news conference Oct. 20 at the New York headquarters of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a pontifical agency that supports the Catholic Church in the Middle East, North Africa, India and Eastern Europe.

“It’s not easy to talk about democracy in the Western sense in countries that have a theocratic system. Christianity divides politics and religion, and we wish Islam and other religions to do the same,” Patriarch Rai said.

Failure to do so will result in civil wars, such as the one in Iraq, he warned, and will lead to the rise of regimes “that are even more fundamentalist. This is something that will be to the detriment of everybody.”

Patriarch Rai said conflicts between Israel and the Arab countries and between Israel and the Palestinians have had a negative impact on Christians.

“The Arab-Israeli conflict is at the level of religion and culture. The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis is a conflict (about) a people whose sovereignty, whose land, was taken away, who were displaced and for 64 years have been promised by United Nations resolutions a right of return, but this has not happened,” he said.

“In Lebanon, we have suffered from the presence of a half million Palestinian refugees, and the war in Lebanon in 1975 started with the Palestinians,” he added.

He said the conflict led to injustice, oppression and the rise of fundamentalist movements in the region.

“The atmosphere that was created by those conflicts has impacted the Christian presence in the Middle East, causing some to leave for economic and security reasons,” he said.

Speaking about Israel, Patriarch Rai said, “In this day and age of globalization, it is strange to see a nation that wants to be for one religion or one race because, automatically, you are excluding the others.”

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Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians United States Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter