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Patriarch urges refugee repatriation as long-term solution in Middle East

29 Jun 2016 – By Beth Griffin

NEW YORK (CNS) — Poor, destitute refugees now comprise half the people living in Lebanon, according to Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church.

They are attractive targets for terrorist recruiting, and their continued presence threatens to drown Lebanon’s identity, he said. A permanent solution to the refugee crises throughout the Middle East requires lasting peace and the repatriation of refugees, not resettlement to third countries, he added.

Cardinal Rai spoke June 27 at Catholic Near East Welfare Association headquarters in New York while in the United States for a pastoral visit.

“A political solution to the conflicts ought to be the top priority, and a just, global and permanent peace should be established as soon as possible,” the Lebanese cardinal said.

“We would ask nations to help refugees where they are; but it’s not enough to help, they should also stop wars, because every day we are at war, we’re creating new refugees,” Cardinal Rai said. “We must find a just, global and lasting peace for refugees, repatriate them and help them rebuild their lives and businesses.”

“The longer we delay the solutions, the more open we become to terrorism, because terrorists recruit among the refugees,” Cardinal Rai said. The refugees need money and the terrorists pay them, he explained.

The conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is the largest conflict in the region, with Saudi Arabia representing the Sunni faction and Iran the Shiite, Cardinal Rai said. The United States could play an important role mediating peace between the two countries, he said.

In Syria, reconciliation will only be accomplished when the foreign factions that entered the conflict reconcile their own differences, practice justice, and recognize the humanity of those affected.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the origin of the Middle Eastern problems” and could be solved through “the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state, the return of Palestinian refugees, and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon,” the patriarch said.

“You cannot really come to agreement or establish peace without justice,” he said.

“The separation between religion and state for both Judaism and Islam is one of the basic conditions for a permanent political solution in the region,” he said. When a country has an official religion, “you are in deep trouble because you are automatically excluding citizens who do not confess the religion of the state,” he said.

Cardinal Rai said, “Despite all the difficulties plaguing the Lebanese system,” it could be a model for the workable separation of church and state.” It is the only country in the Middle East without either a state religion or requirement that the head of state must be a Muslim. Under an agreement forged in 1943, Christians and Muslims in Lebanon “live together on an equal basis” and share leadership of the government, he said.

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