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Maronite patriarch prays for peace during visit to Syria

DAMASCUS (CNS): “We pray each day for the end of war and violence and that a unanimous peace may be achieved through cooperation,” said Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, Bechara Cardinal Rai, who was visiting war-torn Syria for the enthronement of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John. 

Celebrating Mass on the feast of St. Maron on February 9 at the Maronite Cathedral of St. Anthony, the cardinal said, “We came to pray for peace in Syria and for the innocent victims and to console their families, and for the return of displaced persons to their homes and lands.” 

Cardinal Rai’s visit to Syria is the first by a Maronite patriarch since Lebanon’s independence from France in 1943.

Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham and other Church representatives also travelled to Syria for the enthronement, which Cardinal Rai said showed “the close pastoral and ecumenical relations” among Christian Churches in the Middle East. 

“All of us are called, with our diversity, to witness in our communities to the love of Christ and the spiritual, moral and humanitarian values of the gospel,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Rai and other Catholic patriarchs have maintained that the Syrian crisis must be resolved through dialogue. He has denounced states that supply money and weapons to both the regime of Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the opposition. 

He said, “Reform is needed in every country, but it should be pursued through internal efforts without any foreign interference. Reform ought to be reached through dialogue and cooperation, and the international community should play a positive role in this respect.” 

He added, “In Damascus we say together: Enough of war and violence! Enough of the killing and destruction of homes and landmarks! Enough uprooting and suffering inflicted on innocent citizens!” 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in early February that the number of people fleeing the Syrian infighting could reach 1.1 million by June.

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