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During a ceremony in the US city of Saint Louis, Missouri , Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said on Sunday that he does not follow any party, but on the contrary he is followed by them.

“The patriarch does not follow any party; he is followed by them ,” he said

“Whoever wants freedom and truth should follow the patriarch,” Rai stressed

Rai also said that the true allegiance of the patriarch is to Lebanon only, adding that the Maronite Patriarchate supports all Christians and Muslims.

Rai kicked off a three week pastoral visit to the US on October 1. Unlike his predecessor he is not expected to meet any US officials, nor be invited to the white house

Rai came under fire earlier in September from the opposition March 14 parties but won praise from March 8 politicians for indirectly defending Hezbollah’s arms and linking the party’s arsenal to the termination of Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland . Even MP Walid Jumblatt who defected from March 14 alliance was very critical of Rai’s statements.

Rai emphasized during a trip to Paris that “only when the international community exerts pressure on Israel to vacate the occupied Lebanese territory ( the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shouba hills and the Lebanese part of the disputed border village of Ghajar ) and Israel allows Palestinians in Lebanon to return to their homes, can Hezbollah be asked to hand over its arms because they will no longer be needed.”

Rai added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “open-minded” and should be given more chances to implement the reforms he already announced.

The patriarch claimed after returning to Lebanon that the remarks he made while in Paris “were taken out of context and have nothing to do” with his personal opinion.

Rai reiterated his controversial position on Syria and Hezbollah’s arms during a meeting Friday with President Michel Suleiman who is planning to renew his call for rival leaders to engage in national dialogue to end their deep political divisions, sources said.

Assad’s regime has cracked down on a string of unprecedented protests across his country, killing more than 2,900 civilian protesters since the uprising began in March, according to the United Nations.

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