Finally Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai traveled Friday to Jerusalem via Amman , Jordan on a religious visit despite the criticism by Hezbollah and all the media circus the party engineered to prevent him from making the trip.
National News Agency reported that Patriarch Rai was accompanied by Bishop Boulos Sayyah and Bkirki spokesman Walid Ghayyad.
The patriarch did not deliver any statement at the Rafik Hariri International Airport and headed directly towards a private plane , NNA added
“I took the permission of the president and the premier to visit the Holy Land. I am committed to Lebanese laws,” Rai said after landing in Amman.
He stressed that the supporters of his visit were more than those objecting to it.
He will reportedly be traveling from Amman to Jerusalem on a Vatican diplomatic passport
Al-Rai’s visit is a first by a Lebanese religious official to the Holy Land since the state of Israel was established in 1948 and is intended to coincide with Pope Francis’ three-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that begins Saturday.
Hezbollah has been using the media to pressure Rai against traveling to Jerusalem.
The visit to Jerusalem by the patriarch was branded earlier this month as a “historic sin,” by a Lebanese newspaper closely associated with Hezbollah.
The daily As-Safir ran a critical piece headlined “Historic sin: Rai goes to Israel.”
Calling it a “dangerous precedent,” the daily argued that the trip would “not serve the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese, nor those of Palestine and the Palestinians nor Christians and Christianity.”
Al-Akhbar, another newspaper closely linked to Hezbollah, said a group of Lebanese politicians will try to dissuade Rai “from visiting Jerusalem as long as it is under Israeli occupation, which would signify a normalization with the occupier.”
A Hezbollah delegation visited Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai at his residence in Bkirki last Friday to dissuade him from traveling to Jerusalem .
“We hope the Patriarch would take into consideration our stance on his visit to Jerusalem,” Hezbollah’s politburo chief Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, who headed the delegation, told reporters at Bkirki.
He explained that Rai stressed that he will visit Jerusalem for “religious purposes.”
“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,” Rai told AFP on Thursday.
“It’s also normal that the patriarch goes to visit his diocese’s parishes,” said Rai
While the patriarch will not be a part of the official delegation of Pope Francis , he will reportedly welcome the pontiff in Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and then visit the Maronite community in the Galilee, in Israel.
Rai will not participate in any political meetings with Israeli officials, but he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Lebanese law prohibits all contact with Israel, technically still at war with Lebanon, and bans citizens from having business dealings with Israelis.
Any Lebanese who travels to the Jewish state can face charges of treason.
One exception is Lebanon’s Maronite clergy, who are allowed to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the faithful there.
The last top Maronite cleric to visit Jerusalem was Patriarch Bolus Moochy. He traveled to Jerusalem in 1964 to welcome the pope in the eastern part of the city, which was at the time by Jordan.
Rai has been stressing that he was going to the Holy Land “to say Jerusalem is Arab, and I have authority over it.”
“Jerusalem is our city, our city as Christians before anyone else.”
“The Christians have been there for 2,000 years, while Israel was created in 1948.” he was quoted as saying