Bkirki’s press officer Walid Ghayyad said the June 8 trip is “pastoral and will not include any political meetings.”
Al-Rai’s visit to the Syrian capital has three objectives – Inaugurating the Maronite Social Center, participating in a Christian spiritual summit and attending the inauguration of the Orthodox patriarchate, he added.
This will not be the first time that al-Rai travels to Damascus as a patriarch. He visited the Syrian capital in February 2013 when he attended Greek Orthodox leader Youhanna X Yazigi’s enthronement. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad participated in the inauguration ceremony and he and Rai exchanged few words according to reports from Damascus. Presidential Affairs Minister Mansour Azzam, a key adviser to Bashar Assad, was also among the ministers representing the embattled government.
Back then a Saudi newspaper al-Watan criticized his visit to Syria, according to a report by LBC. Rai’s controversial visit to Syria also created a heated debate in Lebanon.