LEBANON/SYRIA (ACN News): The head of the Maronite Church has expressed his fears that the war in Syria will spread to neighbouring Lebanon.
Speaking to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai of the Maronite Church warned that the civil war in Syria could trigger a full-scale conflict between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
“The civil war in Syria between the Sunni majority and the Alawite minority has already begun to have an impact on the Sunnis and Alawites in north Lebanon, in Tripoli and Akkar,” Patriarch Rai said.
There have already been reports of armed clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in the country – fighting in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, in May and June left up to 25 people dead.
The patriarch’s remarks followed reports that Lebanese gunmen had kidnapped more than 20 people – including overseas nationals – on August 15 in retaliation for the capture of a relative by the Free Syrian Army in Syria’s capital Damascus.
Advice issued by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain recommended nationals living in Lebanon leave.
A similar warning from Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry said the advice was issued “in anticipation of a spill-over from the Syrian crisis”.
Considering the factors that might start a war in Lebanon, Patriarch Rai said: “the Lebanese are … split into supporters of the Assad regime and supporters of the opposition”.
He explained how “the continuing political conflict between the Sunnis of the Alliance of March 14and the Shiites of the Alliance of March 8” – groupings of political parties which are respectively anti- and pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad – “will become more pronounced due to the events in Syria”.
But, the patriarch stressed that rising Islamism would not spell the end of the Christian presence in the region, as most Muslims respected the Christian contribution to society.
The spiritual leader of the world’s more than 3 million Maronites said: “The Muslims themselves recognise the importance of the presence of Christians due to their intellectual, moral and vocational qualities.
“Also their respect for the law, their loyalty to the country and government authorities, without interfering in policy where the particular regime is theocratic, is also respected.”
Patriarch Rai, whose Church is in full communion with the pope, expected relations with Muslims and other faiths to be addressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation following the 2010 Synod in the Middle East.
The papal document is set to be released during the Holy Father’s visit to Lebanon in September. “A good part will be concerned with the communion between the churches, Islam and the other religions,” Patriarch Rai said. “Moreover, this Apostolic Letter will inspire hope and encourage the peoples of the Middle East to intensify their unity and efforts at living together and to play their role within the Arab and international community.”
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.