Patriarch Beshara al-Rai of the Eastern-rite Maronite Church has come under fire in his native Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories for planning to join Pope Francis during the papal visit to Jerusalem, reports The Tablet.
Rai, made a Cardinal in 2012, would be the first Maronite patriarch to visit Israel, which is technically at war with Lebanon and occupies East Jerusalem where the city’s main religious sites are located.
Lebanese politicians refrained from public comment but the pro-Syrian newspaper As-Safir decried the visit as an 'historic sin' that would amount to recognition of the Jewish state.
The Palestinian movement Hamas also opposed the visit, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has welcomed it.
Rai, whose title is Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, said he wants to go to Jerusalem as an Arab to affirm its Arab identity. He will not meet Israeli officials.
Aides said Rai would travel on a Vatican diplomatic passport. The Vatican has said he is not part of the official delegation.
FULL STORY Maronite Patriarch under fire for Jerusalem visit plan during Pope Francis' trip to Holy Land (The Tablet)