Patriarch of the Maronite Syrian Catholic Church is on a visit to India

The ideology of the Patriarch of the Maronite Syrian Catholic Church Bechara Boutros al-Rai on issues like whether a ‘spring’ can be expected in the wake of the uprisings in the Middle East and north African countries seems to be simple: keep religion and state separate.

Quoting Pope John Paul II who described Lebanon as a ‘message both to the East and the West during his visit to the West Asian nation in 1997, the Patriarch said the West had divorced state from God, but ‘a place for God is reserved’ in Lebanon.

Glory to God

Under the Lebanese constitution, glory to God is given first and the pledge that all religions will be treated equally comes only next, the high priest said explaining why his country should be put forth as a model for ‘the people of the Middle East who look for a spring.’

The Patriarch was speaking at a press conference at the Archbishop’s House at Pattom here on Wednesday, before his visit to a seminary at Nalanchira and a church at Palayam.

Bound for Pathanamthitta and Kottayam the day after, the Patriarch had a packed schedule during his first-time one-day stay in the city.

A state guest, the Patriarch was here on an invitation of Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church Mar Basilios Cleemis, along with his Vicar General Paul Sayah and Bishop Boulos Rouhana.

“We are very happy to come and visit a sister church,” said the Patriarch, speaking of the Syro-Malankara Major Archiepiscopal Church, which was hosting him.

He noted how both churches belong to the same Syriac tradition and hoped to ‘cultivate greater cooperation’ and ‘enrich each other with our spiritual, cultural and liturgical traditions.’

Secular Lebanon

He indicated how Lebanon maintained a secular tradition in a region marred by ethnic and communal strife.

Underlining that the Lebanese state permits each religion to subscribe to certain laws, especially relating to marriage and inheritance, the Patriarch said this ‘freedom of conscience’ and equal respect for every religion had elevated Lebanon to a ‘special status.’ Speaking of the situation in neighbouring Syria, he said the Church advocated a peaceful negotiation and an end to violence.

“To the leadership, we are asking them not to overuse force, and to the opposition, we plead to refrain from demanding rights through violent actions,” said the Patriarch, adding that the conflict had degenerated and foreign powers, by sending in arms, are ‘pouring oil into the fire.’

Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis also spoke on the ideals of coexistence being advocated by the Patriarch, citing the example of the recent statement made by him denouncing the American film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ as ‘humiliating to all religions, not just Islam.’