Maronite Patriarch Will Join Pope Francis in Jerusalem

It will be the first visit to Israel by the head of the Lebanon-based Christian denomination since Israel's establishment in 1948.

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Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.Credit: AFP

The patriarch of the Maronite Christian church, Beshara Rai will join Pope Francis on his historic trip to Jerusalem next month, Lebanon's Daily Star reported.

It will be the first visit to Israel by the head of the Lebanon-based denomination since Israel's establishment in 1948.

"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 by telephone from France.

Lebanon remains technically at war with Israel and bans its citizens from entering the country. Maronite clergy are able to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the estimated 10,000 faithful, but all other Lebanese are banned.

Rai insisted that the trip will be strictly religious and has no political significance. "It is a religious visit and in no way a political one," he said.

Pope Francis is scheduled to make his first trip to the Holy Land from May 24-26. He will also visit the Jordan and the West Bank, where he will celebrate Sunday Mass in Bethlehem. In Israel the pope is scheduled tol meet Palestinian and Syrian refugees and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

The Maronite church has its roots in the Fertile Crescent of the early 5th century. It is named after St Maron, a hermit whose holiness and miracles attracted many followers.

Following a bloody persecution a century later, the Maronites fled to the mountains of what is now Lebanon to seek refuge.

They have their own distinct theology, spirituality, liturgy and code of canon law but are in full communion with Rome.