The head of the Maronite Church said over the weekend he sees no reason why Christians from Lebanon should not visit the Christian holy sites in the Holy Land and Jerusalem.
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Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi said such a visit did not signal a normalization but rather a pilgrimage. He said he would raise the issue in meetings in Saudi Arabia this month with the Saudi royal house, which is responsible for pilgrimages by Muslims from around the world and also accepts Muslims from Israel. The patriarch’s reactions have received mixed responses in Lebanon.
“When I visited the Holy Land, I met with my community and had no political activity. And I don’t see anything wrong with this,” Rahi said.
The patriarch’s remarks were sparked by the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar’s main headline Friday — it was based on Haaretz’s report Thursday that Israeli Maronites have been making pilgrimages to Lebanon for about a year.
The Lebanese newspaper, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, said Israeli Arabs should be allowed to visit the sacred Christian sites in Lebanon but warned that this could be taken advantage of to let Lebanese Christians visit Israel, which could indirectly lead to a normalization. According to Al-Akhbar, this was the purpose of the Haaaretz article.
The Haaretz story made waves in the Arab world and was translated by leading Arab media outlets, among them the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram and Beirut-based Al Mayadeen television.