Patriarchs tackle situation of Christians

34010_main1.jpgKirill attends a Mass for Greek Orthodox at the Saint Georges Church in Beirut.
BEIRUT: The Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient kicked off its 20th conference Monday in Bkirki, where attendees are to discuss means to implement the recommendations of a Synod convened last year that focused on the situation of Christians in the Levant.

Earlier in the day, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia held talks with President Michel Sleiman and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai at Baabda Palace, where the patriarch highlighted the importance of Lebanon as an example of diversity.

Speaking at the conference after opening prayers, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said that participants would discuss a mechanism to implement the recommendations of the Synod, convened last year under the motto, “Partnership and Love,” which focused on the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Many Christians fled Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion and occupation, fueling worries over the fate of Christians in the region.

Rai hailed the Synod that convened at the Vatican in October of last year under Pope Benedict XVI, which he said helps Christians better understand events in the Middle East and the challenges they present.

It also assists Christians in the region to improve cooperation and allows them to stand in solidarity with each other and to engage in dialogue with Muslims, Jews and people of other religions with whom they coexist, Rai said.

Pastoral issues and administrative matters for the council are also on the conference’s agenda, Rai added.

According to Rai, in line with the Synod’s motto, this week’s conference will tackle three complementary topics: the Christian presence in the Levant, partnership and love.

The patriarch said the Christian presence has two dimensions – physical and spiritual.

“The physical presence means to be present on the physical … and national level,” he said, adding that this presence implies essential rights and protection.

As for the spiritual presence, Rai said that it is a matter of partnership and love.

The conference will last until Thursday when a final statement will be released.

Measures to promote partnership and love are also to be discussed during the conference.

Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius Lahham III, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan and a host of patriarchs, bishops and other religious figures were in attendance.

Separately, Patriarch Kirill said during talks with Sleiman and Rai at Baabda Palace that he was impressed with what had been achieved in Lebanon in terms of development, highlighting the importance of the Lebanese example of plurality, diversity, coexistence and dialogue between religions and cultures.

For his part, Sleiman said that as communications and information technology develop, along with greater aspirations for democracy, Lebanon can serve as an example as all segments of society take part in decisions and politics in the country.

In attendance at Baabda Palace were Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, Patriarchs Lahham and Younan, Beirut Metropolitan for Roman Orthodox Bishop Elias Audi, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari and Papal Ambassador to Beirut Gabriel Katcha.

Prior to Kirill’s arrival, Sleiman discussed with Rai the latter’s recent visits to the United States and Iraq.

Also Monday, Kirill attended a Mass at Saint George Church for Greek Orthodox in Downtown Beirut. Kirill arrived in Lebanon Sunday after visiting Syria where he held talks with President Bashar Assad.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::