Flags decorate Beirut streets
Pope Benedict XVI will call on the world’s governments to stop arming belligerents in the Syrian crisis when he visits Lebanon, the country’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai said today (Thursday).
Speaking in Beirut, the head of Lebanon's Maronite Church, the country’s largest Christian group which is communion with the Roman Catholic Church and loyal to the Pope, said Benedict will "definitely call for an end to the spiral of violence and to hatred, which are pointless, and for those who finance and arm both sides in the conflict to stop doing so."
He added: "All Arab peoples and others have the right to demand reforms, and we are with them."
Rai went on to say that war was not caused by Islam or Christianity, but by "states, troublemakers or mercenaries."
He said: "Islam and Christianity should unite over values in order to lay down the foundations for a true Arab Spring."
Syria is now in the eighteenth month of a bloody civil war which has increased sectarian in Lebanon. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has been receiving arms from Russia and Iran. The Syrian rebels have been receiving aid from a number of Gulf countries, most notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as military advice from US government agencies.
The foray by the Vatican into the Syrian conflict will prompt criticism in some quarters. Maronite Christians are divided over the Syrian conflict. Many leading Lebanese Christian politicians openly back Assad’s regime while others support the rebels.
Last week Rai said Syria's Christians did not support the Assad regime but that they did want stability in the war-torn country.
In an interview with news agency AFP he said: "I tell Westerners who say that we [Christians] are with the Syrian regime that we are not with regimes, we are with the state. There is a big difference. In Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was removed, we lost a million Christians. Why? Not because the regime fell, but because there was no more authority, there was a vacuum."
The Vatican had also been anxious to avoid to being seen to take sides in the conflict.
Earlier this week the Papal envoy to Beirut Archbishop Gabriele Caccia insisted that while "the Syrian question takes priority because it is an emergency, the whole trip cannot be reduced to a political question regarding Syria."
Rai also called for the withdrawal from circulation of a controversial low budget film that allegedly insults Islam and which has led to the death of the US Ambassador and three other Americans in Libya and violent anti American demonstrations in Egypt and Yemen.
He said: "The film does not insult only Islam, it insults us all."