Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Patriarch of the powerful Lebanese Maronite Catholic Church, has called on both Christians and Muslims to work towards a peaceful coexistence, and more assistance for refugees.
Extending his best regards to “Muslims and Christians, knowing that this year the celebrations of Christmas and the birth of the Prophet coincide,” – Muhammad’s birthday was celebrated on December 23 – he said: “We are determined to perform our duty to confront fanaticism, divisions … and we are keen to preserve coexistence.”
The patriarch repeated his calls for country’s politicians to close the political vacuum and elect a president “as soon as possible” to move the country “from despair and anxiety to hope and peace”.
Lebanon has been without a president since President Michel Suleiman departed the presidential palace more than one year ago,the longest time the post has been vacant since the devastating civil war ended in 1990.Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the post is held by a Maronite Catholic.
Cardinal Rai stressed that the Maronite Patriarchate has given the higher officials three documents, “road maps … to build a modern constitutional state, capable and productive, based on a healthy democracy and (which) respects the equality of all its citizens”.
“We stand at the humanitarian level with our refugee brothers,” the patriarch said, but warned that Syrian refugees in Lebanon could be exploited by terrorists or extremist groups to ignite unrest and instability in the country.
Cardinal Rai commended the U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed a road map for a peace process to end the Syrian Civil War, but disapproved of its recommendation for a “voluntary” return of refugees.
“We do not accept the term ‘voluntarily’ because these refugees must return home,” he said.
The refugee crisis which began in 2011 has had more than four million refugees of the Syrian Civil War leave the country during the course of the war. Most of them fled to neighboring countries:Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, while hundreds of thousands also ended up in more remote countries of the Caucasus, the Persian Gulf, North Africa and Europe. Currently, there are about 500,000 Palestinians in Lebanon. As of December 2015, Turkey was the world’s biggest refugee hosting country with close to 2.5 million Syrian refugees; the nation had spent more than 8 billion Euros since 2011 on direct assistance to them according to estimates by Turkish Ministry of Education deputy secretary Yusuf Büyük.