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Former Maronite patriarch refuses to criticize successor's stand on Syria

Catholic World News - October 11, 2011

Former Maronite Catholic Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has told reporters in Lebanon that he has no quarrel with his successor’s willingness to negotiate with Syria.

Patriarch Bechara Rai (sometimes rendered Beshara al-Rahi) has drawn criticism for public statements in which he argued against abrupt regime change in Syria. But Cardinal Sfeir, who was implacably opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon, would not join the critics. “There is another patriarch now and he leads the patriarchate,” said Cardinal Sfeir, who stepped down in February at the age of 90. “I am out of the game.”

Regarding rumors that Patriarch Rai may travel to Damascus to confer with President Bashar Assad, Cardinal Sfeir said: “Rai knows whether it is beneficial or not to visit Syria.” He said that it was impossible for him to consider such a trip during his tenure as Maronite leader because a visit to Syria would have been interpreted as a signal of acceptance of Syria’s influence in Lebanon. The Maronite Catholic Patriarch exerts enormous public influence in Lebanon. The change of leadership—and the new stands taken by Patriarch Rai—have altered the diplomatic landscape in the region, causing ripples of concern as far away as Washington.

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