Paris (AsiaNews) – "In the dead of night that covers us [. . .] I make a heartfelt plea to all those who wait for the dawn,” said Maronite Patriarch Card Bechara al Rahi. The “Christian exodus from their countries of origin [. . .] will also weaken the role of moderate Muslims,” he added in a speech delivered on behalf of the persecuted Churches and peoples of the Middle East at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
The cardinal, who arrived in France on Saturday for a four-day visit whose centrepiece will be a meeting with French President Francois Hollande, came from Armenia, where he represented Eastern patriarchs in the ceremonies marking the centennial of the Armenian genocide.
On his first day, the patriarch spoke at UNESCO about ‘The Christian presence in the Middle East and its role in promoting the culture of peace’ in front of UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, UNESCO Executive Board Chairman Mohammad Sameh Amr, and Ambassador Khalil Karam, Lebanon’s permanent delegate to the UN body.
For the head of the Maronite Church, "The international community has been slow in stopping the deadly work of assassins without faith and borders".
Like a gifted historian, Patriarch Rahi sketched a brief history of "two thousand years of Christian presence in the Middle East,” and talked about the spaces for a culture of peace that this presence promotes and proposed ways to preserve them.
In his address, the patriarch said that the first condition for safeguarding the Christian presence in the region is “solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." That shows how insurmountable the challenge seems to be.
At the same time, the patriarch did not miss a chance to say that the decline of Arab Islamic civilisation went hand in hand with "the stifling of Christian society". He warned that the "Christian exodus from their countries of origin [. . .] will also weaken the role of moderate Muslims who are by far the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East."
Finally, "I came to UNESCO to bring the voice of those who had it taken from them. I come here to vouch for the plight of millions of refugees, displaced people, children and seniors, women and men who lost loved ones, who had their country and property stolen, their future destroyed.”
“I came here to bear witness to the immense and indescribable pain of those who have been persecuted for their faith, those whose identity was insulted in the name of the God of mercy by ruthless murderers who dare use his name.”
“I came here to cry out for the cause of those who await the end of the night and expect their salvation from an international community that is late in stopping the deadly work by assassins without faith and without borders.”
"In the dead of night that covers us,” he added, “in the darkest of darks that surrounds us, I make a heartfelt plea to all those who wait for the dawn, in the East as in the West, in Europe, the Arab world as well as the world whole, within Christianity and Islam, to help us raise hope and comfort the neglected, helpless, hunted and persecuted communities, whose utmost wish is not to give in to their misfortune.”
Before inaugurating the See of the new Maronite Diocese in France on Sunday, the patriarch made two passionate pleas, calling on Lebanese leaders to elect without delay the new president of Lebanon, which has been without a head of state for 11 months (since 25 Mai 2014).
In the evening, he dedicated ‘Villa des Cèdres’ in Meudon (Hauts-de-Seine), amid crowd of faithful from France and Europe, as well as Lebanese and French dignitaries.
Inside the estate, Beit Maroun, an aptly named building, will serve as the residence of the Maronite bishop of France, whose current holder is Bishop Maroun Nasser-Gemayel.
It will also operate as the headquarters of the new diocese and of the French office of the Maronite foundation in the world, also renamed Meudon, and the French office of Maronite Foundation in the World, renamed ‘Fondation libanaise chrétienne’ (Christian Lebanese Foundation).
The foundation was created by decree in 2006 by then Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir together with Michel Eddé, a former Lebanese government minister.
Its purpose is to boost ties with the Lebanese living abroad by helping them, above all, preserve their descendants’ right to Lebanese nationality.