04/29/2015, 00.00
LEBANON – FRANCE
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Meeting between Patriarch Rahi and Hollande for Middle East Christians and minorities

by Fady Noun
The head of the Church of Lebanon was in France for the opening of the Maronite Eparchy in Meudon. French President reiterated his commitment to help Lebanon cope with the wave of Syrian refugees. They agree on stopping funding of jihadist groups, which also threaten Europe.

Paris (AsiaNews) – Maronite Patriarch, Card Bechara Rai, ended his visit to France on Tuesday with a meeting with President François Hollande at the Élysee Palace.

During the 50-minute audience, 40 in private , the head of the Maronite Church argued the case for Eastern Christians, other minorities in the region and moderate Muslims, in his capacity as President of the Assembly of Patriarchs and Bishops of the East.

"Eastern Christians will never accept an alternative homeland", he told the French president, this according to a reliable ecclesiastic source, who described the meeting as "historic".

The two leaders discussed other issues related to the political situation in Lebanon, including the presidential vacancy, its causes and effects. On this last point, the patriarch explained the causes of the deadlock and exchanged views with his host on ways to overcome this obstacle to end Lebanon’s crisis.

Cardinal Rahi also formally informed the French president of the opening, in Meudon, of the See of the Maronite Eparchy of France with, at its head, Bishop Maroun Nasser Gemayel. The latter attended part of the meeting.

In a statement issue following the visit, the Élysee Palace said, “The President of the Republic today received His Beatitude Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, patriarch of Lebanon, of Antioch and All the East. The president and the patriarch discussed the plight of minorities in the region, especially Eastern Christians, for whose protection the President reiterated his firm commitment. He expressed France’s determination to continue its assistance to Lebanon vis-à-vis the refugee crisis and the repercussions of the conflict in Syria.”

"The president of the Republic presented his greetings to the Maronite Church on the creation of the new Maronite Eparchy of France, which underscores the depth of the historical ties between France and Lebanon, particularly the Maronite community and its Church."

Circles close to the Élysee Palace also indicated that after hearing his guest’s presentation on the Lebanese crisis and the tragedy of Eastern Christians, Mr Hollande said that France would double its efforts to help Lebanon at political, economic and humanitarian levels, noting that this country, which is a friend of France, cannot bear the burden of the war in Syria alone, especially the flow of refugees who already represent half of the Lebanese population.

During the discussion, the patriarch is said to have stressed the importance of French action to dry up the sources of funding for jihadist groups. According to diplomatic sources, Paris is well aware that donors funding terrorist organisations fighting in the region are already a threat to Europe and other Western countries.

The common understanding between the French president and the Maronite patriarch began a few days ago, when both were in Armenia to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. On that occasion, the patriarch publicly expressed his appreciation for François Hollande’s speech in Yerevan.

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