Beirut ( AsiaNews) - Hundreds of people (pictured ) attended the Mass that the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai yesterday celebrated in the church of St. Peter in the village of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The Maronites who welcomed the cardinal are part of the thousands of Christians who were part of the Christian South Lebanon Army ( SLA) - organized by the Israelis - and who fled to Israel in 2000 when the Tel Aviv army withdrew from southern Lebanon.
The stop at Capernaum is one of the stages of the pastoral visit that the Patriarch is making among the Maronite faithful in Palestine and in Israel as well - justified by his duty as the head of the largest Catholic Church in the region to welcome the Pope - was harshly criticized by two newspapers close to Hezbollah and Syria, As-Safir and Al-Akhbar, who had spoken of a "historic shame" since his visit to Israel pointed to a "normalization " of relations with a country with which Lebanon is still formally at war. For this reason, it is forbidden for Lebanese citizens to go to Israel and or have economic relations with the Jewish state. Maronite clergy are excluded from this ban, given the presence of about 11 thousand Maronite Christians in Israel. Among them veterans, and their families, of the Christian South Lebanon Army.
But, according to some of the veterans , the historic visit of Card. Rai will not change their situation. "The
Patriarch cannot guarantee anything,"one of them told AFP. "We - he
added - never wanted to leave our country, Israel is not my home and I want to
go home". In Israel they are permitted to perform low-paid jobs in factories,
restaurants or cleaning companies. They want to return to their homeland but fear
possible retaliation by Hezbollah, which fought against the SLA.
Another veteran, however, said he was "very happy" in his new life.
Yesterday, after Mass, Patriarch Rai visited the Christian villages of Kufr and Bir'im Iqrit. They were Christian villages not far from the Lebanese border that the Israeli army forced to evacuate in 1948, six months after the creation of the Jewish state. Since then those who inhabited them have never been able to go back and now live in the surrounding area. They asked the Cardinal for help. "We want the Vatican and Pope to help - they told him - so that the world hears of our plight".