Patriarch Rai’s wake up call to EU: We need solutions to Middle East conflicts

Speaking to the European parliament, the head of the Maronite Church warns that the conflicts in the region not just directly impacting Christians, but also the Mediterranean and the EU itself. Islamic extremism is wiping out centuries of dialogue and is a threat to world peace. Enshrine Lebanon’s neutrality and encourage Muslim nations to separate religion from the state.


Brussels (AsiaNews / Olj) - The Middle East’s conflicts are not just directly impacting on the region’s Christians, but on the entire "Mediterranean basin and Europe itself”.  This is why it is in "our common interest to find solutions" to the various wars "that plague the area”.

This was Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Rai’s wake up call to the EU during a speech delivered to the European Parliament in recent days. The cardinal was on an official visit to Belgium, where he met the institutional leaders of the continent and the country as well as a representative of the local Lebanese community.

Addressing a long and detailed speech to the highest political and institutional body in Europe, the head of the Maronite Church touched four essential elements: the theme of Christians in the Middle East; the consequences of conflicts for them; possible immediate responses; long-term solutions.

The growth of Islamic extremism and the spread of terrorist organizations, the cardinal said, "are likely to erase that moderate part of Muslims, which Christians and Muslims of this region have built in 1400 years of coexistence”. Christians, he added, were "guarantors of moderation" and are used to sharing "spiritual, cultural, moral and social" values with Muslims.

This is why the head of the Maronite Church warns that "we must not give ground" to the spread of extremism, because it would be a "threat to world peace". Hence the patriarch’s appeal to the European Union, to lobby the Security Council "to ensure the return of displaced persons to their home countries and help build a stable and peaceful world".

Cardinal Rai continued citing the example of Lebanon, the only country in the Arab world "which has a Christian President" [although the office has been vacant for almost two years, ed] and that "separates religion from the state implementing democratic standards and recognizing equality between Christians and Muslims".

Speaking of his country, the Cardinal appealed to the international community asking for the recognition of the principle of Lebanon’s "neutrality", to be "agents of peace, justice and human rights" in the region. The head of the Maronite Church at the same time warned that the Land of the Cedars is being "threatened in its culture, its identity and message of peace" by the presence of "half a million Palestinian refugees living in camps with undisturbed access to heavy and light arms ". And again, the half million Syrians "refugees whose number increases every year by 50 thousand units".

Among the short term solutions proposed by the cardinal, the resolution of conflicts that animate the region, followed by a political dialogue between the combatants, reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and support for the reconstruction of countries affected by war.

Long term solutions, proposed by the religious leader include encouraging Muslim countries "to separate the religion from the state", provided that "the state respects the dictates of faith." At the same time, Cardinal Rai hopes that Islam knows how "to free itself from fundamentalism" entering into modernity, accepting the positive elements that globalization provides and adopting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.