Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai’s visit to Damascus on Saturday and Sunday to participate in the mass marking the inauguration of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X cannot pass unnoticed by those who follow up on public affairs.
There must be a more objective analysis than emotional statements which dominated in the past two days on social networking websites. Some of these statements reached the extent of distorting sanctities and insulting them even if this aim was not intended. It was an emotional erosion that reached the extent of setting instincts free leading to insulting.
On the other hand, I disagree with March 14 General Secretariat Coordinator Fares Soueid’s call on the others, that is the non-Maronites or maybe even non-Christians, not to address Rai’s visit and leaving the issue of welcoming it or criticizing to the Christians themselves. In Soueid’s statement, there is an attempt to protect Rai from hurtful comments and definite criticism of his visit or of his personal views and stances.
But like political figures and like those who deal with public affairs, religious figures’ actions are already subject to criticism daily. Imagine how this criticism will be if their acts have repercussions that concern everyone inside and outside the country. Imagine how this criticism will be if religious figures’ acts are in the heart of politics. Maybe some of them are more concerned with worldly issues than they are with religious ones.
What is certain is that the patriarch cardinal was bold in his move that was almost dangerous even if the Syrian regime made effort to provide a security cover for the visit and for the inauguration mass held yesterday in order to show the world the image of a country capable of maintaining its own security and its guests’ security.
On the Christian level, the visit grants Syria’s and Middle East’s Christians a moral push amid this difficult phase. It is an ecclesiastic dimension that is important in the life of patrons since the first eras of Christianity when bishops died for their parish and sacrificed for it. Bishops did not travel in armored convoys, and they were not provided with security protection.
But the visit also has a clear political dimension even if its organizers do not focus on it or completely overlook. The timing is not appropriate ,and the patriarch’s visit looked it was filling the vacuum of the “Christian cover” which retired General Michel Aoun used to provide for the Syrian regime by visiting Barad in Saint Maroun’s Day . The Syrian president’s implied approval not to invite the patriarchs to visit him and not to insist to meet with the Maronite patriarch despite the historical symbol of the visit was clear. All of this is an implied coordination that goes beyond the borders of the pastoral visit.
This is the appearance of it. As for the core, the situation is embarrassing as Patriarch Rai focused on reform from inside Syria through dialogue. This was explained as a call to keep President Assad and hold dialogue with him to achieve reforms which the patriarch knows well are impossible with a regime like this regime.
It is true that the patriarch has the entire freedom in what he does and says and we are in no position to detract his role but we have the right to inquire about the repercussions of his visit. Does it comfort the Syrian Christians in dealing with non-Christian citizens or does it move the instincts of those who analyze the patriarch’s stances according to their whims or perceptions leading to adverse consequences like yesterday’s abduction of three priests in Syria?
Courage and intrepidity are two necessary conditions to run leadership posts but wisdom remains the most precious of values because matters depend on their outcome, and we must wait.
This article was first published in the Lebanon-based Annahar on Feb. 11, 2013.
Nayla Tueni is one of the few elected female politicians in Lebanon and of the two youngest. She became a member of parliament in 2009 and following the assassination of her father, Gebran, she is currently a member of the board and Deputy General Manager of Lebanon’s leading daily, Annahar. Prior to her political career, Nayla had trained, written in and managed various sections of Annahar, where she currently has a regular column. She can be followed on Twitter @NaylaTueni