Beirut, Lebanon                                                                                                        05 May 2015


With over 1.5 million Syrian refugees, Cardinal Rai is worried about the future of his country By Oliver Maksan

Beirut/Königstein, 05.05.2015. Patriarch Bechara Cardinal Rai is worried about the religious balance in Lebanon. In an interview with the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) at his official residence in Bkerke (Lebanon), the head of the Maronite Church, which is in communion with the church in Rome, recently commented, “There are no problems arising from Muslims and Christians living together in Lebanon. All Lebanese want to live together. Our greatest problem is the Syrian refugees. These comprise over 1.5 million people. Of course it is our humanitarian duty to help. And the church is doing a great deal. However, most of them are Sunnis. They can be exploited both politically and religiously by the Lebanese Sunnis,” the cardinal said. “We already had this experience with the Palestinians. They started the civil war in the 1970s against the Lebanese and the Lebanese Army. At the time they were joined by the Lebanese Sunnis. This could happen again now. When we had the first confrontation between the Lebanese Army and ISIS last year, the army was attacked by armed Syrian Sunnis. In the long run, this is a ticking bomb. The war in Syria and in Iraq has to end so that the people can return. Time is not on our side.”

Sheltering the large number of Syrian refugees also has economic consequences for Lebanon, which the cardinal also deplored. “The Syrians want to eat, of course. And so they work for lower wages than the Lebanese. This means that the Lebanese lose their jobs. They open up shops that undercut the prices of Lebanese shops. This is why a number of Lebanese have emigrated. This also has grave social and cultural consequences. “What will remain of Lebanon and Lebanese culture in the long term when over one and a half million Syrians are living in our country?” the Cardinal asked anxiously. “This also has an effect on the Christians in Lebanon, of course. The Christians want freedom and a good life. This is why they are selling their possessions and emigrating. The danger that the Middle East will gradually lose its Christian presence is growing. The West must therefore realise the gravity of the situation.”

The cardinal called on Aid to the Church in Need to raise awareness of the situation of the Christians in the Middle East among western politicians. “The politicians need to understand that the war in Syria has to end. The international community has to stop fomenting and fostering the war. The arms trade has to stop. They have to set their pride aside, sit down at one table and find a political solution. However, their pride will not allow this. Because economic interests such as gas and oil are behind this pride.” Cardinal Rai believes that extremist Islamist groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and al-Nusra were created by western and Arab countries and backed with money and weapons so that they could be used as an instrument to achieve their economic and political interests. “After all, did they just fall from the sky? However, they have now become a weapon against the whole world.”

According to Cardinal Rai, a political solution in Syria can no longer be avoided. “Why did Assad not fall like Mubarak in Egypt or Ben Ali in Tunisia? The entire population was against them. This is not the case in Syria. There, the people are for the president. Elections were recently held that confirmed Assad as president. The West does not want to recognise these elections. It is said that they were manipulated. They do not accept democracy in the name of democracy,” the patriarch of the largest Christian community in Lebanon continued. “However, you have to talk with Assad. The dialogue between government and opposition is decisive. In France, for example, I was told that the opposition does not want to talk with Assad. However, with whom else should they talk to solve the conflict?”

Cardinal Rai further elaborated that the Muslims in the Middle East need Jesus Christ and the values of the Gospel. “What are the Muslims in the Middle East hearing about today? War, hate, persecution, murders, displacement, fundamentalism. However, they need to hear about things like peace, justice, human rights, respect for life, fraternity, freedom and respect for the other. They need the antidote of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to hear another language. Here, no one is talking about love and peace. They are talking about war and hate.” In this context, he talked about the Holy Year of Mercy that will begin in the autumn as a “prophetic gesture” of Pope Francis. “There is no mercy in the world. However, the world needs mercy, especially today. We pray that we Christians can be the apostles and heroes of mercy.”

The patriarch expressly thanked the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their generosity and help. “I thank the 60000 benefactors from all over the world who help through their prayers and material support. In the name of all Christians in the Middle East I would like to extend my appreciation to them. They represent the mercy of God. They are witnesses to the mercy in this chosen region of God.”


Lebanon Diocese of Zahle unofficial tent refugee camp at the outskierts of Zahle, March 2014


Monument made by a Syrian artist which symbolizes Lebanon where Muslims and Christan live in peace in the country of Cedar


Oliver Maksan,