Lebanese Catholic prelates urge world leaders to stop Middle East wars

Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon gestures during an Oct. 9 news conference in Beirut. Following the prime minister's Nov. 4 resignation, Catholic leaders in Lebanon urged the international community and players concerned to stop wars and bring peace to the Middle East. (CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters) Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon gestures during an Oct. 9 news conference in Beirut. Following the prime minister's Nov. 4 resignation, Catholic leaders in Lebanon urged the international community and players concerned to stop wars and bring peace to the Middle East. (CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)

BEIRUT (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Lebanon urged the international community to stop wars and bring peace to the Middle East, and they said Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, would carry that message to Saudi Arabia Nov. 13.

At the end of the Nov. 6-10 session of the Catholic Council of the Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon, the prelates said their pain "is the continuation of wars in the countries of the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen, which have shaken the stability and peace and caused the programmed demolition and the ravages and misfortunes of innocent citizens."

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Their meeting followed the Nov. 4 resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, announced from Saudi Arabia.

Before that announcement, Cardinal Rai was scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman.

It will be the first time a cardinal officially visits Saudi Arabia and the first visit of an Eastern patriarch to the kingdom since Greek Orthodox Patriarch Elias IV of Antioch in 1975.

In their statement, the Lebanese church officials said Cardinal Rai's visit is "an occasion to demand that Lebanon be removed from regional conflicts" as well as "to support the independence, sovereignty and stability of Lebanon" and for Lebanon to "remain in this eastern region as the land of cultural and religious pluralism and dialogue between Christianity and Islam."

Amid "the state of deadlock" in Lebanon following the resignation of its prime minister, the prelates said they were concerned that he has not yet returned to Lebanon, stressing that this is "necessary for the sake of dignity, sovereignty and stability." 

They said they valued the wisdom of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, "who has called for prudence and internal unity, and is still engaged in extensive consultations on this issue."

Under Lebanon's power-sharing system, its president is a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the House a Shiite Muslim.

While commending the Lebanese for "social solidarity" with refugees, nearly all of whom are Syrian, the prelates said the refugees' presence -- now more than half of Lebanon's existing population of about 4 million -- "has become a burden and a threat to its structure, economy and population balance and to its political and security stability."

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