(JNS.org) An assassination plot has been revealed against the head of the Lebanese Maronite Christian Church, Cardinal Bishop Beshara Rai, amid his controversial weeklong visit to Israel.
Lebanese security sources told The Daily Star that internal security forces last week arrested a man who was plotting with undisclosed regional intelligence services to assassinate the Christian leader. But later a military prosecutor downplayed the plot, saying that the man was “mentally unbalanced.” Lebanese police said that the suspect had been in Rai’s hometown taking pictures of the area.
Lost in the media attention of Pope Francis’s visit to the region, Rai is the first Lebanese religious leader to officially visit Israel since the Jewish state was founded in 1948.
His visit, however, has come at great personal risk as Hezbollah and many others in Lebanon warned Rai not to set foot in Israel.
“I am the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of regions expanding from Turkey to Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and to Iran,” Rai had said concerning his Israel trip, the Lebanese daily Naharnet reported.
“It is my duty to welcome the pope in any country in these regions,” he said.
Since arriving in Israel with Pope Francis on Sunday in Jerusalem, Rai has been touring the Galilee, home to the majority of Israel’s Christian community. He has been visiting Christian towns in the region, including celebrating mass on the Sea of Galilee with Maronite Christians who fought in the controversial South Lebanon Army, a largely Christian militia that fought alongside Israel during the Lebanese Civil War. Overall, roughly 11,000 Maronites reside in Israel.
Israeli Christian leaders welcomed Rai’s visit and called on other Christians in the region to visit Israel and the holy sites, considering it an important pilgrimage.
“All Christians should come visit the Holy Land, it is their duty,” Bishara Shlayan, an Israeli Christian from Nazareth who is forming a new Christian political party, told JNS.org.
“We welcome Cardinal Rai, [his visit] lets us all feel the common bond of Christians,” Shlayan added.