Patriarch: President Is "Top Priority" for Lebanon

Cardinal Sfeir Addresses UN Security Council

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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, MAY 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The election of president in Lebanon is a "top priority" for the country, the Maronite patriarch of Antioch told the U.N. Security Council at the beginning of his visit to the United States.



Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir addressed the council Thursday, where he spoke of the various issues facing the nation. He also met with privately with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The cardinal's visit is part of a multi-continent trip he began May 4. His first stops included Qatar and South Africa. His scheduled stops in the United States include New York, Philadelphia, and Houston, Texas.

"The issues facing our beloved Lebanon are many," he told the Security Council. "These days are particularly difficult. Last week we witnessed acts of violence and the illegitimate use of force to achieve political ends. This is completely unacceptable and should never happen again."

Fighting in Lebanon escalated May 7 when the nation's cabinet banned the communication system used by the Shittie Hezbollah group. More than 80 people have since been killed. The Pope appealed for peace in Lebanon after praying the midday Regina Caeli on Sunday in St. Peter's Square.

Cardinal Sfeir said Lebanon needs it's "constitutional institutions to be active and effective." He cited the election of a president as a "top priority." Lebanon's presidency, a post reserved for a Maronite Catholic, has been vacant since November.

Safeguard democracy

"We hope the United Nations will intervene with all member states to facilitate the normal and proper functioning of the Lebanese government," he continued. "Lebanon by nature is pluralistic, a country governed by a consensual democracy. This special character of Lebanon should be safeguarded and never lost."

The cardinal said that Lebanon also needs to "be assured that neighboring countries will not attack, invade, or compromise the sovereignty of Lebanon," and that the nation needs "Israel to cooperate fully with the United Nations, to stop its military flights over Lebanese airspace, and to cooperate in the removal of land mines and unexploded cluster bombs from Lebanese soil."

The patriarch added that land disputes must be resolved with Israel and Syria, and asked that the international community not forget the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. "Lebanon according to its constitution cannot assume the full burden of their refugee status," he said.

Cardinal Sfeir arrived today to Philadelphia, where Cardinal Justin Rigali welcomed the patriarch. The archbishop of Philadelphia will concelebrate Mass with the patriarch this evening at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.

On Saturday and Sunday Cardinal Sfeir will visit and pray at Maronite Churches in Philadelphia and receive an honorary degree from Villanova University. He will be accompanied by Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, New York, and Bishop Robert Shaheen of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in St. Louis, Missouri.

Maronite Catholics make up the largest percentage of Lebanon's Christian population, which is itself about 39% of the entire population of the nation.