Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic Church, speaks Monday in Uniontown.
By Ann Rodgers Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Maronite Catholic patriarch of Lebanon brought a message of universal forgiveness and mercy Monday to a Uniontown parish overflowing with Lebanese Catholics eager to see him.
"Have you ever tried to live in a world without forgiveness? It is a cold, harsh and unbearable world," Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai told 750 people who had greeted him with applause and ululation. St. George Maronite Catholic Church in Uniontown holds 250 people and a tent was erected outside its front door to accommodate 500 more.
He said that forgiveness and mercy is needed among Christians, Muslims and Jews, within the Christian church and within families.
Maronites are Eastern Catholics who follow the practices of Orthodoxy but are loyal to the pope. Their homeland is Lebanon, but there are 3 million worldwide. Patriarch Rai, 71, was installed in March and is on a three-week tour of the United States to meet Maronites here. He is known as a strong advocate for the Christian minority in the Middle East, and has run afoul of U.S. policy by warning that too abrupt an end to the Assad regime in Syria could be disastrous for that nation's Christian minority.
A letter from the Maronite bishop of Brooklyn, Bishop Gregory Mansour, was printed in St. George's bulletin this weekend. Addressed to President Barack Obama, it criticized the president for not meeting with Patriarch Rai to discuss the situation of Christians in the Middle East. Bishop Mansour attributed the lack of a meeting to U.S. concern with the patriarch's statements about Syria.
"Patriarch Rai's warning about the future of Christians in Syria is not taboo. Christians are in a state of peril in the same way that Christians of Iraq were a few years ago when two-thirds of them migrated out ... To say the patriarch supports dictators and sides with terrorists is pure nonsense," Bishop Mansour wrote. "A new day is dawning in the Middle East. The Arab Spring is happening with little vision for the summer that will ensue."
The patriarch was expected to speak about that situation at an 8 p.m. banquet after the Liturgy.