Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, visiting Syria, urged Christians to hold onto their faith.
“Withstand with your faith and values, hold on to your unity. God doesn’t accept injustice, and our God is the God of peace and justice,” he said from the courtyard of Our Lady of the Sea on 7 December in the Syrian coastal town of Tartus.
The governor of the coastal town declared a public holiday in honour of the visit of the cardinal, who is patriarch of Maronite Catholics. Thousands of people lined the streets to welcome the cardinal from neighbouring Lebanon, many holding posters of the prelate, along with Syrian flags.
“I greet you all with great emotion, and I salute all our families that I met here, and I salute all school students who met us on the roads,” he said.
“War can only stop with a will for peace that pushes all conflicting sides to sit around a dialogue table,” Cardinal Rai said of the war in Syria, now in its fifth year.
The cardinal celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Annunciation Cathedral for the ordination of Archbishop Joseph Tobji as Maronite archbishop of Aleppo, Syria.
Before celebrating Mass, Cardinal Rai said, “It is not permissible that the land of the East” where Christ walked “becomes the land of iron and fire”. He called for heroic efforts “to build peace, to reject violence, to respect human rights and to promote justice”.
It was the cardinal’s second visit to Syria; his first was in February 2013.