News from Beirut May 5 1997 ...Search

Pope's Visit-The Count Down

His pontiff's visit to Lebanon on Saturday and Sunday is dominating the scene in Lebanon at a time Church preparedness is extremely high and Sunday sermons urged a popular massive participation especially at the mass in downtown Beirut.

-Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfair, speaking less than a week before the scheduled visit, said in a press interview 'the Lebanese Christians have lost guarantees concerning their status in the country'. He said the Pope's visit will help them return to themselves, restore their trust in each other and national conciliation. He stated that the president has been stripped of certain powers, and noted that immigration and imbalances in granting citizenship has led to a relative decline in number of the Christians in the country. He criticized the current conditions for Christians and asked that all Lebanese be allowed to return and take their places in their country.

Patriarch Sfair denied that Bkerke relation with Syria is tensed, and outlined that the dialogue with Syria, which is being carried out on informal basis, has made no progress so far. He said he favored coordination between Lebanon and Syria but on the condition that both sides are sovereign and independent. Sfair also said that a government of national unity has yet to see the light and the people do not have a say in the composition of these governments. "Just because you have people from various sects doesn't mean that their presence makes the government a "national" one. " The Patriarch repeated his view that holding parliamentary elections on the basis of  both the qadaa and governorate violated the principle of equality for all Lebanese. He repeated his call for a presidential pardon for Samir Geagea, but stated he had not relayed the request to any official.

Asked about reports saying president Elias Hrawi studying the possibility of a pardon in order to coincide with the Pope's visit, Sfair said he had no knowledge of the matter and denied he had make such a request to Hrawi . He stated that "either all war lords should be prosecuted or none of them". Asked about officials responses to calls for the return of Paris based opposition figures, he said "we sometimes hear that there is no objection, while at other times we hear that certain files will be open".

-Geagea lawyers have written a letter to the Pope expressing their anxiety about Geagea's persecution, who they say have been jailed for over 1,100 days "in an underground cell where he is deprived of sunlight, fresh air, correspondence, mingling with people, and access to mass media". The letter said Geagea was among "the first participants in the rehabilitation of the Lebanese state, and some credits goes to him for putting an end to the war". Geagea twice rejected ministerial positions in the postwar government for obvious reasons, according to the letter.

-Patriarch Sfair, speaking in the weekend at a mass to celebrate the start of the month of Virgin Mary , said all the church bells in Lebanon will ring to welcome the Pope's arrival at the airport. He encouraged all believers to participate in the days of preparatory prayers leading up to the visit and to attend the mass to be held by the Pope on Sunday in Beirut to bless Lebanon so that it will remain as it was, a land of freedom, love and peace.

-Chuf MP Nabil Bustani, who met with the patriarch on Sunday, has insisted that Minister for the displaced Walid Jumblat and his parliament bloc will participate in his pontiff's visit. Bustani said Jumblat is an advocate of the visit and has his opinion about it.

-Transport minister Omar Miskawi said Sunday "mixing the political and spiritual aspects of the visit would lessen the importance of the trip". He said his pontiff's value is bigger than our local problems. Miskawi said "political debate is temporary and we will expect the pope to address deeper spiritual issues.

- Metn MP Nassib Lahoud said "the Vatican wants the Christians of Lebanon to live their Christianity within its religious context, while continuing to interact positively, and in a civilized way, within the Arab society to which they belong"

- Prime minister Rafic Hariri, in a unilateral initiative to improve relations between the country's leaders, met at the weekend with president Hrawi and speaker Berri. Hariri circles quoted him saying his campaign stemmed from his belief that differences which have barred any meetings between Hrawi and Berri since November should be cleared before the visit of the Pope. The event will bring the three leaders together for an official welcome of the Pope at the airport and later at a reception at Baabda palace.

- Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Bahjat Ghaith sent a message Sunday to the Pope and another to president Hrawi complaining about not being invited to attend the official celebration to welcome his pontiff at Baabda palace. Ghaith hoped president Elias Hrawi would correct the error before the event and considered it "an insult to the Druze community".

- Lebanon Constitutional Council would postpone announcing its rulings on parliament seats until Thursday or perhaps will not take any decision until after the visit of the Pope.

-The National Grouping leaders including Gen. Michel Aoun, ex president Amin Gemayel, and NLP leader Douri Chamoun, called supporters to welcome his pontiff and to express their national feelings and aspirations. They hoped the Pope address to Lebanon will outline principles on which the Catholic church was built, being a witness to right, believes in free individual and national sovereignty also right of self determination, far from foreign pressures and military and intelligence discriminations. The three leaders, after a meeting Sunday in Paris at Gemayel's office, emphasized that the authority should halt chasing and discriminating citizens, also put end to violations of the constitution, through ousting national leaders and working to divide labor union.

- Papa mobile arrived to Beirut airport Saturday. Presidential guards took care of the car upon its arrival and moved it to the Baabda palace parking.

-Pope John Paul II received Saturday in the Vatican the newly appointed Iranian ambassador. The Vatican said the Pope expressed hope of further cooperation with him to defend the human basic rights and primarily the freedom of religion. His pontiff repeated his openness towards the Islamic world, noting that the Islamic deep rooted teachings in Iran and its people religious sense is giving the hope of further openness and cooperation with the world society. The Pope, in a reference to the 18,000 Catholic community in Iran, said he counts on the Iranian authority help to ensure them free exercise of their religious belief.

News In Brief

- Prime minister Hariri and interior minister Michel Murr were shown Saturday the master plan of the Metn coast redevelopment Linord project.

-Foreign minister Fares Boueiz received Saturday credentials of the newly appointed French and German ambassadors.

- The 6th May martyrs day will mark this year a reception at the Journalists Association headoffice in Beirut to commemorate the press martyrs, and another symbolic commemoration at the martyrs cemetery.

- Hizbullah called authorities not to intervene in the Constitutional Council's affair, because the council's rulings should be above all suspicions and have total immunity.

- Heads of the M.E Churches Council, who ended their conference on Jerusalem in Damascus, said in final recommendations that Christianity had carried a message of hope, faith and salvation and still doing so. They demanded that Palestinian people's legitimate rights be restored and returned, denounced the Israeli authority measures in Jerusalem, aimed to impose a de facto on the town which is holy to both the Christians and Muslims. They said they are proud of their common history with the Muslims and that they form together one nation. Jerusalem bishop of the Anglican church said Jerusalem is now becoming Jewish, in stone and culture, and Christians there decline from 28,000 to only 9,000.

-American ambassador Richard Jones did not attend Saturday function at which a commemorative book on Qana massacre was distributed to foreign diplomats and international organizations in Lebanon. MP Bahiya Hariri presented the book "Qana: To Keep The Memory Alive" which was published by Hariri Foundation. US diplomats said the 18th April, the date of the Qana massacre, is also the day the US commemorates the 1983 bombing of its embassy in Beirut and the 63 people who were killed.

- The Islamic resistance launched series of 9 attacks at Israeli and SLA patrols and outposts over the weekend, drawing Israeli and SLA artillery shelling of Iqlim Toffah.

Sports Round Up

- Ikhaa-Ahli Aley won the Adha football tournament cup beating Homentmen 2-0 at Safa stadium in Beirut. Ikhaa Aley winning the cup for first time.

- Shabiba Bushrieh won Fouad Chehab volleyball tournament cup beating Ghazir,

- Nijmeh defeated Ahli-Nabatieh 3-0 in a friendly match at Nijmeh stadium in Beirut.,

- Spring Rally 14 this year for the formula-2 group N, which is second stage of Lebanon's rallies for 1997, ended with results suspended because of objections over engines of the leading winners.

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