Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai pushed to form strong bonds between Muslims and Christians locally and abroad on nearly every stop he made during his historic visit to Southeast Michigan this week. In addition to visiting Maronite churches he made appearances at the American Muslim Center and the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, the largest mosque in the country, on Monday.
"We have responsibilities towards each other. Christians must represent Muslims especially in the Western societies and show that Islam is a religion of love and peace, not a religion of war and greed, and Muslims should represent Christians and show Christianity is love and civilization and brotherhood in the East and in particular the Arab World," Patriach Rai said at the ICA.
Muslim and Christian religious leaders who were present echoed Patriarch Rai's interfaith message. Patriarch Rai says there's a dire need for Lebanese people of different faiths, opinions and parties who have different concerns and aspirations, to meet as brothers, and one family on a dialogue table in order to build a better country and spread peace among everyone.
|Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai (C, bottom row in top photo) was greeted by large, enthusiastic and diverse crowds at all of his stops from May 13-16 in Metro Detroit at churches, mosques and other centers. The scenes shown here are from Bint Jebail Cultural Center, where he met with local civic and religious leaders. PHOTOS: Nafeh AbuNab|
Imam Mardini of the American Muslim Center says the Patriarch's appearances at the mosques are clear messages that he's opening his heart and offering his hand for all people to come together and live as one family.
Patriarch Rai is head of the Maronite Catholic Church worldwide, and was enthroned the 77th Maronite Patriarch on Mar. 25, 2011, replacing Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Sfeir, cardinal, who had retired earlier this year at the age of 91 after 25 years as Patriarch. The visit was part of an international tour. The Patriarch also visited Mexico and Montreal on the same type of trip. He's the highest Catholic and Christian authority in all the East.
Rai is the first Maronite Patriarch to come from a religious order in more than 200 years. The last to date was Patriarch Toubia el-Khazen (1756-1766) who was also a monk of the Mariamite Order.
On Sunday Patriarch Rai drew applause from hundreds as he entered the St. Sharbel Maronite Church in Warren where he spoke during mass.
Members of the local Muslim community and their religious leaders including Imam Mardini and Sheik Mohammed Dbouk of the ICA attended the mass.
|Ali Jawad speaking with Rai as Ambassador Youssef Ghafari looks on.|
Following Sunday's mass, a grand banquet was thrown at the Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township to honor the Patriarch. There were more than 870 guests.
Rai's visit was eagerly anticipated by the Maronite Catholic community in Michigan where an estimated 100,000 reside. According to Chorbishop Alfred Badawi, Pastor of St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church, Patriarch Rai came here to visit his people — worshipers of all faiths from Lebanon and the Middle East. He says the main objective of the tour was to meet people from the Maronite church, hear and listen to their concerns, and create bonds with religious and civil authorities.
While Lebanese immigrants have established new lives in America, and the country is now part of their nationality, at the same time the Patriarch wants them to keep the values and traditions they brought with them from Lebanon. "We don't want them to forget where they came from," Patriarch Rai said. "Americans love Lebanon because of you, and what you have given their country."
|Rai receiving flowers from Lebanese Americans in Dearborn during his visit to Bint Jebail Cultural Center.|
The sounds of drums and Arabic music set the mood as Rai arrived before a large, enthusiastic and diverse crowd at the center.
"This is a great man, our man for all the Muslims and the Christians in Lebanon and all the East,” said event host Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News.
Presentations were made to Rai and his delegation before several officials and dignitaries. Attendees flocked to get pictures of the day's special guest.
"Welcome to the first Patriarch ever to visit the city of Dearborn, the city with the highest concentration of Lebanese and Arab Americans in the USA," said Diab.
“His Beatitude has visited our churches and mosques alike...Here in Southeast Michigan you are visiting a Lebanese community with a 100-year-old Maronite church and the largest mosque in America, it is a well established community and we chose to hold the ceremony here at Bint Jebail Cultural Center which symbolizes the history of the immigrants of our Lebanese community, that is why we have chosen to honor you here today.
“I wish Your Beatitude the best of success in your most holy mission and we thank you for the role you're playing on both the national and international level.”
|Patriarch Rai receiving an award from Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard during his visit to Dearborn.|
"Dearborn has been the home of people from Lebanon for over a century," O'Reilly said before giving Rai a key to the city. "They came here from all faiths and have made many contributions, and those contributions have been in every area of our lives." Congressmen John Dingell (D-Dearborn), the Dean of the U.S. House, and John Conyers (D-Detroit) were also present. "You have a message that is much needed," Dingell said of Rai's emphasis on peace, love and unity, before giving his own proclamation.
Proclamations were also given by Conyers and a representative U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow's (D-Michigan) office.
Hajj Mohammed Turfe, Founding Chairman of the Center, also thanked the Patriarch and presented him with an award. Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano presented a proclamation of his own as well. Two county sheriffs, Michael Bouchard of Oakland and Benny Napoleon of Wayne, also added proclamations to Rai.
|Rai receiving an award from Congressman John Dingell during his visit to Dearborn.|
"I wish to renew my pledge to you that I will never, ever stop for any reason protecting the glory of Lebanon and working for the glory of Lebanon," he said.
"The whole of the Lebanese people have entrusted the Patriarch to make sure Lebanon remains Lebanon, and Lebanon remains safe...that is the national pact we live by," he continued.
Rai spoke about Lebanese residents selling their land to non-Lebanese, calling it a "crime," and encouraged people to keep their land or buy some for themselves or family members. "The glory of Lebanon is all of you," he said.
He also said that all Lebanese should put loyalty to their country first above any particular loyalty to political parties or religion, in the best interest of the Lebanese people.
At a press conference Tuesday the Patriarch discussed sectarian divides between religious groups in the Arab World.
|Patriarch Rai between Louis Ghafari and Publisher Osama Siblani|
The Patriarch says in Arab countries with some slight differences all the regimes are theocratic, and Islam is the religion of the state, source of legislation in the state and this makes the Christians feel as though they're second class citizens.
Patriarch Rai said that Muslims in the large majority are moderate but there are small factions in the Arab World that have their own fundamentalist agenda and it's that category that sometimes attacks Christians for one reason or another.
Former United States Ambassador to Slovenia, Yousif Ghafari, held a luncheon for the Patriarch at the Oakland Hills Country Club of Bloomfield Hills on Tuesday. Ghafari remembers his small village in Lebanon that had less than 1,000 people.
He said the most important institution in the village was the Maronite Catholic Church.
|Rai receiving an award from Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano during his visit to Dearborn.|
Not far from Ghafari's village his father and grandfather had friends of different faiths who would often gather together. "We were different, but we were the same. A lot of things have changed…that keep us from sitting at one another's table...this is why I'm so grateful for the leadership of Patriarch."
Ghafari says Rai has made the theme of his patriarchy to be that of communion and love, and he is working tirelessly to break down the barriers of hatred, and to support the civil rights of all, and ensure the cause of peace in the Middle East, and around the world through mutual respect and understanding.