World

Lebanese cardinal visits parish in Israel, becomes first top Lebanese cleric to do so

  • Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic Church, center, visits  a church in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 26, 2014. The leader of Lebanon's largest Christian denomination visited Jerusalem on Sunday, an official said, making him the first Lebanese religious leader to set foot in the city since Israel captured its traditionally Arab eastern sector in the 1967 Mideast war. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

    Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic Church, center, visits a church in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 26, 2014. The leader of Lebanon's largest Christian denomination visited Jerusalem on Sunday, an official said, making him the first Lebanese religious leader to set foot in the city since Israel captured its traditionally Arab eastern sector in the 1967 Mideast war. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)  (The Associated Press)

  • Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic Church, center, visits  a church in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 26, 2014. The leader of Lebanon's largest Christian denomination visited Jerusalem on Sunday, an official said, making him the first Lebanese religious leader to set foot in the city since Israel captured its traditionally Arab eastern sector in the 1967 Mideast war. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

    Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic Church, center, visits a church in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 26, 2014. The leader of Lebanon's largest Christian denomination visited Jerusalem on Sunday, an official said, making him the first Lebanese religious leader to set foot in the city since Israel captured its traditionally Arab eastern sector in the 1967 Mideast war. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)  (The Associated Press)

  • Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic Church, center, arrives to visit a church in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 26, 2014. The leader of Lebanon's largest Christian denomination visited Jerusalem on Sunday, an official said, making him the first Lebanese religious leader to set foot in the city since Israel captured its traditionally Arab eastern sector in the 1967 Mideast war. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

    Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of the Maronite Catholic Church, center, arrives to visit a church in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 26, 2014. The leader of Lebanon's largest Christian denomination visited Jerusalem on Sunday, an official said, making him the first Lebanese religious leader to set foot in the city since Israel captured its traditionally Arab eastern sector in the 1967 Mideast war. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)  (The Associated Press)

The head of Lebanon's largest Christian denomination has visited a parish in Israel, becoming the first Lebanese religious leader to come to the Jewish state since its creation in 1948.

Cardinal Bechara Rai, a Maronite Catholic, made the trip despite criticism at home. His critics say the pilgrimage implies normalization with Israel at a time when the two countries remain formally at war.

Rai said Monday that his journey is celebrating the roots of Christianity in the region. In a veiled response to his critics, he says he was misunderstood and that his journey is purely spiritual.

He was cheered by several dozen faithful as he arrived at a Maronite parish in Jaffa, today part of Israel's second largest city, Tel Aviv. He also visited a monastery west of Jerusalem.