TEL AVIV, Israel – 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.