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In first Holy Land pilgrimage, Lebanese patriarch visits 2 disparate Maronite flocks in Israel

  • Mideast Pope Lebanese Cardinal-1.jpg

    Cardinal Bechara Rai, the first leader of Lebanon's largest Christian sect, the Maronite Catholic Church to visit Jerusalem since Israel captured the city's eastern sector, arrives to attend a mass in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Rai's visit has triggered anger in Lebanon, which bans its citizens from traveling to archenemy Israel. The militant Islamist Shiite group Hezbollah warned that Rai's trip to Jerusalem could have "dangerous and negative repercussions." (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)The Associated Press

  • Mideast Pope Lebanese Cardinal-2.jpg

    Cardinal Bechara Rai, the first leader of Lebanon's largest Christian sect, the Maronite Catholic Church to visit Jerusalem since Israel captured the city's eastern sector, attends mass in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Rai's visit has triggered anger in Lebanon, which bans its citizens from traveling to archenemy Israel. The militant Islamist Shiite group Hezbollah warned that Rai's trip to Jerusalem could have "dangerous and negative repercussions." (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)The Associated Press

  • Mideast Pope Lebanese Cardinal-3.jpg

    Cardinal Bechara Rai, the first leader of Lebanon's largest Christian sect, the Maronite Catholic Church to visit Jerusalem since Israel captured the city's eastern sector, arrives to attend a mass in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. This has triggered anger in Lebanon, which bans its citizens from traveling to archenemy Israel. The militant Hezbollah group warned that Rai's trip to Jerusalem could have "dangerous and negative repercussions." (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)The Associated Press

The head of Lebanon's largest Christian group, the Maronite Catholics, has begun a politically charged tour of the remains of an Arab village destroyed by Israeli forces half a century ago.

Cardinal Bechara Rai led a religious procession on Wednesday through the ruins of Kufr Birim, a Maronite village near the Lebanese border. Israel razed Kufr Birim in 1953, five years after persuading hundreds of residents to leave by promising a speedy return that never materialized.

The villagers' descendants continue their struggle to return. They say they hope the cardinal can help.

Rai is on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He is the first Lebanese religious leader to visit Israel despite the formal state of war between the two countries and has faced criticism at home over the trip.