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Lebanon patriarch to join pope on Jerusalem visit

Lebanon's Maronite patriarch says will join Pope Francis in May on a Holy Land tour

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Lebanon's Maronite patriarch is to become the first head of his church to visit Jerusalem when he joins Pope Francis in May on a Holy Land tour, he told AFP on Friday.

“The pope is going to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He is going to the diocese of the patriarch, so it's normal that the patriarch should welcome him,” Beshara Rai said by telephone from France, dismissing any political significance.

Rai's visit is diplomatically noteworthy because Lebanon remains technically at war with Israel and bans its citizens from entering the Jewish state.

Maronite clergy are able to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the faithful there, but all other Lebanese are banned.

Rai insisted that the trip will be strictly religious and has no political significance.

"It is a religious visit and in no way a political one."

Rai's deputy Boulos Sayyah, who will accompany him, said the patriarch would not participate in any political meetings in Israel but will meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.