Sfeir Undecided on Trip to Meet pope in Syria
With less than a week remaining before Pope John Paul II visits Syria, ambiguity still surrounds the Lebanese Maronite patriarch's position on whether or not he will accompany the pontiff, reported the Daily Star newspaper.
Sources close to Nasrallah Sfeir said Sunday that they believed there could always be a "last minute surprise" from the cardinal in the run-up to the Pope's arrival in Syria.
The patriarch himself did not explicitly rule out the possibility of visiting Damascus during an interview published Friday in the French magazine La Croix but his comments in the magazine and over the weekend indicate that little hope remained of seeing him make the trip, said the paper.
The sources told the Daily Star that the prelate was still awaiting an "initiative from the Syrian leadership" to encourage him to take the trip, which would be his first ever to Syria.
The patriarch, meanwhile, reiterated his calls for Lebanese sovereignty and independence Sunday, saying that the Lebanese had the right to choose their political representatives without interference from others, the paper quoted him as saying.
"Lebanese and Syrians should realize that each of them should take care of their country's affairs," Sfeir said.
"We share your (beliefs) in national unity," he said. "We, in Lebanon, want to coexist ... and I hope the Lebanese will realize that Lebanon is their country and that they should not only call for unity but for everything that makes Lebanon a sovereign, free and independent state."
Observers believe that Sfeir could have decided not to visit Syria because he feels its leadership will not give him a positive response to his calls for the Syrian army's withdrawal, said the paper.
Sfeir said in the La Croix interview that if the "visit were strictly parochial, I would have made it without hesitation," adding that it had another, political aspect.
"If I go, Syria will take advantage of my visit," he said, cited by the paper.
Other factors that have not encouraged Sfeir to take a swift decision included a statement by "an official Syrian source" to As-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper earlier this year, which said that Syria "does not care whether he comes or not. It's all the same."
The statement was not denied by any Syrian official or in the Syrian media, the paper said.
Early this month, the Pope turned down an invitation by President Emile Lahoud to visit Beirut – Albawaba.com
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