Lebanese Cardinal Leads Peace Service

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In English and in Arabic, shedding tears and sweat, Washington's Lebanese Catholics prayed yesterday for peace in their homeland, filling a new white church at noon on a sweltering workday.

Catholics are the largest Christian community in Lebanon, and the special Mass at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church was celebrated by Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, considered one of the most influential leaders of the country's Christians. Nasrallah was in the United States this month when the violence began and spent his last day -- yesterday -- speaking about the holy nature of peacemaking.

"Are there no more peacemakers? I ask: Is war inevitable? The course of history seems to confirm this fearful thought," he told more than 200 people at Our Lady, which was dedicated in May. "As Christians, we believe that war is not inevitable; people choose war, and people can choose peace. . . . Blessed are the peacemakers."

Among those at the quickly planned Mass were Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who retired this summer.

Hours before a scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sfeir said in a telephone interview that he planned to tell her that the United States should press Israel to stop attacking his country. The United States has the ability to "restrain Israel," he said.

The cardinal has over the past several years advocated for Hezbollah to disarm and be integrated into Lebanese society. He said he was surprised that the conflict had developed the way it has -- so rapidly and with so much violence.

Asked where he believed the situation was headed, he said the first priority was to stop the fighting. In the long term, he predicted that the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah won't end until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solved, with both peoples established in their own states.

Sfeir is the spiritual leader for Lebanese Catholics, including the 71,000 who live in the United States, according to the 2006 Official Catholic Directory. Our Lady of Lebanon, with its white, curved walls and skylights, is on Alaska Avenue NW in the District and serves more than 400 families.

Also yesterday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged in a statement for the United States to "exert greater leadership" to work toward a cease-fire, to restrain Israel and to move quickly into negotiations between all the parties.

The statement, written by Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the conference's Committee on International Policy, said that although current fighting may have been provoked by "extreme armed factions" of Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel's military response has been disproportionate and sometimes indiscriminate.

"Our Conference appeals to all leaders in the region and to the leaders of our nation to make it clear that violence, from whatever side, for whatever purpose, cannot bring a lasting or just peace in the Land we call Holy," the statement said.

Last night, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee rallied in front of the White House, calling for an immediate cease-fire. Among the 23 groups co-sponsoring the event were the women's antiwar group Code Pink, the Arab American Institute and the Catholic nonviolence group Pax Christi USA. At least 400 people attended, according to the committee's spokeswoman, Laila Al-Qatami.

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