JERUSALEM, Israel -- A Lebanese cardinal became the first religious leader to visit the Jewish state.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, a Maronite Catholic, traveled to Israel Monday on the second and final day of Pope Francis three-day visit to Jordan and Israel.
Rai's critics opposed the visit on the grounds that Israel and Lebanon are formally at war, but the cardinal said he came to strengthen Christian ties to the Holy Land.
"With all the difficulties that you heard about, with all the explanations that are not related to our visit, with all the understandings that have nothing to do with our thoughts, we came here for the goal of strengthening our belief," the cardinal said.
The Lebanese government does not allow its citizens to visit Israel or do business with Israelis, but clergy is exempt from the ban.
Lebanese media labeled Rai's visit to the Jewish state an "historic sin," but Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas embraced him, saying it strengthened the P.A.'s links to the Arab world.