Cardinal Moran Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, the sometimes-controversial patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, will visit Utah on Friday.
The 77-year-old Lebanese cleric is to meet with the Salt Lake Interfaith Council at 2:30 p.m. at the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Pastoral Center, 27 C St.
He also will celebrate a 6 p.m. Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 1385 Spring Lane, Holladay, said diocese spokeswoman Kristin Mason.
Boutros al-Rahi was named patriarch of Antioch and head of the Maronite Catholics in March 2011. The following year, then-Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal.
A hallmark of Boutros al-Rahi’s ministry has been his commitment to enhancing relationships with Muslims aimed at building a cooperative, common future in his war-torn Middle Eastern nation.
It was in September 2011 while in Paris that Boutros al-Rahi stirred some criticism for his support of Hezbollah militants’ right to bear arms against Israeli occupation in Lebanon.
Previous Maronite leaders had been more supportive of Lebanese Christian militias.
Boutros al-Rahi also had warned of the potential for the rise of the Sunni-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad was toppled.
In May 2014, he joined Pope Francis during the pontiff’s Holy Land pilgrimage, including a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank. That, too, proved controversial for Boutros al-Rahi, since he was the first Lebanese religious leader to visit the modern state of Israel.
During a July 2016 address to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Boutros al-Rahi spoke of the exodus of Christians from Middle East turmoil, but insisted Christianity remains “an essential part of the culture” of the region.
“[Christianity] has also benefited from Islamic values and traditions,” he stated. “This Christian-Muslim cultural interaction has resulted in a spirit of openness and modernity for the majority of Muslims.”
That long-running tradition, despite the current violence, “constitutes a sign of hope for a better future for the Middle East,” Boutros al-Rahi added.