daily star BEIRUT: Several pro-government delegations visited Bkirki  Thursday to express solidarity with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir after Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh launched a verbal attack on the prelate. "Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing," Sfeir said Thursday in an apparent response to Wednesday’s attack on him by Franjieh.

Late Wednesday Franjieh lashed out again at Sfeir and urged him to resign. He told NBN television he was expressing the thoughts and opinions of most Christians, "including bishops close to the prelate." "Sfeir is changing his positions very often. First he was against amending the Constitution, but he suddenly changed his mind after meeting with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman … One day he speaks of sovereignty and independence and another day he speaks about internationalization," Franjieh said.

"The patriarch should have resigned at the age of 74. He is 90 now and whenever he is told something, he forgets about it after one hour. The clerics around him ask us to be patient with him, but I think it is about time he gets some rest," he added. The Marada leader criticized Sfeir for saying that Syria had its "tools" in Lebanon. "We are not tools. The patriarch is repeating what the ruling coalition says about us and for this he deserves to be criticized," Franjieh said.  The opposition leader asked why parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri’s adviser Daoud Sayegh visits Sfeir only at the beginning of every month, indirectly accusing the patriarch of being employed by Hariri.

In a statement Tuesday, Franjieh accused the patriarch of being an employee of the US and French embassies.

Phalange Party leader Amine Gemayel visited Sfeir on Thursday and condemned the attacks against the patriarch.

"I regret that such attacks are carried by Maronite leaders who should be supporting Bkirki and defending its role," he said.

"The campaign against the patriarch is a late revenge for his past role in driving Syria out of Lebanon," he added, referring to the famous Maronite Bishops statement in 2000, asking the Syrians to withdraw their forces from Lebanon. The Bishops statement came shortly after Israel pulled out its troops from South Lebanon, ending 22 years of occupation. Syria pulled out of the country in April 2005.

Also Thursday, two Lebanese Forces delegations visited Bkirki to show solidarity with the patriarch. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea late Wednesday condemned Franjieh’s criticism of Sfeir, describing the terminology used by the Marada leader as "unfamiliar and unethical."

The prelate also urged a delegation of students from the Lebanese Forces to preserve their unity in the face of strife, which he warned was putting Lebanon was at risk.