(Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai greets his audience at the patriarchate in Bkerki, north of Beirut, March 15, 2011. Pictured on right is Rai's predecessor 90-year-old Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir. REUTERS/Wadih Shlink )

Violence and bloodshed is turning the “Arab Spring” into winter, the head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church said, threatening Christians and Muslims alike across the Middle East. Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, whose Maronite Church also has a strong presence in Syria, said change could not be brought to the Arab world by force and that Christians feared the turmoil was helping extremist Muslim groups.

“We are with the Arab Spring but we are not with this spring of violence, war, destruction and killing. This is turning to winter,” Rai told Reuters in Bkirki, seat of the Maronite church in hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea north of Beirut.

The upheaval sweeping through the Arab world, toppling four veteran leaders, gave voice to millions of people who suffered decades of repression. But it also brought conflict in Libya and has tipped Syria toward civil war.

“We say that we cannot implement reforms by force and arms. No one can guess the scale of the great losses and damage which could result,” said Rai, speaking this week in an ornately decorated reception room in the patriarchate in Bkirki.