Maronite Patriarch’s New Role as Cardinal

BEIRUT (CNS) — Catholics in Lebanon said Pope Benedict XVI’s naming of Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai as a cardinal reinforces the church’s support for Christians in the Middle East.

The appointment is “a sign of support and affirmation for the Christians of the Middle East and a support for the Christian presence in the region,” Archbishop Paul Sayah, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerke, told Catholic News Service.

“It is a sign of support and affirmation for Lebanon in the present situation the country is going through,” Archbishop Sayah said. “Last but not least, the elevation of Patriarch Rai to the rank of cardinal is a sign of the confidence the Holy See has in the person of His Beatitude and the clear support for his vision and the style of ministry he has been exercising.”

The patriarch is one of six new cardinals who will be elevated in a consistory at the Vatican Nov. 24. Maronite Father Camille Mubarak, president of Sagesse University in Beirut, said Cardinal-designate Rai’s elevation “is good for the peace for all the people of the Middle East — Muslims and Christians.”

He, too, emphasized that the appointment confirmed that the plight of Christians in the Middle East “that was ignored is now included in the political geography of the world.”

When he was elected patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church in March 2011, Cardinal-designate Rai was seen as someone who could unite Maronite Catholics, who had been divided among political party lines.

“He has a deep spirituality, and he is very sociable and open to the others, and he has great courage. He says the truth even if someone doesn’t want to listen to it,” said Father Joseph Mouawad, patriarchal vicar at the Maronite Patriarchate.

Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan called the new patriarch “a good friend, an outstanding leader and well-gifted bishop” and spoke of his “intense spirituality, solid formation and openness of heart.”

Two months after he was elected, the patriarch held his first Muslim-Christian summit. In September 2011, at his suggestion, spiritual leaders of Lebanon’s 18 religious sects met at Dar al-Fatwa, the official seat of the grand Sunni mufti, who has religious authority over the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon.

Cardinal-designate Rai also has gathered Lebanese political leaders in an effort to dissipate divisions among them.

He was born Feb. 25, 1940, in Himlaya, Lebanon. He attended high school at the Jesuits’ College of Notre Dame of Jamhour College. In 1962 he joined the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

He earned a license in theology and a doctorate in canon and civil law, and he was ordained to the priesthood Sept 3, 1967. For many years, was director of the scholasticate of his order in Rome.

He founded the Institute of Foreign Languages at Louaize, was principal of St. Rita’s School in Dbaye and served as a judge on the Maronite patriarchal tribunal.

In May 1986, the Maronite synod elected him a patriarchal vicar, similar to an auxiliary bishop. In June 1990, he was transferred as the bishop of the new Eparchy of Jbeil.

He has been a member of a number of Synods of Bishops at the Vatican, including the synods on the Middle East and on the new evangelization.

He also had been a member of the permanent Synod of the Maronite Church and, in 2009, became president of the communications commission of the Synod of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon. In 2010, Pope Benedict named him a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

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