New Maronite Patriarch to Visit U.S.

BEIRUT (CNS) — Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai will make his first pastoral visit to the United States Oct. 4-25.

Patriarch Rai will visit Maronite Catholics in cities such as St. Louis, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boston and Brooklyn, N.Y., to encourage their faith and share with them the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

While there are two dioceses and about 100 Maronite Catholic parishes in the United States , many of the more than 2 million Maronites in the United States attend Latin-rite Mass because their Maronite churches are not nearby.

During his visit, Patriarch Rai, elected in March, is scheduled to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Kimoon.

“It would help the United States and the Western world to listen to Patriarch Rai, who has been really analyzing the realities of the region in a very clear, simple, straightforward and truthful way,” the patriarch’s vicar general, Archbishop Paul El-Sayah, former archbishop of Haifa, Israel, told Catholic News Service. “This has had a very positive reaction from the very large majority of the people of Lebanon and the Arab world as well.”

The new patriarch was elected in March at a time of Lebanese political divisions, particularly among Christians. Two months later, he held his first Muslim-Christian summit. In late September, 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.

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

Now he is working toward a spiritual summit for the entire Middle East. Such summits, the Maronite bishops said in a Sept. 28 statement, foster “the establishment of a lasting basis for dialogue.”

“This is certainly a sample of what Lebanese society is like — that 18 religious communities can come together, sit and discuss and come out with a common statement,” Bishop Sayah said, noting that the patriarch’s initiatives support the Vatican and what Pope John Paul II had said: “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”

“This is the spirit that is prevailing among the various (religious) communities, without denying that there are problems,” Sayah said.

Speaking to CNS while visiting Lebanon in September, Maronite Father Paul Mouawad of St. Sharbel Church in Newton, Pa., said, “The Maronite community is very excited to meet with the patriarch. … He has a new hope and a new vision for Lebanon and for the Middle East, especially for the Christian communities in the Middle East.”

“The media and those associated with the White House and State Department, especially those in charge of the Middle East region, should listen to the leaders of both the Muslim and Christian communities who are not involved in politics, to advocate peace and change in the Middle East,” Father Mouawad said.

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