Tribute to Outgoing Maronite Patriarch

Tribute to Outgoing Maronite Patriarch

by Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Church leaders paid tribute to Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the 90-year-old outgoing Maronite Catholic patriarch known for his ability to listen and for guiding the church through tough times.

“When the history writers report the events that Lebanon witnessed, they will surely say that &82216;he was faithful on the day of trial,&8217; referring to what was said to Abraham in the Book of Ecclesiastes,” said Bishop Roland Aboujaoude, patriarchal administrator.

Bishop Aboujaoude quoted one of the patriarch’s well-known sayings: “Seventy-five patriarchs have preceded me on the chair of Antioch and many will come after me. I will not be the weak link.”

The March 5 Mass at Bkerke, the patriarchal seat of the Maronites, was attended by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Catholic; Prime Minister-designate Nagib Mikati, a Sunni Muslim; and Speaker of the House Nabih Berri, a Shiite Muslim; as well as hundreds of religious, military and civil officials, diplomats and laypeople.

Cardinal Sfeir served as patriarch since 1986, during one of the most tormented periods of Lebanon’s history, including the 1975-1990 civil war and Syrian occupation.

While the still-robust cardinal could have served for life, he asked Pope Benedict XVI to accept his resignation due to his age, which the pope referred to as “a free and magnanimous decision.”

Bishop Aboujaoude referred to the divisions among Lebanon’s political parties and among Maronite Catholics.

The patriarch has faced criticism for being too involved in politics, particularly for what was considered by some as favoritism toward the country’s Western-backed coalition and for rejecting Christian politicians aligned with the Hezbollah-led opposition.

“We divided your garments and we tried to discharge you from your role of pastor to win you over to our camp,” said Bishop Aboujaoude. “However, you never believed in anything else but a free Lebanon with all its communities, factions and people who are all united by their love for their country.”

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, spoke about the role that the Maronite Catholic Church and its patriarchs have played in shaping Lebanon’s identity.

“Without the Christian component, Lebanon would never have been able to play the peacemaking mandate that its history, culture and spirituality have attributed in the past and in the future,’ Cardinal Sandri said.

The cardinal also thanked God for the patriarch’s “strong spirit and good health.”

Beginning March 9, Maronite bishops will meet for a synod to choose Cardinal Sfeir’s successor, and Cardinal Sandri urged them “to choose a patriarch according to the heart of Christ, with a conscience wholly and really ecclesiastic and guided by evangelical logic.”

In a short homily, Cardinal Sfeir sought forgiveness for those he offended in any way.

“I hope, that with God’s help, I was faithful to the load I was trusted with and that I did my best to guide the faithful to the right direction. I thank the Lord for what I was able to do for my fellow countrymen in this country that is dear to us all,” he said.

The cardinal thanked his parents and said he was grateful for the education he received at St. Maron Seminary in Ghazir and at Jesuit-run St. Joseph University in Beirut, for his call to the priesthood, for being a bishop and later a patriarch.

Ordained a priest in 1950, he was ordained bishop and appointed patriarchal vicar in 1961.Pope John Paul II named him cardinal in 1994.

Of the approximately 5.5 million Maronites worldwide, about 1 million live in Lebanon.

Recent Posts

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Bienestar para el Cercano Oriente Católico en español?

Vee página en español