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Friday, 15 April 2011

New Maronite Patriarch visits Pope Benedict

ROME, APRIL 15, 2011 thanks to

The new patriarch of the Maronite Church was in Rome this week, affirming a vision of unity and diversity. Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï, who last month was chosen to succeed Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, had a private audience with Benedict XVI on Thursday to officially receive the "Ecclesia Communio," already extended by a letter from the Pope on March 24. After a Maronite patriarch is elected, the Bishop of Rome extends his official expression of communion.

Patriarch Raï said he arrived in Rome "br inging with him the image of a Lebanon that lives unity in diversity." He explained that the reason for his visit was to express the love of the Maronite Church and of Lebanon for the Church of Rome.

The Maronite Church has always been in communion with Rome, even while maintaining its own liturgy and calendar. The liturgy is celebrated in Arabic, except in ancient songs and ancestral prayers of the Eucharist, for which Aramaic is used.

Patriarch Raï arrived in Rome on Monday, expressing gratitude for the Pontiff's expression of communion. He was received by the superior general of the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who stated, "Our hope is that your mission as patriarch will be spiritually fruitful as 'communion and witness' in Lebanon, in the Middle East and in the diaspora."

The first stage of the patriarch's visit was at the College of St. Anthony Abbot in Rome, which belongs to the Mariami te Maronite Order, the order to which he belonged before his episcopal election in 1986. Abbot Semaan Abou Abdo welcomed the Maronite leader in "his home," recalling the years in which the patriarch lived as a Maronite monk in that college, completing his studies at the Pontifical Lateran University. The abbot also recalled Patriarch Raï's activity as director of the Arab section of Vatican Radio.

Expressing the hope that the new patriarch will be able to make the "Communion and Witness" mission fruitful, the abbot underlined the support of the Maronite monks through prayer and fulfillment of what has been called the "mariamite monastic pact," which consists in "giving priority to God, to obedience, to chastity, to poverty and to fraternal and community life for the greater glory of God." "Fidelity to the pact is fidelity to love, to the love of God and love of the Church," said Abbot Abdo. He express ed the will of the order to continue with the work of sanctification with filial love under the direction of the Maronite Church, to prepare the Bride of Christ "to appear before her Spouse without stain or wrinkle or something similar."

For his part, Patriarch Raï expressed his gratitude to the Mariamite Order that prepared him and helped him to mature to become father and head of that Church. In his address, he sent a particular greeting to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, thanking him for having sent Minister Boutros Harb as his official representative during the visit to Rome. The patriarch expressed his hope that the president will be able "to direct the vessel of the nation to a safe shore, helped by his collaborators, specifically his council of ministers and the parliament." He stressed the importance of Lebanon's mission, "the Lebanon of ordinary life, the Lebanon of unity in diversity, the democratic Lebanon, the Leb anon of Islamic-Christian coexistence protected by the constitution, the Lebanon land of liberties and of openness to the Arab and Western world." Patriarch Raï said he drew strength from the Synod of Bishops, from the religious orders, from priests, from the laity and from the structures of the Church. He expressed gratitude for all the love and support he received after his election.

During a dinner in honor of the new patriarch, held in the St. Isaiah College of the Antonin Maronite Order, Father Daoud Reaidi, superior of the college, pointed out among the important aspects of this election, the need to "follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to understand his will." He underlined the importance of following "the one whom the Spirit has chosen through the Maronite Synod." The monk identified in the election of the new patriarch an "evangelical program" that is not "inspired in worldly events and that is not ruled according to the times, but is the one that inspires events and the key to their reading." "His election is the beginning of a harvest that shines on the horizon," Father Reaidi said. "It is a stage in the journey of the history of the Maronite Church" in which the new patriarch will add his contribution to that of his predecessors. The Antonin superior spoke of the popular riots that have agitated the whole of the Middle East and North Africa as "awakenings of liberty, of the meaning of citizenship and of democracy, which are values that deny all the totalitarian currents that in some way have fueled Islamic extremism." He noted, "These movements of rebirth show that the search for identity in the Arab world, the recognition of diversity and openness to coexistence between Christians and Muslims, are factors that highlight the importance of the Lebanese experience, which is revealed as a message and model at this concrete time."

At their meeting on 14 April 2011, the Holy Father said Patriarch Raï's visit was a privilege for the universal Church. "I rejoice to receive you here, with the Maronite bishops, the priests, the consecrated persons and the faithful, to solemnize the 'Ecclesia Communio,' which I made known t o you by letter last March 24." He continued: "Your election, which occurred a few days after the closure of the Holy Year promulgated to celebrate the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. Maron, seems the most eminent fruit of numerous graces that he obtained for his Church."

Noting the Divine Liturgy that was to be celebrated, the Holy Father said that there "the plenitude of communion is manifested between the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and the 77th Successor of St. Maron, Father and Head of the Church of Antioch of the Maronites, that very prestigious Apostolic See where the faithful of Christ received for the first time the name of 'Christians!' Your Patriarchal Church, her rich spiritual, liturgical and theological tradition, the tradition of Antioch, always adorns the entire C hurch with that treasure."

Benedict XVI spoke to Patriarch Raï about concrete tasks awaiting him as patriarch, namely the situation of the Middle East and the importance of education. "This region of the world that the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles and Christ himself blessed by their presence and by their preaching, aspires to this durable peace that the Word of Truth, received and lived, has the capacity to establish," he said.

The Pope spoke of the Maronites' quality educational and catechetical network. "Transmit to young people all my esteem and affection while reminding them that the Church and society have need of their enthusiasm and their hope," he said. And he invited the patriarch to "intensify the formation of priests and of numerous young people that the Lord is calling in your eparchies and in your religious congregations. That by their teaching and by their life, they may be genuine witnesses of the Word of God to help the faithful to root their life and their mission in Christ!"

The Pope expressed his prayer for the patriarch, that the Holy Spirit will "console you in difficulties and procure for you the joy of seeing your Church grow in fervor and in number!" "At the dawn of your ministry," he added, "I wish to repeat those words of Christ to the disciples: 'Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.'"

[With the contribution of Robert Cheaib]

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