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Maronites Elect Patriarch

Newly elected Maronite Catholic patriarch, Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbeil, greets church officials and the media in Bkerke, Lebanon, 15 March. He succeeds 90-year-old Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, whose resignation was accepted by the pope in February. (Photo: CNS/Reuters)  

16 Mar 2011 – by Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Church bells rang, horns blasted and firecrackers echoed throughout Lebanon as it was announced that Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbeil, Lebanon, had been elected the new patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church.

Patriarch Rai, 71, known for his courage to speak the truth, is seen as someone who can unite Maronite Catholics, who have been divided among political party lines.

The patriarch’s election was announced March 15. Elections began March 11, after the Maronite synod spent two days in spiritual retreat and reflection. He replaces Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, 90, who retired because of age.

Father Joseph Mouawad, vicar general of Jbeil, predicted Patriarch Rai would unite Maronite Catholics and begin a pastoral renewal of the church.

“I think his first mission will be to confirm us in our faith here in Lebanon and, as head of the church, he will try to unite Christians, the different parties, and to consolidate the communion among the Maronites,” Father Mouawad said.

“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,” Father Mouawad said.

“I think on a national level in Lebanon, he will work to conserve this country to be a country of conviviality of all religions — between Christian and Muslims,” the priest added.

Of Lebanon’s population of nearly 4 million, approximately 33 percent are Christian. Of the approximately 5.5 million Maronite Catholics worldwide, approximately 1 million live in Lebanon.

Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan called the new patriarch “a good friend, an outstanding leader and well-gifted bishop.”

“His intense spirituality, solid formation and openness of heart will be, God willing, a tremendous asset to reunite all Catholic Maronites in Lebanon, in the Middle Eastern countries and in the church,” said Patriarch Younan.

Maronite Father Joseph Mouannes, secretary of the communications commission for Catholic bishops of the Middle East, called the election “really the choice of the Holy Spirit. And a great choice.”

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