Leader in Lebanon – The New Maronite Patriarch

by Terry Shannon

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“I tremble, but I do not fear anything,” said Bishop Antonine Khoraiche in accepting his election as the new Maronite rite Patriarch. Recent events in Lebanon have given him enough cause for trembling, but have been dealt with by the new Patriarch in characteristic peace-seeking fashion.

Known as “the man of dialogue,” the 67-year-old former Bishop of Sidon was chosen at the beginning of the year by the 14 members of the Maronite community’s Holy Synod in a majority vote. Members of the Synod came from the U.S., Syria, Egypt, Venezuela, Canada and Lebanon to select a new leader from among themselves. The choice had to be made within 15 days since Church rules prescribe that if no one is elected within that time, the Patriarch will be appointed by the Vatican.

Antonine Khoraiche was born in the south of Lebanon, a few miles from Caesarea Philippi, in 1907 – the eldest of seven children. When very young he received his degree in philosophy in Rome at the University of the Propagation of the Faith. He then returned to his own country where he was ordained to the priesthood on April 22, 1930. After six years of teaching, he was appointed the Episcopal vicar of Haifa, Palestine. He became Bishop of Tartus in Lebanon in 1950 and Bishop of Sidon nine years later. During the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Khoraiche was a member of the Commission on the Church and Religious. He is presently on the Commission for the reform of the Oriental Code.

His election early this year made Antonine Khoraiche the 77th patriarch of the Maronite Church since the fourth century.

The Maronites are in communion with Rome, and they consider themselves descendants of the first Christians who gave St. Peter sanctuary from Herod. St. Peter was the first Bishop of Antioch – the city of the Maronite’s forefathers – before he became Bishop of Rome. The Christians of Antioch tenaciously held to the teachings of Peter after they were forced to flee Mohammed’s followers when they overran the area around the Mediterranean. The Antiochan Christians called themselves Maronites after St. Maron, a monk who preserved the teachings of Peter during the long exile. When the Crusaders freed Jerusalem and nearby areas from Turkish occupation, the Maronites returned from their retreat in the hills, and asked “Who is now Pope in Rome?” This inquiry testified to the Maronite’s belief in the primacy of Peter in Rome.

The Maronites have their own liturgy, and in their rite Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, is now used.

During the early 19th century Maronites who had been living in northern Lebanon moved into the country’s southern regions. Tension soon arose between them and local clans of feudal Druzes who were taking advantage of Maronite peasants.

Under European intervention a semi-autonomous region was established near Mt. Lebanon where the Maronites constituted a majority. In 1920, the French added much Syrian territory to Lebanon, and large numbers of Sunni Moslems were incorporated into the population. Many of the Sunnis opposed the territorial division.

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