As his motto, the new patriarch chose ‘Communion and Charity’, which is close to the one adopted by the Synod last October, ‘Communion and Witness’. The orientation of the Synod for the Eastern Catholic Churches of the Middle East will certainly absorb much of the new patriarch’s time, as will the guidelines of the Maronite Patriarchal Synod (2003-2006), which call for an aggiornamento or updating of the Maronite Church in line with the orientation of the Second Vatican Council.
With his usual courtesy and the level-headedness of a media savvy man, the charismatic bishop of Jbeil, who has chaired the Episcopal Commission for Social Communication, illustrated the direction he wants to take in his thanksgiving address in the chapel of the Patriarchate.
In his impromptu speech, the new head of the Maronite Church gave thanks for the “joy, happiness and love” that characterised the conclave that elected him. “We have never experienced an election such as this one, full of joy, happiness and love. May God be blessed, and blessed be the Holy Spirit,” he said as he described the atmosphere of the three-day retreat that elected him.
It did not take long for the choice to be expressed. Mgr Rahi was elected on the 13th ballot after bishops who want to see a radical change in style in Bkerke backed him, hopeful that he would be a man of the institutions and reform, who will follow the line of national resolve taken by Patriarch Sfeir during the years of war.
The speedy vote came as a surprise, a pleasant one at that. For many, “he is the right man, for the right job, at the right time,” a “first rank” bishop, this despite concerns expressed before the conclave that he might not be electable because of his membership in a religious order.
His election shows instead that the conclave did not consider relevant the fact that Maronite religious orders are directly under the Vatican rather than the Patriarchate, something that the new patriarch acknowledged in his thanksgiving address. “The conclave,” he said, “chose to elect a monk as patriarch,” sending a “signal that monastic orders, for men or women, are the heart of the life and mission of the Church. [. . .] We want to see greater cooperation and shared work between dioceses and religious orders so that we can accomplish our mission in Lebanon, the East and migrant communities.”
For the new patriarch, his election is a “gift” that his predecessor made to the Church on his patriarchal jubilee, by voluntarily giving up his post because of age. Mgr Rahi praised Patriarch Sfeir for “his spirit of prayer, patience, gentleness, love, steadfastness, submission to providence and capacity to bear the cross.”
The new patriarch also thanked the apostolic nuncio, Mgr Gabriele Caccia, who was present, and Card Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of Eastern Church, who had recently visited Lebanon, and Pope Benedict XVI for his prayers. He expressed total the filial submission of Maronite Church to the Holy See.
“I send my greetings to the president of the Republic,” Patriarch al-Rahi said, “as well to his direct aids and the people” of Lebanon. “We pray for them.”
“With the patriarch and the bishops, we prayed for and looked at all the needs and expectations of Lebanon, the Middle East and migrant communities. We have held you in our hearts, and have looked at ways to meet the expectations of our people and the needs of our Church. We pray especially for Lebanon that it might overcome its crisis, and become conscious that it embodies a fundamental message, as the great pope and soon to be blessed John Paul II said when he described Lebanon as a model and message for the West, a message that we bear in our prayers at a time when the East is going through difficult and dangerous times.”