Rome (AsiaNews) - 'Communion and charity' is the motto of Card Bechara Boutros Rai O.M.M, patriarch of the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, a man committed to interfaith dialogue in a region that is reeling from the Arab spring and war in Syria.
After his election as patriarch on 15 March 2011 and elevation to the post of cardinal at the consistory of 24 November 2012, like his three immediate predecessors in the See of Saint John Maron, Card Bechara Rai lost little time and set himself to work on Christian unity in Lebanon and the Middle East, inspired by the spirit of the Special Assembly for the Middle East held in Rome on 10-24 October 2010, whose motto was 'Communion and Witness'.
Before the general congregations began, he visited Russia on 1 March of this year where he discussed with local authorities the Syrian crisis and the tragic situation of Christians in the Middle East.
Born on 25 February 1940 in the village Himlaya (where Rafqa Ar-rayes, the first Maronite female saint, was born) in the Archeparchy of Antelias, he studied at the Jesuit-run Collège Notre Dame de Jamhour.
After taking his religious vows in the Mariamite Maronite Order (Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in 1962, he travelled to Rome to study philosophy and theology at the Pontificia università lateranense. In Rome, he also ran for years the Mariamite Scholasticate.
After he was ordained priest on 3 September 1967, he got involved in media and ran the Arabic service of Vatican Radio. Eventually in 2009, a few years before he became patriarch, his experience led him to the presidency of the communications department of the Maronite Church. In this capacity, he promoted the development of the TéléLumière-Noursat network.
In 1975, as the country was beginning its plunge into civil war, he came home to run the Collège Notre Dame-Louaize, where he opened the Institute for Foreign Languages.
On 2 May 1986, the Maronite Synod elected him as patriarchal vicar for the titular Episcopal See of Caesarea Phillippi.
On 12 July of the same year, he was ordained bishop by Card Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, choosing 'Communion and Love' as his motto. On 9 June 1990, he was transferred to the new Maronite Eparchy of Jbeil (Byblos).
In 2003, he became the secretary to the Standing Synod of the Maronite Church and as such, he took part in various Synod assemblies in Rome, including the Special assembly on the Middle East held in Rome in October 2010 where he was elected a member of the post-Synod Council.
On 14-16 September 2012, he welcomed Benedict XVI to Lebanon for the presentation of his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, drafted in the wake of the special synod of 2010.
Unexpectedly, a large number of Muslims took part in the event, consequence of the interfaith work carried out by Patriarch Rai and his predecessor, Card Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, and Lebanon's special character as a place of religious coexistence. The visit was Pope Benedict XVI's last foreign trip.
A month later, Card Rai participated in the 13th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, during which he called for Christian-Muslim dialogue in Arab countries.