01/30/2017, 14.21
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In memory of Mgr Edmond Farhat, a bridge between the Vatican and the Islamic world

by Fady Noun

During his many years in the Vatican, his love for Lebanon never faded. His diplomatic career and service to the Church were followed by writing books in his last years.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara al-Rahi, paid tribute on Sunday to Bishop Edmond Farhat (83), 40 days after his death in Rome (16 December 2016).

Born in Lebanon, in the village of Aïn Kfah, a hidden pearl in the Byblos-Jbeil region amid the olive groves, this Maronite bishop was little known to the faithful in Lebanon, since he had been picked by the Vatican to serve the Church in Rome itself.

After a stint at Vatican Radio’s Arabic service, Bishop Farhat spent nearly 20 years (1970-1989) as a member, then as under-secretary of the Synod of Bishops, a body set up by Pope Paul VI in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, to assist him on the pastoral level in the spirit of collegiality the Council had encouraged.

Afterwards, his proven qualities of discretion and conviviality, as well as his familiarity with the Muslim world, led John Paul II to attach Edmond Farhat to the Vatican diplomatic corps. In fact, it was the great pope who ordained him bishop (he had been consecrated priest by Patriarch Mouchy in 1959). Bishop Farhat, proclaimed Honorary Archbishop of Byblos, was nuncio first to Algeria, then Libya and Tunisia, and finally to non-Arab countries, like Turkey, Turkmenistan, Slovenia and Macedonia. He concluded his diplomatic career in Austria (2009).

Finally, free with his time, Mgr Farhat devoted himself to what gave him the most joy: writing. His efforts resulted in several books, including a reference book on The Vatican, its Meanings and Monuments, the first guide to the Vatican in Arabic (2015), published by the Vatican Publishing House (VPH).

"Why the Vatican?” The author explained that, "First, because it is a universal heritage, and because the Arab world has been open to culture, especially to the Catholic Church, since the Middle Ages. The Vatican Library contains more than 2,500 Arabic manuscripts: the oldest Arabic manuscript in the world is preserved in the Vatican and probably the oldest copy of the Qurʾān is in the Apostolic Library. So there is still interest in the Vatican."

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, welcomed the publication of the book as "a bridge to the cultural reality of the Vatican, especially religious faith", emphasising the importance of this publication since it demonstrates the possibility of "open dialogue" between "Christian communities" and "Muslims".

Among the nuncio’s numerous articles and speeches there is the one that marked one of the moments of the ceremony of the installation of a statue of Saint-Maron in a niche in the exterior façade of Saint Peter's Basilica during the Pontificate of Benedict XVI (2011).

On that occasion, he spoke in a language whose secret he held as it related to the "wandering Aramaean" that was Saint Maron, the 4th century monk, father of the Maronite Church that became a nation, whose 1,600th anniversary falls this year. In spite of his prolonged stay in the Vatican, where his entire ecclesiastical career took place, Bishop Edmond Farhat kept alive the flame of his attachment to Lebanon.

"He loved and served the Church and Lebanon with all his heart, in the image of Christ who came to serve and not to be served," said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican at the funeral ceremony in Rome that preceded the transfer of his remains to Lebanon. He rests today in the ground at Jbeil, in the family cemetery.

"There is nothing stronger than a man who joins his hands," writes Kierkegaard. This could describe Edmond Farhat’s life. Putting together the most beautiful papal prayers of the 20th century, his book Quand les papes prient, ‘When popes pray’ (Tequi éditeur), plunges us into this current of grace that led the Church to the great jubilee of the year 2000 as well as to the turbulence of the third millennium of the history of the Catholic Church.

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