Harissa (AsiaNews) "Stay with us" are the words from the Gospel with which Card Nasrallah Sfeir, Maronite Patriarch, began today's memorial mass for the Pope before a crowd of thousands of faithful.
The solemn ceremony, which took place in the Marian shrine of Harissa visited by the Pope in 1997, was attended by many of the country's political and religious leaders. Every Catholic patriarch, bishop and superior general was present at the service in Our Lady Of Lebanon Basilica.
The Orthodox Church was represented by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the Orient and the Syro-Orthodox Patriarch. Protestant Churches were also represented.
Several ministers and members of the National Assembly joined the representative of the Lebanese President as well as the country's military leaders and members of the foreign diplomatic corps who were present at the ceremony. More than 200 priests, 600 religious men and women as well as 6,000 faithful from around Lebanon also took part.
In his homily Cardinal Sfeir spoke of the Pontiff's "deep love" for the Middle East, a "land blessed by God.
He urged political leaders to respect this land by doubling their efforts in realising the Pope's dream: peace in the Middle East and reconciliation amongst its peoples".
The Maronite Patriarch said the Pontiff was "one of a kind, an indefatigable messenger and a defender of the cause of humanity".
The Patriarchs of Lebanon's Catholic Churches left today for Rome to participate on Friday in the Pope's funeral in the Vatican.
Before leaving, Cardinal Sfeir voiced the sorrow felt by the people of Lebanon for the loss of their "beloved Pope".
He also stressed the importance of continuing along the path laid by the Pontiff to bring about "a new Lebanon that is free, sovereign and independent". (YH)