Lebanese and foreign dignitaries as well as ordinary people paid tribute to the cardinal. The incumbent Patriarch al-Rahi described his predecessor as an "unshakable rock" and a "man of reconciliation". For Card Sandri, he “performed his mission in turbulent circumstances". Émile Lahoud, who was president during the Syria “era”, and Hezbollah were among the few no-shows.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Thousands of people, from every walk of life and religious background, travelled to Bkerké to take part yesterday afternoon in the farewell ceremony of former Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, who passed away last Sunday.
The funeral of the Patriarch Emeritus, celebrated as the great guardian of national unity, began at 5 pm with the arrival of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri.
In the funeral prayer the incumbent Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi spoke for all Lebanese when he said that Card Sfeir’s death is "a national loss".
Viewed as "the patriarch of the second independence,” he was an “iron patriarch and an unshakable rock", the man of "national reconciliation" capable of resisting "without weapons, sword, or missiles".
Patriarch Sfeir worked “on removing barriers, enhancing national unity and strengthening coexistence, which he considered to be Lebanon's essence," Rahi added.
Card Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, attended the service. In his address, he said that the Patriarch was a "free and brave man who performed his mission in turbulent circumstances” like those of war and Syria’s occupation.
He always defended "his country's sovereignty and independence" and promoted dialogue in Lebanese society at the ecumenical, interreligious and social level.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun awarded Card Sfeir the Lebanese order of merit of the Grand Cordon grade.
In addition to Lebanese officials, the funeral was attended by Vatican officials (including the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria Card Mario Zenari), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and representatives of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan.
"Patriarch Sfeir is the father of peace and coexistence in Lebanon and today we're taking part in the funeral at the Saudi leadership's orders," Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari said.
Amid the many political figures stood out the absence of former Lebanese President Émile Lahoud, a major figure of the "Syrian" era, and pro-Syrian Shia party Hezbollah representatives. By contrast, the Druze delegation was already present at the Patriarchate in the morning.
The formal aspects of the ceremony notwithstanding, the liturgical service saw huge crowds with people coming from every part of the country. Since the morning, families, groups and single individuals attended the hourly Masses, praying in the small church of the patriarchate before the body of the late cardinal.
"He is the father of all the Maronites,” said a man from Tabarja, “the father of our Church; a man of rare strength whose contribution is as important as that of Saint Maron, the first Maronite patriarch.”
Echoing such view, Maha, a woman who came from Ksara along with a religious fraternity, said that "Someone wanted to make him a partisan of this or that faction.” In reality, “Patriarch Sfeir was simply a nationalist who fought against injustice and defended Lebanon in all its denominational and partisan components. I waited for his homily every Sunday. He embodied our only hope against the [Syrian] occupation."