03/29/2011, 00.00
LEBANON
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For Patriarch Rahi, "Lebanon’s glory" is necessary for peace and stability in the Middle East

by Fady Noun
The head of the Maronite Church is concerned about developments in the Arab world. He said he would focus on young people for the future of the “Church and Lebanon”. Top state officials from various factions attend the investiture ceremony. Following in the footsteps of John Paul II and Patriarch Sfeir, he speaks out in favour of a pluralistic nation.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Israel’s occupation, Syria’s control, Hizbollah’s hegemonic temptations, Christian-Muslim equality, from the Taif accord, in an evolving context, to Lebanon’s formula for Christian-Muslim dialogue are all hints to the overall political situation of the Maronite Church in Lebanon and, to some extent, Christians in the Arab world. They were mentioned in the address Patriarch Béchara Boutros Rahi delivered last Friday during his investiture ceremony as Patriarch Sfeir’s successor.

The event took place at the headquarters of the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerké, on the day of the Annunciation, according to the wishes of the new patriarch, whose name ‘Béchara’ means ‘Annunciation’ in Arabic.

All of Lebanon’s top state officials attended the ceremony, starting with President Michel Suleiman, a Christian. For the occasion, all divisions were put aside. Political adversaries like Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, General Michel Aoun, Hizbollah parliamentary leader Mohammed Raad, Prime Minister designate Nagib Mikati and his rival, outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, were all seated in the front row.

Many grassroots delegations were also present, confirming, as if that was necessary, that the new patriarch is held in high esteem by the faithful and that his election, achieved with an almost unanimous vote in just three days, represents the will of the faithful.

Following in a 1,600-year-old process of succession, coming especially after his 91-year-old predecessor retired because of age, the new Patriarch, hinting at Hizbollah’s use of weapons, said that “no one can monopolise it (the fatherland) because if one faction claims it for itself it does so at the expense of others.”

Speaking on the feast day of the Annunciation, which has been “a national holiday for Christians and Muslims” since 2010, Patriarch Rahi did not hesitate to say that the Patriarchal motto “Lebanon received its glory”, which alludes to a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, cannot be fulfilled if the Patriarch’s actions do not fit into a context in which all of Lebanon’s “spiritual families” are open to one another.

Under the circumstances, the glory bestowed upon the Patriarch falls on Lebanon, its message and model, as Pope John Paul II defined them once and for all. Indeed, in the 1990s, the great pontiff came up with a popular aphorism. “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West,” the Pope said.

For the new Patriarch, following such an inspired definition, the path is the same as that followed by Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir over the years, namely that Lebanon does not belong to the Maronites, but the Maronites and the Maronite Church belong to Lebanon.

During his address, the new head of the Maronite Church pledged that the fate of 1.3 million young people in school and university would be his absolute priority. They are the “future of the Church and Lebanon”, he said, and a good proportion of them are studying in Catholic institutions.

The patriarch stressed his commitment to the millions of Maronites living abroad. The World Maronite Foundation would like to see them regain their Lebanese nationality, which they might have lost out of necessity or carelessness.

Finally, he said that he was following developments across the Arab world “with great concern”, whilst praying for “stability and peace” in the region.

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