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Al-Rahi: Sfeir Struggled against Occupation, Hegemony, Lebanon Monopolization by a Group is Scorn against Us All
(Retrieved from Naharnet on March 25, 2011)

(Photo taken by Fr. Antonio Elfeghali)

A ceremony to inaugurate Beshara al-Rahi as the 77th patriarch of the Maronite church was held Friday in Bkriki, in the presence of the country's top leaders and Arab and Western envoys.

President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker premier Saad Hariri and Prime Minister-designate Najib Miqati participated in the ceremony.

Cabinet ministers, MPs, party leaders, diplomats, heads of the country's different sects and other dignitaries also attended the event which was followed by a dinner banquet thrown by al-Rahi in honor of a number of participants.

MTV reported that the banquet gathered Suleiman, Berri, Miqati and Hariri, in addition to 77 public figures and 17 members of al-Rahi's family.

A March 8 source has told The Daily Star that Miqati and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun were expected to meet on the sidelines of the dinner to try to end the rift over the interior ministry portfolio.

"Lebanon is the country of partnership, which is built on parity between Muslims and Christians," said al-Rahi after he was ordained by outgoing patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir.

Al-Rahi's inauguration sermon carried an emotional message to Sfeir which highlighted the fact that he was the one who had ordained al-Rahi as a bishop in 1986 and the one who ordained him as a patriarch Friday.

Reminiscing the history of his predecessors, Al-Rahi said that "Sfeir struggled to liberate Lebanon from all occupations and hegemonies."

Addressing President Suleiman, the new patriarch said: "We ask God to guide your steps and my steps in service of the country and the church."

"The glory of Lebanon lies in its message, and it had been said in the past that the glory of Lebanon is given to the Maronite patriarch.

"The glory of Lebanon diminishes through isolationism and grows with openness towards the Orient and the world. Glory would rather be given to Lebanon and its people if we were all for the country," al-Rahi added.

He said that "through partnership and love," he would cooperate with the country's leaders – "Berri, Hariri and Miqati and all the ministers and MPs."

"The country is not for a sect, a party or a group and it shall not be monopolized, because the monopolization of Lebanon by a single group would represent scorn against us all," al-Rahi stressed.

As to the unrest sweeping the Arab region, the new patriarch said he was "worriedly following up on the events in our Arab countries."

"We express our regret over the deaths and injuries and pray for peace in those countries," he added.

"You may be wondering about my agenda for the coming days and you have expressed your expectations and concerns. My agenda represents a continuation of the history of my predecessors throughout 1,600 years," al-Rahi declared.

An Nahar daily reported Friday that al-Rahi decided to spend his weekend at one of the Maronite archdioceses and would later start a tour to other countries. Syria might be the new patriarch's first stop, the newspaper said.

It quoted him as telling his visitors that he would spend two days in each Lebanese region.

Asked if he would visit southern Lebanon, which is a Hizbullah stronghold, al-Rahi reportedly said: "I will not exclude any area."




An epochal event
The enthronement of Mar Beshara Boutros Rai as the 77th Maronite patriarch
Should we speak of a miracle?

(Retrieved from Monday Morning Web Site on April 06, 2011)

The whole of the Republic, without exception, was present at the patriarchal seat in Bkerki on March 25, 2011 at 5 p.m. at the enthronement ceremony of the new patriarch, Mar Beshara Boutros Rai. Elected by a conclave of archbishops on March 15, he chose the feast of the Annunciation, whose name he bears, to be invested at the head of the Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The ceremony was at once official and popular, spiritual and moving, and was crowned with the first and important homily of His Beatitude, in which he defined the broad lines of his patriarchate.

At Bkerki, at the Church of the Resurrection, in the first row of the congregation, sat the head of the state, President Michel Sleiman, and his wife Wafaa; Nabih Berri, speaker of the House; Saad Hariri, caretaker prime minister; Najib Mikati, prime minister-designate; and the leaders of all political movements. Also present were ministers, MPs, military, judicial, religious and diplomatic, and popular delegations from all parts of the country and from Syria. Most Lebanese television stations broadcast the ceremony directly.
The religious service began at 5 p.m. with a mass celebrated by the outgoing patriarch, His Eminence Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, surrounded by prelates amid the chanting of the choir of Our Lady of Louaizé of the Mariamite fathers, under the direction of Father Khalil Rahmé.
In view of the present impact of the electronic media, it was undoubtedly the first time all the Lebanese regardless of religious confession or persuasions, were able to follow the enthronement of a new patriarch. What was also remarkable was the fact that Cardinal Sfeir, who consecrated Beshara Rai as archbishop 25 years ago, was now investing him as seventy-seventh patriarch of Antioch.
Following the mass, Mgr. Gabriele Caccia, the papal nuncio to Lebanon, read out a letter addressed by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI to Patriarch Rai and to which the congregation listened standing.
“Your election as head of the Church of Antioch and All the East is an exceptional event,” the message said. “I present to you with all my heart my fraternal congratulations, and I ask God to accompany you in the achievement of this new mission (…) For us it is a matter of pride that your Church has been attached since its origins to the Catholic Church (…) We are certain that you possess the necessary wisdom and courage to direct the Maronite Church as your predecessor has done (…) We ask the Almighty to help you in your mission, and we extend Our benediction to you.”

An impressive ceremonial perpetuated over centuries

The impressive investiture ceremony, which has been handed down over the centuries, then followed. Mgr. Rai knelt before Mgr. Sfeir, who placed his hands on his head, saying: “The Holy Spirit calls you to be patriarch at the head of the Church of Antioch.” Mgr. Rai replied: “I am obedient and I perpetuate the apostolic orders and the councils in justice and in the faith of Christ.” The Gospel was placed above the head of Mgr. Rai. The archbishops approached and raised their hands above the new patriarch. Mgr. Sfeir then accompanied Rai to the patriarchal chair, where Patriarch Rai read the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. The archbishops then placed their hands on the patriarchal crozier held by Mgr. Sfeir, who then presented it to the new patriarch, to the applause of the congregation.
After the Gospel reading, offerings were presented to the patriarch: from his native town Hemlaya, an icon of Saint Rafka, who also hailed from Hemlaya, bearing Patriarch Rai in her heart. The second offering, a copy of the Gospel and a Phoenician barque, from the archdiocese of Jbeil, where he served from 1971 until his election. The third was a painting of Our Lady of Louaizé with relics of all the saints of Lebanon, from his own community, Our Lady of Louaizé.

Mar Beshara Rai: ‘Lebanon, land of partnership and love’

His Beatitude thanked those present and delivered his first homily, which will figure in the annals of the Church and of the nation, for in it he developed the guiding lines of his patriarchate, which he had since his election under the theme of “partnership and love”.
He began his homily by speaking of the Annunciation made to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel and in which are embodied “communion and love”.
He stressed that the event of the Annunciation is related in the Koran, and he welcomed the fact that the Lebanese government had decided by decree to make March 25, the Annunciation, a national Islamic-Christian feast.
Mgr. Rai continued: “Is this not a sign that Lebanon is the land of partnership and love? It is stated to be thus in its National Pact, consolidated by the Constitution, in which we read: ‘There is no legality to any power which goes against this coexistence’; it is based on the mutual recognition of the ones by the others, the unity of destiny, the complementarity in the formation of the same national social tissue, the egalitarian sharing of power between Christians and Muslims, which is aimed at ensuring the stability of the entity, ensuring democracy, so that the entity remains in perpetual evolution in accordance with the demands of modernity and the teachings of history…”

‘No one can monopolize the nation’

Mgr. Rai also recalled the expression which says, in regard to the Maronite patriarch: “the glory of Lebanon has been given to him”, explaining that this comes from the prophet Isaiah. He continued: “But this glory is given to the patriarch and to the Church to the extent that they commit themselves to building communion and to sharing in love. The glory of Lebanon is tarnished by a withdrawal into oneself. But it is developed and elevated in the opening to the other, to this East and to the world. It is to Lebanon and its people as a whole that it is given if we are all united for the nation, in accordance with the words of the national anthem. The nation belongs neither to one community nor to a party or faction. No one can monopolize it, for its monopoly by a faction would amount to treating all the others with contempt and would be a loss of this glory, whose grandeur lies in the diversity of the spiritual families and their own riches.
“I don’t use the term ‘communities’ since these are now imprinted with the narrow colors of politics, emptied of their sanctity and of the authenticity of their faith. Let us say with Gibran Khalil Gibran: ‘Woe to the nation when communities pullulate and religious faith wanes’”.
He added: “It is a common future that links Christians and Muslims in Lebanon and the other countries of the region, a shared patrimony that we have all contributed to creating (…)
“We follow with disquiet what is happening here and in the Arab world. We deplore the shedding of blood, the dead and wounded who fall, and we pray for stability and peace in our region.”

‘My pastorate will be the continuity of my predecessors over 1,600 years’

Patriarch Rai then spoke of the partnership and love which have accompanied him throughout his life since his birth in Hemlaya on February 25, 1940 until his consecration as archbishop.
He turned towards Patriarch Sfeir, saying: “You, our venerated and beloved father, 25 years ago you placed your blessed hands on me to consecrate me as archbishop, and today, with the participation of all the archbishops, you have placed me on the throne of the Patriarchate of Antioch as your successor.” He thanked them all.
Mgr. Rai continued: “You ask me what the program of my pastorate will be. It is the continuation of my predecessors over 1,600 years, of their constancy in faith and patriotism”. He then retraced this long, historic past since “the first patriarch, Saint John Maron, who established the Maronite Church on the foundations of Catholic doctrine and made it an independent and self-governing nation in the Lebanese mountain.”
He recalled the multiple contributions of the 76 patriarchs who precede him on the level of faith and commitment to the nation. He paid vibrant tribute to Cardinal Sfeir, “who has struggled for the liberation of the national decision and of the Lebanese territory from every form of tutelage and occupation, who helped to bring about reconciliation in the Mountain and achieved necessary ecclesiastical reforms. In the same way, under his patriarchate great events took place: the proclamation of saints and blessed (…) publication of the Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches, (…) the holding of the Special Assembly of the Synod for Lebanon, to which we owe the Apostolic Exhortation (…) and the Synod for the Catholic Churches of the Middle East…
(…) “All these events come in the context of the continuing spring of the Catholic Church, which has burgeoned since the holding of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) …
“My program will be the achievement of the resolutions and recommendations of these assemblies on the ecclesial, educational, social and national levels in Lebanon, the Middle East and the countries of the diaspora…”

‘Priority to young people’

His Beatitude also affirmed that an absolute priority would be given to the 1.3 million young Lebanese studying in schools and universities. “They are”, he said, “the future of the Church and of Lebanon.” In the same way he expressed the interest he gives the Lebanese emigrant communities around the world. He underlined: “In this spirit of partnership and love, we shall work within the Maronite Church, the parishes, the congregations of the clergy and the laity,… within the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Archbishops, that of the Middle East and also with the patriarchs of the Orthodox and Evangelical Churches (…)
Mgr. Rai ended with a prayer to the Virgin: “I am aware, at the beginning of this ministry, that I am called to bear the cross of redemption, with all its weight, and I appeal for the grace of the Saviour” (…) “I confide our Church and our dear country to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Annunciation and Our Lady of Lebanon.”

Who was present

The ambassadors of Syria, Ali Abdelkarim; Jordan, Ziyad al-Majali; the minister of Islamic Affairs of Qatar, Gaith bin Mubarak Ali Omran; the ambassador of Cyprus, Homer Mavromatis; respectively represented the heads of state of Syria, Bashar Assad; King Abdallah II of Jordan; the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani; and the President of Cyprus, Dimitris Christofias.
Also present were former President Amin Gemayel; former Parliamentary Speaker Hussein el-Husseini; former Prime Minister Fuad Saniora; Michel Aoun, Mrs. Andrée Lahoud, representing former President Emile Lahoud; Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea; Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt; Dory Chamoun, leader of the National Liberal Party; Carlos Eddé, leader of the National Bloc; Sleiman Franjié, leader of the Marada Movement; Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement; Saad Hariri, leader of the Future Movement; Mohammad Raad of Hezballah; Solange Gemayel, Nayla Mouawad, Mouna Hraoui, Michel Eddé, president of the World Maronite Foundation; Joseph Torbey, president of the Maronite League; and Wadih el-Khazen, president of the Maronite Central Council; Army Commander-in-Chief General Jean Kahwaji; Generals Ashraf Rifi, Georges Karaa and Edmond Fadel, respectively directors-general of the Internal Security Forces, State Security, and Intelligence; a large number of ministers, MPs; political, judicial and business personalities, former ministers and former MPs.
Also present were the ambassadors of France, the United States, Britain, Belgian, Brazil, Canada, Chili, Colombia, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Niger, Oman, Palestine, Paraguay, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay…
On the religious side: the patriarchs of the Greek Catholics, Coptic Catholics, the Latins of Jerusalem, Syriac Catholics, Armenian Catholics, and representatives of the religious communities…
And an immense throng of faithful…