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Maronite Synod chooses new Patriarch

Catholic World News - March 15, 2011

Bishop Bechara Rai has been elected the new Patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church.

The new Maronite leader--who had been Bishop of Jbeil, Lebanon—was elected by the Maronite Synod of Bishops after a 4 days of inconclusive balloting. He replaces Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, who had retired earlier this year at the age of 90 after 25 years as the head of the 3-million strong Maronite Catholic Church.

Because Christians form a crucial political bloc in Lebanon, where Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim groups are in a struggle for political power, the leadership of the Maronite community is a major factor in the nation’s politics. Former Patriarch Sfeir had been highly critical of Syrian influence in Lebanon, and was unpopular with the powerful Hezbollah movement.

The length of the Synod’s deliberations suggests that Bishop Rai might have been a compromise candidate. The Synod of Bishops met behind closed doors beginning on March 9. After two days of prayer and meditation, the voting for the new Patriarch began March 11, with a two-thirds majority required for election.

The election of the 77th Patriarch of Antioch was greeted by different factions in Lebanon, where Maronites comprise the largest Christian community. “Today we have a new bishop, and with him, new hope,” said a representative of the Free Patriotic Movement, which is generally allied with Hezbollah. “We have faith in him,” the spokesman added.

Underlining the importance of the Maronite election for Lebanon’s future, Prime Minister Saad Hariri described the selection of a new Patriarch as “a patriotic moment par excellence.”

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