Maronite church in Lebanon elects new patriarch

March 16, 2011 - 0:0

BEIRUT (AFP) — Bishop Beshara Rai was elected patriarch of the influential Maronite church in Lebanon on Tuesday to succeed Nasrallah Sfeir.

“Our joy has no limit,” Monsignor Boulos Nasrallah, of Rai's archdiocese in Jbeil, north of Beirut, said as church bells tolled.
Rai, 71, was elected to succeed the 91-year-old Sfeir, who resigned recently after serving for 25 years as Patriarch of Antioch for the Maronites.
Monsignor Youssef Tawk said a church service would be held on March 25 to mark Rai's inauguration.
The head of the Maronite church, which has a following of some five million people worldwide, has a lot of influence in Lebanon where Christians make up about 30 percent of the four million population.
Sfeir during his tenure played a key role in Lebanon's fractious political scene, often adopting stances that earned him stiff rebukes from some of the country's rival factions and Christian leaders.
He asked the Vatican to relieve him of his duties because of his age and Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation last month.
Rai was elected by Lebanon's Maronite bishops who began meeting last week at the church's headquarters in Bkerke, northeast of Beirut.
“He is a very qualified person from a spiritual standpoint,” Nasrallah told AFP. “He listens to everyone and greets everyone the same, whatever their background.
“He is one of the pillars of the church (in Lebanon) and is open to all the communities,” he added.
Photo: Bishop Beshara Rai will head the Maronite church, has a following of some five million people worldwide. (AFP Photo)