During this Jubilee Year of St. Maron, the Maronite Church finds herself in a unique position, one that calls for much prayer. There are six Maronite bishops who are retirement age and above, and the Synod of Maronite Bishops needs to elect successors for them. Likewise, Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir has submitted his resignation to the Holy See and the Holy Father has accepted, which means this month, the forty five Maronite Bishops throughout the world will be convoked to a Synod to elect his successor. In the midst of these important upcoming decisions, the Church calls upon all her sons and daughters to pray.
My own personal reflection and prayer during this time has been focused on a sense of gratitude for our Patriarch who has led us through difficult times and is still leading as Father and Head of our Church. Below is a simple tribute to him.
Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir, is one of those unique leaders who come on history’s stage, make a difference, and then fade away without much fanfare. On March 5, 2011 the Church will honor him for his service as Bishop and Patriarch, but, in fact, there are no words to express the gratitude that is due to him.
Patriarch Sfeir has stood before world leaders and powerful interests and proclaimed the truth with a disarming love and a peaceful spirit that is truly beautiful to behold. He is deep down a monk, a simple son of Saint Maron. He has spent almost his entire life in the monastery of Bkerke. He lives soberly, eats sparingly, maintains a balance of prayer and work, and attends attentively to all that his burden of office asks of him. I have seen him get off a plane from South Africa to New York and after a 17 hour flight endure a full day of meetings with United Nations officials, Lebanese embassy officials and guests, and then lead an evening Lenten prayer service at our Cathedral.
The Patriarch is a free man who wants others to live in freedom. In this way he imitates the free man, Saint Maron, who by living in the truth of Christ, became the inspiration for a Church as well as a nation. Our Patriarch’s recent pastoral letter on Saint Maron is a treasure chest of inspiration for anyone who loves the Maronites, loves Lebanon, and loves that true spiritual freedom that enables us to love God and our fellow man.
With the Maronite Bishops at his side in 2000, Patriarch Sfeir asked the government to the east of Lebanon to withdraw their troops and military personnel from Lebanon and to do so as a friend. He had also called upon the government to the south of Lebanon to leave southern Lebanon, to honor the dignity and territorial sovereignty of Lebanon. He stood before American Presidents (Bishop Shaheen and I had the joy to witness this twice) and urged them to do all they could to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which continues to cause tragic consequences to the entire region. We are still waiting, hoping. He has stood before his own beloved Lebanese citizens – Sunni, Shiite, Druze and Christians – and asked that all parties disarm and respect Lebanon’s special mission as a refuge for minorities and a pluralistic society. Some ignore him and some ridicule him. This is his present lot of suffering, for the sake of a Lebanon he believes in and loves. Nonetheless, by the grace of God, he suffers well, as throughout history Maronite Patriarchs before him have suffered well and triumphed.
Patriarch Sfeir has two life passions: the Maronite Church and Lebanon. Each has become for him a treasure worth living and dying for. History will look kindly upon him, as it did other historical figures such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi who both espoused a non-violent, strong yet loving, militancy, like that of our Lord’s, that has confounded the powerful with an innate logic of love and a simple goodness that has produced amazing spiritual fruits without measure.
Your Eminence and Beatitude, Father and Head of the Maronite Church throughout the world, Patriarch and Cardinal Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir, thank you for your visionary leadership and your love for the Church you serve and the country you love.
+Gregory John Mansour
Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron
Of Brooklyn, USA
(Reprinted with permission.)