May 17, 2008
Your Eminence, Cardinal Rigali,
Father Donohue, Father Ellis, Augustinian Fathers, Faculty and Staff of Villanova University and your Sister University, The American University of Science and Technology in Lebanon (we are sorry that because of the situation in Lebanon, they were not able to be with us for this occasion)
Archbishop Aboujaoude, Bishop Mansour and Honored guests:
It is a grace and a joy to accept the personal invitation made over a year ago to me by Father Donohue and Father Ellis to receive an honorary doctorate. They were so kind to invite me personally while they were visiting our beloved Lebanon.
Visiting Lebanon is so very important to the Lebanese, because there, you can see for yourself the special character of Lebanon, home to Saints Sharbel, Rafka, Nemtallah and now, most recently Blessed Jaques Haddad, and where even today the desire for holiness and love of hospitality is still part of the very soul of the Lebanese people. One still sees and experiences in Lebanon the conviviality among religions and cultures. Unfortunately, we also note – as we sadly see today – the challenges, failures and intense pressures present where different opinions and political currents meet and conflict.
I am also glad to accept this invitation to Villanova for two more reasons. First, because Villanova’s commitment to Catholic Education has also inspired her desire to twin with the American University of Science and Technology in Lebanon. This cooperation between universities is very important to us.
Second, because you are located in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, whose Archbishop, His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali, is also a visitor to and a friend of Lebanon and the Maronite Church. He has been a true brother to me personally, and so this visit affords me, in the name of the Maronite Church, to say thank you.
Lastly, I would like to say a word about Catholic Education. How important it is for our young people to know the world in all its cultures, to be steeped in the richness of Catholic Tradition, to honor faith and reason, to live by Catholic principles of social justice and ethics, and to take the time to know others well – even those whose ideas are different from our own. This is also what makes Lebanon so precious. In Lebanon all Catholic education – elementary, secondary, and higher education – continues to thrive; we hope it always will.
May God bless Villanova, her Augustinian Fathers, her faculty, staff and students, and may God bless our Catholic Church here and in Lebanon.
Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir
(Reprinted with permission.)