Courage, Maturity and Deep Personal Faith
When we mourned the passing of the charismatic Pope John Paul II, we had little idea of what we wanted or needed in his successor, but God provided. With Benedict XVI, we were given a man of deep personal faith – his writings, homilies and engaging yet gentle ways leave a lasting impression on anyone open to these graces. He is a man of courage. Having been used to, if anyone can ever be used to, being vilified by the press and by those who disagreed with him, Pope Benedict is a man of great personal courage.
Lastly, Pope Benedict is a mature man. He has been able to weather every storm of the Church with both eyes open and with much love. This was the reason Pope John Paul not only loved him, but trusted him with every task no matter how delicate or how difficult.
It is these three qualities that we Maronites need in the successor to Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir; who in fact, embodies all these virtues himself.
We can let the words of Chavalier of Arvieux, written in 1660 about his visit to the Maronite Patriarchal residence in Qannoubin to meet the Maronite Patriarch and Bishops, translated in Bishop Pierre Dib’s History of the Maronites resound in our hearts as we pray for the Holy Spirit to descend upon the Patriarch and 40 Bishops who will gather in Synod to elect a successor to Patriarch Sfeir:
“Qannoubin … is the patriarchal monastery where the Patriarch of the Maronites resides …We were received by the bishops and religious with manners that it would seem that one would not find in the inhabitants of a frightful desert far from all society, and whose austere life and penance inspires a certain rudeness quite opposed to politeness. They led us into a large room, gave us refreshments, and helped our valets discharge their duties and fed them. Other brothers went to announce our arrival to the Patriarch. He was hidden in a grotto far away, very secret, of difficultit access and well covered, where he does not go out during the day but only at night. This is because the inhabitants of these mountains were at war with the Pacha of Tripoli, who had asked for a large sum of money which they had judged was not proper to give him. The Pacha would often send the Turks to take the Patriarch and lead him to him, not doubting that when he would have him in his hands, all the Maronites would sell everything to ransom him from prison …
The Patriarch, bishops and priests who pressed us to eat and drink, did not show us example; on the contrary they were very sober. Some drank only water. This grand meal was only to extend us hospitality. Their life was ordinarily extremely frugal … they fast often and very austerely; they work very hard and rise at night to chant the Office, with excellent melodies and perfect harmony. After giving thanks, the Patriarch had me sit with him and spend nearly two hours in conversation. We were struck by the vivacity and force of his spirit, as well as that of the bishops and priests. Afterwards, we were taken each to his proper cave, where we found the mats and covers we had brought with us …
All the Maronite prelates lead a very regular and austere life; they live poorly and take only what the earth gives them by the work of their hands. They do not put on the display of the prelates of Europe. Their ecclesiastical regalia is also poor. They are adorned with virtue and not with rich clothes, embroidery, gold or silver. They have only crosses of wood, but they are bishops of gold.
All the Christians have an infinite respect for them …They respect them as fathers and superiors, and their manner of living is a good example for them as for us who feeling emancipated try to live opposite to what we should. The following day, the Patriarch celebrated a pontifical Mass … After the Mass was ended, we received the blessing of the Patriarch, and we went to await him in the large room. He came after finishing his prayers. We thanked him and he responded with unimaginable goodness, inviting us to stay at Qannoubin as long as we wished, and to see what there was in the country … He then left for the security of his secret cave. …
We then went to the bottom of the Valley of the Saints, where we saw an infinite number of caves, which are the residences of the holy anchorites whose lives would be a source of admiration for all generations to come…”
May God grant us a Patriarch, who like Patriarch Sfeir and the holy Patriarchs before him, is a man filled with God’s loving grace, with natural virtue, and who is touched by God to be a man of courage, maturity and deep personal faith.
Saint Maron, Saint John Maron and Our Lady of Qannoubin, pray for us!
+ Gregory John Mansour
Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn
(Reprinted with permission.)