Pontiff Affirms Communion With New Maronite Patriarch

Bechara Boutros Rai Installed in Lebanon

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ROME, MARCH 28, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has officially affirmed communion with the new patriarch of the Maronite Church, who was installed in the office Friday.

Bechara Boutros Rai, 71, succeeds Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, becoming the 77th patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites. Cardinal Sfeir has resigned at age 90.

Ten days before the patriarch's installation, Benedict XVI granted "Ecclesiastica Communio."

"It is a motive of pride for your Church to be united from the beginning to the Successor of Peter," wrote the Pope in a letter granting the official recognition of communion, in conformity with the Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches. "Peter was called by Jesus to preserve the unity of his one Church in truth and in love. Following a beautiful and ancient tradition, Peter's name is added to the patriarch's."

In the letter, the Holy Father said he hoped the new patriarch would be able to have "all the ardor, illumined by wisdom and tempered by prudence, to guide the Maronite Church."

He spoke of the glory of St. Marone, who established this Church, as well as the "array of Lebanese saints."

"May the Lord assist you in your ministry as 'Father and Head,'" continued Benedict XVI, "to proclaim the Word that saves, so that it is lived and celebrated with mercy according to the ancient spiritual and liturgical traditions of the Maronite Church! May all the faithful entrusted to you be able to find consolation in your paternal solicitude!"

The Bishop of Rome expressed his prayer that Our Lady would make the patriarch a "messenger of unity," so that Lebanon would "be able to carry out in the East and in all the world her role of solidarity and peace."

The Maronite Church has always been in communion with Rome, even while maintaining its own liturgy and calendar. Their liturgy is celebrated in Arabic, except in ancient songs and ancestral prayers of the Eucharist, for which Aramaic is used.

The Church was established by St. Marone, who lived between the 4th and 5th centuries as a hermit on Mount Tauro, an ancient city of northern Syria.

Today the Maronite Church has more than 3 million faithful and is present in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Holy Land, and in countries of the diaspora, such as Argentina and Australia.