Pope Honors Retiring Maronite Patriarch

Affirms Importance of 90-Year-Old Prelate's Service to Christ

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 1, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir has rendered an important service in the name of Christ, and he is accepting the resignation of the 90-year-old patriarch.



The cardinal has been the patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites since 1986.

In a letter dated Saturday, the Pope retraced something of the cardinal's long service to the Church.

The Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic Church with the patriarchal see in Bkerke, Lebanon, outside Beirut.

The majority of Christians in Lebanon are Maronite, approximately 930,000. The Maronite diaspora is far greater in number with nearly 3 million spread around the world.

The Holy Father noted how the cardinal's retirement comes as the year dedicated to the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. Marone is reaching its conclusion.

He spoke of Cardinal Sfeir's many anniversaries: "Last year, you were able to celebrate the 60th anniversary of priesthood: testimony of fidelity and of love for Jesus Christ, High Priest. In the forthcoming month of July, you will again have the occasion to elevate a thanksgiving to the Holy Trinity for the fulfillment of 50 years of episcopate.

"For almost 25 years, you collaborated with your two predecessors in the See of Antioch, before being chosen by the synod as their successor on April 19, 1986: an important moment that puts you today at the threshold of the silver jubilee in this office."

The beginning of Bishop Sfeir's service as patriarch came amid "the storm of the war that bloodied Lebanon for too long," the Pontiff continued. "It is with the ardent desire for peace for your country that you have guided this Church and traveled over the world to console your people constrained to emigrate. Finally, peace returned, always fragile, but always opportune."

Benedict XVI recalled his own way of honoring the cardinal -- naming him president delegate ad honorem at the synod of bishops on the Middle East -- to "underscore the importance of the ecclesial service that you have carried out in the name of Christ."

The Holy Father assured Cardinal Sfeir that he accepts his free and generous decision" to retire, saying it is an "expression of great humility and profound detachment."

"I am certain," he added, "that you will always support the journey of the Maronite Church with your prayer, your wise counsel and sacrifices."

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-31883?l=english