VATICAN CITY, APRIL 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is affirming his communion with the new patriarch of the Maronite Church, and praising the rich tradition of Antioch, where the faithful were first given the name Christians.
The Pope had a private audience today with Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï, 71.
Last month, the patriarch succeeded Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, becoming the 77th patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites. Cardinal Sfeir resigned at age 90.
The Holy Father said Patriarch Raï’s visit was a privilege for the universal Church.
“I rejoice to receive you here, with the Maronite bishops, the priests, the consecrated persons and the faithful, to solemnize the ‘Ecclesia Communio,’ which I made known to you by letter last March 24.”
After a Maronite patriarch is elected, the Bishop of Rome extends his official expression of communion.
He continued: “Your election, which occurred a few days after the closure of the Holy Year promulgated to celebrate the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. Maron, seems the most eminent fruit of numerous graces that he obtained for his Church.”
Plenitude of communion
Noting the Divine Liturgy that was to be celebrated, the Holy Father said that there “the plenitude of communion is manifested between the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and the 77th Successor of St. Maron, Father and Head of the Church of Antioch of the Maronites, that very prestigious Apostolic See where the faithful of Christ received for the first time the name of ‘Christians!’ Your Patriarchal Church, her rich spiritual, liturgical and theological tradition, the tradition of Antioch, always adorns the entire Church with that treasure.”
The Maronite Church has always been in communion with Rome, even while maintaining its own liturgy and calendar. The 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. Maron, 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.
The patriarchate is based in Lebanon.
Benedict XVI spoke to Patriarch Raï about concrete tasks awaiting him as patriarch, namely the situation of the Middle East and the importance of education.
“This region of the world that the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles and Christ himself blessed by their presence and by their preaching, aspires to this durable peace that the Word of Truth, received and lived, has the capacity to establish,” he said.
The Pope spoke of the Maronites’ quality educational and catechetical network.
“Transmit to young people all my esteem and affection while reminding them that the Church and society have need of their enthusiasm and their hope,” he said. And he invited the patriarch to “intensify the formation of priests and of numerous young people that the Lord is calling in your eparchies and in your religious congregations. That by their teaching and by their life, they may be genuine witnesses of the Word of God to help the faithful to root their life and their mission in Christ!”
The Pope expressed his prayer for the patriarch, that the Holy Spirit will “console you in difficulties and procure for you the joy of seeing your Church grow in fervor and in number!”
“At the dawn of your ministry,” he added, “I wish to repeat those words of Christ to the disciples: ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.'”
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