VATICAN CITY, FEB. 24, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Before arriving in Paul VI Hall for the general audience on Wednesday, Benedict XVI made a stop to visit the newest addition to the facade of St. Peter’s Basicila, a statue of the 5th-century monk, St. Marone.
The 16-foot, 20-ton statue was recently placed in the last vacant outer niche of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Maronite Catholic Church commission the work for the jubilee year that marked 1,600 years since the death of the saint, who is an important figure for the Church in Lebanon and recognized as the father of the Maronites.
Spanish artist Augusto Duenas sculpted the statue out from a single block of Carrara marble. The statue portrays the St. Marone in the act of offering to the world a small Maronite-style church, which he is holding in his left hand. The saint is wearing a long stole and holds a staff in his right hand.
Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, and Lebanese president Michel Suleiman accompanied Benedict XVI for the ceremony. Before blessing the statue, the Pope quoted the Psalms: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”
Unity with Rome
In an interview with ZENIT in October, Lebanese Father Michele Saghbiny, the academic dean of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome, reflected on the significance of placing St. Maron in a niche of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“He is the patron of the Maronite Church, but he is also a Catholic saint and so belongs to all the Church’s rites,” said Father Saghbiny. “His disciples defended the teachings of the Chalcedonean Council and then found themselves to be the only Chalcedoneans in the area until the reunification of some of the other Eastern rites centuries later.
“The importance of St. Marone and his disciples is their remaining in unity with Rome, the only [Eastern] Church that remained in unity of faith with the bishop of Rome. The Maronite Church is the only [Eastern Church] that does not have two branches — one orthodox, one Catholic. All the others are referred to as ‘uniate.'”
“Also,” he continued, “when the Crusaders arrived for the first time in the Middle East, they came into contact with the substantial community of Chalcedonean Christians native to that area, the Maronites. After communication with Rome was re-established at that time, Pope Innocent II recognized the authority of the Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch.”
Father Saghbiny noted that the Maronites are most present in Lebanon, which is the only country that is “both Arabic and of a Christian nature.”
“It is the only place you can find such a large population of Christians,” he added. “The Christians in other Middle Eastern countries count on the Christians of Lebanon. They sustain the other Middle Eastern Christians.”