VATICAN CITY, MARCH 1, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the letter Benedict XVI addressed to Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir in which the Pontiff accepts the cardinal’s resignation as the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites. The letter is dated Feb. 26.
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To His Most Eminent Beatitude Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir,
Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites,
The year dedicated to the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. Marone is reaching its conclusion: During this exceptional jubilee, the Maronite Church was granted a time of grace. It is also the crowning of her service for the greater glory of God and the good of all her faithful.
God, in his unfathomable love, has molded and marked it with his own indelible sign for a particular election to his service. This secret choice has found a confirmation in your free and enthusiastic response following the example of the Mother of God: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
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.
You began the noble ministry of patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites in the storm of the war that bloodied Lebanon for too long. 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.
Pope John Paul II, who I will have the joy of beatifying next May 1, called you to be part of the College of Cardinals on Nov. 26, 1994, which placed you in more profound communion with the universal Church. The visit of my venerable predecessor to Beirut in 1997, to sign the postsynodal apostolic exhortation “A New Hope for the Lebanon” has marked again the constant bond of your Church with the Successor of Peter.
When I convoked the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in September 2009, I appointed you president delegate ad honorem to underscore the importance of the ecclesial service that you have carried out in the name of Christ.
In recent days I blessed the statue of St. Marone, placed in a niche of St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of the jubilee year, and I was then able to greet you, as well as the president of Lebanon and numerous bishops and faithful.
You have chosen to resign from the office of patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites in this very particular circumstance. I now accept your free and generous decision, which is an expression of great humility and profound detachment. I am certain that you will always support the journey of the Maronite Church with your prayer, your wise counsel and sacrifices.
I pray to God Almighty, through the intercession of St. Marone and of Our Lady of the Lebanon, to fill her with his blessings. With my whole heart I impart to you the apostolic blessing, and also to the bishops, to the priests and to the consecrated persons, as well as to all the faithful of the Maronite Church and to the beloved Lebanese nation.
From the Vatican, Feb. 26, 2011