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Cardinal Boutros Sfeir.

Patriarch Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir.

Patriarch Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, born May 15, 1920 is the patriarch emeritus of Lebanon’s largest Christian body, the Maronite Church. He is also a Cardinal.

He was elected Patriarch of Antioch for the Maronites on April 27, 1986, and his resignation was accepted on February 26, 2011. He is the third Maronite Cardinal and he was the 76th Patriarch of the Maronite Church with the official title of “His Beatitude and Eminence the seventy-sixth Patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Levant”.

Early life and ordination

Sfeir was born in Rayfoun, Lebanon. He was educated in Beirut, and at Mar Abda School in Harharaya where he completed his primary and complementary studies, and Ghazir where he completed his secondary studies at St. Maron seminary. He graduated in philosophy and theology in 1950 at Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut. He was ordained to the priesthood in the same year on May 7. From 1951 to 1955 he served as priest to the parish of Rayfoun. In 1956, he was appointed the secretary of the Maronite Patriarchate, based in Bkerké. In the same year, he became the professor of translation in literature and philosophy at the Frères Maristes (Marist Brothers) School in Jounieh. In July 16, 1961 he was consecrated the titular bishop of Tarsus by Patriarch Paul Peter Meouchi and he served as Patriarchal vicar.

Patriarch

He was elected to the primacy of the Maronite Church by the Council of Maronite Bishops, on April 19, 1986, and he was confirmed by Pope John Paul II on May 7, 1986.

Liturgy

Sfeir is keen on accelerating liturgical reforms. This work bore fruit in 1992 with the publication of a new Maronite Missal, which represents an attempt to return to the original form of the Antiochene Liturgy. Its Service of the Word has been described as far more enriched than previous Missals, and it features six Anaphoras (Eucharistic Prayers).

Role during the civil war

Serving as the Vicar for two previous patriarchs prepared Sfeir for the role in both the ecclesiastical and civil spheres. He became a strong voice for reason and sanity in the latter years of the Lebanese Civil War, which raged from 1975 to 1990. He has often spoken out against social and political injustices, and for the poor and disenfranchised. His writings and sermons set out his vision of how Lebanon can achieve a free and prosperous future. Like his predecessor, Sfeir largely stayed out of politics during the first few years of his tenure as patriarch, generally deferring to the stance of the Lebanese President, but by 1989, he had become embroiled in national politics.

Resignation

Cardinal Sfeir submitted his resignation to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome in late 2010, but his resignation was not initially accepted because six Maronite bishops have submitted their resignations after reaching the retirement age of 75 in June 2010. His resignation was finally accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on February 26, 2011.

Cardinal Sfeir was followed by Bishop Bechara Boutros Rahi who was elected as the new Patriarch for Antioch on March 15, 2011.

Cardinal

Sfeir was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of November 26, 1994. As the Patriarch of a sui juris particular Church who has been made a cardinal, Sfeir is a Cardinal Bishop.

Works

Sfeir has written several books, including “The sources of the Gospel-Bkerké”, (1975); “Personalities that disappeared 1961-1974″ – (two volumes); and “Sunday sermons: spiritual reflections and stand of national positions”, (several volumes, 1988).

Sfeir is fluent in many languages: Syriac, Aramaic, French, Italian, Latin, and English, as well as his native Arabic, being proficient in both classical and Lebanese dialects.

Involvement in politics

Spring of 1989

At the beginning of the 1990s he did not support Syria’s role against General Michel Aoun. In the spring of 1989, when Aoun launched a campaign to achieve control of militia-dominated areas, 23 Christian deputies of parliament met at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkerké, under the auspices of Sfeir, and called for a cease-fire. While hundreds of thousands Lebanese (Christians and non-Christians) gathered in the Baadba presidential palace in support for Aoun, a couple of thousands of Christians demonstrated in Bkerki against Aoun. Under what some say was pressure from the Vatican, he backed the Taif Agreement and hence the Syrian mandate over Lebanon in order to end the civil war, saying that it was “a fatal error to believe that we can live alone on an island in which we run our affairs as we like.” A few days later, he declared that Aoun’s non acceptance of the Taif Agreement was illegal and unconstitutional.

On November 5, as parliamentary deputies met at an abandoned air base in Syrian-controlled North Lebanon to elect a new president, Sfeir warned in a sermon that Aoun’s stand “would lead to partitioning of the country.”

Cedar revolution

The Syrian invasion was ‘forced’ under international pressure to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, following the political upheaval and large scale street protests which followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri ; at the end of April 2005 – Sfeir was at times a vocal critic of Syrian prevarication in carrying out its pledge to withdraw, up until around 2003, falling silent again just as anti-Syrian views were becoming more widespread. His restraint in his comments at this time appeared to have lost him the support, in particular, of a majority among those Christians who had fled the country. The Cardinal also urged restraint in anti-Syrian rhetoric, and for Lebanon to focus on its economic development rather than political rifts. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese (mostly Christians) gathered in Bkerke and the roads leading to it on March 27, 2001, to welcome back the Cardinal from a tour in the United States, during which he asked for the withdrawal of the Syrian army. He blessed in 2001 the establishment of Christian Qornet Shehwan Gathering opposed to the Syrian role and in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination he restated his opposition to Syria’s predominant role in Lebanese politics and the political changes following Syrian withdrawal appear to have largely restored his previous position as the main spokesperson for his community.

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