BEIRUT: Pope Benedict XVI unveiled Wednesday a statue of Saint Maroun, the founder of the Maronite Church and voiced prayers that the fifth century monk, whose followers took refuge in Lebanon, watch over the country and its people.
Leading Lebanese officials, politicians and religious figures, President Michel Sleiman and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir stood by the pope at St. Peter’s Square as the latter wished that peace, stability and security would prevail in Lebanon.
More than 4,000 Lebanese from around the world have flocked to the Vatican over the past few days to participate in the ceremony, which falls on the 16th centennial anniversary of Saint Maroun’s death.
The five-meter high statue, sculpted by an Italian artist, was placed in the last available site on the outer wall of St. Peter Basilica, and depicts Saint Maroun holding a walking-stick.
“The founder of the Maronite Church” and “Unveiled with the blessing of Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir” were inscribed on the left and right bottom side of the statue, respectively.
The unveiling of the statue was followed by a Mass at the basilica, celebrated by Sfeir. In his sermon, the patriarch asked Saint Maroun to bless “Lebanese Maronites and illuminate their path wherever they may be.”
“The Maronites did not establish a new patriarchate, but rather selected a patriarch for a vacant seat. Maronites have reached many countries in the East and the West, and had their own bishops and priests who look after their religious education, while preserving their traditions and loyalty to Rome and the pope,” Sfeir said.
Sleiman called on the Lebanese to unite in order to preserve the country‘s model of coexistence as a guarantee for long-term stability.
Sleiman added that this model should be based on inter-Christian and Christian-Muslim dialogue, to guarantee genuine partnership rather than mere power-sharing.
Another guarantee to safeguard the Lebanese model, according to Sleiman, lies in strengthening the foundations of the country’s democratic regime based on freedom of expression and diversity, as well as the organization of Lebanon’s ties with its surrounding countries.
The president added that the survival of Christians in the East was linked to their capability to express openness toward other communities within the boundaries of a just and free state, rather than resorting to isolation or reliance on foreign powers.
Sleiman and Sfeir are scheduled to meet Thursday with the pope to discuss both recent developments in Lebanon and Sfeir’s resignation, according to some news reports.
Sfeir submitted his resignation to the Vatican late last year, but it remains unknown when the election of a new patriarch will take place.
Some media reports indicate a new patriarch will be elected on March 8, but sources close to Bkirki have denied this, since Sfeir’s resignation has yet to be accepted by the pope.