BEIRUT: Resigned Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir pleaded during a farewell Mass in Bkirki over the weekend for forgiveness from all those he said he may have “harmed” during his 25-year tenure.
Sfeir also prayed God would inspire the Synod of Bishops to elect the “best candidate” to head Lebanon’s Maronite Church.
Lebanon’s top three officials, along with politicians, other state officials, and religious figures, flocked to Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate to participate in the Mass to honor Sfeir for his 25-year religious journey as head of the Maronite church.
“I ask God to inspire my brothers, the bishops, to elect the best person to succeed me as head of the patriarchate,” Sfeir said, addressing hundreds of attendees.
Before he concluded his sermon, Sfeir, who will participate in the conclave to elect his successor Wednesday, asked forgiveness “from those who believe I harmed them” and voiced prayers for a brighter future for Lebanon.
The Synod of Bishops will gather in a spiritual conclave at the seat of the Maronite patriarchate in Bkirki Thursday at 6 p.m. in isolation from the outside world until the church’s 77th patriarch is elected within a 15-day deadline.
Speaking on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches Leonardo Sandri praised Sfeir’s devotion during years of service to the church, while underscoring the pope’s confidence in the synod’s ability to elect the best successor to the post.
Sfeir’s resignation was accepted last month during a meeting with Benedict XVI on the sidelines of a visit to the Vatican to unveil a statue of the Maronite Church founder St. Maroun on the outer wall of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Vatican Ambassador to Lebanon Bishop Gabriel Caccia praised Sfeir’s leadership of the Maronite Church, particularly during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-90
Sfeir was elected patriarch in 1986 and three years later approved the Taif Accord, which ended 15 years of bloody civil strife.
Sfeir’s deputy, Bishop Roland Abu Jawdeh said the outgoing patriarch was “a man of dialogue” and “one open to the different political and religious opinions.”
“He knew how to communicate with all political and religious leaders in Bkirki, Beirut and elsewhere,” Abu Jawdeh said.
Some Christian party leaders, most notably Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, have accused Sfeir of bias toward their rivals in the March 14 coalition, particularly Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. Both Aoun and Franjieh boycotted the weekend’s farewell Mass.
The position of Geagea’s seat, in the second row alongside Cabinet members, and behind President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, annoyed representatives of the FPM and the Marada Movement, who left the ceremony shortly after it began.
A source close to Bkirki told The Daily Star that Franjieh is expected to pay a visit to Sfeir Tuesday.
Caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, representing the FPM, left the Mass moments after it began while Marada Movement representative, Minister of State Youssef Saade chose to sit rows away from his designated seat in the second row, before leaving half an hour later.
FPM official and caretaker Energy Minister Jibran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, did not attend the ceremony in protest against what he described as a breach in protocol.
Bkirki’s sources said Geagea was seated with ministers as the LF was represented in Parliament and the Cabinet.
Sfeir, 91, has been a staunch critic of Aoun and Franjieh’s ally, Hezbollah. The prelate condemned Hezbollah’s weapons repeatedly, stressing the importance of restricting the possession of weapons to state institutions.
Bkirki, however, denies taking sides, and has constantly reiterated that it is open to all parties.
Following the Mass, Sfeir and Caccia held talks with Mikati, who hailed the patriarch’s national stances and his keenness to strengthen national unity.
The discussions touched on Mikati’s efforts to form a new government. Caccia described Mikati’s attempts to form an “all-embracing Cabinet” as “comforting.”