The Holy Land and the Latin Patriarchate welcomes the head of the Maronite Church
JERUSALEM – May 27, 2014. The Holy Land and the Latin Patriarchate rejoiced during these last days of the Pope’s visit Francis. It also celebrated the visit of one of the most important leaders of the Catholic Church in the Middle East, His Beatitude, Patriarch and Cardinal Bishara Ra’i.
None of the patriarchs of the Maronite Church came to visit the Holy Land for 66 years. That is to say, since the Nakba of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were dispersed during the creation of the State of Israel. But the Good Shepherd is he who watches, above all, his flock at any time and in any place, away from the worldly considerations of political and world leaders.
Patriarch Ra’i came “to welcome the Holy Father in his diocese,” and not just to accompany him, since the Holy Land was always and remains part of the ecclesiastical territories over which the authority of the Maronite Patriarch extends. That is why this visit is exclusively “spiritual and religious in nature” and has no political dimension, at least in the eyes and conscience of the venerable Patriarch of the Maronites.
Thus, Patriarch Ra’i began in Amman his pastoral visit to the people that God has entrusted to him. And there, next to the Holy Father, he attended the Pontifical Mass at the International Stadium of Amman. The next day he was with other leaders of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches of Middle East, and the Ordinary of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, going first to Bethlehem and then to East Jerusalem with Pope Francis. Naturally, he also attended the Pontifical Mass presided by His Holiness in Manger Square in front of the Basilica built on the humble cave where God Incarnate was born there 2000 years.
And in Jerusalem, Patriarch Ra’i also participated in the historic event that took place in the Basilica of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre), 50 years after the reconciliation between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church after eight centuries of separation, including the lifting of the excommunications. The two sister Churches reaffirmed by this meeting their loyalty to the “new declaration” that will lead one day, by the grace of God, to the perfect unity for which Christ himself prayed in his agony. We see also in the presence of one of the most important leaders of the Eastern Churches, the Maronite Church, which has always been in perfect union with the Catholic Church of the West, a sign of unity in the diversity of the Church of Christ. Diversity has never been the reason for the separation.
Pope Francis left the Holy Land on Monday night. But Patriarch Ra’i continued his pastoral visit to his parish in the Holy Land before returning to Lebanon via Jordan on Saturday, May 31. His Beatitude also visited on Monday, May 26, the Trappist Abbey of Latroun, where many religious brothers of Lebanese and Maronite origin still live.
The Latin Patriarchate also had his share of joy on Tuesday, May 27, because the Maronite Patriarch honored him by his amiable and cheerful presence. And so he was greeted by His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the other bishops and priests of the diocese, as well as all employees of the Patriarchate. All were happy to meet this humble man, smiling and attentive, and to take a souvenir photo with him.
Finally, the Maronite Patriarch left the Latin Patriarchate in the very warm applause of all, knowing that his visit had not yet ended, because in Galilee a large Maronite community awaited him, and the many Lebanese Maronites, who were looking forward eagerly to receive the blessing and consolation of their bishop.