very nature requires unity
On Thursday, 10 February, the Holy Father received members of the Maronite
community, who were accompanied by Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of
Antioch for Maronites, Lebanon. They had come to Rome for the Jubilee of
Maronites and had participated in a solemn Liturgy celebrated by the Patriarch
on the previous day, the feast of St Maron, at the Basilica of St Mary Major.
Here is a translation of the Pope's address, which was given in French.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Maronite Church,
1. I welcome you to the house of Peter's Successor and to the Eternal City,
where the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and of so many holy martyrs and
confessors are preserved. You have come from Lebanon, from other Middle Eastern
countries and from the diaspora to celebrate the Great Jubilee in these days
with His Beatitude Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch, the
"Father and Head' (cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, can.
55) of your Maronite Church. Your pilgrimage to Rome is the first of the Eastern
Catholic Churches, for the Patriarchs, Bishops and faithful of the other Eastern
traditions will be coming to Rome in the months ahead.
2. Wishing to give fresh proof of your unfailing, age-old fidelity to the
Apostolic See of Rome, you have come here for the feast of St Maron, a pillar of
your Church, whose memorial is celebrated according to your liturgical calendar
on 9 February. On that day, you took part in a solemn Eucharistic celebration in
the Basilica of St Mary Major, at which your beloved Patriarch presided.
Yesterday's celebration, like today's audience, strengthens the close bond that
exists between the Sees of Rome and of Antioch, that ancient city where
"the disciples were for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11:26)
and where St Peter himself lived. Therefore, spurred by an "inner
command" that stems from your faith, you have come "to visit
Cephas" (Gal 1:18) in order to live your ecclesial communion with him.
Indeed, your full communion with the Church of Rome is a tangible expression of
your awareness of unity: "Unity is an essential characteristic of the
Church and her deepest nature requires it" (Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation A New Hope for Lebanon, n. 84; cf. Apostolic Letter Orientale
lumen, n. 19). In these days you are having a powerful experience of
this ecclesial unity, which will help you in turn to be more and more committed
to evangelizing the world, since the Maronite tradition is also "a
privileged opportunity for reviving the dynamism and missionary zeal which each
of the faithful must share" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation A New
Hope for Lebanon, n 84).
3. Aware and proud of the importance of unity with Rome, your Church, the
spiritual daughter of St Maron, has seen many saints flourish down the
centuries. On 9 October 1977 my Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, canonized Sharbel
Makhlouf, a hermit monk and priest of the Maronite Lebanese Order, and on 17
November 1985, I myself had the joy of beatifying Rafka (Rebecca), a Maronite nun
of the Maronite Lebanese Order, and on 10 May 1998 Nimatullah AlHardini, a monk
and priest of the same order and the spiritual father of St Sharbel.
4. Nimatullah Al-Hardini was beatified exactly a year after my pilgrimage to
Lebanon in 1997. That is why it is pleasant for me to remember here the time I
spent in Lebanon, where the Maronite Church has her roots and real centre.
The new hope for Lebanon described in the Post-Synodal Exhortation, the
document that resulted from the work of the Special Assembly for Lebanon of the
Synod of Bishops, was "my cry for resurrection and peace", in which I
"once again called the world's attention to the biblical land of
cedars" (L'Osservatore Romano daily edition, 12-13 May 1997, p. 1).
I encourage all the pastors and faithful of the Catholic communities in Lebanon
to continue to welcome and absorb this Exhortation's ideas and suggestions. I am
pleased to know that the first encouraging signs of its practical implementation
can already be seen, as is also evident from the work of the last Assembly of
Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon (APECL), which met last November in
5. 1 am also pleased to announce that yesterday, after a very lengthy closure
due to the Second World War and then to the difficult situation in Lebanon, the
Pontifical Maronite College has officially reopened its doors, thanks especially
to the tireless efforts of Bishop Emile Eid, Patriarchal Procurator in Rome.
This institute, desired by Pope Gregory XIII, dates back to the 16th century. It
has had countless distinguished students, of whom the most famous were Stephane
Douaihi, the future Maronite Patriarch, and the great scholar, Joseph S.
Assemani, First Custodian of the Vatican Library, a renowned orientalist and
canon lawyer who, among other things, played an important role in the Lebanese
Maronite Synod of 1736.
I hope that the young Maronites who will live in this historic college will
make a real contribution, like their predecessors, to Maronite ecclesial life in
fidelity to the spirit of the universal Church.
6. As for the beloved land of Lebanon, to which the hearts of believers
longingly turn, I hope that it will continue to remain faithful to its vocation
as a "Message": a place where Christians can live in peace and brotherhood
with the followers of other beliefs, and can foster this form of coexistence (cf.
Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation A New Hope for Lebanon, ri. 92). I would
also like to tell you today with the force of love: "The Pope is
always close to you all". I am beside you like a father and brother during
this period when intolerance sometimes revives the ghosts of hatred which we
would prefer to see vanish for ever.
Through the intercession of the Mother of God, of the holy Apostles Peter and
Paul, of St Maron, St Sharbel, Bl. Rafka, Bl. Nimatullah Al-Hardini and all the
saints of your land, I ask the Lord to make your celebration in Rome the first
fruit of the Great Jubilee. I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.