Risky trip – Pope to Lebanon

A week from today, on 14 September, Pope Benedict XVI will depart on what is, in some ways, one of the most risky apostolic journeys of his papacy. He will be returning to the Middle East for the fourth time – after Turkey (2006), Jordan, Israel and Palestine (2009) and Cyprus (2010) – and this time the ever-looming spectre of local tensions is very concrete in the form of the civil war raging in next-door Syria. And with Lebanon’s recent history firmly tied up with that of Syria, the papal journey has been in limbo until recently.

Lebanon is the most Christian country in the Middle East, with almost 40% of the population belonging to several Christian churches, with the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch being the largest of these. Other Churches in union with Rome that have a significant presence in Lebanon are the Greek Melkites, the Armenian, the Chaldean, the Syrian and the Roman Catholic Church. All these Churches have their own circumscriptions, which makes for an intricate landscape of dioceses, patriarchates and vicariates. There are 33 active bishops and patriarchs in the country, headed by   the Patriarchs Béchara Pierre Raï (Maronite), Nersès Bédros XIX Tarmouni (Armenian) and Ignace Youssif III Younan (Syrian). Also of note are Lebanon’s only cardinal, Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir (Maronite emeritus) and Ignace Pierre VIII Abdel-Ahad (Syrian emeritus).

The upcoming papal visit will be a three-day affair, with major events careful spaced over the available time. On 14 September, the Holy Father will obviously be welcomed in Beirut, and he will sign the Post-Synodal Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (which he himself kicked off during his visit to Cyprus two years ago). On 15 September, Pope Benedict will meet with representatives of the government, diplomats, religious leaders (always interesting in a country with a strong Muslim presence) and the world of culture. He’ll also meet with young people, another staple of papal visits abroad, at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerké. The last day, 16 September, will see a public Mass and the presentation of the Post-Synodal Exhortation, as well as the recitation of the Angelus and the departure ceremony.

A fairly short visit, but an important one, as its impact will not be limited to Lebanon. Countries like Syria and Iraq, which also have fairly significant Christian minorities, are no doubt also a focal point of this visit.

In the meantime, let’s pray for safety for the Holy Father during his journey to a place where tensions run high, and for a fruitful apostolic journey, for Christians in Lebanon and abroad.

Council survivors

For the startof the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI intends to celebrate the opening Mass with the surviving Council fathers. But how many of the bishops who attended the Second Vatican Council are still alive, and, come to think of it, who are they?

With the help of the great resource that is Catholic Hierarchy, I have compiled the following list. The bishops are listed according to their last name. Also included are their function(s) at the time of the Council and their current age.

  • ANGELINI, Fiorenzo: Curial official (now 95)
  • ARINZE, Francis: Coadjutor Bishop of Onitsha (now 79)
  • BANTIGUE Y NATIVIDAD, Pedro: Auxiliary Bishop of Manila (now 92)
  • BETTAZZI, Luigi: Auxiliary Bishop of Bologna (now 88)
  • BLANCHOUD, Moisés Julio: Auxiliary Bishop and later Bishop of Río Cuarto (now 88)
  • BLUYSSEN, Johannes Willem Maria: Auxiliary Bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch (now 86)
  • BOWERS, Joseph Oliver: Bishop of Accra (now 102)
  • CÁCERES GONZÁLEZ, Roberto Reinaldo:Bishop of Melo (now 91)
  • CALHEIROS NOVAES (DE NOVAIS), Waldyr: Auxiliary Bishop of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro (now 88)
  • CANESTRI, Giovanni: Auxiliary Bishop of Roma (now 93)
  • CAPUCCI, Hilarion: Auxiliary Bishop of Antiochia (Melkite) (now 90)
  • CAZZARO BERTOLLO, Savino Bernardo Maria: Vicar Apostolic of Aysén (now 87)
  • COELHO, Jaime Luiz: Bishop of Maringá (now 95)
  • CORNEJO RADAVERO, Mario Renato: Auxiliary Bishop of Lima (now 84) (left the Church in 1969)
  • CHARBONNEAU, Paul-Émile: Auxiliary Bishop of Ottawa, later Bishop of Hull (now 90)
  • CH’ENG SHIH-KUANG, Paul: Auxiliary Bishop of Taipei (now 96)
  • CÍRIO, Armando: Bishop of Toledo (now 96)
  • CUNIBERTI, Angelo: Vicar Apostolic of Florencia (now 91)
  • DE ARAÚJO SALES, Eugênio: Auxiliary Bishop and later Apostolic Administrator of Natal, later also Apostolic Adminstrator of São Salvador de Bahia (now 91)
  • DE ROO, Remi Joseph: Bishop of Victoria (now 88)
  • DELLY, Emmanuel III (Emmanuel-Karim): Auxiliary Bishop of Babylon (Chaldean) (now 84)
  • DEMARTEAU, Wilhelmus Joannes (Guillaume Jean): Bishop of Bandjarmasin (now 95)
  • DIAS NOGUEIRA, Eurico: Bishop of Vila Cabral (now 89)
  • DIAZ CUEVA, José Gabriel: Auxiliary Bishop of Guayaquil (now 87)
  • DÍAZ MERCHÁN, Gabino: Bishop of Guadix (now 86)
  • DOSSEH-ANYRON, Robert-Casimir Tonyui Messan: Bishop of Lomé (now 86)
  • DUPONT, Georges-Hilaire: Bishop of Pala (now 92)
  • FERNANDES DE ARAÚJO, Serafim: Auxiliary Bishop of Belo Horizonte (now 87)
  • GARAVITO JIMÉNEZ, Gregorio: Auxiliary Bishop of Villavicencio (now 93)
  • GARAYGORDÓBIL BERRIZBEITIA, Victor: Prelate of Los Ríos (now 96)
  • GARCIA AYALA, José de Jesús: Auxiliary Bishop of Campeche (now 102)
  • HADDAD, Grégoire: Auxiliary Bishop of Beirut and Jbeil (Melkite) (now 87)
  • HAYES, James Martin: Auxiliary Bishop of Halifax (now 88)
  • HERRERA RIERA, Eduardo: Auxiliary Bishop of Cumaná (now 84)
  • HUNTHAUSEN, Raymond Gerhardt: Bishop of Helena (now 90)
  • JOBST, John: Vicar Apostolic of Kimberley in Western Australia (now 92)
  • LANDRIAULT, Jacques: Auxiliary Bishop of Alexandria in Ontario, later Bishop of Hearst (now 90)
  • LEONARDO, Felice: Bishop of Telese o Cerreto Sannita (now 97)
  • LEULIET, Géry-Jacques-Charles: Bishop of Amiens (now 102)
  • LIMA DOS SANTOS, Caetano Antônio: Bishop if Ilhéus (now 95) (renounced the priesthood in 1970)
  • LIRA, Pedro Reginaldo: Bishop of San Francisco (now 96)
  • LOURDUSAMY, Duraisamy Simon: Auxiliary Bishop of Bangalore, later Coadjutor Archbishop of Bangalore (now 88)
  • MALBOIS, Albert-Georges-Yves: Auxiliary Bishop of Versailles (now 96)
  • MATHIAS, Alphonsus: Bishop of Chikmagalur (now 84)
  • MCKEON, Myles: Auxiliary Bishop of Perth (now 93)
  • MCNAUGHTON, William John: Bishop of Incheon (now 85)
  • NGANGA A NDZANDO, Louis: Auxiliary Bishop of Lisala, later Bishop of Lisala (now 89)
  • NICOLOSI, Salvatore: Bishop of Lipari (now 90)
  • NKALANGA, Placidus Gervasius: Auxiliary Bishop of Bukoba (now 93)
  • NOËL, Laurent: Auxiliary Bishop of Québec (now 92)
  • ODONGO, James: Auxiliary Bishop of Tororo (now 81)
  • PADILLA LOZANO, José Guadalupe: Bishop of Veracruz (now 91)
  • PEARCE, George Hamilton: Vicar Apostolic of Archipelago of the Navigators (now 91)
  • PIMIENTO RODRIGUEZ, José de Jesús: Bishop of Montería, later of Garzón-Neiva (now 93)
  • PIÑERA CARVALLO, Bernardino: Bishop of Temuco (now 96)
  • PIRES, José Maria: Bishop of Aracuaí, later Archbishop of Paraíba (now 93)
  • PLOURDE, Joseph-Aurèle: Auxiliary Bishop of Alexandria in Ontario (now 97)
  • QUINTERO ARCE, Carlos: Bishop of Ciudad Valles (now 92)
  • RAMALHO DE ALARCÓN SANTIAGO, José Mauro: Bishop of Iguatú (now 87)
  • RAMÍREZ SALAVERRÍA, Antonio José: Bishop of Maturín (now 94)
  • RAMOUSSE, Yves-Georges-René: Vicar Apostolic of Phnom-Penh (now 84)
  • RIBEIRO DE OLIVEIRA, Antônio: Auxiliary Bishop of Goiânia (now 86)
  • SAHAGÚN DE LA PARRA, José de Jesús: Bishop of Tula (now 90)
  • SANA, André: Bishop of Aqra (Chaldean) (now 91)
  • SAPELAK, Andrés: Auxiliary Bishop of the Faithful of the Eastern Rites of Argentina (now 92)
  • SEPÚLVEDA RUIZ-VELASCO, José Trinidad: Bishop of Tuxtla Gutiérrez (now 91)
  • SFEIR, Nasrallah Pierre: Auxiliary Bishop of Antiochia (Maronite) (now 92)
  • SOL, Andreas Peter Cornelius: Coadjutor Bishop of Amboina, later Bishop of Amboina (now 96)
  • SZYMANSKI RAMÍREZ, Arturo Antonio: Coadjutor Bishop and later Bishop of San Andrés Tuxtla (now 90)
  • TATO LOSADA, Eloy: Vicar Apostolic of San Jorge (now 88)
  • THOHEY MAHN-GABY, Gabriel: Coadjutor Archbishop of Rangoon (now 84)
  • TSIAHOANA, Albert Joseph: Auxiliary Bishop of Diego-Suárez (now 84)
  • VAN CAUWELAERT, Jan: Bishop of Inongo (now 98)
  • VERSTRAETE, Daniel Alphonse Omer: Prefect of Western Transvaal (now 87)
  • VILNET, Jean-Félix-Albert-Marie: Bishop of Saint-Dié (now 90)
  • WARREN, Douglas Joseph: Auxiliary Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes (now 93)
  • YOUN KONG-HI, Victorinus: Bishop of Suwon (now 87)
  • ZARZA BERNAL, Anselmo: Bishop of Linares (now 96)

Two of the names in the list are printed in italics. They indicate the bishops who either renounced their priesthood or left the Church altogether, sometime after the Council. So, while they participated as Council Fathers, we should not expect them to make an appearance in Rome in October.

Many others may also not be able to make it, considering their advanced age. The youngest, Cardinal Arinze, is 79, many are in their in 80s and even 90s, and there are even three centenarians. Among those staying at home, I expect, is Bishop Bluyssen, the only living Dutch bishop who attended the Council – although, as the story goes, he was often left at home “to mind the store” as Bishop Bekkers attended the sessions in Rome.

It will be interesting to see at least some of the former movers and shakers of the Church launch a new effort of evangelisation and catechesis across the world.

A new chief shepherd for the Maronites

Across the world the one Catholic Church is present in various cultures and societies in different ways. Especially in the Middle East we find various Churches which are styled Catholic. Examples are the Armenian Catholic Church, the Coptic Catholic Church and the topic of this blog post, the Maronite Church. These are not separate churches, but churches in ‘full communion’ with Rome. This means what I wrote in my first sentences: rather than different churches assembled under the banner of Rome, they are embodiments of the one Catholic Church in various countries.

These churches, while being Catholic and thus part of the pope’s patrimony, are often led by patriarchs (although the exact title may differ per church). For almost 25 years the Maronite Church was led by Cardinal-Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir. Although Maronite patriarchs usually stay on until death, 90-year-old Patriarch Sfeir’s resignation was accepted in late February.

In a conclave that is strikingly similar to the election of a new pope, the Maronite bishops came together in the Maronite heartland of Bkerké, Lebanon and, after five days, they elected Bishop Béchara Raï  of Jbeil as the new patriarch. Patriarch Raï will be formally enthroned on 25 March.

The Maronite Church traces its foundation to Saint John Maron, who established the Christian community at Bkerké in the 7th century. Today, the Maronite Church claims between 3 and 3.5 million faithful across the globe. It has 8 archdioceses, 15 dioceses and 2 patriarchal exarchates in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Jordan.

So history and numbers come together to assure the importance of this new appointment. Patriarch Raï is 71 and not unfamiliar with his patriarchal see of Antioch; he was auxiliary bishop there between 1986 and 1990 before being appointed to Jbeil. In Lebanon, the historic heartland of the Maronites, the patriarch is an important political player, although he is not involved in any local or national government himself, of course. Patriarch Raï is considered to be a moderate with good connections with all political players.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein