Cardinal Bechara Rai, Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch, following a Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Basilica Nov. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
interesting interview with Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Raï, the Maronite
Patriarch of Antioch. A major figure during Pope Benedict’s trip to
Lebanon last September, Raï was one of six new cardinals created by
Benedict in November, just a few months before his resignation from the Holy
After his arrival
in Rome for this week’s general congregation meetings in preparation for the
conclave, Cardinal Raï reminded his fellow cardinals of the great
sufferings endured by Middle Eastern Christians. He told Vatican Insider, “The
universal Church and the next Pope must never forget that Christianity has its
origins in the Middle East. And they should keep in mind what is happening to
Christian communities in the Middle East. This is a priority that cannot be
More from the
As leader of the
Church in the Middle East, what would you say the region’s Christians expect
from the Conclave?
I wouldn’t say everyone is thinking about
what has happened over the past few years. A million and a half Christians have
fled from post-Saddam Iraq. And at least 60% have left Aleppo. There is not one
Christian left in Homs. The Coptic Church in Egypt is still strong. But with
the new Sharia-based laws, things are going to get much harder. Then there are
the problems in the Holy Land… Cardinals will also need to take this into
consideration during the Conclave. If we only discuss the Church’s internal
problems we risk being one-track minded. This is why I have handed out a
dossier on the current condition of Christians in the Middle East to cardinals.
Christians have been there for two thousand years. They have helped shape local
civilization and culture. They have transmitted a sense of moderation to Islam.
Real Islam is moderate. It is not that which is preached by fundamentalists
whom Eastern and Western countries load up with arms and money out of political
and economic interest.
How did Lebanon react to the news of
Benedict XVI’s resignation?
Everyone saw it as an act of strong and
humble faith and self-denial. A “Kenosis”. Muslims were full of admiration.
Some of them asked themselves: what is Christianity? The man who holds the
highest position in the Catholic Church voluntarily stepped down! It was also
seen as an example by laymen: he showed that one’s responsibilities, whichever
these may be, should be faced with an honest conscience.
Is there a legitimate
and pastorally opportune way of taking geo-political factors into account when
electing the Pope?
One always hopes that one of their own
country’s candidates will be chosen; someone who knows and is able to deal with
problems and pastoral emergencies experienced in their own part of the world.
But we cannot have a Pope for each country. What is important is that the
General Congregation discussions give a truthful picture of the Church’s
condition in all parts of the world so that the new Pope is aware of the new
challenges and expectations that exist and is aided in exercising a ministry
that is by nature universal.
the full interview here