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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)

Vatican Insider has an 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 See.

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 ignored.”

More from the interview:

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.

Read the full interview here.
 
About the Author
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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