Beirut, Lebanon, May 14, 2019 / 04:25 am (CNA).- Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, who served as the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch from 1986 to 2011, died Sunday just days short of his 99th birthday.
The cardinal died May 12 at a hospital in Beirut.
“I address my warm condolences to you, as well as to his family and to all the faithful of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Maronites, whom he governed for many years with as much gentleness as determination,” Pope Francis wrote in a May 14 telegram to Sfeir’s successor, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai.
Sfeir was born May 15, 1920 in Rayfoun, Lebanon, about 10 miles east of Sarba. He attended Saint-Maron Seminary from 1937-39, and St. Joseph’s University in Beirut from 1940-50. He was ordained a priest in 1950, serving in his home parish and as secretary of the Diocese of Damas, and then as secretary to the patriarchate. He also taught literature and Arabic philosophy and translation at the College of the Marist Fathers in Jounieh.
He was selected as patriarchal vicar general in 1961, and his episcopal consecration was the same year. In 1986 he was selected as Patriarch of Antioch, and he was made a cardinal in 1994. As patriarch he oversaw the publication of a revised Maronite missal, and was responsible for the Maronite community during final years of the Lebanese Civil War.
Sfeir resigned as patriarch in 2011, at the age of 90.
In his telegram, Pope Francis called Sfeir “a free and courageous man,” saying he was “a decisive craftsman of gathering, peace and reconciliation. Ardent defender of the sovereignty and independence of his country, he will remain a great figure in the history of Lebanon.”
“I ask the Father of all mercy to welcome to his home of peace and light this wise and committed pastor who showed the love of God to the people who had been entrusted to him.”