Tuesday, March 15, 2011

And the Patriarch Is....

Shortly after 11am Lebanon time (5am ET), the bells began tolling at the Bkirki "conclave," with word emerging that Archbishop Beshara Rai of Jbeil, 71, had been elected head of the 3 million-member Maronite church, the Middle East's largest Catholic community.

According to the wire, the 77th patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Levant -- the first religious elected to the post in some time -- "is known as a moderate" who enjoys "good relations with all Lebanese factions although he is seen by some as being a supporter of the Western-backed coalition." (Rai is shown above entering a nationally-televised Mass today that followed his election and the Synod's emergence from a week of seclusion.)

In a statement, President Michel Suleiman said that Rai made for "the best successor to the best predecessor" -- a reference to the retiring patriarch, 91 year-old Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir -- while a former head of state praised the choice as "a man of unity."

His name meaning "sponsor of the good news" in Arabic, the patriarch will be formally enthroned on 25 March.