Saturday, March 12, 2011

Conclave, Beirut Edition

After a two-day retreat, the 39 bishops of the world's 3 million Maronite Catholics are in seclusion at the church's Lebanese compound to elect their next patriarch.

Once he emerges, the 77th patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Levant will succeed Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, who retired last month at age 91 after a quarter-century in the chair of St Maron, the 4th century hermit who was recently celebrated at the Vatican on the 1,600th anniversary of his death.

The Maronites are the second-largest of the score of Eastern churches in communion with the Holy See. As previously noted, Eastern Catholicism is undergoing an unprecedented moment this Great Lent as the lead-posts of its two largest branches are currently vacant; the Synod to elect a successor the major-archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, convenes a week from Monday.

Husar likewise retired from the helm of the 5 million-member church last month due to longstanding ill health.

In their churches, the Oriental patriarchs function much like the Pope in the West -- presiding over their respective episcopates, providing for the leadership of local churches, and basically serving as the chief rallying point for their faithful, both at home and, in particular, in the diaspora. And accordingly, as a report from the patriarchate's headquarters in Bkirki (about 25 miles north of Beirut) spells out, the electoral process is little different from the one that chooses the Roman pontiff:
Former Kesrouan MP Farid Haykal Khazen and former ambassador Amin Khazen locked the patriarchate’s doors to visitors [above]. By tradition, members of the Khazen family stand guard in Bkirki until a patriarch is elected.

The tradition began in 1703 when a member of the Khazen family used to guard the monastery, which was then under construction, before it became the seat of the patriarchate in 1823.

Thirty-seven Maronite bishops, among them several presiding over dioceses across the world, arrived in Bkirki by Wednesday afternoon after flying to Lebanon.

Before the doors were locked, the bishops, headed by Sfeir, gathered in the patriarchate’s church to voice prayers with the participation of the Vatican’s ambassador, Gabriel Caccia.

As doors were closed, all Bkirki’s telecommunications were shut down, including landline phones and Internet access. Special equipment to jam cellular phone signal within the patriarchate perimeter was also deployed....

The spiritual conclave, which could take up to 15 days, requires a quorum of two-thirds of the attending bishops for a new patriarch to be elected. If the bishops fail to elect a patriarch after 15 days, it is left to the Vatican to appoint one.

A maximum of 60 rounds of elections will take place with four rounds daily: two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

When asked about the circumstances governing the electoral process, the bishops were unanimous in calling for the Holy Spirit to inspire them to elect the best candidate.
As soon as the Synod reaches a decision, you'll find it here.

PHOTO: NOW Lebanon