Patriarch Sfeir: Leadership is greater than management

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Patriarch Sfeir: Leadership is greater than management

By Fr. Dr. Rif'at Bader

In May 2009, exactly 10 years ago, as we were in Jordan getting ready to welcome His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at a time when I was the spokesperson for the visit, a journalist approached me saying: "Fr., we have learned that Patriarch Sfeir will visit Jordan soon." I said, "Yes". Then she asked in a surprising tone, "Who will preside at the Mass at Amman Stadium? Is it Sfeir or Pope Benedict?"

It was, of course, a strange question, since the Church hierarchy indicates that the Pope is the highest authority in the Catholic Church, and that the patriarchs of the East, the late patriarch Sfeir was one of them, are the Pope's assistants in the management of specific churches in agreed geographical locations.

The question was not naïve; since the Arab public viewed the patriarch was high esteem, appreciation due to his strong personality and influence.

With the funeral of the Patriarch taking place on Thursday, May 16, we recall with love and appreciation this kind person. Respect and dignity are two characteristics of Sfeir, and his white beard gives him more prestige look. Piety is essential to the true religious leader. He was a leader rather than a manager. The leader transcends the difficulties and pushes his people forward, while the manager suffices to manage daily affairs.

The late patriarch enjoyed the respect of everyone as he attentively listened to what others say. I met with him frequently during his visits to Jordan or in Bkerki. He always listened to others and reacted to every query concisely and with humility. He reflected wisdom when undertaking the right decisions, and in creating balance in complex circumstances that were abounding with political rivalries.

During the life of the late patriarch, the Lebanese as well as their Arab brethren and friends in the world view the successive pain and suffering experienced by the Lebanese as a result of wars in addition to internal and external conflicts. But they all concur with the view on the wise humanitarian views undertaken wisely rather than being political as he managed to help extricate Lebanon from several minefields. Consequently, he remained father and the person to refer to even after his retirement in 2011.

His successor Patriarch Beshara al-Ra'i gave instructions to keep the name of Patriarch Sfeir mentioned in Masses in appreciation of his wise endeavors. I do not think that any Church has ever enjoyed the privilege of having two cardinals at the same time.

At the time when I am in currently in Córdoba, Spain, to attend the conference on inter-faith and inter-culture dialogue, several memories impinge my mind. I profoundly thank God for the life, education, and homilies of the late patriarch which call for the promotion of a culture of encounter and cooperation among all people of different religions and cultures. The voice of wisdom is always indispensable as it positively influential in our days which are thirsty for understanding, reconciliation and dialogue.

O great and wise patriarch, may God have mercy on you.

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