His Beatitude Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi has made his first-ever pastoral visit to the United Kingdom from 7 to 14 January 2023, to meet Christian church leaders and members of his church based there.
The Lebanese-born Cardinal, the Patriarch of Antioch and head of the Maronite Church, will also be bringing the voice of suffering Lebanese Christians at a time of unprecedented political and economic turmoil in their country.
The Maronite Church makes up the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon and has become its leading voice.
The Lebanese crisis
For nearly three years, Lebanon has been assailed by the most devastating multi-pronged crisis in its modern history, with a crippling economic and financial crisis that started in October 2019 that has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 and the massive Port of Beirut explosion in August 2020.
In these dramatic years, Cardinal Al-Rahi has spoken up, especially for the 80 per cent of the population that has been pushed into poverty, and repeatedly expressed his concerns for the survival of Christianity in the Middle East.
A statement released by the charity Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East (FACE) explains: “These issues and the concerns of members of the Maronite Church, both in Lebanon and across the globe, will be among the topics Cardinal al-Rahi will address during his talks with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster; the Rt Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury; Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, Patron of Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East; the Most Revd Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham; the Maronite parish in London; Church leaders in the Midlands; British Government ministers; British parliamentarians; and representatives of the British and foreign diplomatic corps.”
According to the statement, Cardinal Bechara Al-Rahi’s visit is set to unfold under many declinations:
Pastoral: at the invitation of Revd Fadi Kmeid and the Maronite Parish of London, the Patriarch will celebrate Sunday Mass in the Maronite Rite at Ealing Abbey.
Ecclesial: at the invitation of Revd Ignatius Harrison, Provost of Birmingham Oratory, the Patriarch will preside over a Mass in the Maronite Rite concelebrated by the Archbishop of Birmingham and his diocesan clergy, at the Shrine of St John Henry Newman, in celebration of the communion that exists between the Holy See and the Maronite Patriarchate.
Ecumenical: at the invitation of the Most Revd Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, the Patriarch will participate in an Ecumenical Vespers at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, attended by Church leaders from across all denominations in the Midlands, at which the preacher will be Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald.
Patriarchal: The Patriarch will attend meetings with, amongst others: Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales; Rt Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Church of England; British parliamentarians; British Government ministers; and representatives of the British and foreign diplomatic corps.
The Maronite Church
The Maronite Church, whose origins date back to the early 4th century, is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome as a sui iuris particular church. Maronites number approximately 4 million in the world, of which roughly a quarter live in Lebanon, where they constitute up to 30% of the national population, and three-quarters live outside the Middle East.
Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East
The ecclesial and ecumenical events of the Patriarch’s visit are organized by FACE. The charity's mission is to help Christians in the Middle East to remain in their homelands, to promote development and to offer pastoral assistance and support.
FACE also works to preserve the heritage of the Eastern Churches, supporting communities and church leaders by offering grants for local projects dedicated to education, health care and spirituality.