The head of the Maronite Church and Patriarch of Antioch and All of the East, His Beatitude Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, has been welcomed in Birmingham.
On Friday 13 January, as part of his first ever pastoral visit to the UK, Patriarch Al-Rahi presided over a Mass in the Maronite Rite at Birmingham Oratory.
The Mass was concelebrated by Archbishop Bernard Longley, and other 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.
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, mostly in Canada, Australia, USA, UK, France, Argentina and Brazil.
After his visit to Birmingham Oratory the Patriarch later participated in Ecumenical Vespers at St Chad’s Cathedral. This was attended by Church leaders from across all denominations in the Midlands with Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, Patron of Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East (FACE), preaching.
Archbishop Bernard gave the following words of welcome at the celebration of Vespers:
As we gather this afternoon in St Chad’s Cathedral to celebrate this time of prayer together, I would like to extend a very warm welcome and fraternal greetings to His Beatitude Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, and Archbishop Paul El-Sayah, together with those accompanying you – and alongside Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald and John Adam Fox from Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East who I know have been supporting and facilitating your visit over these days.
I would also like to extend a warm welcome to all our ecumenical friends from other Christian communities within the City – and in particular Bishop Anne Hollinghurst, the Bishop of Aston, Dean Matt Thompson, the Dean of Birmingham, and Dean Adrian Dorber, the Dean of Lichfield. I welcome Fr Peter El-Sibky, Fr David Zi-Counie and Dr Faye Youssef from the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St a Mary and Archangel Michael in Solihull.
A grateful welcome to our Faith Leaders and to the civic representatives who have joined us. Thank you for being with us today and for the mutual support and friendship which we enjoy through our work together.
As I was preparing for the Patriarch’s visit and reading the very helpful and informative biography about St Charbel Makhlouf which you have in our booklet for this service of Vespers, I was struck by what Pope St Paul VI said on the occasion of the beatification of St Charbel Makhlouf in 1965, describing this “new and eminent member of monastic sanctity” who “through his example and his intercession is enriching the entire Christian people.”
This sentiment called to mind the very joyful occasion that our own Archdiocese and City of Birmingham witnessed in 2010 when at Cofton Park the late Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal Newman – whom we venerate as Saint John Henry Newman since 2019. We remember Pope Benedict’s visit to Birmingham – we give prayerful thanks for his pontificate and and we commend his soul to the Lord.
In his homily, Pope Benedict recalled that St John Henry Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, “Heart speaks unto heart”, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God.
Your Beatitude, your visit to the United Kingdom over these days and here with us this afternoon is an important reminder of the rich tradition and faithful witness that Christians in the East have given from the very earliest days of the Church and we thank you for your continued witness in the most difficult and challenging of circumstances. Your presence is also a witness of the faith and mission that we share as we seek to be faithful to Christ, to follow the example of the saints and to enrich the lives of all God’s people through our prayer and in our desire always to serve the Lord.
May he preserve Your Beatitude in your apostolate always guide you in your service of his holy people.
St Charbel Makhlouf…pray for us
St John Henry Newman…pray for us
During his week-long visit – organised by the FACE charity which supports and serves Eastern Christians – the Patriarch has taken part in pastoral, ecclesial, ecumenical and patriarchal engagements.
He has met with Church leaders, representatives of various Lebanese parties at the Maronite Parish in London and politicians.
His visit comes at a time of unprecedented political, economical and social turmoil in Lebanon. During his talks the Patriarch has given an overview of the situation in Lebanon, explaining the country needs help from the United Nations and calling for a resolution to address the situation in Palestine.
At a press conference his statement focused on three points: Lebanon’s identity and political system; the difficulties facing Lebanon; and solutions.
In all his meetings the Patriarch has stressed the need to preserve the diversity and pluralism of Lebanon which distinguish it from other countries in the region and which make its society such a unique model of Christian-Islamic coexistence and dialogue between cultures and religions.
In recent years the Archdiocese of Birmingham has started to build a relationship with the FACE charity and supports its annual Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians.
Photograph: His Beatitude Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi and and Archbishop Bernard Longley at St Chad’s Cathedral