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LBC has reported that a new Patriarch for the Christian Maronites will be elected on Wednesday March 9, 2011. He will be replacing Patriarch Sfeir.

According to local reports , the 39 Christian Maronite bishops will gather on March 9 to elect the new patriarch during a spiritual conclave which will be held at Bkirki . The spiritual conclave lasts 3 days and will be followed by deliberations . The name of the new patriarch will reportedly be announced 15 days later.

“Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir has the wisdom and courage that his position requires,” Labor Minister Boutros Harb said on Tuesday after meeting the patriarch in Bkirki. .

“Sfeir will be recognized as one of the great patriarchs throughout the history of the Maronite sect, thanks to the national role he played,” Harb said

Sfeir’s resignation was accepted last Saturday during a meeting with the pope on the sidelines of a visit to the Vatican to unveil a statue of the Maronite Church founder Saint Maroun on the outer wall of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

In a statement released by the Vatican Saturday, Pope Benedict said that Sfeir’s decision was an “expression of great humility.”

“You have decided to step down from your post as the head of the Maronite church under very particular circumstances. Now I receive your free and magnanimous decision, which is an expression of great humility and deep detachment,” the statement said.

Sfeir submitted a request to be relieved of his post to the Vatican months ago.

Sfeir denied he had a preferred candidate to assume the post. “I did not nominate anyone to the post,” he said.

Asked whether he had advice to convey to the bishop likely to assume the post, Sfeir said he would share some thoughts with the new patriarch once the latter is elected.

Sfeir said he presented his resignation “so it would be accepted.”

Even though he is not a politician he is not afraid of speaking out for the cause of justice. This is why he is feared by some, resented by some, loved and respected by many who know him well.

While the Outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri who is a Muslim Sunni calls Sfeir “The conscious of Lebanon.” Christian leaders like Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh are very critical of Sfeir for being so outspoken against their allies: The Hezbollah militant group and the Syrian regime.

Sfeir who is Lebanon’s top Christian spiritual leader predicted last December that Hezbollah is planning to seize power in Lebanon.

During an interview on Dec 21 with MTV he said : “The way Hezbollah is acting gives the impression that they might seize power in Lebanon.”

Less than a month later Hariri’s government collapsed

The Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah brought down PM Saad Hariri’s government on January 12 over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s imminent indictment which is widely expected to implicate Hezbollah members in the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri in 2005 .

Sfeir said during the same December MTV interview : “We hope no Lebanese were involved in Hariri’s murder , but if those involved are Lebanese, every criminal must face punishment.”

Nagib Mikati, who was backed by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies including MP Walid Jumblatt and Mohammad Safadi, was appointed on January 25 by president Michel Suleiman as PM-designate to form and head the next cabinet , giving Hezbollah and its allies increased leverage in the country and provoking widespread protest.

Last month U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton accused Hezbollah of hijacking Lebanon’s democracy.

The Lebanese “deserve to have their democracy respected and their voices heard, and not have one element of their society using the threat of force and the potential of violence to try to achieve political ends,” she said.

This was a possible reference to the alleged Hezbollah threats against MP Walid Jumblatt and his PSP parliament members that forced them to switch allegiance to Hezbollah’s PM candidate.

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