BEIRUT: Lebanese faithful are gearing up to bid farewell to the late Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, who assumed the mantle of spiritual leader of Lebanon's largest Christian community during times of upheaval and civil unrest.
At the age of 98, the former patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian church passed away Sunday at Hotel Dieu Hospital after battling a chest infection for two weeks.
Scores of mourners gathered in front of the hospital's gates in the early hours of Wednesday morning as his hearse carried out the coffin to the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkirki.
Paul Matar, the Archeparch of the Maronite Catholic Archeparchy of Beirut, was joined in prayer by the hospital's staff and members of the public, including officers from the Internal Security Forces.
A convoy accompanied the hearse throughout the hour-long journey, before Cardinal Bechara Rai, who succeeded Sfeir in 2011, held a prayer service.
Sfeir, who would have turned 99 today, will be laid to rest Thursday at 5:00 pm, with condolences received at Bkirki until Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In a tweet, President Michel Aoun's office announced that he had received condolences from Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit from the Kingdom's Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office declared May 15-16 national days of mourning for Sfeir, with Lebanese flags to be raised at half mast in respect to the passing of Sfeir.
Sfeir was one of the most prominent and high-ranking Christian leaders in the mostly Muslim Middle East and served as Christians' point of reference at the height of the 1975-1990 civil war when other defeated Christian political leaders were either in exile or imprisoned.
He is remembered mostly for spearheading an opposition movement calling for the withdrawal of thousands of Syrian forces from Lebanon in the 1990s, as well as for brokering a historic reconciliation in the Chouf mountains between Lebanon’s Maronites and members of the Druze sect in August 2001.
He then famously visited the Chouf mountains, scene of some of the worst sectarian massacres of the civil war, after brokering the reconciliation.
-- With AP.
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