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Maronite Catholic leader’s visit inspires worshipers

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dozens of worshipers gathered Wednesday at St. Maron Maronite Church to see Patriarch Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai.

The Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East is considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Maronite Catholics. His celebration of Mass inspired red-and-white floral decorations to be deployed and the pews to be packed at the east side site, which members call the first Maronite Cathedral in the United States.

Besides encouraging Maronites to continue their traditions, Rai spoke about the need to end conflicts overseas that have uprooted millions.

“It’s unacceptable that people should be suffering and should be displaced,” he said through a translator.

Maronite Catholics, who trace their origins to the Middle East, are among the largest Eastern-rite communities of the Roman Catholic Church.

Attendees heard worship songs and a message of spiritual uplift — especially during turbulent times nationally as well as abroad.

“These days we need people to keep the faith,” said Monsignor Louis Baz, St. Maron’s pastor.

Rai, who visited St. Maron in 2012, is in the midst a cross-country journey through next month, stopping at churches within the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles before presiding at the National Apostolate of Maronites' annual convention in San Francisco, officials said.

The patriarch’s visit resonated with church members.

“It’s something very big,” Hasna Geagea, a longtime church member from Commerce Township, said as she prepared for the service. “Everybody feels blessed because he’s here.”

Rai has further ties to St. Maron through his cousin, Daher Rahi, who also hails from Lebanon.

The retiree remembers the patriarch as a youth abandoning playtime to kneel at the altar in church. The religious leader’s focus on calling for peace in the Middle East has inspired Rahi to launch an annual college scholarship in his cousin’s name through St. Maron as well as offer a monetary gift to help the less fortunate abroad.

“It means a lot to me,” said Rahi, a Grosse Pointe Shores resident.

The patriarch’s message was also meaningful to those who gathered at the church.

“This cathedral is very special to so many people who planted the seeds for us,” said Theresa Ghafari, another church member. “This is a very special day for us, and we are all so excited to have his beatitude with us.”

The leader’s focus heartened Robert Safadi of St. Clair Shores, a longtime church member who attended the service with wife Sahar; 9-month-old daughter, Kaitlynn; and parents Hanna and Raghda.

“We like to hear a message of peace,” Safadi said, adding the visit spotlighted his community’s stature. “Our footing in Detroit has been here for 100-plus years. The Maronite community is a small community but they're a strong community. It’s a staple.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com