Maronite Catholics have a new patriarch

GREER—The Maronites welcomed a new leader when Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai was installed March 25. He is the 77th Patriarch of Antioch.

Benedictine Father Bartholomew Leon, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Church in Greer, said he will miss the outgoing leader.

Patriarch Rai replaced Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, 91, who resigned after serving as the church’s patriarch for 25 years.

St. Rafka is the only Maronite church in South Carolina and is a Catholic mission of the Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church based in Berke.

Father Leon was assigned to St. Rafka in 2006 and has helped the community grow into a thriving parish that includes a new church complex in Greer.

Prior to his arrival, the small parish celebrated Mass at various locations around the Upstate. It purchased its current home less than a year ago.

“We will celebrate our first year here on Easter,” Father Leon said.

He said having a permanent place for worship and fellowship has helped attract members. At one time, the church dropped to about 20 parishioners, but is now close to 70.

“The important thing was stability — keeping a stable time and place,” Father Leon said. “By the grace of God, we’ve built up a community.”

His parish includes a number of Iraqi families, plus Syrians, Jordanians and Israelis, he said. The Mass at St. Rafka is celebrated in English and Arabic.

The Maronites new patriarch, who is 71, is the former archbishop of Jbeil, Lebanon.

Father Leon said he hasn’t met Patriarch Rai, but “everything I’ve heard about him seems to be exceedingly positive. I think he will be an effective voice of the Maronite Church.”