Lebanese Archbishop Bechara el-Rai new patriarch

AFP , Tuesday 15 Mar 2011

Maronite bishops elect a new patriarch for up to 5 million followers worldwide

Lebanon's Maronite bishops have elected Archbishop Bechara El-Rai as the new patriarch for the Middle East's largest Catholic church.

Results of the closed-door meetings were announced on Tuesday, six days after the bishops started prayers and consultations at the church's seat in Bkirki, northeast of the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

The 71-year-old Al-Rai became patriarch after winning more than two thirds of the votes of the 38 bishops. He is known as a moderate with good relations with all Lebanese factions.

The Maronite Church has up to 5 million followers worldwide. Its head exerts significant influence in Lebanon, where Christians make up about 40 percent of the country's 4 million people.

The outgoing patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, was deeply involved in Lebanon's fractious politics.

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