Lebanon bid farewell to former Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, on Thursday, turning the page on another era in the country's history.
Thousands of people gathered at the Maronite Patriarchate's seat in Bkirki to attend the funeral of the venerable spiritual leader who played a key role in shaping Lebanon's post-war politics.
In his sermon, Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi, enumerated his predecessor's achievements and qualities, hailing him as the "dean of the Maronite church".
Al-Rahi praised the late Cardinal promoting coexistence and always seeking to safeguard Lebanon’s essence where Muslims and Christians are equals.
“Patriarch Sfeir worked on breaking walls between the Lebanese, fortifying national unity, rebuilding the state by eliminating statelets and consolidating coexistence."
“Although he was a taciturn person, Patriarch Sfeir had unwavering stances and nothing could break his steadfastness,” he said.
“Many of those here today witness to Patriarch Sfeir's competence and shrewdness. He used to say the truth without maneuvering,” the Patriarch added.
The Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches at the Vatican, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who came to Lebanon to attend the funeral, read a letter addressed by Pope Francis.
“Cardinal Sfeir was a free and courageous man who fulfilled his mission," the pontiff said in his message.
“A staunch defender of his country’s sovereignty and independence, he will remain a great figure in Lebanon’s history," he said.
“I extend my deep condolences to his family, and to all the faithful of the Patriarchal Maronite Church of Antioch, which he governed for many years with such gentleness and determination,” the letter read.
Lebanon's president, prime minister, parliament speaker, lawmakers, ministers, security officials, former presidents and prime ministers, spiritual leaders, politicians from all sides and social figureheads all showed up to pay their respects to the prominent patriarch.
Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel attended the funeral of Cardinal Sfeir along with a delegation including the party's officials and former lawmakers and ex-ministers.
Although none of Hezbollah officials showed up for the funeral, the party-affiliated Al-Manar TV broadcasted the mass. The Temple of Baalbeck was closed to visitors on Thursday to mourn the passing of Cardinal Sfeir.
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari representing Saudi King Salman, Ambassador Christina Rafti representing Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian representing French President Emmanuel Macron, State Minister Hamad Ben Azizi Al Kawari representing Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Ambassador Zeid Zreiqat representing Jordanian King Abdullah, as well as foreign ambassadors based in Lebanon all showed up in Bkirki.
Following the funeral procession, Cardinal Sfeir was laid to rest at the patriarchs' cemetery in Bkirki.
President Michel Aoun awarded the late patriarch the Grand Cordon of the Order of Merit, the second-highest national honor granted in recognition of life achievements.
Cardinal Sfeir passed away early on Saturday after his health had deteriorated due to a chest infection. He died just three days before turning 99.
Throngs of people converged in the streets on Wednesday to bid farewell to the late patriarch as the convoy carrying his body clawed its way through the crowds along the road from the Hotel Dieu Hospital, where he was undergoing medical treatment, to Jounieh.
The body had been lain in state at Bkirki's church since Wednesday noon.