Former Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir died early Sunday morning at the age of 98 following a brief illness.
The seat of the Maronite Church, Bkirki, issued a statement saying that "the church had been orphaned [and] Lebanon was in mourning." Current Patriarch Beshara Rai, who took over from Sfeir in 2011, called for bells to be rung across the country to honor his predecessor, and led a mass in Sfeir's honor at Bkirki, attended by his relatives.
Sfeir will be laid to rest in Bkirki at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 16.
Tributes to Sfeir flooded in Sunday morning from the country's leaders and other notable figures.
President Michel Aoun said Lebanon had lost "one of its most outstanding patriarchs ... who left a bright mark on the church."
Prime Minister Saad Hariri described the patriarch as a "national symbol" and praised his efforts to "transition Lebanon to peace after bloody and destructive conflicts."
Joumblatt tweeted Sunday, "Farewell to the patriarch of independence, reconciliation, love and peace."
Following the mass held in Bkirki, former President Amine Gemayel described Sfeir as "a compass and a guide" for Lebanese.
Lebanese pop stars Nancy Ajram and Elissa also paid tribute to the Christian leader, with the latter describing him as "a rock of independence."
Born in the Kesrouan village of Rayfoun in 1920, Sfeir became the church's leader in 1986. He was later made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, in 1994.
Sfeir was also active politically . An ardent critic of the Syrian regime, Sfeir refused to visit the country, because he did not have the support of the Maronite community. In 2011, he spoke out against a possible visit by Rai to Damascus, describing it as tantamount to Bkirki accepting Syria's presence in Lebanon.
And he criticized Hezbollah, saying on multiple occasions that the possibility of war with Israel remains as long as Hezbollah carries out operations that the state should undertake.
The former patriarch was also widely revered for his peacemaking efforts. He led a historic reconciliation, in 2001, between the Maronite Church and the Druze sect, visiting Chouf and meeting with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt. The meeting enabled the return of Christian civilians who been displaced by war almost two decades earlier.
Sfeir was admitted to the Hotel Dieu hospital about two weeks ago after suffering a chest infection. He had been in intensive care since Wednesday evening and suffered from kidney failure.Source : DailyStar