.- The Maronite community of the world is celebrating the installation of the newest statue at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI blessed the 18-foot tall marble statue of St. Maron on the morning of Feb. 23. It was placed into the last open space of a series of large niches in the exterior wall of St. Peter's Basilica.
St. Maron established the first "Maronite" community based on a monastic spirituality in the 4th century. This year, the Church is celebrating the 1,600th anniversary of his death.
Despite hardship, the Maronite Church has remained intact and in communion with the Catholic Church and today has around three million members. Nearly one-third of these live in Lebanon.
Fr. Domique Hanna told CNA that the event was a special one for the Maronites of the world. Fr. Hanna is a parish priest at St. Joseph's Maronite Church, which offers a place of worship for 200 families in Atlanta, Ga.
"It's a confirmation and re-establishment that we are in full communion with the Catholic Church, with the Holy See," he said of the day's ceremony. "We are very proud of that."
They are also proud that St. Maron has taken such a visible place among the many saints of the Church remembered in statues around the Vatican, said Fr. Hanna. His community celebrates an anniversary of its own this March, a century since the establishment of the parish.
Cardinal Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir of Antioch of the Maronites was present with the Pope for the ceremony with a delegation from the Lebanon-based Church. Lebanese president, Gen. Michel Suleiman, and other government ministers and Church officials were also there.
L'Osservatore reported that, for Cardinal Sfeir, the 20-ton statue represented peace and reconciliation for Lebanon.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, addressed the gathering on the occasion. He said that the ceremony was "an act of affection, esteem and gratitude to the Maronite Church which in the course of the centuries has suffered so much for staying faithful to Jesus, to the Church and to the Pope."
"The statue of St. Maron will remind us every day of your heroic example and be an invitation to pray for you," he told the Lebanese delegations.
The statue was sculpted from a single block of the famed white marble of Carrara, Italy by Spanish artist Marco Augusto DueÃ±as.
Engraved into its base is the phrase in Aramaic from Psalm 92, "The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon."