Cardinal Béchara Bourtos Raï, Patriarch of Antioch for Maronites (Lebanon), was born on 25 February 1940 at Himlaya in the Archeparchy of Antélias (the same village in which Rafqa Arrayes, the first Maronite saint, was born). He studied at the Jesuits’ Notre Dame de Jambour College.
He made his perpetual profession in the Mariamite Maronite Order on 31 July 1962. He was then sent to Rome to study philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Lateran University where he earned a doctorate in canon law and a licence in sacred theology. He was ordained a priest on 3 September 1967. For several years he was in charge of the Mariamite scholasticate in Rome, while serving as director of the Arab Language programmes of Vatican Radio.
He returned to Lebanon in 1975, at the beginning of the war, to direct the College of Notre Dame in Louayzé, a town in which he founded and supervised the Foreign Languages Institute. He then served as a judge on the Patriarchal Tribunal and as head of Santa Rita School in Dbayé. On 2 May 1986 the Maronite Synod elected him Patriarchal Vicar and the Pope assigned him the titular episcopal see of Caesarea Philippi. He was ordained a bishop on 12 July 1986. On 9 June 1990, he was transferred to the new Eparchy of Jbeil (Byblos) for Maronites and, in 2003, was appointed Secretary of the Permanent Synod of the Maronite Church. In this capacity, he took part in several Synods in Rome, including the Special Assembly for the Middle East in October 2010, at which he was elected to the post-synodal council. In 2009, he became President of the Communications Commission of the Maronite Synod and promoted the television network TeleLumière-Noursat.
On 15 Maruch 2011 he was elected the 77th successor of St. Maron at the Extraordinary Synod in Bkerké, north-east of Beirut. On 24 March that same year Benedict XVI granted him the Ecclesiatica Communio, which he had requested, complying with can. 76 § 2 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. This special bond with the Church of Rome was publicly confirmed the following 15 April – on the occasion of his first visit to the Pope – at the Divine Liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica at which Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, presided as Papal Delegate.
Following the Arab Spring and at the height of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, Patriarch Rai had the joy of welcoming the Pope on his visit to Lebanon in September 2012 for the presentation of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente. On that occasion he described Beirut as "a city that witnessed to the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians in the Arab world".
On February 15th 2017, Pope Francis granted to Cardinal Béchara Raï the title of Lawyer of the Roman Rota.
He participated in the conclave of March 2013, which elected Pope Francis.
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by Benedict XVI in the consistory of 24 November 2012.
- Congregation for the Oriental Churches.