Feast of St Maroun
St Maroun’s Cathedral
Sunday 8 February 2015
• Your Excellencies, my dear brother bishops:
o Bishop Robert Rabbat
o Bishop Terence Brady
• Archbishop Metropolitan Paul Saliba
• His Excellency David Hurley Governor of NSW & Mrs. Hurley
• The Hon. Philip Ruddock representing the Prime Minister the Hon. Tony Abbott
• The Hon. John Ajaka representing the Premier of NSW the Hon. Mike Baird and Mrs. Ajaka
• Mr. Nicolas Chidiac representative of the counsel General of Lebanon and Mrs Chidiac
• The Hon. Luke Foley MLC, state leader of the opposition
• Ministers of the Crown and Members of Parliament
• Reverend Fathers and dear Sisters
• Distinguished guests
• Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ our Lord
Once more, we, the children of the Maronite Church, with our friends, gather in this historic Cathedral Church of St Maroun’s. It is an especially meaningful celebration today, because it marks fifty years since the building of the new church here. Half of a century has passed, but this glorious cathedral remains dedicated to the service of God and the Maronite community. This Cathedral stands as a monument to those who have chosen to follow in the footsteps of Saint Maroun and give witness to all the world of their faith in the Lord. It has stood as a silent glorification of the name of God, and as we read in this evening’s Gospel, God has a fixed purpose that his name should be glorified: not by noisy promotions or loud crowds, but by serving Him in humility and love. Whoever serves Him, God the Father will honor.
In the history of the Church we have many models of this service; But St Maroun, the patron of this Cathedral and the father of our Maronite church is a holy role model not only for ourselves, but also for the Universal Church, which recently honored him by placing a statue of him in the last available place in Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
Saint Maroun died about 1600 years ago in the area now known as Prad - Syria. He was a hermit, who lived an exemplary ascetic life, and converted the local people to the one true faith by his example of love and preaching the good news of the Gospel. In that region, at that time, St Maroun, the hermit and the priest, lived a journey of prayers and sacrifices spreading the word of God and converting the hearts and minds of people to the true faith.
It may be good if I, as your Shepherd by the grace of God, take this opportunity today, to tell you something about my journey since I became your pastor in June of 2013. It has been a pilgrimage of faithfulness and openness conveyed in prayers and pastoral priorities, a pilgrimage done together with you the people of my Eparchy, where the destination is felt by faith, not seen with eyes.
I pledged, at the Feast of the Assumption in 2013, to take up seven pastoral priorities which responded to the major needs in our Church community, and to work towards achieving them, for and with you.
The first priority was the priesthood and vocations, for with well-prepared priests now and in the future, we can build and plan with confidence the spiritual future of our Eparchy. I am pleased, even delighted, to be able to say that we have now seven seminarians two of them from Australia and they are to enter an Australian seminary a week from today. In addition, there are two seminarians living for the time being in Beit Maroun in Strathfield who are discerning while they serve the Eparchy, two sub deacons in Lebanon, and another seminarian from Canberra soon to be ordained a sub deacon to serve the Maronite community in Canberra, ACT.
Together with this, we are caring for our priests, first, by establishing a fund to provide for their needs as they grow old, and also – at long last – building a presbytery for the priests of Our Lady of Lebanon and the construction work is going to start very soon.
Youth is our second priority, and there I must salute the spiritual work being performed by the Diocesan Youth Committee, drawn from all over the Eparchy, and I thank them for the wonderful event they prepared for the patriarch visit, at the same time I’d like to mention the forthcoming Youth Convention in July of this year, and the faith formation being undertaken at Our Lady of Lebanon, which has expanded quite considerably.
Family spiritual development is the third of our goals: encouraging and expanding the pastoral teams especially Equipe Notre Dame in different parishes. We are also reviewing and improving our pre-Marriage courses, and organizing retreats for couples. I might mention in this regard that His Beatitude our Patriarch is a member of the Synod on the Family that started last year and is going to continue in the coming years as Pope Francis is giving family life a priority in his pastoral work.
The care of the elderly is our fourth priority, and we were at work on it, from the very first days as bishop. Plans are well under way to re-open and to upgrade the hostel at Our Lady of Lebanon to become the Our Lady Aged Care Center with the hope that it will be ready to open at the end of 2016. I sincerely thank the Federal Government represented tonight by our dear friend Philip Ruddock, for the generous grant that has made this project a possibility.
I then come to pressing social issues. After a long year of searching, we found our ideal location, and the Eparchy in collaboration with the White Stone team has purchased 100 acres of land in Bilpin, which will be developed into the Qadisha Mission. The first project in this center is the White Stone addiction center, to address this problem in our community and in the wider society. I might mention that plans are underway and White Stone will be hosting their first fundraising Gala Dinner on 1 March. All are invited to support the launching of this project.
Our sixth priority was Maronite Outreach. As you know, our community is now quite widespread not only throughout NSW, but increasingly in different areas of Australia. To reach out to them, we have established two new parishes: St Charbel Parish in Perth, and St Raymond Parish in Auburn. More parishes will be created to respond to the needs of our Maronite people. To reach out to you the bi-monthly newsletter
E-Marounia, can reach you electronically, and the annual print edition of Marounia.
To crown our use of media, we produced a beautiful hard cover, lavishly illustrated book, The Maronite Church: Roots and Mission. I do not, of course, compare it to the Cross, Icon of Our Lady, and Bible which every Maronite family has; yet this book is, nonetheless, a valuable and informative testimony to our Church as a living reality rooted in history. It does have a place in every Maronite home.
The final aspect of outreach to mention is the registration of Australian Maronites in Lebanon. I invite you all to support the office of the Maronite Foundation in the World here in Sydney, in this campaign announcing 2015 as the Year of Registration. It is a privilege and an honour for the people of Lebanese descent to have and to hold the same citizenships as our saints: Charbel, Rafqa, Nemtallah, Br Estephan, Abouna Yaacoub, and Patriarch Doueihy. It is the best way to support the Church and the Christians in Lebanon and in the Middle East by registering and becoming citizens like them.
The forthcoming Diocesan Pastoral Synod is my seventh priority, and the committee which will prepare and execute it, is proceeding. The diocesan pastoral council will be leading the preparation supported by the new Eparchial organization the Australian Maronite Professionals Council who is working to bring all our professional men and women together in one council wherein they can serve the Church and be nourished through their service.
Brothers and Sisters, I wish to update, as it were, the story of Saint Maroun our patron who lived and died in modern day Syria. Recently, I had the opportunity to join a delegation from the council of Middle Eastern Churches and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to Iraq and Lebanon in December of last year. We were deeply moved by the refugees and the Internally Displaced Persons we met, not only by their plight, but even more by their faith and courage in the face of their plight. They said to us: the terrorists were able to take all our belongings but they couldn’t take or change our faith in Jesus Christ.
We pray for them and for peace in the Middle East where we recently saw the cruel and barbaric assassination of two Japanese hostages and a Jordanian pilot. We entirely condemn these crimes and we pray that mercy and compassion may touch the hearts of all those carrying out these crimes against humanity and that they may come to realise that it is a crime against God.
We also pray for peace and stability in our homeland, Lebanon, where the Church celebrates the Feast of St Maroun. We especially pray for our shepherd the Maronite Patriarch, His Beatitude and Eminence Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai, asking Our Lord, through the intercession of St Maroun, to grant him good health to continue his ministry at the service of the Church. We also pray for dialogue to reign between all Lebanese political parties especially between the Maronite political leaders. On this occasion, I would like to tell you that I have written an open letter to General Michel Aoun and Dr Samir Geagea calling them to meet as soon as possible and to start a new page of political life for the sake of all Lebanese people. It is their duty to help protect Lebanon and the Christians in the Middle East from the terrorism threat of ISIS and from the fanatic movements who are destroying the region.
On this night, we also pray for Australia that it may continue to know stability and harmony. We thank the Lord that our families can live here in peace, alongside people of different or no religious affiliations and be able to profess their faith without fear. Actions of vandalism against religious symbols or places of worship, like those witnessed at St Charbel’s Church recently, have no place in our Australian society and should not happen in any place and should be condemned by all.
I would be remiss if I finished this sermon without thanking you for your prayerful attendance. I particularly thank His Excellency General the Honorable David Hurley, Governor of NSW, who is amongst us tonight for the first time, and all the esteemed members of parliament, local councils, media and dear friends.
I also like to thank all those who helped in the organising of tonight’s celebration, especially Monsignor Emmanuel Sakr and all the assistant parish priests, the ladies of the parish and all who helped them, the Maronite Catholic Society, and the Maronite Ladies of the Gospel. I salute you, and I thank you.
It is appropriate to conclude by asking the intercession of St Maroun for all consecrated people. His Holiness Pope Francis has announced 2015 as the Year for Consecrated Life all throughout the world. Our Lord has called women and men, throughout the ages, to pursue lives of perfect charity through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. During this Year of Consecrated Life, we particularly give thanks to Our Lord for all the religious congregations in our diocese for their hard work in our community and their courageous witnesses of faith. Let us pray for many more vocations, who in the example of Saint Maroun, pursue holy lives, offer themselves to the Lord and lead many to the true faith in God. Amen