Anti-lockdown protests ‘unacceptable’

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Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, head of the Maronite Church in Australia, holds a crucifix during Saturday’s Mass. Photo: Patrick J Lee
Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, head of the Maronite Church in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. Photo: Patrick J Lee

Sydney Bishop says true freedom found only in Christ

Maronite Bishop Charbel-Antoine Tarabay criticised last weekend’s anti-lockdown protests in Sydney as unacceptable and “not a solution” to the problems faced under the current outbreak.

The Eparch of the Maronites in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania used his homily last Sunday, in a Mass livestreamed from Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Harris Park, to say that he shared the pain of those who were suffering from isolation and the stresses of the lockdown including financial and health concerns.

“breaking the rules will not make this any quicker” – Bishop Tarabay

“However, breaking the rules will not make this [end] any quicker,” the bishop said. “I have seen some footage of a so-called freedom rally in Sydney yesterday, and let me be frank, it is unacceptable and does not reflect our freedom or our values to break the law and the public health orders.

“[These] laws which are put in place are for our common good and for our safety … What happened in Sydney yesterday did not bring freedom; it brought division, danger and violence.”

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Dozens of people were charged and a dedicated police strike force established after thousands attended the anti-lockdown protest in Sydney’s CBD last Saturday.

In his homily, Bishop Tarabay spoke of his recent visit to Lebanon where the pandemic has escalated ongoing political and economic crises in the country. He also recalled the experience of the Harris Park congregation, which saw parishioners die following an outbreak of the virus last year.

“COVID-19 is not the average flu,” he warned. “I acknowledge the pain, difference of opinion and the struggle of those who feel for their own reasons that they want their voice to be heard. I also know that home is not a happy place for everyone. But this was not a solution.”

“AS CHRISTIANS TRUE FREEDOM IS FOUND IN CHRIST AND IN DOING OUR PART TO ENSURE WE KEEP THOSE AROUND US SAFE” – BISHOP TARABAY

“In Australia, and thanks to the response of the government and all of our citizens we have until now been spared the devastating impact of this virus and have been relatively safe,” he said. “We should not take this for granted and this is not a reason to become complacent and disbelieve the reality of COVID-19.”

In recent weeks, attention of the state’s health authorities has focused on south-western and western parts of Sydney with messaging about close-knit extended families in those regions transmitting the disease between households. Bishop Tarabay urged people not to visit loved ones, including grandparents, living in other households.

‘Resilient’ Maronites will work together to help end the lockdown

“I felt it important to acknowledge people’s fears and stresses and remind the flock that as Christians true freedom is found in Christ and in doing our part to ensure we keep those around us safe,” he later told The Catholic Weekly.

“I also wanted to acknowledge the anxiety felt by so many of those Maronites affected in particular in western and south western Sydney. Freedom comes with responsibility to choose what is right for the common good. I also wanted to reinforce my confidence in Maronites to do what is right and work together in hope to get out of lockdown safely. I know people are strong and resilient.

“I know that in our Maronite Community there is an eagerness to return to Mass and the Eucharist, so let us use this time to focus on our spiritual as well as physical and mental health, so we can ensure we do not remain distanced from one another after this pandemic is over.”

Bishop Tarabay said response to his homily had been “overwhelmingly positive and supportive”.

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