Ken Rosewall Arena was transformed from a stadium into a cathedral filled with people of every age and state in life for a Solemn Mass to mark 50 years of the Maronite Eparchy in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.
At the invitation of Maronite Eparchy Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay around 10,000 Maronite Catholics gathered with their patriarch, His Beatitude Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai, for the 24 September Divine Liturgy.
It was the high point of the eparchy’s golden jubilee celebrations, launched by Bishop Tarabay on the feast of St Maroun on 9 February at St Maroun’s Cathedral in Redfern.
Thanking his brother bishops for their presence, who included the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia Archbishop Charles Balvo and Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, His Beatitude Cardinal Rai said it was “a testament to the unity and communion that bind us together as one Body of Christ.”
“As we gather to celebrate this significant milestone in the life of this eparchy, we are reminded of the faith and perseverance that have marked our Maronite community’s journey in this great land,” His Beatitude said in English remarks before his homily.
“It is a time not only to look back with gratitude for the past 50 years but also to look forward with hope to the future.”
In his homily, delivered in Arabic, the patriarch thanked the Maronite Eparchy for its support of Lebanon in its present suffering through financial, medical and food donations as well as through social enterprises.
He contrasted the freedoms and blessings enjoyed by the Lebanese diaspora in Australia with the heartbreaking situation of many in their homeland, undergoing crippling economic, political and social crises.
Present for the two-hour long Mass in Arabic and English were around 20 bishops of the Eastern and Latin churches including bishops of other Maronite eparchies worldwide, leaders of Maronite religious orders, and dozens more priests and religious.
Civic leaders in attendance included the Consul of Lebanon Raymond El Chamlati and other consular officials, Ambassador for Lebanon Milad Raad, New South Wales Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper and current and former members of parliament.
Taking part in the readings, offertory and prayers of the faithful were Maronite representatives of parishes, schools, religious orders and organisations, civic leaders and families including Danny and Leila Abdallah and Bridget Sakr, whose children were killed by a drunk driver in 2020.
In a brief note of “heartfelt gratitude” at the conclusion of Mass Bishop Tarabay recalled St John Paul II’s famous saying that Lebanon is more than a country—it is also a message of hope.
“Indeed this is a call to all of us and to those of Lebanese heritage to remember this message, not only for Australia but for the whole world,” he said.
Before offering the final prayer of thanksgiving Archbishop Fisher congratulated the Maronite Eparchy on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the whole church in Australia, and praised their “extraordinary contribution” to church and community life.
“May I say as a Latin bishop, I very much welcome the continuing faith and devotion and participation of the Maronites in every part of the church in Australia,” he said.
“You are a strength, not just for the Maronites but for us all.”