“And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you” (Lev 25:10).
Maronites arrived on Australian shores in the later 1800s and since then waves of migrants have continued to settle here, but it was not until 13 July 1973 that the Maronite Eparchy was established in Australia.
This began the recognition and enabling of the social structure of the Maronite Church, through the appointment of the first bishop, Abdo Khalife, followed by Joseph Hitti, Ad Abi-Karam and our current bishop, Antoine-Charbel Tarabay.
By establishing a Maronite eparchy in Australia, the church began to serve all people through spiritual leadership, religious leaders and institutes, social structures, financial assistance, and ongoing community initiatives. As we recognise 50 years of the eparchy, it is a time to reflect on its purpose, achievements, shortcomings and future direction.
In Greek, the word for church is ekklesia, which means “to be called out from.” The church takes us where we would rather not, but should, go. In establishing the eparchy, expectations were placed on the church and the faithful. It is no longer about each individual, but it becomes a collective effort to attend to the current needs of society, as Christ would.
In 2023, synodality has become a key word in churches all across Australia, and the Maronite eparchy is no exception. Synodality reminds us that the church works through the Holy Spirit by giving institutional expression to the Spirit’s presence. In establishing an eparchy, focus is not on individualism, as contemporary society purports, but on advancing individuality and community.
In Theology and the People of God, Fr Richard Lennan writes, “While the mission of the church has manifold strands, the unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the church, reflective as they are of the Spirit’s presence, are integral to it.”
So for any church to be true to its identity, it must consider the whole. Establishing an eparchy is a conviction that we are connected to God, to the past and also to the present, to church and tradition, and to one another as Christ’s body. The Maronite eparchy has been called to be the heart of the people, but its leaders are also called to listen and learn from the faithful.
“Those who exercise episcope in the body of Christ must not be separated from the ‘symphony’ of the whole people of God in which they have their part to play,” the 1999 church document The Gift of Authority said.
“They need to be alert to the sensus fidelium in which they share, if they are to be made aware when something is needed for the well-being and mission of the community or when some element of the tradition needs to be received in a fresh way.”
So, as we celebrate this Jubilee of 50 years as a Maronite Eparchy in Australia, may we recognise the ongoing action of God, the contribution of each person and communities, the ministry of parishes, and the need for the grace of the Holy Spirit to direct us forward.