September 26, 2017

Sydney’s Melkites entrust hope of new church to St Mariam

Bishop Robert Rabbat and fellow Melkite clergy hold the relic of St Mariam and an icon portraying her in Merrylands on 27 August. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

After managing to obtain a precious first-class relic of a recently-canonised saint from the Holy Land, the Melkite Catholic Community of St Elias in Sydney is hoping that through the saint’s intercession they can raise the necessary funds to build a desperately-needed church for their community.

A strand of hair from the head of St Mariam Baouardy, which has travelled all the way from Bethlehem in Palestine, was processed around St Raphael’s Church in Merrylands on Sunday 27 August, by Bishop Robert Rabbat and several concelebrating priests, in honour of the saint’s feast day.

Encased in a small glass vial, the relic of the saint, who had been fondly nicknamed “the Little Arab” by her fellow Carmelite nuns, was displayed in an ornate gold box which the congregation were invited to venerate following the special Mass.

Melkite clergy take an icon of St Mariam Baouardy onto the street in procession. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Bishop Rabbat, Eparch of the Melkite Catholic Church of Australia and New Zealand, told The Catholic Weekly, “The holy relic of St Mariam Baouardy brings news of hope and joy to a multitude of Western ears that have come to expect only bad news from this part of the world (the Middle East).

“Yet, people tend to forget that it was in this part of the world—the Holy Land, the place where St Mariam, the Little Arab, was born and died—that the Good News of our Lord saw the light.”

The relic was acquired after Subdeacon Mark Scotto Di Perta traveled all the way to Bethlehem to ask the Prioress of the Carmelite convent where St Marian had lived if they could have a relic for their new church.

The Melkite church in Merrylands was packed for the occasion. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“It’s all God’s grace,” Subdeacon Mark told The Catholic Weekly. “We have her relic now and we pray that it will help us.”

The community of St Elias is hoping to raise $300,000 to build a new church in Guildford, after their old church was demolished.

To date they have raised $50,000 and they are hoping St Mariam will intercede on their behalf to assist them raise the rest of the required money.

Following the Mass for St Mariam’s feast day, there was a Middle Eastern banquet for all those present—consisting of a myriad of savoury and sweet delights—with the proceeds going to their building project.

A member of the community, Mr Rob Azar, is also hoping to raise funds for the new church by walking 300kms from Sydney to Canberra in early October this year. In his homily Bishop Rabbat said that it was highly significant that St Mariam’s feast day—26 August—should fall at the end of the Week for Migrants and Refugees.

“You came to this country many years ago. We have many Syrians, many Iraqis, many people coming from the Middle East,” he told those present.

“In the New Testament we see that Jesus Christ had to flee with his family to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill all the children. The Jews had to run away to Egypt. So one way or another, we are all migrants. We are all on a journey.”

Likewise, he said, the relic of St Mariam had traveled all the way from Palestine to Sydney.

Mariam’s parents also went on a long journey, Bishop Rabbat said, after their 12 sons all died.

They traveled many miles on foot from their village in the Galilee region of modern-day Israel, to Bethlehem in the south, as a special pilgrimage to ask for the Blessed Virgin’s intercession.

They asked to Our Lady to grant them a daughter and soon after St Mariam was born in 1846.

Tragically her parents died when she was only two years old and St Mariam lived much of her life as a migrant, Bishop Rabbat said.

“She also went on a big journey. She went from Palestine to Egypt, where sadly they were going to kill her, from Egypt she went back to Palestine, then to Beirut, from Beirut to France, from France to India and she died in Palestine.”

Drawing on the Gospel story of the rich young man who Jesus challenged by asking him to give up all his possessions and follow him, Bishop Rabbat said, “As we come today to celebrate St Mariam’s feast, to thank Our Lord for blessing us with her relic, we ask also that when we are being asked this question on a daily basis—are you willing to follow me?—that we do not hesitate but follow Jesus Christ as the Apostles did.”

The relic of St Mariam will be enshrined within the new church of St Elias the Prophet in Guildford, once it is built.

St Mariam Baouardy was canonised by Pope Francis in 2015. She was a Melkite Catholic and was almost murdered by a young Muslim man after she refused to convert to Islam and marry him.

She was a mystic and she received the Stigmata—the wounds of Christ—in her body.

She died in 1878 in Bethlehem where she lived as a Carmelite nun.

To make a donation towards the building of St Elias Melkite Catholic Church in Guildford, go to www.buildstelias.org.au

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