Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Linda Reeves - The Florida Catholic Palm Beach
Photography: L. REEVES / R. AGUIRRE | FC
MIAMI BEACH | Maronite Catholics from across America gathered with their two bishop leaders, parish priests and deacons at the National Apostolate of Maronites convention, held in Miami for the first time in nearly 30 years.
“It is good to be with you. I would like to welcome all of you,” said Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan, eparch or bishop of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, during the opening liturgy of the convention, held June 26-30 at the Loews Miami Beach hotel.
The National Apostolate of Maronites, or NAM, sponsors the convention, now in its 56th year. Parishes of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, and the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in California, the two American Maronite Catholic dioceses, are encouraged to take a turn at hosting the event each year.
“The convention is what keeps people together,” said Nabil Salem, a member of this year’s convention host, Our Lady of Lebanon Parish in Miami, and grand knight of the St. Sharbel Council 12699. He has attended 15 conventions and helped with the June event along with his fellow Knights. “It is about comradery. It is about connecting with people. We want the children to learn about the faith and about our history.”
The conference is designed for Maronite Catholics of all ages, but especially for families with children. The agenda features educational workshops, social activities and spiritual events including rosary prayer, adoration and Masses or Divine Liturgy.
At the heart of the event is bringing Maronite Catholics residing in the United States together and educating the youth, young adults and children about the rich heritage and traditions of the Maronite Catholic Church, historically centered in Lebanon and Syria but continuing to grow in the United States.
“My children were all born in the United States,” said George Frem from Boston, Massachusetts, who was attending the convention with his wife, Rania, and sons ages 7, 12 and 14. He and his wife are immigrants from Lebanon living in the United States for the past 15 years. “Taking part in the convention is a great way to learn about our heritage and to meet people and build friendships. We see some of the same people every year. We like to eat the Lebanese food,” he said.
LEGACY FOR LOCAL PRIEST
Our Lady of Lebanon’s pastor, Father Elie Saade, a member of St. Sharbel’s Lebanese Maronite Order, said in a welcome statement that he and members of his parish were honored to be selected. The event marked somewhat of a legacy for Father Saade, who is leaving the area. He has been re-assigned by his superior to serve as a college dean in Lebanon.
The parish expressed interest in the host job three years ago, bidding among the 84 Maronite churches and missions across America that serve an estimated 200,000 Maronite Catholics. Last year, Our Lady of the Cedars in Houston, Texas, won the bid. In 2017, the national convention took place in South Carolina, hosted by St. Rafka Parish in Greenville.
“Our theme for this year is centered on the Holy Cross of Our Lord,” said Father Saade. “Nurtured by our Catholic faith and founded on our Maronite history, I pray this time together will encourage us to preserve our heritage, fulfill our mission and create a vision for future Maronite generations.”
The convention drew nearly 1,200 participants and 100 priests and deacons. A large number of young adults also came.
Mark Bsaibes, 28, of Los Angeles said he was happy about reconnecting with people he had met at previous conferences. He had his own take on the event.
23 EASTERN CHURCHES
“It is important to teach people that there is more than one way to be Catholic,” he said, pointing to the 23 Eastern Churches and the one Roman Catholic Church, which has the largest percentage of Catholics in the world.
“There are a lot of things that are different in the Maronite Catholic Church, but we are Catholics,” he explained, noting that the ancient traditions and practices of the Maronite Church date back to the apostles.
Joining Bishop Zaidan was the other leader of the American Maronite Church, Bishop Gregory John Mansour, who was appointed by Pope John Paul II in 2004 as the third bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn. Bishop Mansour and Bishop Zaidan participated in activities and led spiritual events throughout the convention.
Bishop Mansour’s Brooklyn Eparchy is composed of 45 parishes and missions, a seminary in Washington D.C., a convent in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and a monastery in Petersham, Massachusetts. Among his many appointments, Bishop Mansour has served on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on Pro Life Activities and Evangelization and Catechesis, as well as on the board of trustees for the Catholic University of America, Catholic Relief Services and Aid to the Church in Need. He is also actively involved with the efforts of In Defense of Christians to support and advocate for Christians of the Middle East.
Appointed by Pope Francis July 10, 2013, Bishop Zaidan became third bishop of the eparchy headquartered in California. As shepherd of Our Lady of Lebanon Eparchy, Bishop Zaidan leads 40 Maronite churches, 39 priests, eight permanent deacons and 15 religious, according to the diocese’s website. He serves on the US bishops’ International Justice and Peace Committee as well as the Catholic Home Missions Committee.
A surprise guest was Bishop-elect Peter Karam, who attended a portion of the convention. Pastor of St. Maron Church in Cleveland, Ohio, he was elected June 15 by the Synod of the Maronite Bishops as Bishop of Curia of the Maronites. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, he is the first Maronite priest incardinated outside of Lebanon to be elected to serve as a bishop in Lebanon.
In a display of unity, Archbishop Thomas Wenski visited with the Maronite bishops and clergy June 26 and took part in the celebration of Mass. Also on hand were Archbishop Samir Nassar, leader of the Maronite Catholic Church of Damascus in Syria, and Bishop Fernando Isern, retired bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo and a former priest of the Miami archdiocese.
In a June 23 letter addressed to Father Sadde and posted in the convention program, Archbishop Wenski expressed his delight to meet the Maronite bishops and clergy convening in South Florida. “Your brothers in the Latin rite Archdiocese of Miami pledge their prayers for a successful grace-filled convening here in South Florida,” he said.
See related story: Maronite Church is in full communion with pope
Maronite churches in Florida
- Our Lady of Lebanon, 2055 Coral Way, Miami. 305-856-7449.
- Heart of Jesus Parish, 1800 N.E. Sixth Court, Fort Lauderdale. 954-522-3939.
- Mary, Mother of Light, 46 Willow Road, Tequesta. 561-427-1331.
- St. Jude, 5555 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando. 407-363-7405.
- Peter and Paul Church, 6205 Sheldon Road, Tampa. 813-886-7413.