Address of His Excellency Bishop Ad Abikaram
for the occasion of the
Liturgical Reception and Installation
of His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay
My dear Maronites in the heart of Jesus,
It was the 8th February 2002, when I stood at the altar of this Cathedral, to receive from my predecessor Bishop Youssef Hitti the responsibility of this dear Diocese, from the heart of that holy mountain. I answered the call of the Holy Spirit who chose me to serve the Gospel and carry the good news to the ends of the earth.
This was “the service” I took on as my episcopal motto, and I worked over the last 11 years to place it into action, to the best of my ability, taking strength from the One who sustains me, and collaborating with my brothers in the priesthood who are participators in the bishop’s responsibilities, which included the support and help of the consecrated religious and the laity, of whom I am proud. They have supported me with love, and I have called upon them for their ideas and initiatives…
Together we became the great family of the diocese, and together we sailed towards new horizons, aware of the challenges of our contemporary times and the need to face them with new ways, a new language, and the challenges of new times.
Preserving the Maronite legacy, which I called Maroniteness, was our concern and the focus of our care… so that the identity is passed on, it has to be embedded and originated from the mother land Lebaneseness. This led to the establishment of the Maronite Heritage Centre, near to this Cathedral. From this Centre emerged a variety of activities directed towards preserving our heritage. Our Diocesan magazine Marounia which links all parts of the Diocese, for the past ten years, was crowned with the latest Edition, documenting all our achievements together, during the last decade. The visit of the Maronite Saints’ Relics, Charbel, Rafqa and Nemetallah, to Australia has given the children of our diocese a rare spiritual awakening, reconnecting them with the Eastern spirituality and in particular Maroniteness .
To enable us to return to our roots, we launched the “Order of Qannoubine”. To enter into the depth of the Gospel, we initiated the “Maronite Ladies of the Gospel” in addition to various other well-known activities of the Maronite Catholic Society, Caritas and others.
Working with families has been of the utmost importance as it is in the families that we can work to perpetuate Maronite spirituality. It is the Christian and social mission of the family to uphold the foundation and future of our spirituality through living and passing on to the new generations, who represent our hope in a bright future, the faith entrusted to us. This passing on has been through the sodalities, the various parish youth groups, through pastoral care of university students, all in order to help preserve the values dear to our families: supporting each other, collaboration and working in unity, for our youth. It all revolves around loyalty, truth and commitment.
The first International Maronite Youth Forum held in Sydney, and the Maronite Day Mass, presided over by His Beatitude and Eminence Mar Nasrallah Boutros Cardinal Sfeir, concelebrated by over ten Maronite Bishops, over fifty priests and attended by over 20,000 has confirmed to our Eparchy that, despite its geographical distance, it remains the heart of the Maronite Church, and is the nucleus of the mission of the universal Church.
It is true that the importance of the Maronites of the Expansion lies in providing spiritual and moral support, and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in their mother land. But most important is their existence, wherever they are, the apostles of Maroniteness and Eastern Christianity, as they promote it in their way of life, making it shine through dialogue with other cultures, and treasured by the countries of the world. Through their enculturation in the Australian civilization, and their identification with Australian society, in all their talents, in whatever they participate, making Australia a humanitarian and cultural arena, a harmonical symphony, and a role model to all nations.
This is what we worked at attaining, and it is what we hope that our successor will continue… Maroniteness is a welcoming open dialogue. Maronites are apostles who offer an added value to the dialogue of cultures and religions, aiming at enriching the Universal Catholic Church with their Eastern Liturgical heritage, striving for ecumenism with open minds and hearts, and a desire to see the Church of Christ united and undivided.
The hand over from a bishop who has completed his term to a bishop, who is launching his mission, is more than just an administrative operation, with accounts and statistics. It rather involves passing on 15 introduced organizations and structures, councils of priests, pastoral councils and committees, who worked and will work on diocesan and parish levels, already serving for varying ages and needs … all these I proudly pass on to the new bishop, knowing without doubt that they will assist him and will be essential instruments in his pastoral ministry.
All these, I present to your Excellency: real Australian citizens, Christian by faith, Maronite by identity, Lebanese by origin, grateful to their country Australia and its authorities, they exchange loyalty and offering, committed to their Church, faithful to their spiritual cultural heritage, they gather around their shepherd, responding with trust and respect. They are the laity that the Church counts on, acknowledging their deserved role. They are its mission and its field of work in the New Evangelisation.
Beyond all this, how happy I am to present my successor with faithful souls, loving hearts, open minds. I present him with dreaming children, visionary youth, men and women waiting in hope, and elder people praying, led by priests who share in the vision and the dreams, confidently advancing together.
The Relationship with faithful priests is not foreign to you; you had with your brothers in the diocese. I offer you my thanks for what you did in the parish and St Charbel College. I also thank all the priests for their zealous work in the various parishes, which has enriched the diocese, allowing us to work together to write a new history for the Maronites of the Expansion.
This history was not and will not be separated from the history of the Australian Church. We can be proud of our history of working with bishops and priests, collaborating together in parish councils and commissions, including my personal relationship with them all especially with the Assembly of Eastern Bishops. This has been for me and for the Diocese a source of spiritual, ecclesial, and ecumenical enrichment, and in particular for the Maronites participating in Latin Rite parishes. To all of you, my venerable brothers, my deepest, grateful gratitude.
These same feelings I extend also to the national and State authorities that have been of great support for all our projects both cultural and ecclesial. This is what gives our Australian citizenship its depth and value.
Dear Brother Bishop Antoine-Charbel,
The Diocese knows you and you know it, you love it and it loves you, it has high expectations, you are one of its own and rich with experience. You carry within you the heights of Tannourine, the depth of Qannoubine and the spirituality of the Order of the saints…the Lebanese Maronite Order, whose head and council and all its members, I greet with respect. I name in particular those who have served in our Diocese in Australia. In gratitude and acknowledgement you have as well, the trust of the head of the Church, His Holiness Pope Francis, represented among us by the Apostolic Nuncio Most Reverend Paul Gallagher.
You have also the solicitude of the head of our Maronite Church, His Beatitude our Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai, represented among us by his Excellency Bishop Mounir Kheirallah Maronite Bishop of Batroun, who has travelled the long journey to participate in our celebrations. He knows well that he has my personal affection. You have the support of the Maronite Synod of bishops and the love of your brother priests, who will make you proud as they gather around you like a wreath, with justness, holiness and support. Then diocese awaits their dynamism and commitment.
In my last words here, I thank God and my Church with its bishops and priests and all those with whom I worked. I ask forgiveness of all those I might have wronged even if unwillingly. I also apologize for anything I failed to do and in the words of St Paul I say to you: I have run the race, completed what the Lord asked of me and witnessed to the good news and the grace of God.
I am at comfort to leave this Diocese, knowing that it will continue to develop in wisdom and stature and the grace of the spirit before God and before people. This spiritual “family” that I loved and from whom I received love in return, I carry in my heart and in my prayer as I embark on my work with the Apostolica. This Association that I created, will aid the Christians of the Middle East and will assist with the mission of Catechesis in the Maronite Church, always at the service of the Gospel, at the service of the Church of the new horizons, in these times of the New Spirit.