CHRISTIANS from four Eastern churches in Brisbane united in a rare pilgrimage to offer prayers for peace in the Middle East and Egypt.
Catholics from the Maronite, Melkite and Syriac rites and Christians from the Brisbane Greek Orthodox Church community gathered at Marian Valley, Canungra, last week for a procession to honour Our Lady.
Members from all four churches processed through Marian Valley with a statue of Our Lady to mark the end of May, which is the month dedicated to Mary.
Maronite Catholics have been making an annual pilgrimage to Marian Valley to honour the month of Mary for several years, and last year the Greek Orthodox community joined their procession.
The recent pilgrimage was the first time Christians from all four churches have prayed together at Marian Valley.
With the arrival into Brisbane last year of Syriac Catholics, many of whom are refugees from Iraq forced out of their homes, the pilgrimage was also a chance to pray for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Iraqi Archbishop Georges Casmoussa, who made a pastoral visit to Syriac Catholics living in Brisbane last year, returned for the pilgrimage to Marian Valley.
Melkite parish priest Fr Elie Francis said he was praying for Christians in the Middle East and Egypt, and for victims of the recent Manchester bombing.
While Fr Francis did not have personal connections with any persecuted Christians in the Middle East or in Egypt, he still considered them family.
“Everyone in the Middle East is my brother and sister,” he said.
“We have to support all Christians.”
This support did not exclude Christians in Australia, who Fr Francis said deserved as much prayer as Middle Eastern Christians.
With his family beside him at the Marian pilgrimage last week, Fr Francis wished to show his own flesh and blood “Australia is a blessed country”.
“It’s not only our country (in the Middle East) but we pray our God blesses this country and protects our country Australia,” he said.
“Also for the Christians in Manchester, these victims of the bombing.”
In August the Melkite community will make another pilgrimage to Marian Valley for the Feast of the Assumption.
Fr Francis hoped the Eastern churches could make another combined pilgrimage for the holy day of obligation.
At last week’s pilgrimage, priests from the three Catholic Eastern rites concelebrated a Mass for Catholic pilgrims with Marian Valley’s Pauline Fathers in a Latin Rite (English) Mass.
Traditionally, Maronites celebrate the Mass in Jesus’ native language Aramaic, while a Melkite rite Mass is said in formal Arabic, and the Syriac rite liturgy is in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic.
All four Eastern churches have their origins in the Middle East through the Byzantine rite, which in the Catholic Church is in full communion with the pope.
Maronite parish priest Fr Fadi Salame said after trying to bring the community together for several years, last week’s pilgrimage “happened by God’s providence”.
He said the pilgrimage was an important step in growing the communion among the Christians from the Eastern churches.
“Sometimes we have to work closely together to get our people together,” Fr Salame said.