By Paul Dobbyn
SINGING traditional songs in Arabic and joyfully strewing flower petals, parishioners from St Maroun’s Church, Greenslopes, celebrated the arrival of Patriarch Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rai on November 6.
It was the 74-year-old Patriarch’s first canonical visit to Australia. He had already visited Maronite communities in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
Among those accompanying him on his Brisbane visit were the Lebanon-based Maronite Vicar General Paul Sayah and Australia’s Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay.
The cardinal had been greeted at Brisbane Airport by St Maroun’s parish priest Fr Fadi Salame and Consul of Lebanon to Queensland Anthony Torbey.
For Fr Salame and the parishioners of St Maroun’s the visit was a chance to reconnect with their homeland and to celebrate and renew their religious roots deep in Lebanon.
Also present were clergy from other Brisbane-based Middle Eastern rites including the Catholic Melkite community and various branches of the Orthodox rite.
St Maroun’s parishioner for the past 40 years, John Hanna, was among those eager to welcome the Patriarch.
He’d been with the Maronite community when it used to worship at St Clement’s Melkite Church, South Brisbane.
“Then we bought this church from the Roman Catholic Church,” he said.
“It’s so exciting to have the head of our Church here from Lebanon to visit us in Brisbane.”
Young mother Sally Shaw (Salloum) was awaiting the Patriarch’s visit in the hope of additional spiritual and practical guidance.
“We would like to know of the changes in how we live here from back in Lebanon, and advice from him on how we should raise our kids … things like that,” she said.
Fr Salame said preparations had been underway for a considerable time in the lead-up to the visit.
“A statue of St Maroun had arrived from Lebanon only a week earlier,” he said.
“It has been fixed high up on the front of the church.
“I also helped prepare a banner which welcomed our Patriarch thanking him for coming from the land of St Maroun in Lebanon to bless the parish of St Maroun’s in Brisbane.”
After blessing the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Patriarch entered the church to the singing of traditional hymns in Arabic.
Joyful parishioners paid respect, kissing the cardinal’s pectoral cross and ring.
Fr Salame said Cardinal Rai blessed the congregation with the icon of St Maroun.
“In his address in Arabic, our Patriarch prayed that, through the intercession of St Maroun, may the Holy Trinity bless you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
After morning tea provided by the parish, Cardinal Rai continued on to a lunch reception at Parliament House hosted by the Lebanese Consul.
About 4.30pm, the cardinal arrived at St Stephen’s Cathedral where he met with Maronite youth and parishioners.
A Mass concelebrated with Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge started at 5.30pm.
Read Archbishop Coleridge’s column reflecting on the patriarch’s visit here.