Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2003
Maronites finally find a home
Arabic thread of Catholic faith is woven into city's tapestry
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Having their own place of worship has made a big difference in the life of the Maronite Catholic community.
The 65-family parish is now able to celebrate its own liturgies in both English and Arabic as well as to host a number of activities, from youth and cultural events to language classes and Bible studies.
The Maronites celebrated Masses at St. Anthony Parish until Easter, when they purchased the Immaculate Heart Church, 9805-76 Ave., for $422,000. Immaculate Heart Parish closed in October 2001 due to a restructuring of the parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese. The Maronite community will pay for the 200-seat church over 15 years.
A new beginning
"How can I describe it to you: this is something we wanted for a long time," said an excited Jeanette Farhat, president of the parish's Ladies' Sorority. "This has changed things a lot. This is something that will give to our children a value, a tradition of their heritage. Now we have more programs, we teach the Aramaic language and we do concerts for the little children and we teach them about religion."
Farhat, a mother of three boys, has been attending Roman Catholic liturgies since arriving in Canada from Lebanon 31 years ago. Her sons were baptized at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Parish in London, Ont., and later on they received their First Communion at Edmonton's St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
Farhat and her family began attending Maronite services at St. Anthony's when the community's first permanent pastor, Father Esper Antoun, arrived in Edmonton three years ago.
But as the woman put it, nothing beats having your own worshipping space. "It was very nice of St. Anthony's to allow us to use their church but we are very happy to have our own (space)," she said. "Before we were all spread out. The Church is a chance for us to gather and to see each other and meet other people and practise our traditions."
"It's so great when you have a Church," said Antoun, the parish priest. "We feel that finally we have a place to sit down. This has led to many changes. Because people feel so good and so happy, they want to hold more activities now."
In addition to offering Arabic and Aramaic language classes for the young and Bible studies for all, the Maronite parish offers catechism for children and young adults and has an active youth group with 25 members, a Ladies' Sorority with 16 members and a Knights' of Columbus Council with 37 members.
"And we hold lots of parties," Antoun said. There will be a special Christmas party for the parish's children on Dec. 21 and a potluck supper for the whole parish on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. A midnight Mass will follow the potluck supper. Plans are underway to hold a big New Year's party on Dec. 31.
Aside from the Maronites, parish members include Catholics from Chaldean and Assyrian rites, predominantly from Lebanon and Jordan. There are about 85,000 Maronite Catholics in Canada in 12 parishes.
Antoun, 40, believes many Maronite Catholics are still attending Roman Catholic churches in the Edmonton Archdiocese. He wants them to come home and soon he will be asking priests to help him track down his flock. "I will ask the priests to tell the Maronite Catholics that they now have a home."
The Maronites are Roman Catholics in full communion with Rome. They speak Arabic, the language of Lebanon and the region. The Maronites follow a rich liturgical observance at the heart of which is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Traditionally the rites were in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. Today their rites are in both Aramaic and Arabic. In Edmonton they also celebrate Mass in English on Saturdays at 4.pm.
Historically, the origins of the Maronite Church are to be found among those monastic and lay people who gathered around the saintly hermit, Maroun. These Christians who accepted his way of life and worship were soon identified as "those of St. Maroun" - the Maronites.
St. Maroun was born around AD350. He was ordained a priest and later withdrew as a hermit to a mountain of Taurus, near Antioch, above the banks of the Orontes River. It was at this chosen hermitage that he rededicated an old pagan temple as a shrine to the true God. Here many disciples joined him and formed a community.
Maroun passed his life in prayer, penance and the defence of the Catholic faith. He was a renowned miracle worker and healer. St Maroun died in 410. After his death, a church was built over his grave. His feast day is Feb. 9.
As Antoun explained, the history of the Maronites has been a ceaseless struggle to preserve their Catholic faith and to maintain the greatest possible freedom within the political and religious circumstances of the times.
Lure to Lebanon
The Maronite people have a strong emotional attachment to the mountainous regions of Lebanon, the mountains where they fled in the seventh and eighth centuries to escape violent religious persecutions. In these mountains they were able to remain virtually independent of the various powers that sought to control the region.
There are two million Maronites in Lebanon and millions more in countries such as Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Australia.
The Maronite parish website is mcparish.50free.org. Antoun can be reached at 433-8571.