Monday, 3 June 2013
Delegation to Lebanon
by leave—On 25 May a delegation of myself and the member for Cook was sent to Lebanon for the ordination of the new Maronite bishop. The ordination of the new Maronite bishop, Bishop Tarabay, represents a wonderful moment for the Maronite Church in Australia.
I have known Father Tarabay, as he then was, for many years both as the priest at St Charbel's in Punchbowl and as a friend. He has been a genuine community leader and a voice for peace and unity in the community for a long time. When I contacted him to congratulate him after the announcement had been made of his imminent appointment, he immediately asked whether or not it would be possible to have Australian representation, and I was pleased that, for the first time, we had a bipartisan delegation go across to Lebanon to attend the ordination. It is the first time that the Australian parliament has sent such a delegation to an event such as this anywhere in the world. It is also the first time that the Maronite Church have chosen their bishop of Australia from amongst the Australian clergy. There were messages presented to his Lordship—or, as he is called within the Maronite Church, Sayedna—from the Prime Minister and from the Leader of the Opposition, and when I have both of those in my possession I will be happy to table them together. The decision to choose the new bishop from among the Australian clergy is a great tribute to the growth of the Maronite Church within Australia and to the significant strength of that faith as it is viewed by the hierarchy and by the patriarch himself in Beirut.
At the event, where the member for Cook and I represented Australia, the representative of the government of Lebanon was a minister, Mr Walid Daouk. I think it is significant that the President chose a Sunni Muslim as the Lebanese government's representative at the ordination of the Maronite bishop. Lined up along the front row were Mrs Nayla Mouwad, His Excellency Mr Gibran Basil, Mr Chaker Salame, Mr Samir Geagea, Mr Boutros Harb and Mr Tony Franjieh, all of them political rivals in different ways. Some of them have lost loved ones through assassination and through extraordinarily heated battle, and one of them has spent many, many years imprisoned, yet all of them lined up for what was an extraordinary moment of unity for the ordination itself.
The following day, we had a celebration in the village of Bishop Tarabay, the village of Tannourine. I have to say the Lebanese know how to celebrate in a way that Australians cannot match. It was one of the most extraordinary celebrations I suspect I will ever see. As we walked through the streets, a number of young women from the area in traditional dress threw rice and rose petals everywhere, which the member for Cook and I were assured were being thrown for the benefit of the Bishop, not for us! We had Lebanese drums being beaten loudly, we had fireworks going off and we had other forms of percussion in the background, celebratory as well. There was an extraordinary sense, as thousands lined the streets—almost all of whom had some connection to Australia—that this was a unique celebration, as special for Australia as it was for Lebanon.
A couple of days earlier, I had had the opportunity to meet with President Sleiman. I am very glad, Madam Deputy Speaker Owens, that you are in the chair at this moment, because it was you who first raised with me the prospect, in honour of this occasion, of planting a cedar of Lebanon in Australia. After my meeting with President Sleiman, I was able to go to the gardens of the presidential palace and, there, right in the middle of the gardens, are an old cedar tree, a young cedar tree and an olive tree. Planted there with them now is an Australian gum tree. I took the opportunity on behalf of the Prime Minister, when we were in Tannourine, to invite Bishop Tarabay, on his return to Australia, to come to the Lodge in Canberra where, in amongst the Australian trees, a cedar of Lebanon will be planted too. In this way, when the westerly winds blow through Canberra and the eucalyptus leaves fall, they will be landing side by side with the needle-like leaves of a cedar of Lebanon. In Lebanon, in the presidential palace, the roots of the cedar of Lebanon will intertwine with an Australian eucalypt. They will be criss-crossing their way on the same soil on which stood the apostles, the gum tree's roots forever bound with those of the cedar of Lebanon.
There is an extraordinary pride within the Maronite community and the Lebanese community generally about the connections that have remained with family and with faith between Australia and Lebanon. This was a wonderful occasion. I was deeply pleased that it was able to be dealt with in a bipartisan manner and I have no doubt that the ordination of Bishop Tarabay augurs very well for the Maronite community and all Australians for many years to come.