Monday, 3 June 2013
Delegation to Lebanon
by leave—I rise also to offer my congratulations to His Grace Bishop Antoine Tarabay. I had the privilege of attending his ordination representing the Leader of the Opposition, and attended with the minister at the table, Minister Burke. It was a truly significant event in the life of the Maronite community, not only in Australia but also in Lebanon itself, and particularly for the village of Tannourine, which was able to celebrate its first-ever Maronite bishop from that village. The look of pride on Bishop Tarabay's parents' faces—very modest people from very humble circumstances, who were the pride of their village; indeed, they were the pride of the entire Maronite community—was something to behold and something to truly remember and reflect on for some time.
It was a privilege to be there to represent the Leader of the Opposition, and I will later seek leave to table the letter that the Leader of the Opposition forwarded to His Grace Bishop Tarabay during the thanksgiving mass that was celebrated in the village of Tannourine. But it is a joyous time for the Maronite Church of Australia, and we join with our brothers and sisters in Christ in offering our prayers of thanksgiving as well as for wisdom and guidance and grace for His Grace. We also recognise the work and pay tribute to the service of Bishop Abi Karam, who for 12 years was the third Maronite Bishop of Australia, as he hands on his responsibility for his flock to Bishop Tarabay.
It was a privilege to go to Lebanon two weeks ago and participate in the ordination at the Patriarchal See on 25 May. This was truly an amazing event in the most spectacular of locations. You could not be anything but struck by the history and the solemness of this occasion, and its significance in the life of this tremendous faith community in this very, very remarkable place. It was an honour to bear witness to his ordination and to have so many of the flock that he will serve here in Australia, and particularly in my home state of New South Wales and across Sydney, joining the minister at the table and I in attending that significant event.
The following day we were invited together, as the minister has said, to the thanksgiving mass at St Anthony's church in Tannourine, and we were made most welcome by that village. Our hosts there were incredibly generous with their time and their friendship. The history of the Maronites dates back to the fifth century and the church owes its name to St Maron's monastery and the life of service lived by the hermit Maron. The love of the gospel he instilled in his followers was the cornerstone on which this, his church, was built. There have been and there remain great challenges, but the Maronites draw great strength from their faith. I was pleased to be reminded of the words of James when he said:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
This was borne out to me when, on the morning of the thanksgiving mass, I had the opportunity to be joined by a very good friend in Joseph Assaf where we stayed. The minister stayed with him on the previous night at his home village of Hardine, 80 kilometres from Beirut. Mr Assaf is a constituent of the member for Reid and an outstanding Australian. In this place, in a week or so, we will celebrate the Ethnic Business Awards, which he has championed over many, many years. On this occasion he hosted me in his home village—but not only that, he also took me through the villages of the entire north of Lebanon where so many in our Maronite community in Australia come from.
Of the 370,000 or so Maronites who live in New South Wales, 85 per cent have descended from or have come directly from these villages—Mazrahat Abi Saab Knat, Hadith El Joubbe and Diman. We visited the Maronite Patriarcate summer residence and its beautiful church. We were at Hasroun, Bahkafra, the birthplace of Saint Charbel, Becharre—which I understand is the home village of Bob Katter and it was great to remind him of that when I saw him in the chamber last week—Hadcheet, Ban, Blawza, Kfarsghab and Ehden. We also visited Saint Antonio's monastery where we lunched with monks and shared a meal with the hermit Father Khawand, who was in Australia for many years before ending up at Kosba and Bouza Salem, which is where the husband of the Governor of New South Wales is from.
The last place I visited was Tannourine and the Bishop Tarabay himself was baptised in its picturesque and ancient church. That really brought the whole thing full circle. It is about the faith of this man, who is now our Maronite Bishop of Australia. He is a devoted man to his faith and to his community. He entered the Lebanese Maronite Order in 1983 and was ordained a priest in 1993. He served as the rector of St Charbel's monastery, church and college in Punchbowl, southern Sydney, for more than 10 years. He is well respected within and outside the Australian Maronite community and leads through service in his ministry and pastoral care. He has overseen the academic and religious education of young Australian-Lebanese Maronites and under his tenure as principal, St Charbel's has earned a reputation as a truly fine educational institution.
Father Tarabay set up a Maronite youth centre and has encouraged young Australians to play a part in their community, to be involved in the church and to volunteer. It was pleasing to see a number of them present in the village and at the ordination. During his time as rector he has been involved in a wide range of community initiatives and has invested countless hours in charity.
The depth and breadth of those who have travelled so far, from all walks of life, to be there in Lebanon on this tremendous occasion and to stand by him was indeed a reflection on the bishop and his character and a further testimony to the great enduring faith of the wonderful Maronite people who, over centuries, have suffered all manner of things. It is their faith that has provided them stability in their cultural, religious and personal lives, and they can truly celebrate—as will be done this evening, in Sydney, where I understand he will celebrate his first mass.