House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Delegation Reports

Delegation to Lebanon

12:03 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

12:10 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

12:17 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I table the letters of congratulations to Bishop Tarabay from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.