Welcoming the relics of Lebanese saints Maroun, Charbel, Rafqa and Nehmetallah and Australia’s first saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, coincided with the local parish’s
St Maroun’s feast day celebrations and the conclusion of its golden jubilee year.
Parish priest Monsignor Emmanuel Sakr said parishioners of St Maroun’s Church at Westbourne Park were “very excited” to see the relics.
“A lot of our people here have a personal relationship with the saints,” he said.
“Usually, they would have to visit Lebanon to see the relics…but knowing they were coming to Adelaide and they would be able to see them made it a very emotional time for them.
“People were able to come and honour and venerate the relics, pray and also learn about the life of each saint.”
Arriving on the evening of February 16, after being driven by car from Brisbane, the relics were processed into the church in a reliquary carved in the shape of a ship.
The sail of the wooden ship featured the map of Australia and incorporated within it a map and cedar tree of Lebanon, with the relics contained in small holds where the oars would typically be located. Following the visit to Adelaide they were transported to NSW on February 22 and will continue to tour parishes throughout Australia over the coming year as part of the 50th anniversary of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.
Maronite Bishop of Australia Antoine-Charbel Tarabay of Sydney was a special guest at St Maroun’s Church on the weekend of February 18/19. He joined 300 guests, including Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, at a golden jubilee dinner held at the Entertainment Centre on the Saturday night and celebrated the Sunday Mass.
As Mgr Sakr explained, Adelaide was the first Maronite faith centre established in Australia.
Although Maronite Catholics started arriving in the country in the 1850s, with most attending their local Catholic church, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the growing Lebanese community in Adelaide began calling for their own parish priest.
With the blessing of the then Archbishop James Gleeson, Fr (later Mgr) Youssef Ndaira arrived in Adelaide, celebrating his first Mass on September 13 1972.
“Originally it was like a mission here,” said Mgr Sakr.
“Fr Ndaira began gathering the community, bringing them together, looking after them, and he started forming different groups. First there was an association formed to run the church – the Maronite Community Church of SA Inc – and a lot of people joined that group. Then he created a ladies’ auxiliary and a youth group.
“Over time the community started feeling a sense of belonging.”
Mgr Ndaira, who died last month at the age of 94, remained in Adelaide until 1994. During his ministry the number of families attending St Maroun’s grew considerably and larger premises were quickly needed.
Initially, a large home was purchased on Cross Road, Malvern, and a chapel was established inside, with the first Mass celebrated there on August 18 1973. As more space was needed, the Maronites moved to worship at the Resurrection Church, Unley, for about a year before it was handed over to the Polish community.
In 1976 the Maronites purchased what was previously a small Baptist church on Goodwood Road, Westbourne Park.
“It was a small church, with a small hall and a presbytery,” Mgr Sakr said.
“They started renovations, extended the hall and then the altar and sacristy and it was opened in 1980.”
Changes to the footprint of the church and adjacent carpark have continued over the years and today about 1000 families – most with ties to Lebanon and Syria – worship there.
Mgr Sakr, who has been parish priest since 2019, said it was a strong community with a strong sense of faith.
“Having a centre here brings people together to celebrate their faith and culture,” he said.
Nationally, this year sees the eparchy marking the 50th anniversary of the first Maronite bishop’s arrival in Australia in 1973.
At the time there were only four Maronite parishes, two of which were parish communities without a parish church, and one school. In 2023 the eparchy has 21 churches and chapels, eight schools, five aged care centres, 58 priests and 20 religious sisters around the country.Jump to next article