State of the Eparchy Address Presented by Bishop Nicholas Samra
48th Melkite Convention, Dearborn, MI, July 7, 2012
I was enthroned as the Eparchial Bishop of Newton on August 23, 2011, having been notified of my appointment on June 3, 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI upon the election of the Melkite Synod of 2010. I answered the call of the synod and His Holiness with my “yes” to serve you and this eparchy to the best of my ability. I am blessed with the work of my dedicated predecessors since the inception of this eparchy as an exarchate in 1966. I pay special tribute to these predecessors, those who are still with us: Bishop John Elya and Archbishop Cyril Bustros, and those who are with the Lord: Bishop Justin Najmy, Archbishop Joseph Tawil, and Bishop Ignatius Ghattas. Their labor and hard work has put us on the good path of church life and growth. To these five bishops we owe a debt of gratitude.
I present a summary of these ten months as your Eparchial Shepherd. By the way, the original family name of my branch of the Samra family was “Rai” which means shepherd. My great grandfather was given a nickname because his first child, a daughter, had brown eyes, brown hair or a tanned colored skin. The nickname (Abu) Samra, “father of the brunette” stuck and is carried by us today; however, I pray that God allows me to be the good “rai” or good shepherd to lead and guide my flock.
I began with a clergy conference immediately after the enthronement with over 100 priests and deacons present. I shared my vision for the future of our church and listened to theirs – together we will unfold our plans. I met with the college of consultors to go over major issues within the eparchy. I have been blessed with the cooperation and support of all.
I am grateful to Exarch Joseph Haggar who had been the administrator of the eparchy several times as well as Protosyncellos under the previous administration. I appointed Archimandrite Philip Raczka as the new Protosyncellos or Vicar General. At the same times he serves as Rector of our Annunciation Cathedral in Boston while completing his dissertation for a Doctorate in Liturgy from Notre Dame University.
With the appointment of our former rector, Archimandrite Robert Rabbat, as Bishop of our Church in Australia – we are grateful for his service to our eparchy and especially as editor of Sophia magazine, I appointed Archimandrite James Babcock as the new editor of Sophia; he is doing a tremendous job.
Archimandrite Mark Melone is pastor of St. Joseph Church, Lawrence, MA. In his place in Sacramento CA I was blessed to receive permission from the Dominican order to name Fr. Brendan McAnerny, O.P. as pastor of St. George Church where he assisted for almost ten years. Archimandrite Damon Geiger became the pastor of St. Jude Church in Miami, FL, while Archimandrite Eugene Mitchell, BSO assumed pastorate of St. Joseph Church, Akron Ohio. Fr. Imad Barakeh, BSO is now associate pastor at the Church of St. Basil the Great in Lincoln, RI.
With a severe priest shortage and the lack of priestly vocations, I appointed Archimandrite John Azar as new Vocation Director. Fr. John is taking this position, like all others he has, very seriously and I ask for your full support of his endeavors – this is a plea to clergy and laity. A new strategy must be looked at to attract vocations to the priesthood.
Father Michel Cheble is the new spiritual director of NAMW. We thank Archimandrite Edward Kakaty for filling this position for twenty-five years, especially during the formation and growth of this dynamic ladies association. At the same time I assigned a new feast day for NAMW. Women served Christ during his public ministry in many ways, they followed him along with the disciples and remained with him even at the foot of the cross. We refer to these women as the Myrrh or Ointment-bearing women and we celebrate their memory on the third Sunday of Pascha, the second Sunday after the resurrection feast. The ladies of NAMW serve the church, the body of Christ, in many ways, particularly by their prayers and support for seminarians, thus they have this Sunday as the feast day for NAMW.
Fr. Michel Cheble also serves on the national board of Telelumiere-Noursat USA, the Christian broadcasting station on Lebanese television, now viewed throughout the world. By the way they are filming aspects of this convention and especially the entire closing Divine Liturgy on Sunday. They also film my enthronement last August and we are awaiting a DVD from them – I hope they hear what I am saying.
Marshall Rose from St. George Church in Sacramento CA, who is now a candidate in the deacon formation program, is our new webmaster and is doing a great job. He works closely with me and Deacon Paul Leonarczyk, our eparchial chancellor and director of communications. Check out our site with the new look and information: www.Melkite.org. It continues to get better with each day. We are grateful to Paul Stamm who worked on this for many years. Presently all issues of Sophia are on the site and I will be using it more in the near future for short messages to the eparchy via YouTube.
Vocation Crisis and “Priestless” Parishes
While I’m on this subject it pains me tremendously not to have enough priests to fill our present communities. We have one priestly ordination scheduled for October – I will ordain to the priesthood Deacon Musil Shihadeh who received his Masters of Divinity cum laude from Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. He is serving as deacon at St. Ann Church, Woodland Park NJ and will remain there as a priest for in internship period. I do not yet know what September will hold for possible candidates for the seminary. I will ordain Brother Marwan Kardouh, BSO, a deacon in September and a priest, God willing, in April 2013 upon completion of his theological studies.
Our deacon formation program remains successful under the directorship of Archimandrite Paul Frechette; we now have 60 deacons in the eparchy and counting. They serve their parishes with great fervor and assist in so many functions even in the “priestless” communities. St. Joseph Church in Lawrence, MA witnessed my first diaconal ordination as eparchial bishop in September 2011. Deacon Ziad Layous now joins in the service of ministry there. In January I ordained Sami Jajeh a reader and subdeacon at St. John Chrysostom Church, Atlanta GA. His deacon ordination is up and coming soon. Other candidates will also be ready for minor orders soon. The deacon formation program is being revisited this year and we will be adding a three year pre-program to it in the parishes from which they come. More about this later. In February I witnessed and presided and preached at the profession of simple vows for Brother Neven Ivan, BSO, at the Salvatorian Fathers chapel of St. Basil in Methuen, MA, my seminary alma mater. In September it will be 50 years that I entered into theological formation there.
Several priests have retired from active ministry and a few more are slated to do so soon. I am appreciative of their ministry. However, it leaves us with a number of “priestless” communities. We mourn the loss of three of our dedicated retired priests who entered into eternal life this past year: Archimandrite Julien Eliane, Father James King and Father Philip Azoon. We also mourn the loss of Protodeacon James Soloman of this convention host parish who had a long struggle with leukemia. We applaud their many years of service and ask God to make their memory eternal as they repose with the saints.
The parish of St. Joseph, Lansing MI is without a priest pastor for over one year. Protodeacon Joseph Daratony of metro Detroit area serves as Administrator in the interim period, serving the Typica Office with the distribution of the pre-sanctified Eucharist when no bi-ritual or Melkite priest is available. I am working diligently to be able to assign a priest to this excellent parish, but at the same time thankful for the service of Protodeacon Joe.
Another St. Joseph Church, Scranton PA has no pastor. Protodeacon Michael Jolly is administrator for the second time in the later history of one of our earliest communities in the USA. We have been blessed with other Byzantine and bi-ritual priest for most Sundays during this painful era.
Virgin Mary Community in Temecula and San Marcos CA has Protodeacon Habib Khasho as administrator after the retirement of Archimandrite Nasir Matta. Several Melkite priests, particularly Fr. Saba Shofany has assured the Sunday Divine Liturgy in the interim period.
St. Ignatios of Antioch Church in Augusta GA is without a priest pastor. Deacon Dr. Michael Willoughby serves as Adminstrator and has been assisted by a Ukrainian Catholic priest for Divine Liturgy for several months; in his absence a Typica Service is offered.
Both St. Michael Church, Hammond IN and St. John of Damascus Church, South Bend IN are without priest pastors. Holy Week was assured us in Hammond by Fr. Joseph Thomas, BSO from St. Basil Seminary, Methuen MA; Archimandrite Fouad Sayegh, pastor of the Church of St. John the Baptist, Northlake (Chicago) IL drives every Sunday over 60 miles one way to assure the community a Divine Liturgy. A bi-ritual Jesuit, Fr. Brian Dunkle SJ, a doctoral student at Notre Dame celebrates the Divine Liturgy in South Bend while the community is administered by Reader Nicholas Russo.
St. Demetrius Church, Cliffside Park NJ, without a pastor for a number of years, is showing growth and progress again. We are blessed with a bi-ritual priest of the New York Archdiocese, Fr. Joseph Nahas, who assures the community the Sunday Divine Liturgy and other services. Fr. Joe travels back and forth from NY (presently in Yonkers) from the Latin parish of which he is an associate or parochial vicar.
Amid this painful situation of a lack of priests, I do announce the joyful news of the incardination into our Eparchy of Fr. François Beyrouti, who is completing his double doctorate in Holy Scripture in Canada. He should be with us soon as a priest of our eparchy – welcome Fr. François!
Even though we lack priests we still cannot forget new mission communities. We have begun an outreach to Melkites in Houston TX, assisted tremendously by Fr. Elias Rafaj, a priest of the Ruthenian Byzantine Church, pastor of the Ruthenian parish of St. John Chrysostom in Houston. Melkite families came to him for spiritual guidance and with my blessing we began a Melkite Outreach there. Presently 60-70 people participate in the twice a month Melkite Liturgy. I will visit them in the fall and encourage them – seemingly a much larger community – to participate regularly at the Byzantine Church until such time that we can establish our own. The same is developing in Las Vegas, NV. More on this in the next report.
Eparchial Councils and Organizations
By Church law I have one year to re-establish the Presbyteral Council and College of Consultors. In September of this year I am convoking a Clergy Conference in St. Louis, MO at the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch. All priests active in the eparchy are expected to attend; the attendance of deacons is encouraged but optional. I appointed Fr. Christopher Manuele as Chair of the Clergy Conference. Our theme this year will be to relook at the Deacon Formation program and make some necessary changes. Our speaker is Fr. Deacon John Chryssavgis of the Greek Orthodox Church, a noted writer and speaker. Clergy are preparing for this conference by reading his recent book on the Diaconate. At this Conference the priests will choose from among their brother priests the Presbyteral Council. From this council I will then appoint the members of the College of Consultors. The council serves as my right arm in the administration of the eparchy; the consultors act for major financial matters and function as an interim board when the bishop dies or retires. The consultors elect an administrator at that time to administer the eparchy.
The Finance Council of the eparchy under the chairmanship of Dr. John Nazarian meets a minimum of four times a year to advise the bishop on financial matters. There were a few resignations and new members are being screened for appointment soon. The Chief Finance Officer of the eparchy is Deacon Robert Shalhoub of NJ, and thank God the finances are in decent shape. Of course there are outstanding debts in some parishes, but we do everything possible to assist. I look forward to publishing the full financial report in a future issue or addendum of Sophia magazine.
When the present Eparchial Office was built over ten years ago after the sale of the original Bishop’s Home and St. Gregory Seminary (may I make a personal note – a sad day in our history), the plan was to buy a home for the residence of the bishop, and the office building built adjacent to the Cathedral would have future offices on the second floor. With the advice of the Finance Council and the approval of the College of Consultors, a large condominium of 2600 sq feet with 8 rooms was purchased two months ago. Upon my return to Boston I will move in to this new residence, donating to it all my furniture from my personal residence in Warren, MI. The new residence is a mere 2 miles from the chancery office.
Other eparchial associations continue to grow and develop: NAMY, MAYA, Ambassadors and NAMW. We will hear from them today about their work and mission. I have asked that each have a one page written synopsis report to be distributed at this general assembly.
The Order of St. Nicholas, begun by Bishop Ignatius Ghattas, has been in a resting mode for several years and needs to be revived. It has provided great funding in the past for special projects. I look forward to a new group of organizers for this order so that it can fund some very special projects particularly the presbyteral council and consultors’ travels for meetings, as well as developing a fund for the insurance coverage for the families of married clergy. There will be other projects that need funding also.
I am grateful to all of you for your support of last year’s Bishop’s Appeal which exceeded our goals. It was very visible that more parishes took this appeal seriously; its helps tremendously in the funding of so many projects necessary in the eparchy such as, Sophia magazine, deacon and priest formation programs, seminarians’ assistance, religious education, spiritual renewal, etc. If each present donor would get one more donor we would double and triple the offerings, allowing us to do more in the eparchy. A full report of givers by parishes and where the funding went to will be in the fall edition of Sophia Magazine.
The Office of Religious Education called Educational Services continues to work diligently under the leadership of Dr. Frances Colie. Catechetical workshops continue in parishes by request. We continue to work with the other Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA through the ECED, particularly the Byzantines, for the updating of present religious educational texts and the writing of new ones with facilitator’s guides. We have produced a tremendous amount of educational materials for all ages. The workshops at the convention are also planned through this eparchial educational arm. This year we proudly present to each registered conventioneer an updated second edition of Guide to the Domestic Church, a most popular book for bringing our faith into our homes. The first edition of this great book appeared and was partially funded by the Our Lady of Redemption parish convention in 1986, and now once again this excellent update appears at this convention and is a gift to each registered guest courtesy of the host parish. Make sure that you read this book and encourage every parish family to purchase one for their home. Educational Services books are distributed by God With Us Publications; they are also listed on our eparchial website with all information for ordering. I hope to expand this Educational Services Office – a most important aspect of our eparchy – with more lay involvement this year: more to come.
Sophia Press has completed publication of most of the particular liturgical books of our Byzantine tradition along with some prayer books and other books of special interest. Please check the eparchial web site. In the next year or two the eparchy will take over the printing and publication of all liturgical texts for parish use – this includes Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Orthros, the Mysteries of Baptism and Marriage, Funeral Services, special Holy Week services, Akathist Hymn, Paraclesis, Lenten Services and any other books required for liturgical prayer. This will assist us in uniformity in the eparchy for all church prayers and services. In the planning stage at the present time and hopefully completed by Christmas is a small Book of Hours for the laity to introduce them to daily liturgical prayer. Of course this book will be greatly abbreviated from the monastic offices but will be a great addition for all who pray daily. It includes brief prayer services for various times of the day based on our traditional church office. We edited a special Typica Office for use in parishes without priests. Attached to it the leader, a deacon if possible or a layman when no deacon is present, are the readings of the day and the distribution of pre-sanctified communion. We pray that the final text of the Divine Liturgy, hopefully a common translation for the English speaking countries, which was begun several years ago, will be finished by the fall of 2013.
Because of some questions in the eparchy about the issue of infant communion and the Latin custom of first communion at the age of seven, I wrote a Pastoral Letter reemphasizing the proper Eastern traditions of infant communion begun in this eparchy in 1970 by Archbishop Joseph Tawil of blessed memory. I ask all clergy and laity to cooperate with me on this important issue; we need to be proud of who we are. In the future I will be issuing more pastorals on a variety of topics necessary for the life and growth of our churches and eparchy. We need to be “of one mind and one spirit.” We need to walk together as one body. Up and coming will be pastorals on funerals, marriages, and of course the proper celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We cannot have each parish doing what it wants separate from their bishop. We will collaborate and discuss, and we may disagree on some issues but in the end we can agree to disagree and follow what the Church wants and teaches.
Diocesan or Eparchial Council versus Regional Councils
Let me focus a bit on the former DPC or Diocesan Pastoral Council. First I take a moment to thank God for the life of the DPC over the many years, especially under the last chairman, John Caven of blessed memory. John served as chair for many years and gave much of his life to this structure. Once again we extend to his wife Carol and family our deepest sympathy of their loss and our loss; he served our Church with great energy and pride. I had several conversations with John and discussed not reestablishing the DPC on a national level. We spoke about how to have more involvement of the laity in the life of the Church and how important it is that I consult with the laity. Over the many years the membership of the DPC changed many times by your election of members but because of the size of the country, and eparchy covering the entire USA, membership was very limited to those who could afford to participate. And so many times those elected could not be present at the meetings. I have come to the conclusion after much consultation that it is very difficult to reestablish the DPC; however, I repeat that I still need the input of the laity. Therefore a new plan is in the making. We have five regions or protopresbyterates in the eparchy: New England, Mid-Atlantic, South, Great Lakes and West Coast. I would like these five regions to be developed more and each should have a regional council of laity under the chair of a protopresbyter – a priest from the region. Presently we have protopresbyters and limited were their functions. Under the new plan we will give them duties to perform, such as visiting each parish in the region yearly, monitoring record keeping and parish finances. Possibly two meetings can be held yearly in each protopresbyterate to bring the parishes within the region closer together. If little problems develop, the protopresbyter will be asked to try to rectify the issues; of course the last recourse will be to the eparchial bishop. I would meet with the five protopresbyters several times each year to develop a course of action for the life and growth of the parishes and new missions in each area.
Since we have no convention scheduled in 2013 I anticipate convoking an Eparchial Assembly for next July. The Church’s canon law provides for such a gathering. A set number of people, say 5 to 10 members from each parish in each region, will study with the clergy in advance a document focusing on what the topic of the eparchial assembly will be. Then they will come to the assembly and continue the discussion and make plans with the other regions. The outcome and goal for this first eparchial assembly will be the creation of the regional councils with the laity (possibly 2 from each parish), to help and guide the growth of our eparchy in the regions. I believe this will work much better than a national DPC and will focus on smaller areas, more accessible to working together. Regional councils can plan and execute lay retreats for all ages, inter-parish cooperation, outreaches to scattered Melkite families, religious education formation by working together, and a myriad of more topics that you can think of. We may even want to go the route of alternating a Convention one year and an Eparchial Assembly the year after. More to come on this topic very soon.
Other Major Events
Let me briefly note my visits to Venezuela, Rome and Lebanon. The Melkite Bishops outside of the Middle East, sometimes called the Church of the Expansion, meet every two years in a different country. We visit some of the parishes to get a view of our Church as it expands, and we also have meetings to discuss specific topics related to the life and growth of our Church and how we can all be of service to each other. In October 2011 our Conference coincided with the first visit of our Patriarch Gregory III to the Melkite communities in Venezuela. I was accompanied by Bishop John Elya, our Emeritus Eparchial Bishop, and we were met by our bishops from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico and hosted by Bishop George Kahhale (Zouhairaty), Apostolic Exarch in Venezuela and his generous council members who had refined every detail of our visit to perfection. In Caracas we met with the Conference of Catholic Bishops, visited with several Ambassadors from the Middle East to Venezuela, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in our Cathedral of St. George followed by an elaborate reception. We flew to Maturin for a beautiful reception and celebrated our Divine Liturgy for the very large Melkite community and local Venezuelans at the Latin Catholic Cathedral. We drove a beautiful mountain and coast road to Cumana where another large Melkite community – over 400 families – is without a church; the governor of the state promised the patriarch a parcel of land for the building of a Melkite Church there. Another Latin Cathedral was full to capacity for our Divine Liturgy. We continued on the next day to Puerto La Cruz where a new Melkite Church was built; it seats 1000 people and it was filled wall to wall for the Divine Liturgy and reception at the local community club. We met with Orthodox, Maronite and Armenian clergy and the apostolic nuncio. Our bishops’ meeting focused on “the New Evangelization,” the topic for this year’s Synod in Rome with the representative bishops from around the world. Interestingly the majority of Melkites in Venezuela are of Aleppian origin and the social clubs were organized long before the Melkite Church. There is a great future there with the evangelization of the Melkite faithful to return them to the spirituality of our unique Church and Eastern traditions.
Every year our Melkite Church has a Synod of the bishops for the governing of our churches. We were 28 bishops present with the patriarch just last week in Ain-Traz Lebanon; a report of the deliberations will be in the next issue of Sophia. From this Synod I bring to you the prayers of all our Melkite bishops worldwide and the blessings of our Patriarch, His Beatitude Gregory III. In the fall of 2013, next year, our eparchy will host the Conference of the Melkite bishops of the Church Expansion outside of the Middle East: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. I anticipate the 10 day gathering will take place in California where we have a number of parishes for the bishops to visit during our meeting times, and of course we will treat them to Universal Studios, Disneyland and Sea World. I will be looking and asking for some generous and dedicated donors to assist the eparchy in the cost of this gathering. Each bishop pays for his travel to the USA but we, as hosts, take care of the rest of the costs of lodging, travel and food.
Every five years all Catholic bishops make a pilgrimage to Rome – it is called Ad Limina, a Latin phrase meaning “to the threshold” of the apostles Peter and Paul. We had the blessing of meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and sharing with him some of the concerns of our eparchy. This year was the first time all the Eastern Catholic bishops in the USA went for the Ad Limina visit together since we now form Region 15 of the USCCB, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Visits to Rome are made by regions. A full report will also be in the next issue of Sophia. We had the opportunity on this pilgrimage to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul and the other two major basilicas of Rome: St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. We were housed at the North American College and from there were taken to many of the Church offices, called dicasteries, to meet with the cardinals and archbishops. They would share with us their tasks of how they can help us and we in turn shared with them the needs of our eparchies. We were 16 bishops representing the various traditions: Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Ruthenian, Syriac and Ukrainian Churches. The two Indian bishops of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches were not present with us because they had been recently there with the bishops of their Mother Churches from India. I especially prayed for all of you at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul there, and asked His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for his blessings on our eparchy and faithful which he graciously bestowed.
A Special Grace for our Church
This year our Melkite Church witnessed the recognition by Rome of the sanctity of one of our Melkite priests who died in 1935 – Fr. Beshara AbouMurad, a priest of the Basilian Salvatorian Order. He was declared Venerable and now we need to pray to God to receive one miracle through his intercession for his beatification and one more for his canonization. While at the Synod, the eparchy purchased a DVD on his life; it is called Siraj al-Wadi – The Lamp (or Light) of the Valley. This professionally made DVD is excellent and is in dialectic Arabic with English sub-titles. Each parish will receive one soon for viewing by parishioners. Several “nights at the movies” can be scheduled in the parishes for this excellent DVD. We ask also for your prayers that this holy priest may be declared a saint.
Major Upheaval in the Middle East
We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East – such an upheaval in many countries particularly Egypt, Syria and Iraq have been dubbed the “Arab Spring.” I prefer not to use this term “spring” but rather a “cold winter” of violence. And the violence continues to spread. The whole Middle East, the countries where many of our ancestors came from are in turmoil. Thank you for your help with the requested assistance for the people of Syria in great need. Each day people, Christian and Muslim alike, come to our Patriarchate and Episcopal residences looking for a small gift to buy some food, particularly those whose homes have been destroyed. If this violence continues we must anticipate more help for them and also for welcoming those who are able to leave their homes and resettle in the USA. We need to be prepared. But pray, my dear flock, for these innocent people, and ask God to enlighten the agitators to look toward making peace and not war.
Encounters of the Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA – 2012
The Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA have a special bond because of our rich spiritual traditions. In 200 and 2006 we met in Encounters or Conferences – mainly bishops, a few clergy and a few religious and laity – all by invitation to study our commonalities and workings together. The 200 Encounter in Boston was convoked by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches in Rome; the 2006 by the Eastern Bishops of the USA – both were chaired by me. This year we Eastern Catholic bishops have developed the Encounter further. It is now open to all laity to participate as well as clergy, and instead of one Encounter on a national level, there will be three, making it easier for participation across the country. Once again I am the main chair and have an executive committee with me and three regional committees.
From September 20-23 a gathering in Cleveland for the mid-west will take place at the Holiday Inn, Independence, OH; October 11-14 the east coast gathering will be in Hillsborough, NJ at St Mary Byzantine Catholic Church and Center; The west coast Encounter takes place for the west coast at the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo CA, adjacent to the Los Angeles airport November 1-4.
There is one theme for all three Encounters: Together in Christ: All of you baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is one purpose: clergy and laity together in the vineyard of Christ. There is one voice: Encountering God Together in Prayer.
The Encounter will have representatives o the Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Syriac, Syro-Malankara , Syro-Malabar, and Ukrainian Churches. There is a minimal registration fee of $75.00 ($50.00 from parish groups of five). Each Encounter will have morning And evening prayer from different Eastern traditions and a series of plenary presentations by great speakers with a major focus on the ministry of the laity. The presentations include: Who is the Church, Activity of the Royal Priesthood, Put on Christ-the How and What of Lay Leadership, Blueprint for Church Growth, Servant Leadership: Be All You Can Be.
Check the website for more information and spread the word in your communities to bring a good participation from each parish. As chair of these Encounters I do want our parish members to be present – please make our Melkites very visibly present!
I need to bring this “state of the Eparchy and Church” to a close. We do have other problematic issues in the eparchy that need resolving but we do have great joys to celebrate with all of you here present. I need all of you, I need your prayers, I need your cooperation, I need your good works in each community, I need your moral and financial support – in short I need all of YOU. Let us walk together, pray together, work together for the building of the Body of Christ, our Melkite Church in the USA. I especially thank Fr. Michel Cheble, Pastor of Our Lady of Redemption Church, Warren, MI and his co-Chairs of this 48th Convention, John Elek and Anthony Aubrey and all their committees for this wonderful gathering of our parishes. They have done a tremendous job.
I end with a special thanks to all my clergy – and all your clergy. They all struggle under difficult circumstances as they serve you and minister to your needs. Many of them are overworked and they need your support. Honor them, respect them, build them up and appreciate the work they do. Don’t criticize them for not doing what you might think they should do. They serve you to do God’s will in each parish. If you don’t agree with them on certain issues, speak to them privately, but first and foremost support and love them. Love is the bond we need most in this eparchy. Gossip kills. I applaud my clergy and thank them tremendously for their work in sharing in my shepherding. I love you one and all, priests, deacons and laity – we need to be the one Body of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for your kind attention.