St. Joseph’s Oratory Basilica was packed, and all the churches were represented to welcome and celebrate Sunday Mass with His Beatitude the Cardinal Bechara B Boutros Raï in Montreal. Politicians as well as civil and military representatives were also in attendance.
A bit before 11:00am, the stairs leading up to the basilica teemed with people… Maronite Catholics turned out in great numbers to see their patriarch and to attend Sunday Mass! The choir brought together 76 members from 6 Montreal parishes, the key officials were at their places, and scouts (Canada and Baden Powell) welcomed people and provided security.
The young Maronites had choice of place in the first rows of the basilica. “He is the cultural and community support of our Maronite Church: he sustains our faith” explains Racha, an enthusiastic 29 year old who was responsible for some young Maronites from Ottawa. There were 250 young people who came to Montreal for the 5th annual meeting of young Maronites with the patriarch. Like these young people, the Lebanese diaspora showed up in great numbers on this Sunday morning to show that “the Lebanese people in Canada preserve their Maronite cultural values while living in the community.”
Maronite Catholics belong to the beautiful mosaic of Eastern Catholics. Heirs to the complex history of Eastern Christianity, the Maronite Church is in the unique position of being entirely united with Rome since the 12th century and of recognizing the primacy of the Pope.
It possesses its own rites that use Arabic and Syrian as liturgical languages. The Eucharistic prayer is that of Saint James.
Saint Maron is the patron saint. Priest and hermit, Maron died at the beginning of the 5th century. The austerity of his life and the miracles that he performed made him famous throughout Syria, and many people came to him for his prayers or to share his discipline.
“He would never have believed himself to be the leader of such a large Church”, says a smiling Sister Nisrine from the congregation of the Antonine Sisters of Lebanon, sitting in the first row of the basilica.
Others in the first rows included, Pablo Rodriguez, representing the Canadian Prime Minister, Christine St-Pierre, Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie, Denis Coderre former Mayor of Montreal and Émilie Thuillier, Mayor of the borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
Finally, the Maronite Bishops of the world were also there, as well as Msgr. Christian Lépine, accompanied by numerous priests from the diocese of Montreal. There were also Orthodox Bishops present, as well as Muslim religious community leaders. At the beginning of the ceremony, Father Claude Grou, Rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory, expressed his “joy in celebrating this Mass with the Maronite community and broadening our horizons to experience the great wealth of our Catholic Church”. In fact, the basilica was to experience “a great moment of Christian life”.
The Mass, in Arabic and translated into French and English, lasted over two hours: two hours full of emotions thanks to the beauty of the songs and the liturgy, the sense of the sacred and the numerous invocations to Saint Maron. Msgr. Raï spoke powerfully to his people, to the Church of Montreal, but also to the political representatives.
Speaking in his homily about the miraculous catch of fish in the Gospel, Msgr. Raï exhorted the faithful to listen to the voice of the Lord: even if we are tired (like Peter in the Gospel), even if it doesn’t make sense (why fish in the morning?!), when we yes to God, abundance follows (like it did in the nets that were ready to burst) and God works miracles and transforms our lives.
To the churches from different backgrounds, the Patriarch spoke in French, insisting upon the profound communion which “guides our steps in giving witness of Christ. This communion needs your prayers so that the Lord may bring peace to the land where our Lord’s message of peace came from 2000 years ago, to land where he was born.”
Cardinal Raï then thanked the leaders of Canada for welcoming people from the East and from Lebanon, asking them to be “the voice of peace at the heart of the international community” so that consciences may be inspired to put an end to the war in Syria (…) and to bring peace through dialogue.
The ceremony ended with words and prayers from the different bishops: Msgr. Paul-Marwan Tablet from the Montreal eparchy of Saint Maron and Archbishop Christian Lépine among others.