By Marco Ceccarelli
The Melkite Catholic community of Perth was recently privileged to have the Melkite Bishop, the Most Rev Bishop Robert Rabbat, travel to Perth for a three-day visit which united the Melkite community and brought together Catholic Churches of different rites.
The visit, which took place from Friday, 29 April to Sunday, 1 May, aimed at breathing new life into the Melkite community of Perth and reminded its members of their Church’s vibrancy and richness.
The first visiting day of the Bishop was kept informal and centred on a social evening with the advisory and parish councils of the Melkite Catholic community.
The Bishop spent time speaking with representative members of the councils and had the opportunity to meet a number of parishioners.
The second day focused on a family gathering which took place in the shape of an annual dinner on Saturday evening. Aside from being another opportunity for the Bishop to become acquainted with parishioners and their families, the dinner highlighted the rich multiculturalism of the Melkite community in Perth.
Families from different backgrounds were in attendance at the event as Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Sudanese and Egyptians came together in what was described by Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Mt Lawley, Father Elias Kilzi, as “an evening that placed the beauty and cultural richness of the Melkite community in full view”.
The Sunday event brought the Bishop’s visit to a climax as more than 200 people gathered at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church to attend a Mass celebrated by the Bishop himself.
A congregation of Catholic Churches from eastern and western rites attended, including the Roman Catholic Church, represented by Vicar General Fr Peter Whitely and Fr Gregory Donovan; the Ukrainian Catholic Church, represented by Fr Richard Charlwood; the Maronite Catholic Church, represented by Fr Tony Moussa; and the Melkite Catholic Church, represented by Frs Elias Kilzi, Elias Matta and Kevin Cummins.
A number of Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem were also present.
In his homily, Bishop Rabbat defined thankfulness and forgiveness as two very important virtues that keep the people of God united.
“As Christians, we sometimes tend to forget that we need to thank our Lord Jesus Christ for all His blessings – that is why we attend Church. The word ‘Eucharist’ means thanksgiving.
“Secondly, we ask for forgiveness. Why? Because we did not love the whole world as we were supposed to, we did not love as Jesus Christ loved us and, every time we fail in loving, we commit a sin. This is the meaning of a sin, a sin is when I no longer see in this lovely lady and this gentleman [points to two people in the assembly], a child of God who deserves respect, who deserves dignity, for every person is created in the image and likeness of God.”
Bishop Rabbat went on to describe the Mass as a very special occasion and acknowledged the importance of having priests from different Catholic Churches present.
“This reveals the beauty of the Catholic Church because the word ‘catholic’ means universal. East and West are coming together. St John Paul II used to always say, ‘the Church has two lungs, one is the west, one is the east’. I and other Churches here represent the East, the Catholic Church represents the West: so it’s a blessed day, East and West praying together.”
His final comments were directed at those who, due to conflict and war, are displaced throughout the world and looking for someone to welcome them.
“Let’s be ready,” he said, “that, should any refugee come here, our doors will be open to them. Not just the doors of the Church, but the doors of your heart, welcoming them in the name of Jesus Christ at all times. And telling them not to despair, because God is truly risen.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Rabbat recognised the work and devotion of a number of parishioners who have sustained the Melkite community in Perth throughout the years. He handed out 25 awards in a gesture of gratitude for their efforts. With Mother’s Day only one week away, the Bishop also prepared gifts for the mothers in the congregation.
Fr Kilzi, who is a bi-ritual priest, reflected on the Bishop’s visit and recently spoke to The eRecord about the significance of this event for the Melkite community.
“The purpose of Bishop Rabbat’s visit was to bring people together and to encourage Melkite Catholics, particularly the youth, to see the great richness of their culture and of their religion. This is precisely what he did – he brought a sense of unity to our community,” Fr Kilzi said.
“Furthermore, his visit officially commissioned many of the projects which we have already begun here. Many of the young people of the new Melkite generation are not familiar with our rituals and traditions, our music, our culture. Our plan is to talk more about our rich history.
“We have started catechism classes, we will soon go ahead with our youth ministry and we have a number of plans for the evangelisation. We are truly living a new era in this parish and in the Western Australian community.”
To find out more about the Melkite Catholic Community of Australia and New Zealand, please visit www.melkite.org.au.