There was something about Archbishop Zayek that drew the best out of all those who came to know and love him. I knew this personally from the first time I met him in my third year of college.
When he first came to the United States from Brazil, there were three noble efforts to gather Maronites that preceded his arrival: the establishment of the Maronite Seminary in Washington, DC in 1961, the beginning of the National Apostolate of Maronites in 1964 and the beginning of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in North Jackson, Ohio in 1966. These efforts showed great promise for a bright future, and bore much fruit. However, it was left to Archbishop Francis to bring these efforts to fruition and to galvanize the Maronite clergy and laity into one Diocese.
By the grace of God, and notwithstanding some difficulties, there was enough kind support and love that enabled him to secure our steps on the path that has led to the growth and good order of the Maronite Church in America.
Archbishop Francis was able to guide us in liturgy, catechesis, diocesan organization, youth programs and vocations. He wrote and taught copiously. From 1966 to 1994 he guided the one diocese that comprised the entire United States. Then the Holy See created a second diocese for the Maronites which he along with the help of his auxiliary, Bishop John G. Chedid, carefully planned so that both dioceses could succeed and have a bright future.
In all these matters Archbishop Zayek was father and wise guide. He continued to serve as founding Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn until he retired in 1997.
All throughout his retirement years, Archbishop Francis remained an invested father, interested in the Church’s well being and that of each of her children. He was, until his last day, a Churchman. Cardinals stayed in regular contact with him, as did Bishops, several priests and many others.
Archbishop Zayek used his retirement years, as he would say, to reflect on his life and to ask for God’s mercy as he prepared himself for the next life. He used the time to write a reflection for the Stations of the Cross, to re-edit his work on Mary published in the Maronite Voice, and to write his memoirs. He also wanted to write on the Eucharist as Bread of Life and New Manna, but did not have the strength.
Until his last day, Archbishop Francis M. Zayek was a true gentleman, a faithful priest and a devoted bishop. His family, friends and Church felt a loving closeness to him. Upon his death I thought to contact individually all those priests, deacons, subdeacons, laity and religious who felt a close bond to him; there were so many, I did not know where to begin!
We will certainly miss the man chosen by God to be our founding bishop, spiritual father and model in faith.
Go in peace O Good Shepherd, Prudent leader, Guide of our souls. Rock of the Church, you were like Peter and like Paul, your life’s work was serving God. Through our Savior Christ, you were one with all holy men. In zeal you were like Elias. Pure in heart like John most loved, may God grant you grace and may you pray for us! (Toe Bashlom – Entrance Hymn for the Welcoming of a Bishop).
+Gregory John Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)