By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
The Establishment of the Maronite Apostolic Exarchate and Eparchy
On January 10, 1966, Pope Paul VI established the Maronite Apostolic Exarchate in the United States. An exarchate is a church structure that is often created in a missionary territory to lay the groundwork for a definitive eparchy or diocese. Bishop Francis M. Zayek was appointed Exarch. Bishop Zayek had had long experience in the Vatican as a teacher of canon law, and on the staff of the Roman Rota. His recent experience as first Bishop of the Maronites of Brazil made him highly qualified for the same responsibility in the United States. Bishop Zayek was installed on June 11, 1966 in Detroit, MI where he was to establish his See. Detroit was chosen because it was home to the largest concentration of Maronites in the United States. The Exarchate at this time consisted of forty-three Maronite parishes.
Pope Paul VI raised the Exarchate to the rank of Diocese or Eparchy on November 20, 1971. The Holy Father also appointed Bishop Zayek as the first bishop of the Diocese of Saint Maron U.S.A. Bishop Zayek was installed as such on June 4, 1972. The decision was made to move the location of the diocese from Detroit to Brooklyn, NY in 1977. In view of the serious crisis affecting the Maronites in Lebanon, a move to the East coast gave the bishop closer access to the United Nations, to Washington, D.C. and to New York, the port entry of many Lebanese Maronites coming to the United States. A move to the east also set the scene for the eventual division of the Eparchy. Bishop Zayek took possession of his new Cathedral on May 21, 1978.
To help with the responsibilities of the vast and expanding diocese, Chorbishop John Chedid was appointed Auxiliary Bishop in 1980. Bishop Chedid had distinguished himself as a pastor and in the holding of several diocesan offices. He was ordained bishop on January 25, 1981.
In recognition of his pioneering work in the United States, Bishop Zayek was given the title of Archbishop by the Holy Father on December 10, 1982.
The Maronite Exarchate and diocese was faced with many challenges. The original immigrant church had given way to second and third generation American-Lebanese, who had adapted quite thoroughly to the American milieu. Many Maronite parishioners were losing the knowledge of Arabic, the vernacular of the Middle East, and knew no Syriac, the liturgical language. Prior to the approval of English in the Liturgy, translations were published and books were printed where liturgical Arabic and Syriac were written in phonetics. Also, while the Maronite culture and liturgy had continued to develop in Lebanon and the Middle East, it had been “frozen in time” in the United States and in other countries of immigration. Some updating was introduced by the various pastors who came from the Middle East in the intervening years. However, in many American parishes, the liturgy and the music were identical to what was prayed sixty years before.
On the other hand, the tragic events in Lebanon beginning in 1975 had resulted in a large new class of immigrants who brought with them the Maronite way of life as it had continued to develop in the Middle East. This is especially true of the significant number of Maronite clergy and seminarians who immigrated over twenty years.
Therefore, the great challenge was to make all Maronites feel at home in their parish community and to be able to worship in the most fruitful way possible. Second and third generation American Maronites, recent Maronite immigrants and Maronites of no Lebanese background were encouraged to support each other’s understanding of what it is to be Maronite.
Archbishop Zayek set as his priorities the spiritual progress and unification of Maronites in the United States, the establishment of new parishes and missions in areas that had no Maronite clergy, and the encouraging of the older parishes to expand and, if necessary, to replace their church buildings.
Through the efforts of Archbishop Zayek, Bishop Chedid and the clergy, much work was done to adapt the Maronite Liturgy to the needs of the Eparchy. An extensive Lectionary was published, as well as a Book of Ana-phoras and Book of Feasts. Several translations into English of the Divine Liturgy were put in the hands of the faithful. Translations of the Divine Office, the Mysteries (sacraments), and Maronite liturgical hymns were made available. A complete series of catechetical texts grounded in Maronite tradition and culture was published. Various members of the Eparchy have published books on Maronite theology, liturgy, spirituality, history and Eastern canon law.
A priority of the Eparchy was to organize the youth. In recent years annual national meetings of the Maronite youth have taken place, where youth from all over the country have attended in significant numbers. Besides the strengthening of social ties, the meetings are directed to developing youth leadership and attachment to the Maronite tradition.
A diocesan newspaper, The Challenge, was established in 1978. With the formation of two eparchies in 1994, it has been succeeded by The Maronite Voice in the Eparchy of Saint Maron, and Maronites Today in the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon.
The Order of Saint Sharbel was established in 1980. It is an association of laity and clergy whose main purpose is to offer spiritual and material support to the Eparchy. Its specific goal is to ensure the financial needs of the Maronite Seminary and seminarians. It also seeks to provide additional financial benefits to the retired clergy. The Order has been very successful, and this is a sign of the dedication of American Maronites to their clergy.
During the serious crisis in Lebanon in the 1980’s a Commission for Lebanon was established by the Eparchy to rally support for the Maronites in Lebanon. The purposes of the Commission were: to provide information and education regarding the status and future of the Maronite Church and its people in Lebanon to Maronites and interested persons in the United States; to work actively on all levels of the American government so as to ensure the continuation of American ties with Lebanon and the perpetuation of Lebanon’s pluralistic character; and to provide financial and material support to the needy in Lebanon. The Commission sought to keep Lebanon, its sovereignty and freedom on the American foreign policy agenda giving testimony to Congress and maintaining contacts with the White House and the States Department. Through pamphlets and articles, it has endeavored to keep people informed about the threats facing the Maronites and other religious communities in Lebanon. During the time of the fighting in Lebanon, it was able to raise over $200,000 to help the needy. The work of the now two Commissions for Lebanon of the two Eparchies continues, because complete sovereignty and freedom for Lebanon have not yet been achieved.
During the time of Archbishop Zayek, ten new parishes were established, bringing the total number of parishes to fifty-three. In addition, there were nine missions.
Religious life is also represented in the Eparchy. For over thirty-five years, the Antonine Sisters have performed an active ministry in Ohio and the surrounding states. Their work includes education, catechetics and nursing. In recent years, they have devoted much effort to the day care of the elderly.
Contemplative Orders of men and women who seek to live according to the Maronite tradition have been founded. These now include Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Petersham, MA, and Holy Nativity Monastery in Bethlehem, SD. The hermits of Jesus and Mary in Rutland, MA are nuns who are devoting their lives to prayer for the Maronite clergy.
The Formation of Two Eparchies
On March 1, 1994, Pope John Paul II announced the formation of two eparchies from the original Diocese of Saint Maron-USA. This action was in recognition of the growth of the Maronites in the United States, and to make the vast area of the United States a little more manageable. Because the vast majority of the Maronite parishes are to be found east of the Mississippi River, it was necessary to make the dividing line of the two eparchies at the Ohio-Pennsylvania border and points south. As a result, the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn incorporates those states that border on the Atlantic coast. The newly formed Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles includes all the remaining states.
Bishop John Chedid was installed as the first Ordinary of the new Eparchy of June 23, 1994. Having distinguished himself as Auxiliary Bishop and Judicial Vicar for the Eparchy of Saint Maron for many years, and having been highly respected by the Maronite clergy and laity, Bishop Chedid was well prepared for his new responsibility. Bishop Chedid has responded to the challenges of forming a new Eparchy, and has sought to give it its own identity. He has endeavored to consolidate the work of the past and to found new parishes and missions.
Bishop Stephen Hector Doueihi
When Archbishop Francis Zayek reached retirement age, the Holy Father announced the appointment of Chorbishop Hector Doueihi as the second Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron on November 23, 1996. He was ordained Bishop on January 11, 1997 and enthroned on February 5, 1997. Besides his pastoral experience, Bishop Doueihi had been responsible for much of the work done on the Maronite liturgy in the United States in recent years. While deeply attached to his Lebanese heritage, Bishop Doueihi has enthusiastically embraced all that is good in American culture. These qualities enable him to relate well to the varied clergy and laity that now constitute the eparchy.
The first hundred years of the Maronites in the United States have been marked by much progress and achievement. The original immigrants worked to see that their children and grandchildren received the best education available. As a result, Maronites have become prominent in all aspects of American life, whether political, professional, commercial or in the world of entertainment. The number of Maronite parishes and indigenous Maronite clergy in the United States far exceeds those of all of the other countries of immigration put together.
The Maronite Church in the United States faces its second century with many reasons for hope. It also faces the challenge to preserve its identity and its heritage, while trying to relate to generations imbued with contemporary American culture. As the branch of a church with apostolic origins, it is called to preach and to witness to the Gospel of Christ in whatever place or culture it finds itself. Its history in the Middle East and in the United States has prepared it to carry out its mission.
(Reprinted with permission.)