Youth flock to Maronites

12 Mar 2009

By The Record

Maronite youth draw hundreds defending Catholic Truth.                                           


Father Terrence Mary, OFM Conventual, addresses over 400 youth, mostly Maronites, on March 4 in the highly-anticipated talk on Exorcisms at St Charbel’s parish centre in Punchbowl, Sydney. Photos: Giovanni Portelli



By Anthony Barich
A Maronite parish youth initiative in Sydney has turned into a state-wide movement providing catechesis and fraternity for hundreds of Catholic youth.
The initiative was started by Paul Challita, who was a lapsed Maronite Catholic until he witnessed apologetics run by Lumen Verum (‘true light’) Apologetics at St Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic parish, Belfield.
Inspired by Lumen Verum – a movement that provides adults catechesis every Friday of the school year – Paul, now a seminarian soon to be sub-deacon, started a parish youth initiative called Guardians at St Charbel’s parish in Punchbowl, Sydney in 2001.
St Charbel’s parish is part of the Lebanese Maronite Order, the same order which gave the world St Charbel and more recently, St Rafqa and St Nimatullah during the reign of the late Pope John Paul II.
Guardians has always had the support of successive superiors and priests of St Charbel’s, including the current superior Fr Antoine Tarabay and youth Chaplain, Fr Joseph Sleiman.
Guardians aims to strengthen young adults in the faith so they can win the “battle to save our souls in order to live eternally in Heaven with our Creator”, as the statement on their page on facebook, the global social networking website, states.
Paul started Guardians and was assisted by his friend Charbel Raish, who studied to become a Maronite priest with him. During their absence, the Guardians tradition was maintained by a fellow youth member Gabriel Haddad.
Charbel Raish found his vocation within the domestic Church and is now married with children, a full time teacher, the owner of Parousia Media, a company which makes available educational Catholic DVDs and CDs, as well as finding the time to coordinate Guardians.
Paul is now based at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Parish at Harris Park, Sydney, after spending his seminary years at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney, having also studied in Lebanon and Rome.
While Guardians has 500 members on facebook, there are up to 1200 young people on its mailing list, and up to 600 attend the weekly youth Mass in the traditional Maronite Rite at St Charbel’s in Punchbowl, which Guardians assistant coordinator Charbel Labban says “does not change just to get with the times”.
Guardians is about nurturing the spiritual side of their lives, Charbel Labban says, so the talks are geared around theology – “how to learn it, live it and love it”. Nurturing us along the way since the beginning has been Fr Chris, a former Benedictine monk who has offered to hear confessions and give spiritual advice during the talks.
“Many go to Catholic schools their whole lives and are brought up but never really know much about their faith or how to defend it, so we’re about delivering the true Catholic faith in its entirety,” Charbel Raish says.
St Charbel’s parish is one of the most active in the Maronite community, but is far from an aberration, Charbel Raish says. “Maronite youth have always been passionate about their faith, as the Catholic tradition has been passed on by their parents and grandparents, who were persecuted back in Lebanon but persevered through it all,” he said.
The parish has a group dedicated to activities for Arabic-speaking members and English-speaking members. Guardians is for its English-speaking members; and whilst it started originally for Maronite Catholics, it has now expanded to include Roman Catholics and other ethnic groups, including Filipinos and Vietnamese.
They also have joint promotions with the Melkite Catholic community, as the Melkite Eparchy is located near their Punchbowl centre. The Maronite youth also use networking pages on facebook such as Maronites in Australia, which is used to promote spiritual and social events across the parishes the Eastern states. St Charbel’s also has groups specifically dedicated to various formation – spiritual, human, theological and pastoral.
St Charbel’s has a daily youth Rosary inside the Church, which attracts up to 30 people, plus monthly adoration and the Guardians event every two weeks, which consists of a guest speaker teaching catechesis in the parish centre to young adults and youth.
The participants of the nightly Rosary vary, but Charbel Labban says “it (the Rosary) – alongside the Mass – constitutes the foundation of the youth’s spiritual life, as parishioners always know it is on even if they have not been for a while. He says that St Charbel’s youth are heeding well the advice given to their patron by his teacher St Nimatullah: “the wise man is the one who can save his soul”.
-The next talk hosted by Guardians is on March 18, titled: Addiction.  Father Mark De Battista, a dynamic speaker who worked in university chaplaincy in the United States, will look at common addictions in today’s world such as pornography, gambling and drugs and many more. He will look at habits versus addictions, the question of whether there are good addictions and how to break free of an addiction. A talk not to be missed.
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