By SHEILA OJENDYK
GREENVILLE — Maronite Bishop Stephen Hector Doueihi made his first pastoral visit to Mary, Mother of Life, Maronite Community of South Carolina the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17. Bishop Doueihi heads the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, one of the two Maronite dioceses in the United States. The other diocese is headquartered in Los Angeles.
The community welcomed Bishop Doueihi with a weekend of social and religious activities highlighted by the Rite of Exaltation of the Cross. The Exaltation of the Cross begins the six-week season of the Holy Cross in the Maronite liturgical year.
In his procession to the altar at St. Mary’s, Bishop Doueihi paused to bless each child he passed. The Knights of Columbus Assemblies 2502, 1073, and 1933 provided an honor guard for the bishop.
Msgr. Ronald Beshara, director of the Maronite Outreach Office, concelebrated the Service of the Holy Mysteries, assisted by Deacon Frank Farina of St. Mary’s. Msgr. Beshara explained the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: “The cross is our banner of faith, the standard of hope and the flag of salvation.”
In his homily, Bishop Doueihi said, “We celebrate this feast to commemorate the finding of the cross” by Queen Helen, the mother of King Constantine. “This piece of wood summarizes the life of Christ.”
The bishop emphasized, “We do everything by the cross .… We begin things and end things with the cross .… The cross is the center of our lives.”
After his homily, Bishop Doueihi celebrated the Rite of Exaltation of the Cross. He blessed the four corners of the church, symbolic of the four corners of the universe. He then dipped the cross into water and blessed the congregation. Msgr. Beshara explained that the blessing with water “… reminds all that we too are plunged into the dying-rising process of divinization by the cross.”
The choir sang the Lebanese national anthem for the recessional, and the community then gathered for dinner in the Msgr. Baum Recreation Center. Children from the home-school choir entertained the community with songs from “The Sound of Music” and “Annie,” and Maronite children presented Bishop Doueihi with pictures they had colored of the Maronite liturgical seasons.
Bishop Doueihi opened the floor for discussion. He stressed that “in order to be Catholic, I don’t have to be Latin. … You have to be part of the Maronite community. We are the same church, but we have our own identity .… You are asking me to give you a priest. I am ready to help you. … What we need is a commitment on your side .… The church needs everybody to pitch in according to talent .… It is not money that makes the church. It is people who make the church. You have the drive in many of you.”
Members of the community shared their feelings about forming a separate Maronite Catholic Church. One woman said, “Our children need to know their language and their tradition.” A man spoke of arriving in South Carolina from Lebanon 20 years ago and joining a Latin church because there was no Maronite church. He later spent three years in Detroit, where he joined a Maronite congregation. Upon his return to South Carolina, he realized there was a void in his life and said, “We need a presence. We need a priest, and we need a church. That is what we are asking.”
Bishop Doueihi quoted a recent conversation with Bishop Robert J. Baker, who told him, “Anything the Maronites want from me, I am ready to give.”
Msgr. Beshara closed the afternoon with thanking Bishop Doueihi for coming to Greenville.
Msgr. Beshara plans to return to Greenville every six weeks. The next Maronite Tradition Day will be in November. Specifics for the meeting will be published in The Miscellany.