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Diocese celebrates Roman, Maronite Catholic observance of feast day

August 10, 2017

SOMERSET — The little church perched atop a hill on Easton Avenue was filled July 24 with more than 100 faithful, four clergy, three deacons and various musicians primed to honor a saint known as the "hermit of Lebanon." The two-hour Mass to celebrate the Feast of St. Sharbel in the church which bore his name, conducted in Spanish, Arabic and a smattering of English, proved to be an enriching example of how faith and collaboration between differing cultures might reflect the best of the Eastern and Western Catholic Church.

Clergy from Holy Family Parish, New Brunswick; Somerset's Ss. Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church and St. Sharbel Church had decided to introduce the Lebanese priest, St. Sharbel, to the local Hispanic community, said Msgr. Joseph J. Kerrigan, pastor of Holy Family and presider of the Mass.

"[St. Sharbel] is extremely popular in the Mexico City area, due to the long-standing strength of the Lebanese-Mexican community, and what we are doing is helping make a wider connection with Mexican Catholic spirituality for our folks from Oaxaca and Puebla who have not been aware of Sharbel," he explained.

Msgr. Kerrigan noted the event was a further collaboration between Holy Family, St. Sharbel and Ss. Peter and Paul Byzantine parishes, which already enjoys a long-standing partnership through Holy Family's Theophany Center retreat ministry and its "New Brunswick Catholic Heritage East and West" retreat.

"Suburban parishes in our diocese seem to like the exposure to the Eastern Rite communities," Msgr. Kerrigan said. "There is also a dimension here of introducing folks to the Maronite Rite itself - its simplicity, chant and monastic overtones." Concelebrants included Holy Family Parish parochial vicar, Father Imre Juhasz, and Father Daniel Khoury of St. Sharbel. Father Francis Rella, pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church, Somerset, was present in the congregation.

Assisting the clergy at the altar were Deacon Joseph Chebli; Deacon Peter Barcellona of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Port Reading, and Deacon Michael Martini, who ministers at Immaculate Conception Parish, Annandale.

Diocese of Metuchen Catholic Charities Solidarity Team members played a part in the Mass as well. Deacons Martini and Barcellona serve, respectively, as director and associate director of Catholic Charities Solidarty Team (CCST), and Deacon Barcellona was a member of the CCST delegation that accompanied Msgr. Kerrigan and Maronite Eparch Gregory Mansour on a trip to Lebanon in June 2016, to better understand refugee conditions.

The liturgy melded the best of both rites. The clergy led congregants in prayers, readings and intercessions in the Spanish language and painstakingly printed on worship aids. Musicians from both St. Sharbel and Holy Family rendered vocal praise in Spanish hymns and Arabic chant.

During his homily, delivered in Spanish, Msgr. Kerrigan noted, "This is a new page, if not a new chapter, in the life of the Catholic community of New Brunswick,” and noted how St. Sharbel had dedicated his life to monastic study and the celebration of the Mass.

Joseph Zaroun Makhluf, born in a small Lebanon village in 1828, joined the Monastery of St. Maron at Annaya, taking the name Sharbel in honor of a secondcentury martyr. He professed his final vows in 1853, and was ordained six years later. Sharbel lived as a hermit from 1875 until his death on Christmas Eve, 1898. He followed a strict fast and was very devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. Pope Paul VI beatified Sharbel in 1965, and canonized him 12 years later.

"St. Sharbel dedicated his whole life to prepare for the celebration of the Mass. We have so many other distractions. We should go to him as an intercessor," said Msgr. Kerrigan said, noting many of the faithful in Mexico City did just that. "What if we had a life like that? St. Sharbel has humble roots and lived a life of silence, of simplicity, and he still has a lot to teach us.”

Msgr. Kerrigan led a procession of an icon of the hermit saint around the inside of the church. As he walked, a thurible laden with bells was swung, spreading the scent of incense and sound of jingling throughout the small church. Reflecting the Lebanese heritage of the venerated saint, the congregants prayed, "Through the intercession of St. Sharbel, may the Lord bless us as he has blessed the cedars."

The trilingual Mass held richness for all involved, and each faith community expressed gratitude at the firstever attempt of liturgical unity.

Isaura G. Lopez, a member of Holy Family Parish's growing Hispanic community, served as a Spanish language lector during the Mass. The Rutgers University honors program student noted, "I have always loved reading at Sacred Heart [a Holy Family worship site] and wanted to try it here. This was so peaceful. Though it was new to everyone, we went with the flow."

For two Catholic Charities Solidarity Team members, the Maronite liturgy served as an important bridge to the organization's partnership with Lebanon.

"This reminds me of my visit to Lebanon and what I saw last year," said Susan Feeney, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Skillman, of her visit as a member of the Lebanon Caritas delegation.

Standing alongside Feeney was fellow CCST member Chinky Reyes, of Queenship of Mary Parish, Plainsboro. The two expressed pleasure at the inclusion of the Lebanese and Spanish tongues in the liturgy. Feeney noted, “This shows the universal nature of the Church." Reyes nodded and added, "And of the universality of the Church in New Brunswick.”

By Christina Leslie, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit

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