Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Friday, December 30, 2011

Paul Antaki The Great

We are saddened by the passing away of the holy archbishop, and dean of all Greek Melkite Catholic bishops, Paul Antaki in Cairo, Egypt. Our consolation is that he will now intercede before Christ in heaven for everyone and especially for the suffering ones on Earth and in Purgatory. Paul Antaki was a great example for me personally and for many other people of several generations especially in his deep commitment to the Church, living spirituality, commitment to the young adults, vocations to the priesthood, and extreme humility coupled with extraordinary capacity for self-sacrifice which he practiced unceasingly. I recall his letters to me since I arrived in Canada which he signed as Fr. Paul Antaki and his constant encouragement. I do not know much about the iron person Paul Antaki who managed to earn the respect and love of everyone I know he knew. But this is what little I know: After serving as a priest director of the Patriarchal College, he worked tirelessly in the parishes of Alexandria and Cairo. At the young age of 42, he was elevated to the ranks of bishops by the synod headed by Patriarch Maximus V in 1968 to be General Patriarchal Vicar on the See of Alexandria, Egypt and Sudan. Many pastoral visits to the parishes in all of Egypt and Sudan followed his installation. In 1971, I requested my first meeting with him in which it became apparent to me that this man was truly a man of ecumenical breadth and commitment to dialogue with the Orthodox Churches. He was enthusiastic about the youth and actively managed their activities in the Melkite parishes in Egypt and Sudan. I worked under his direction in the Catholic Apostolic movements and conferences held from 1972 which brought together some highly intellectual Catholics and the Catholic youth. In January 1978, he inaugurated the first youth meeting with the Patriarch and soon asked me to lead the new Supreme Council of Melkite Youth (university and older) in Egypt which I served for one year. Three times he called me to the priesthood and three times I declined, but he never gave up on the youth. In 1984 he accepted to be my guest for a few days when he visited Toronto, Canada. Archbishop Antaki visited Toronto again in 1990, celebrated Mass at our home, and at St. Luke Roman Catholic Church (used at the time by Melkite Catholics in Toronto.) As always, his presence meant a special occasion to my family and to the many other friends who knew him.

In 2002, Archbishop Paul Antaki resigned as Patriarchal Vicar in Cairo due to reaching the age of 75 but remained a spiritual director for many people and was followed by Archbishop Joseph Jules Zerey who is today the General Patriarchal Vicar on the See of Jerusalem. When the choir director Joseph Homsy passed away, I informed him of the sad news and he immediately contacted the Homsy families with condolences. Many other stories come to mind about how this man of God implanted a great spiritual plant in Egypt, but I will leave them to another post. To the Greek Melkite Catholic Church together with all its bishops, priests, orders and faithful all over the world, the passing away of Paul Antaki is a moment for celebration and not for sending condolences since I believe heaven is now celebrating the arrival of this humble servant. I am confident that Paul Antaki will be elevated to the ranks of the blessed as John Paul the Great. As he is a great Christian, I wish, therefore, to call him Paul Antaki the Great!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Is this the last Christmas in Jerusalem?

In view of this year’s developments in the Arab world, we need to understand the crisis that Christians are facing in the Middle East. First: Let us go back to the roots of Christianity. How were the early Christians able to spread Christ’s message with power from the Holy Land to the Roman world and eastbound to India? The Church was born in Jerusalem and so too was the Council of the Apostles held. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Council opened the Church to the Gentiles and, by the same Spirit, 1900 years later Vatican II Council opened the Catholic Church to other Christians in the world. While the Apostles were one, today’s Apostolic Churches are not. Christians in the Middle East suffer because of divisions mainly between Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christians. As we approach the year 2012 and in this Christmas, let’s pray for an Ecumenical Council convoked by the Pope that would invite Catholic and Orthodox bishops to participate and therefore seek to unite all Catholics and Orthodox of the world. In the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, this step would not only protect Christians in the East from violent fundamentalism but also Christians in the West from atheism. And, above all, it would resound the prayers of the early Christians “Come O Lord” (Revelation 22: 20). Second: To preserve Christian presence in the Middle East and guarantee their human rights to freely practice their religion, let’s recall the message of the Holy Father on January 1st this year in which he asked for the protection of Christians in the Middle East. Since then he implored us many times to support those poor and suffering Christians in the region. Charity demands us to help them financially and spiritually.

As evidence for the demand of helping those needy people, recent findings in anthropology point to the development of reciprocity since the earliest human tribal societies. Reciprocity entails trade of goods for the benefit of my nation and yours. It results in collaboration of economies for the survival of all. Anthropologists found evidence too for self-sacrifice for the survival of the community which reminds us of the sacrifices that love requires. Total selfless love springs from Christ alone “who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(Phil 2: 6-11). It is in this spirit that the early Christians shared everything (Acts 2: 44).

While many Christians dedicate much of their time and money in charitable works, the world needs more of them and their charity to spread the good news of Christ. This reminds us that we must do like the widow whom Christ praised. She was not praised for how much she gave but for how much of her survival need she gave. It is the free response to God’s grace, which is love, that matters. Everyone can generously support the above causes by giving from his heart in spite of the global economic crisis. In Jerusalem started Christ’s mission; and to Jerusalem He must come back. Every time, we sacrifice for our suffering brothers in the lands that carried the first Christian mission to the world, we share in the Christian hope of blessing on the Day of the Lord by the Judge and God of all. And while Christmas is here, it is not enough for Christians to worship Christ in their Churches. We must worship him too in our actions of good will towards the least of His brothers.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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