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, October 19, 2012

Ibrahim Ibrahim on the Mission of the Church

In a recent interview by Natalie Elias hosting "Nabad Al-kanisa" episodes of Charity TV in Lebanon, Canada's Melkite Catholic Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim answered questions about his mission and the mission of the Church in the world.

The silver jubilee of his own ordination to the sacramental order of priesthood was in July this year. For this reason it was timely to hear from him how he came to be called and sent out. His name "Ibrahim" is Arabic notation for Abraham the Father of Fathers whom God called from his land in Ur, in Iraq today, to go where God sends him. To Abraham, God said "Keep my Covenant" (Gen. 17, 9). Abraham's response brought the world the blessings which culminated in Christ and are spread by the Holy Spirit through Christ's Church. The same words of God have become the motto of Ibrahim Ibrahim since his ordination to the priesthood.

Ibrahim was raised in a pious family. He insists that bringing up children in a healthy atmosphere of the family, the little domestic church in his words, develops true vocations in serving God. He recalls his family and neighbouring families in the same village who shared prayers, love of God and veneration of Mary "The Theotokos" (Mother of God). He fondly recalls that in his early childhood he used to pray before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary thinking that it was a statue of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  His love to serve God and the Church never left him but rather grew stronger as he entered the Basilian Salvatorian Order. The same love of family never left him as he became a member of another and larger family too. Here he recalled the great servants of God who taught him and his fellows the love of God and neighbour by example. He received his education in theology and philosophy at the University of the Holy Spirit in Lebanon. In spite of a vicious civil war in Lebanon, he continued his graduate studies at the Gregorian University and other eminent ones in Rome. Shortly after his ordination and while back to Lebanon, he was assigned to teach in the primary seminary.

But, as he said later, he loves challenges. This is probably providential since two years after his assignment at the seminary, he was sent by the ecclesial authorities to serve in a Melkite parish in Cleveland, USA although he did not at the time know much English nor the lifestyle of Americans. As a priest, he worked in Cleveland for 12 years. Fr. Ibrahim's energetic work within the parish and with other churches, both Eastern and Western, was noticed by ecclesial authorities and his mission became a larger challenge when in 2003 he was elected Bishop/Eparch of all Greek Melkite Catholics in Canada. His openness brought him into friendships with many people from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.

"Nabad Al-Kanisa is an Arabic word which means heart of the Church" said Bishop Ibrahim. "Your program acts like the heart that pushes and transfers blood in the whole body. In the same way, we need to think of the Church as the pounding heart that carries life to the entire world."   Christ is the life that the Church carries out to the world.  "Your program  then does transfer the message of the Church to people who have not heard of it" he continued. "We used to read the stories of the fathers, including those who departed recently, at dinner table thus we benefited from their experience." Bishop Ibrahim reaffirms the development of understanding the Church's Tradition as in the development of sciences throughout history based on the experience we receive from our forefathers and their teachings studied continually in educational institutions. Today the Church uses the media available to us to reach out to the world and deliver the good news we received since Apostolic times.

The young Eparch spoke on the important role the laity must play in the mission of the Church today. He said that the laity challenge us with their zeal and energy to build and develop the Church. It is with this energy that Bishop Ibrahim built the first Cathedral of the Melkite Catholics in Canada 5 years ago. He looks forward to the contribution of many young adults in building up the Church of God in Canada and elsewhere. Almost 10 years have gone since his elevation to the episcopal ministry in which Bishop Ibrahim has accomplished many activities throughout Canada, not the least his ordination of two new priests to assist Fr. Georges Farah in Toronto: Fr. Michel Chalhoub a few years ago and Fr. Youhanna Hanna in the presence of the Knights of Columbus honour guards in January this year. For many years now, he has been publishing the "Bal", an annual magazine, and last year he published a special edition of the "Bal des Bâtisseurs" where he appreciated volunteer work of servants in the vineyard of the Lord throughout Melkite Catholic parishes in Canada. When asked about the youth, Bishop Ibrahim mentioned programs inaugurated in Montreal and Ottawa as well as other cities where our young learn the Christian faith and participate in other cultural activities of arts and sports. This was a sign that learning and schools are important in the mind of the young prelate which in fact have materialized this year in the acquisition of a new school in Montreal. Moreover, the young Bishop maintained, "We try as much as we can to fulfill the needs of generations and different languages in Masses."

Bishop Ibrahim looked very appreciative of the recent visit to Canada by the Maronite Patriarch Mar Bishara Al-Raii, and those by Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham. He said "These visits warm the hearts of the faithful in the Diaspora towards their mother Churches in the Middle East. When asked whether the faithful in Canada would go back to the Middle East, his answer was a pastoral one where the faithful are encouraged to contribute to the well being of their mother Churches, yet their individual choices are respected. Bishop Ibrahim believes that the whole earth belongs to man. The idea of citizenship is global citizenship today. While the presence of Christians in the Middle East is important, he believes that we cannot force anyone to live his entire life there; for the mission of the Church is global and multi-cultural. The Church transcends the cultural boundaries. Bishop Ibrahim is the current coordinator of the bi-annual conferences of the Melkite Bishops in the Diaspora. For so many years, these conferences have helped coordination between Melkite Bishops in their pastoral work in the Diaspora, and as a consultative body they produced recommendations and guidelines, yet each Bishop uses what is best for his diocese/eparchy in cooperation with the priests in his diocese.

A man of deeds, this young prelate and pastor has shown he is up to the challenges "by the grace of God" as he always says! "To Many Years O Sayedna" We respond!

The interview in Arabic has been recorded on You Tube:

Today's Quote

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


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