2006 - Vol. 1
by Archbishop George Bakouni
Archbishop George Bakouni from Tyre, Lebanon, is well known among many in the Sword of the Spirit, especially in Europe and Lebanon. He was ordained Bishop of the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church in Tyre in November 2005. He had joined the People of God community in 1989 as a lay person and soon after decided to pursue the priestly vocation. He was ordained priest in July 1995, and served as a parish priest for many years since then. In 1998, he was appointed as the head of the main Greek Catholic Seminary where he served until 2004. He was also appointed a chaplain of the country-wide Catholic organization for university students. Since his move to Tyre, Archbishop George has worked tirelessly to promote cooperation among Christians and Muslims there. During the Israeli seige of southern Lebanon this August, Archbishop George took in more than 400 refugees from the Tyre area who were left homeless. The refugees filled his residence, church, and grounds. When he was forced to evacuate the refugees, he organized a car caravan which brought them to northern Lebanon. After finding shelter and help for the refugees from the Christian churches and relief organizations, Archbishop George returned at once to Tyre to minister to those left during the seige.
The following excerpts are
taken from Archbishop George's homily given on the occasion of his ordination
as Bishop of Tyre. Reprinted with his permission.
Archbishop George speaks on war's aftermath
Here are some photos of our humble villages [near Tyre in southern Lebanon], once peaceful, today hurt, smashed with pain, sadness, despair, crying for help with whatever they have left of the tears of their children, the despair of their youth and the unbelief of their elderly who hold on to the last grain of sand or to an old tree that refuses to give up on life before witnessing the renewal of life in this blessed land, this land where once walked our Lord Jesus Christ, this land that the devil transformed today in a land of fire, of destruction and of death.
|I wouldn’t have dared to tell Jesus, “I love
you with earnest love,” if I hadn’t experienced his love first.
I got to know Jesus as a child through the way I was raised by my parents, especially my late mother. She taught me to be committed to the Church and to live the Gospel values.
Then I came to know Jesus better through the University’s Pastoral Movement at the Business School of the Lebanese University, as of 1984.
However, my real knowledge of God was shaped by the Renewal in the Holy Spirit. There did I discover that Jesus is alive, that his words are truth and life. That he is faithful to his promises and still capable of doing wonders. There also I learned to pray, as well as read and meditate the Holy Scriptures. There also I experienced brotherly love in a very tangible way and became open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. And from within this movement, God called me to be a priest.
Throughout my philosophical and theological study years, I was discerning celibacy or marriage, unable to reach a decision. When I finished my studies, my spiritual counselor advised me to attend a spiritual retreat in which I could weigh the advantages and challenges of each state of life. At the end of this retreat, and for the sole purpose of the Christian mission and the proclamation of the Kingdom of Jesus, I decided I would remain single. I decided to dedicate myself and my time to proclaim God’s mercy, love, salvation and redemption to all mankind; to witness to what I had experienced in my life, quoting from the first letter of John: “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life.”
This is what I have tried to do since the beginning of my priesthood, expecting to serve people. Instead, and there is no exaggeration in this, I saw myself served by everyone around. I tried to love the members of my parish and those I was in a pastoral relationship with, but I was loved by them much more than I loved them.
This is what happened with St. George’s parish in Bickfaya, with St. Anna’s parish in Rabweh and with St. Nicholaos’ parish in Safra. I was also touched by the love and service I received from the Renewal in the Holy Spirit, and by members of women’s groups with whom, for many years, I did Scripture study. It was as if Jesus was telling me: “And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold.”
I served in the University’s Pastoral Movement in Lebanon, especially in the School of Engineering in Roumieh, where I tried to live with the students the Christ of the Gospel, and not the Christ of some of my Lebanese countrymen. Together we tried to live and witness for the Christ of love and unity, not the Christ of divisions, party spirit and domination. We tried to follow the Christ of values and humility, as well as live the “New Hope for Lebanon”.
In 1997, the Late Pope John Paul II met the youth of Lebanon in Our Lady of Lebanon’s basilica, in Harissa. They came to him with all their worries and challenges, whether political or others. The Pope responded to them through his Apostolic Exhortation “A New Hope for Lebanon.” He told them that Lebanon is a country with a mission, that they should be witnesses for Christ. We mention this document on many occasions, but the real challenge is in its application in our daily lives as Christians.
The rich man, who came to Jesus, couldn’t follow him because he was very much attached to his money. Maybe we too are attached to many things.
I thank the Christian officials who are taking part in this ceremony, and I tell them that they, too, should be witnesses to Christ. What do we, people in charge, gain if we sit in high positions but lose Christ? I thank all the members of the Greek Catholic rite and its representatives who are present here today. I remind them as well as I remind myself that the rite and the Church especially, are present to lead people to the knowledge of Jesus and to experience his salvation. Not withstanding that in Lebanon the distribution of the different political and governmental positions is denominational; we should never forget that our primary concern is Jesus and the witness to him. Our priority is not to watch over the rights of the denominations, but over the rights of Jesus.
Throughout my mission, I experienced a lot of effective cooperation from different Christians and Church figures. I experienced it in the Bikfaya parish. There we used to meet with priests from different Catholic rites to discuss and coordinate common missionary work. Working with the university’s Pastoral Movement, we never discriminated between denominations and rites, but acted in a spirit of cooperation that has been going on for years now. And finally, I experienced and lived an ecumenical community life, and still am, in the Renewal in the Holy Spirit.
My beloved, the Holy Spirit that was outpoured on the Apostles at Pentecost is a Spirit of unity and cooperation.
In my life, I have met many holy priests, but on the other hand, I have also seen the sufferings of many a parish. In the early years of my priesthood, I learned that a priest’s main service is not only celebrating the sacraments but also caring for the children, youth, adults and the elderly. I was surprised to see that serving the parish members in addition to the sacraments was not a priority anymore.
Therefore, during my service as a bishop, I will be keen to continue my mission among all the parts of the society in the beloved Tyre Diocese. The apostolic exhortation says: “Let the bishop, who is entrusted the mission of maintaining unity among all the constituents of the church community strive to enforce the work among the believers and the true cooperation among God’s people. Also, let the priest encourage all the members of his parish, young and old, to participate in the community life of the parish.”
I will carry on, in all aspects, the work of my predecessor, Metropolitan Youhanna Haddad, whom I thank for his presence today. I also thank all the members of this diocese who came from afar to attend this ceremony. I hope that we will be praying and working along with our parish priests to be witnesses for Christ.
Pope John Paul II says in his encyclical “Mission of the Redeemer,” from which the present Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger then, quoted in 1998 when talking about the theological significance of Church movements: “A new phenomenon is rising…the increasing number of Church movements with their distinctive dynamic and mission. Therefore, I recommend working for their development and resorting to them so they can give a new impulse to Christian life and proclamation of the Gospel, especially among the youth.”
That is why the door of the diocese will be wide open to all apostolic movements, given they integrate modestly in the life of the local Churches, as the Pope requests.
I will carry on, as well, what my predecessor Metropolitan Youhanna and before him Metropolitan George Haddad started, intensifying cooperation among Christians and Moslems in all possible aspects, in a spirit of renewal and for the sake of the common good, as mentioned in the Apostolic Exhortation.
I chose as a souvenir for my ordination an image of the Good Shepherd, with this verse from the Bible printed on the back: "Simon, son of John, do you love me …Feed my sheep." I can almost hear Jesus himself telling me: “George, do you love me ...feed my sheep.”
Finally I will ask you to pray for me so that the Lord Jesus, the only Good Shepherd, equips me to be a good shepherd myself. To him be glory with his Father and his Holy Spirit forever. Amen.
Archbishop George inspects damage to church