By Guita G. Hourani
Editor In Chief of the JMS


Father Joseph Habib Elias has come from Lebanon, the spiritual land of the Maronites, to serve as shepherd to the parishioners of Saint Sharbel’s Maronite Church in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada .
Bishop Joseph Khoury, appointed on November 26, 1996 by Pope John Paul II as a Prelate of the Canadian Diocese of Saint Maron, appointed Father Elias and installed him at his new post in a Solemn Liturgy on Sunday, October 29, 2000.  The appointment and transfer of Father Elias were blessed and approved by his Bishop, Youhanna Fouad Al-Hage, of Tripoli, Lebanon .


Father Joseph Habib Elias before the alter of St. Sharbel's Church in Fredericton
Photo by MARI

Father Elias was born on December 16, 1943, in the coastal village of Kfar Shakhna near Tripoli, Lebanon, to Habib and Adel [Adelle] née El-Khoury, who, respectively died in 1985 and 1992.  The late Bishop Antoun Abed of Tripoli ordained him at 25 years of age.  He was a teacher of Arabic, history and geography; a translator of Syriac; a parish priest mainly in the villages of Bechnnine and Karm Sadeh; and a steward of the Diocese of Tripoli .  
According to Father Elias, Father Ibrahim founded Kfar Shakhna, which means “lively settlement” or a “hot place”. Today it has a population of 200 people from the Moussa, Khairallah, Koun, El-Khoury, and Elias families.  
There is a long line of priests on both sides of his family, particularly his mother’s family which has been blessed with vocations for at least six consecutive generations. Father Elias was born to a  large family: two brothers --Hanna and George; and six sisters --Hasneh, Katrine, Eugenia, Alis, Hawa, and Wadad. Alis is married with five children.  Wadad and Hawa, both nuns, took religious names: Sister Agnes and Sister Philomene of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus.    
Sister Philomene was martyred at the beginning of the war in Lebanon, on 10 December 1975, while performing her work at the order’s home for the aged in ‘Ain el Rummaneh .   
With great emotion, Father Elias said, “the influence of my parents in my life was profound. Our motto was work and prayer. Every night, as a family, we prayed the rosary and recited the office of the Blessed Mother. We were brought up to be loyal to our Church and to serve according to the old-fashioned ‘Book of Proverbs’ way.”   
Once in Fredericton, he quickly learned about his parishioners, their origins and their concerns. Father Elias described his parishioners as eager “to learn about their history and heritage. They ask many questions to better understand and appreciate their rite. They yearn for their homeland which they left unwillingly. They are loyal and grateful to Canada which allows them to achieve their ambitions.”  
Father Elias explained that the Maronites of Fredericton built Saint Sharbel Church in 1983 because they wanted to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries (the Sacraments) in their spoken and liturgical languages, Arabic and Syriac, and to pass on their baptismal heritage to their children.  
These Maronites, mainly from Niha, Kfar Shakhna, Mazrat Bani Saab, Barsa, Deir Bella, and Al ‘Aqoura were served by several Maronite priests.  They were Fathers Antoun Karam, David Melki and Elie Zwain who is currently serving in the Canadian Army; Elie Chedid who has recently been assigned to the Saint Maron Mission in Jacksonville, Florida, USA; and Simon Assaf .   
Father Elias has a great devotion to the Bible and the Acts of Saint Paul. He is “refreshed” by them. He places great spiritual value on the [Perpetual] Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the reception of the Holy Eucharist “in atonement for insults to Our Lord Jesus.” He plans to further good relations with neighboring churches and people.   
He prays that Saint Sharbel, the parish patron, will lead him and his parishioners to great faith and an understanding of Christian heroism.