By Edward J. Brice
From the moment the conventioneers began to arrive, an air of optimism filled the hotel. The crowds had come to attend the annual convention of the National Apostolate of Maronites (NAM) hosted by the Church of Saint John Maron in Anaheim, California, and held at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel July 21-25, 1999.
The attendees anticipated something special at this convention. That turned out to be the ordination of John Paul Kimes to the lay diaconate. On Friday July 23, 1999, he was anointed and began immediately to perform his duties at the altar. He read the epistle, assisted in distributing the Holy Eucharist, and gave the responses to the celebrant. It was impressive to watch him carry the chalice veil to the altar in procession with priests and deacons. His parents provided a receptive environment for his call to ordination. One New Englander wrote this comment: "The event was awesome; the Divine Liturgy was beautiful; and the choir was just superb."
Contributing to the frequent, inspiring moments during the religious services was the chanting of the choir in Syriac and Arabic. The "monastic sound and solid unison" of the male voices blended seamlessly with the sopranos. Neither overwhelmed and both were supportive and enhanced the other. One often paused in prayer to listen intently to the sound of the choir and the individual voices of the celebrants.
We heard words of guidance from both our Bishops, John G.Chedid, J.C.D., of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles and Stephan Hector Doueihi, S.T.D., of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn. Throughout the convention, they were accessible to any who wanted a friendly chat or a serious discussion.
Father Antoine Bakh, Pastor of the host parish of Saint John Maron in Anaheim, made everyone feel welcome whether he was working at the registration desks, assisting at the Liturgies or greeting the guests.
At an open forum on liturgical music, Monsignor Michael J. Kail, Spiritual Director of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, stated that reforms in liturgy and music are forthcoming.
Other forums, workshops and lectures included: discussion of which language(s) to use at liturgies and services in the United States; bible study and scripture to support our faith; a workshop entitled "Back to the Future", monitored by Father Anthony Salim, which gave a good perspective on the Maronite Church since Vatican II; and the silent, monastic lunch, attended by more than 120 people, which described our Maronite monastic tradition and spoke about Saint Anthony of the Desert. A workshop on Arabic and Syriac provided information about available courses.
A talk by Dr. Scott Hahn, author and convert to Catholicism, revealed his admiration for the Maronite tradition and the Syriac heritage and theology.
Monsignor Seely Beggiani and Father Abdullah Zaidan spoke about the Eparchial Commissions for Lebanon which are concerned about the status and welfare of Maronites in Lebanon and those who migrate to the United States.
Cassettes of religious music by soloists or choirs, religious carvings, and icons were available at the display tables.
The Maronite Research Institute (MARI) displayed all the quarterly issues of the Journal of Maronite Studies (JMS), beginning in 1997 to the present. Many colored bookmarks with prayers and pictures of Saint Sharbel, Saint Aquilina, Saint Francis of Assisi as well as incense and holy oil from the shrines in Lebanon were given away free. Illustrations from the JMS were displayed, including the frescoes of Bahdidat which are being restored; a photo of Saint George's Church in Sareene, Bekaa Valley, destroyed in 1976 and still not rebuilt; and the Church of Saint Anthony the Great in Fouwara, the Chouf Mountain, completely destroyed in 1983 and now being rebuilt. Mention was made of a $3,000 donation for repair of churches destroyed during the war in Lebanon and the story appears in the July 1999 issue of the JMS.
There were nightly dinners with entertainment and daytime activities. The banquet on the closing night was memorable. The entrance of the clergy and the NAM officers was followed by singing the national anthems of Lebanon and the United States. After the speeches, the official program concluded with the transferal of the NAM banner from the 1999 NAM hosts and officers to those of Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Washington, D.C., where the NAM Millennium Convention of the Year 2000 will be held.
The following comments and thoughts are from adults, young adults and a few teenagers.
Louise Stelma of Saint Sharbel Maronite Mission, Louisville, KY, expressed her heartfelt feelings this way:
IT DOES MY HEART GOOD...
It does my heart good, to see friends and priests
It does my heart good, to be Maronite and unique
It does my heart good, a gift of the Holy Spirit
All the remaining statements were written at pool side on Saturday afternoon,
July 24, 1999. One young adult from Flint, Michigan, wrote:
Mariam Khoury of Peoria, Illinois, and a member of Saint Sharbel Parish
"We think that the NAM convention is always good for the Maronites to unite and gather together to share their faith with each other. We especially loved this convention in California because, first of all, we are in one of the most beautiful states in the U.S. and, second of all, we loved all the people here who came to meet us. (Signed) Michele Khoury, Said Saliba, Vicki Khoury, Kelly McFarlin."
"[I] liked the religious discussion in the group on Friday night. It was enlightening. Activities for children were good and those for the young adults were fantastic. There should be more of that. The talk by Hahn [Dr. Scott Hahn entitled 'Living the Syriac Tradition'] was great." (Signed) Ramzey from San Diego.
With the hope to see many of the people who attended this convention and many more who have yet to venture and join us in the NAM convention in Washington, D.C., see you in the next millennium.
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