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March 11, 2009
Maronite Catholics beautify church, see first members installed in charitable order
By John Gleason
The congregation of St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church in Lakewood recently had triple reasons to celebrate: they witnessed the blessing and dedication of an icon and new baptismal font, and the induction of three members into the Order of St. Sharbel.
Bishop Robert J. Shaheen, D.D., head of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, the Maronite diocese that includes Colorado, was on hand for the Divine Liturgy and dedication.
The Maronite Church is one of the 22 churches of Catholicism. The liturgy follows the Antiochene Syriac rite of the Eastern Catholic Church. Based in Lebanon, the Maronite Church shares belief in the seven sacraments and the primacy of the pope. The Maronite Church is named after St. Maron, a Syrian monk who was renowned for his sanctity and ability to work miracles.
St. Rafka parishioners often feel they are the best kept secret in Denver and wanted to share their news with the wider Catholic community, said Father Armando Elkhoury, the pastor.
“We are very happy at this celebration,” he told the Denver Catholic Register. “This is an exciting time for our church.”
The icon is a reproduction of a Syriac Gospel manuscript called Rabbula, a sixth century book which has been housed at the Medicaean-Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy, since 1497.
“It contains splendid calligraphy and radiant illumination,” Father Elkhoury said. “(The icon) depicts scenes from different Gospels. At the top we see the crucifixion of Jesus and along the bottom we see the resurrection, where the angel is announcing the good news to the women who journeyed to the tomb. You look at the representation and can’t help but be impressed with the vibrancy of the colors.”
In addition to blessing the icon and new baptismal font, Bishop Shaheen also installed three members of the church into a national organization of lay people who support seminarians and retired priests. The three—Karen Hart, Elie Homsi and Dr. Louis Ashkar—are the first from the Maronite Church in Colorado to be installed as members of the order of St. Sharbel.
“Members of the order pledge their spiritual strength and support for the Maronite seminary and preserve the traditions of the Maronite Church in the United States,” Father Elkhoury said. “We are very proud to have members in this organization.”
The Maronite community, which acquired its own church at 2301 Wadsworth Blvd. in Lakewood two years ago after worshiping as a mission at All Souls Church in Englewood for several years, has a small but steadily growing congregation. Its patron is St. Rafka, a Lebanese Maronite nun revered for enduring great suffering with grace and infectious joy in Christ.
“Right now we have about 50 families in our community, but we invite all who wish to come to worship with us,” said Father Elkhoury. “Our community continues to move forward on our journey to bring God’s message to all people.”