New Maronite bishop commits to 'life at your service'

God's will was clearly revealed to the faithful as Bishop A. Elias Zaidan was installed as the third bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon.

The bishop's installation Mass, held the afternoon of Oct. 23 at St. Raymond's Cathedral on the near southside of Downtown St. Louis, drew approximately 500 people, including the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. They were joyous in the celebration of their new bishop, the second to serve the eparchy since its headquarters were transferred from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 2002.

It also was a historical moment -- this was the first time an installation of a bishop had taken place at St. Raymond's.

"I pledge my love to you," Bishop Zaidan told the faithful during his homily. "I commit to put my life at your service. Today, I take my first step in this journey ... may God's will in our lives be done."

Bishop Zaidan, 50, served as rector of Our Lady of Lebanon-St. Peter Cathedral in Los Angeles, before his appointment as bishop July 10 by Pope Francis. In greeting St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Rice, who were among more than a dozen bishops present, Bishop Zaidan gave an approving nod to the World Series-bound St. Louis Cardinals, "even though I come from Los Angeles," he quipped.

Just before he was enthroned at the cathedra, the bishop's chair, he received the crosier, a symbol of his leadership as shepherd of his new flock, from his predecessor, retiring Bishop Robert Shaheen, who has served the Maronite Church in St. Louis since 1967. Calling him a mentor, Bishop Zaidan said, "you have prepared me well, and you have my unity and trust. I am eternally grateful for your support."

Bishop Zaidan was ordained to the episcopate Sept. 28 in his native Lebanon at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa. Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Maronite patriarch, presided.

Bishop Zaidan has chosen the phrase "thy will be done" as his motto for his episcopal ministry. "I promise to work hard, to reach out to all, to strengthen the weak and encourage the faithful to move forward the message of the New Evangelization, the message of love that is much needed in today's world," he said during a visit to St. Louis July 12.

"In my heart, this is a beautiful, joyful occasion," Bishop Shaheen said during a reception after Mass. "So many people from so many different parts of life are here to celebrate with the new bishop, and it warms my heart." He described his successor as "prayerful but he is also very open, very accessible to people. And he loves people. People automatically take to him."

Born in Kassaible, Lebanon, Bishop Zaidan joined the Congregation of Maronite Lebanese Missionaries and was ordained a priest in 1986. He received a license in theology in 1986 and a license in philosophy in 1987. He came to the United States in 1988 and earned a master's degree in education and later pursued doctoral studies in education.

After his priesthood ordination, Bishop Zaidan's assignments included assistant rector of the minor seminary of the Maronite Lebanese Missionaries, from 1986 to 1988. At the same time he was chaplain of the Lay Apostolic Marianist Movement and Young Catholic Students. From 1988 to 1990, he was assistant rector of Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Brooklyn.

From 1990 to 1994, he was pastor at St. George Maronite Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, and helped establish Maronite missions in Dallas and Houston. He has overseen the United States component of Project Roots, an effort to help Lebanese Americans to register their vital life events, such as marriages and births, in Lebanon and to help preserve Lebanese heritage and culture.

Maronite Catholics belong to one of the 22 Catholic Churches that are in union with each other and under the authority of the Pope in Rome. The spiritual heritage of the Maronite Church is traced to a fourth-century hermit, St. Maron. St. Raymond's architecture, liturgy and devotions are all part of the Lebanese Christian culture.

The Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon spans 34 states, ministering to Maronite Catholics from California to Ohio and Michigan to Alabama. In 2002, the eparchy's headquarters were relocated from Los Angeles to a pastoral center built next to St. Raymond's Cathedral in St. Louis. There are 45 parishes with priests in the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, with an additional seven missions without priests.

Pat Busekrus, who came to St. Raymond's in 1967, said she's excited about her new bishop. "He looks very kind and loving, that's what I thought right away. And he's so young looking, which means he's going to be our bishop for a long time. I hope that with his coming here that we'll have more people come back to St. Raymond's. It seems like the number of participants at Mass has dwindled. We need to bring in more young people."

Tony Turco said he, too, is looking forward to Bishop Zaidan's leadership, but also won't forget the foundation that Bishop Shaheen laid back in 1967 when he converted a four-family flat into what the parish is today. "He did it with love, with sincerity and effort, and I see no reason in the world why he can't be remembered in our lives as a true bishop."

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