LINCOLN — On Sunday, Oct. 30, the St. Basil the Great Church in Lincoln welcomed His Grace, Bishop François Beyrouti, for his first pastoral visit as the newly-enthroned Eparch of Newton, Massachusetts.
The bishop was elected by the synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in June, with Pope Francis later confirming him as the successor of Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Eparchy of Newton. This also makes Bishop Beyrouti the leader of the Melkite Catholic Church in the United States: although headquartered in Massachusetts, the territory of the eparchy stretches across the contiguous United States, starting in Boston’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation and reaching to the co-cathedral of St. Anne in Los Angeles. A total of 52 parishes are included within its diocesan scope, with a combined 35,000 Melkite Catholics, primarily of Middle Eastern descent.
Bishop Beyrouti celebrated two pontifical liturgies at St. Basil’s, with pastor Father Ephrem Kardouh and pastor emeritus Monsignor Joe Haggar concelebrating. They were assisted by deacons and archdeacons both from the parish and from the wider Melkite community, with some traveling from as far as Virginia to participate.
In his homily, Bishop Beyrouti thanked the congregation for their support during his transition to the episcopy.
“I have visited your community here before, and have never felt like a stranger,” he said. “Father Joe was a great mentor and friend to me back when I was still just a seminarian, and I have always felt like a member of your family in faith.”
The bishop also noted that St. Basil’s was one of the most well-represented parishes attending his eparchial enthronement, which occurred on Oct. 19 in Boston. Patriarch Joseph Absi, the Primate of the Melkite Church, traveled from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Dormition in Damascus in order to preside over the ceremony. Bishop Beyrouti had already been ordained to the episcopate a week earlier in a ceremony at St. Anne’s in California.
Prior to his election, the bishop had been pastor of Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church in Placentia, California. He was born in Hadath, a Lebanese village just south of Beirut, in 1971. He immigrated to Canada with his family as a child, and became the first Melkite priest ordained in the Montreal-based Eparchy of Saint-Saveur in 1998. He was incardinated into the American Eparchy of Newton in 2011, of which he is now the sixth bishop.
St. Basil’s was a natural choice for the bishop’s first pastoral visit, as the church’s history is closely intertwined with that of the eparchy itself: when the eparchy was first established in 1966, Pope St. Paul VI appointed St. Basil’s pastor Justin Najmy as its first bishop. Bishops since then have been confirmed by the pope after first being elected in a synodal process reflecting Eastern ecclesial traditions.
“We are proud to host the bishop’s first visit, and we wish him all the happiness and success of his predecessor,” Father Kardouh said in his opening remarks. “We are confident in his ability to continue leading us into the third millennium. We are a family here at St. Basil’s, and it gives us joy to welcome him as a new member of that family.”
Several members of the extended family were present as well, with Latin Rite Catholics from the State Jurisdiction of the Knights of Columbus serving as an honor guard.
“It’s important for us to be here to celebrate our universal Church,” said Knights State Deputy David Bebyn. “We have a few Knights who are Eastern Catholics, and we always try to support the various other rites in our state. We’re all one family in Christ.” Bebyn noted that there have recently been efforts to establish a local parish council for Melkite Knights.
Bishops Thomas J. Tobin and Robert C. Evans were unable to attend but Bishop Beyrouti said he received “a very nice letter” from the diocese expressing their congratulations and warm wishes to their new colleague.
Bishop Beyrouti also received a letter of citation from the Office of the Governor, welcoming him to Rhode Island and praising his commitment to charitable and community work. Representatives from the Town of Lincoln, including members of the Lincoln Fire Department, attended the first liturgy at the church’s invitation.
In between liturgies, the bishop visited the students of the parish’s religious education program, several of whom had practiced chanting the Trisagion to perform for him (familiar to Latin Rite Catholics as the “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One” hymn used during Holy Week). All the students knew to address him as seydna.
“It’s a traditional Arabic title of respect for a leader,” explained Barbara Deeb, the Religious Education coordinator at St. Basil’s. “It can be translated as ‘Your Grace,’ or less formally as ‘Sir’.”
The parish also hosted a small breakfast reception after the first liturgy, offering Mediterranean and Middle Eastern staples like naan and bagels with tzatziki sauce. Originally founded by Syrian immigrants in 1909, St. Basil’s moved from Central Falls to Lincoln in 1988. The original population has since been joined by Melkite Catholics from countries like Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.
Bishop Beyrouti noted that this had only been intended as a brief, preliminary visit to the parish, with plans already being made for him to return in a more formal capacity. He will make a series of similar visits at Melkite parishes throughout the Northeast before returning to California to pack and begin the process of relocating to Newton. His first series of formal visits throughout the eparchy will begin after that.
Editor’s Note: In addition to the Melkite congregation at St. Basil’s, the Latin Rite Diocese of Providence also shares Rhode Island with communities of Maronite and Ukrainian Greek Catholics. Rhode Island Catholic looks forward to offering a brief guide to these rites, celebrating the cultural and liturgical diversity of our local church, in an upcoming edition.