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East meets West to honor Mary, find unity

Eastern and Western Christians met to join in prayer for peace and unity at St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church last week.

Father Andre Y-Sebastian Mahanna of the Lakewood Maronite church led the conference open to local Catholics and Orthodox March 1 to invite ecumenism and plead for peace in the war-torn Middle East.

“The Church has two lungs—the East and the West. The Church must learn to breathe with both lungs or something is wrong,” Father Mahanna told the crowd gathered inside.

The Maronite parish, a Lebanon-based rite of the Eastern Catholic Church in communion with Rome, has held a series of meetings to bridge Christian communities by focusing on devotion to Mary and the Divine Mercy.

“I’m trying to raise awareness that it’s OK to pray with one another. It is the will of God to pray with one another,” Father Mahanna said after the conference. “I think Our Lady and the Divine Mercy are going to be the instruments which will bridge people who hate one another to love one another.”

Father Mahanna was recently named the director of the Office of Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations in the Eparchy of our Lady of Lebanon based in Missouri.

He has met with leaders of other faiths locally including Father George Shawareb of St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Arvada, who led the Saturday conference with Father Mahanna.

He said this year is special for Orthodox and Catholics who will celebrate Easter on the same day. Frequently, the two churches follow separate liturgical calendars and celebrate at different times.

“It’s something so precious,” Father Shawareb said.

He also said that his church prays for Christian unity.

“We have to keep our hope alive,” he said. “That unity is not there in the paperwork, but I know it is in my heart and his heart.”

Lolou Najjar of St. Luke Orthodox Christian Church in Erie attended to pray with fellow Christians.

“I wanted to join in prayer for peace,” she said. “And for the unity of Christians to come together for peace in the world.”

Gina Abou-Jaoude of St. Rafka’s helped organize the conference that included an international rosary prayed in several languages, two conference talks on Mary and the Divine Mercy, and dinner afterward.

“(Father Mahanna’s) vision is to be like Christ and have everyone come together no matter what their faith is,” she said.

Father Mahanna said the church will hold other conferences this summer and fall to speak more about Mary and the Divine Mercy to help achieve ecumenism. The next conference will be held May 3.

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