Australian Maronite Church Ordains Three Married Men

The Maronite community is rejoicing, with the Ordination of Fr Ron Hassarati, Fr Joseph Maatouk and Fr Mekhael Gebrael to the Priesthood, by His Excellency Antoine Charbel Tarabay, Maronite Bishop of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania on 29 July at Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral, Harris Park.

In a first for the Maronite Eparchy, all three priests are married men and fathers.

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay praised the unique journeys of Ron, Joseph and Mekhael adding, “They have answered the call to serve God’s people with dedication, love and compassion. For as priests, our call is to be humble shepherds, recognising that it is Jesus who leads His Church, and He is entrusting us to look after His flock.”

Married with three children, Fr Ron Hassarati, who grew up in the Canterbury-Bankstown area, studied Theology and Religious Education. He is the author of two books and has worked as a teacher at the Maronite College of the Holy Family for 34 years. He sees his role as an extension of his teaching, spreading the message of the Gospel and the Good News.

“Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous. I’m a sinner who has been touched by the mercy of God and also called by His mercy. And this is the core of my faith and what motivates me,” said Fr Ron whose motto is “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31).

Fr Joseph Maatouk, who migrated from Lebanon to Australia in 1976, had a successful career as a hotel chef, and owned restaurants and a catering business before dedicating himself to helping those struggling with addiction.  He has been a counsellor for MaroniteCare since 2017, which he calls a vocation within a vocation and a calling within a calling, adding, “I felt drawn to people who are struggling and that’s why I took up this mission.”

Fr Joseph who is married with two children and grandchildren said that being able to balance family life and priesthood will come with God’s grace, “I’m not on this journey by myself, my wife has been with me the whole time, and we continue to share this journey.”

His chosen motto is: “You have seduced me, God, and I have let myself be seduced” (Jer 20:7).

Fr Mekhael Gebrael, born in North Lebanon, completed a Bachelor of Philosophy and a Bachelor of Theology in Lebanon before taking on various pastoral missions in nursing homes, schools, and hospitals. Married with two young children, Fr Mekhael has served at many parishes in the Eparchy as Subdeacon and Deacon. His motto “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2) reflects the joy he feels while doing pastoral work with the youth.

Fr Mekhael, whose parents flew over from Lebanon to witness his ordination said, “My dad was the first person to direct me towards the Church. He was always involved in the Church when I was younger and because of him, I grew up in it. I’m very happy to have him by my side at my ordination.”

As the Maronite Eparchy of Australia celebrates its Golden Jubilee Year, with the relics of Maronite and Australian Saints have been touring all parishes, Bishop Tarabay reminded the new priests that they are not alone in their sacred calling, for the Saints serve as intercessors and role models, and their fellow clergy and parish communities stand beside them on this holy journey.

May the joy of the priesthood always dwell in the hearts of the new priests as they administer the sacraments, celebrate the Eucharist, and accompany God’s people through the highs and lows of life, finding strength in their intimate relationship with Christ and the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

Homily of Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay

Homily of Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay

29 July 2023

Ordination of Deacons Ron Hassarati, Joseph Maatouk and Mekhael Gebrael

Reverend Monsignor, Priests, Deacons and Subdeacons,

Dear Religious Sisters,

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Most Beloved Deacons Ron, Joseph and Mekhael,

We gather this morning for a wonderful and sacred occasion, a first for our Eparchy: the ordination of 3 new priests and all of them married Deacons: Ron Hassarati, Joseph Maatouk and Mekhael Gebrael. These men are from our Eparchy and are today being ordained to serve the flock of the Lord entrusted to their care.

As we reflect on the profound meaning of the ministerial priesthood, we are reminded that – as per the Catechism of the Catholic Church – the priesthood is not about seeking prominence or exalting oneself; rather, it is a service rooted entirely in Christ and for the good and salvation of His people.

Our priesthood finds its source in Christ’s unique priesthood, and through the sacrament of Holy Orders, we are bestowed with a sacred power that is none other than that of Christ Himself. It is a power that must be exercised in accordance with the model of Christ, who, out of love, humbled Himself to become the servant of all.

Amidst the liturgy and the sacred rituals, we therefore must remember that as priests, we are not the first, nor are we meant to be the centre of attention. As Saint John Chrysostom, the Father of the Church, writes: “The Lord made it clear that the care given to his flock was a proof of love for him.” What comes first is the Holy People of God. What comes first is the Community to which the priest is sent. We are sent to serve the community, to care for Christ’s flock with love and devotion.

The call to the priesthood is a mysterious and free choice of God. It is not based on our qualifications or abilities, but on God’s loving and gracious plan for each one of us. Just as He called Saint Paul, who was persecuting the Church, just has He chose Peter, who denied him 3 times, God continues to call people to the priesthood from the very beginning of their existence, even in the womb. This is what we read in Isaiah regarding vocations: “Fear not…I have called you by name you are mine…” (Is 43:2)

As priests, we are entrusted with a tremendous responsibility. It is not a mere duty or intellectual exercise; it is a transforming revelation of the Son of God within us. Our thoughts, words, and actions should bear witness to the presence of Christ in our hearts. We should reflect Him not ourselves.

To Ron, Joseph and Mekhael being ordained today, you need to know that everything we are doing today is based on the great Love of Jesus Christ to you. Therefore, the love you are called to show is of a different order. It is a love that surpasses even the deep bond of family love. As Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you really love me more than these?” we too must respond with a love that goes beyond worldly attachments and embraces a love of God’s people that engages us with joy and a free willingness to live for the Kingdom.

The heart of fulfilling this vocation lies in placing our trust in Christ, who knows you more than you know yourselves. Our human limitations and imperfections should not discourage us; rather, they become opportunities for God’s grace to shine through us. As priests, our call is to be humble shepherds, recognising that it is Jesus who leads His Church. Our role is to engage with him in serving with love and compassion.

Jesus told Peter, “Take care of MY sheep, not of ‘your’ sheep.” Each member of His flock is cherished and loved by Him endlessly. As servants of these beloved sheep, we must always be ready to serve them, to care for them as true shepherds. We do so, trusting that Jesus knows what is best for His flock and guiding us in our pastoral work and responsibilities.

Today, we celebrate the unique journeys of Ron, Joseph and Mekhael, who come from different backgrounds but share the same desire to become workers in the field of the Lord. They have answered the call to serve God’s people with dedication and love.

Born in Sydney, Deacon Ron grew up a Canterbury-Bankstown local, attending school in the area. He is married to Cathy and they have three children: Emma, Brigid and Sophia. He studied Theology and Religious Education, and has been a teacher at the Maronite College of the Holy Family for 34 years. (Ron, your students today might be the children or the grandchildren of your ex-students, and this is wonderful). He has published two books and was ordained a Subdeacon at St Maroun’s Parish, Redfern in 2017 and ordained Deacon at Our Lady of Lebanon, Harris Park in 2019.

His motto “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” (Luke 5:31), has been a core part of his faith and ministry, reminding him that Jesus came for the sinners, not for the righteous.

We remember today and pray for his late father Louie and congratulate his family present here, especially his mother Helen.

Deacon Joseph Maatouk, born in Beirut, Lebanon, migrated to Australia in 1976, and lived in Cooma and then Canberra.  He studied commercial cookery and became a chef, working in that field until 2012, before changing direction in 2014 to work with people struggling with addiction. (From MasterChef, to follow our Lord and Master Jesus Christ). He has been a counsellor for MaroniteCare since 2017. Deacon Joseph describes this calling to serve a “vocation within a vocation and a calling within a calling”. He was ordained as subdeacon in 2015 and deacon in 2019.

A family man, Deacon Joseph is married to Nawal and they have 2 children, Mariam and Elie, as well as grandchildren. His chosen motto is: “You have seduced me, God, and I have let myself be seduced.” (Jer 20:7). I am sure that the joy of his father Michel today matches the joy of his late mother Fransa in heaven watching over her son.

Deacon Mekhael was born in Karem El Mohr, North Lebanon. He studied a Bachelor of Philosophy at the Lebanese University in Tripoli. He entered the Patriarchal Seminary of Saint Maroun in Ghazir in 2011, where he remained for five years, studying a Bachelor of Theology. During this time, he undertook various pastoral missions in nursing homes, schools and hospitals.

After being ordained as Subdeacon in 2016, Mekhael visited Australia, where he met his future wife Nazarine. They were married in 2018 and they now have two little children: Charlotte and Oliver. Deacon Mekhael was ordained a Deacon in 2019, and has served several parishes in the eparchy. His motto “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God,” (Psalm 84:2) reflects the joy he feels while doing pastoral work and serving the people of God.

Dear Ron, Joseph and Mekhael, as you step into the sacred calling of priesthood, always remember that you are not alone on this holy journey. The saints stand as intercessors and role models, guiding and inspiring you in your ministry. You are also surrounded by your fellow clergy, your companions on this journey, and by the loving embrace of your parish communities.

Let humility be your guiding light as you serve the Lord’s flock. May the joy of the priesthood be ever present in your hearts, as you celebrate the Eucharist, administer the sacraments, and journey with God’s people through both joys and sorrows. And in the moments of solitude and prayer, may you find strength in your intimate relationship with Christ, who will sustain you with His boundless grace.

I wish to personally thank all the priests present here today, all those who helped in the preparation for today, especially Father Danny Nouh, Vicar for Clergy, for making sure that everything is organised for this ordination. Special thanks to my brothers the deacons and subdeacons, the choir and all the committees of this Parish and of our Eparchy, who worked hard to prepare for this triple ordination and make it the joyful occasion that it is.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us that the common vocation for the Christian people is the universal call to holiness. The holiness of the people must be then, the criterion of life and pastoral action for every priest and clergy.

May God bless our Deacons, who are about to be ordained, and may His love and grace flow through you to touch the lives of all the faithful you will encounter on your priestly path. And as you now put on the Priesthood of Christ, may Mary, the Mother of God, and the patron Saint of this Cathedral intercede for you as you declare yourself ready to follow Jesus her Son and to serve Him in His brothers and sisters entrusted to your care. Amen.