In the aftermath of a deadly attack, a vigil and an act of hospitality

One day with Rabbi Blum from Chabad Columbia on the first Shabbat after Chabad Poway shooting

It’s barely past lunchtime on Friday and already four big tables are all set for the Sabbath dinner at Chabad, the student and community organization for Jewish life at Columbia University. On the opposite side of the first floor, one can hear the clinking of a computer keyboard and the ringing of cellphones. Rabbi Yonah Blum, the head of the Columbia Chabad House, twisting his long beard with his fingers, is absorbed on his computer.  He has a speech to write.

Today is the first Shabbat a week after the Poway attack, where a man opened fire in a synagogue of the Chabad House near San Diego, leaving one woman dead. In a few hours, Chabad will be hosting a vigil on campus to light candles and commemorate victims of Anti-Semitism. The other sponsors include the University Chaplain, the General Studies Student Council, and a group called Students Supporting Israel.  For Blum, it’s a teaching moment.

“God has his reasons for things to happen,” Blum said as he was thinking through his message. “But one thing is for sure, these people didn’t die just so we have an opportunity to mourn. One step backward should mean 10 steps forward. When something negative like this happens, there must be an emphasis for us to transform this into something more positive.”

The Rabbi’s words echo with the terms used in his bio on Chabad’s website: “idealism, positivism, and genuine love of his fellows.” In light with Chabad’s vision, he believes that the response to antisemitism should be to spread the word to Jewish communities on campus, instruct them to be more Jewish, not to be afraid of wearing Jewish symbols, such as a Jewish star or a kippa.

“Hiding from our religion and spirituality is not the response,” said Blum. “We have to act as ambassadors to light, hope, and godliness.” Even though he says that at Chabad, they are “not really into vigils,” he decided to organize the gathering anyway, most importantly to try to communicate a “call of action.”

As Blum prints his speech, his wife Keren, one of his daughters Chana and an undergraduate student member of Chabad sit in the living room to listen to him and give him feedback. The Chabad house functions as a proper family home where visitors are welcomed to learn and socialize around Judaism. “Please listen to the whole thing before commenting,” Blum says.

His right hand in his pocket, the other holding his script, Blum starts to read off with a vigorous voice. Barely a minute into his speech, his wife snaps her fingers above her head: “That’s the sentence you should start with!” she says. “Those two sentences. They are going to grab the audience.”

As the rehearsal goes on, Keren acts as a severe editor and doesn’t let go of an idea until it’s perfectly reshaped into a clear message. She leads her husband from abstract ideas to direct injunctions.

“What does it mean to add light to your Friday night?” she asks the Rabbi without leaving him the time to reply. “You have to sit with community, sit with your neighbors, care enough to listen to them instead of talking about them.”

Keren Blum, Rabbi Blum’s wife, edits his speech for the vigil held on campus. by Eleonore Voisard

As Keren takes a pen to amend the Rabbi’s draft, he thanks her. “You’re so talented Keren, you should do this speech.” Keren winks, waves her hand over her head in slow motion to express her detachment and turns back in the direction of the kitchen. There’s still a vegetable soup and challah bread in the making for tonight’s Shabbat dinner.

The rest of the Rabbi’s day is spent printing out documents for the vigil, such as letters from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Columbia University faculty staff. With another Chabad member, he also folds flowery cardboard cases containing tea lights, matches, and a Shabbat prayer to hand out on campus for students to do “Mitzvah.” Songs chanted by the Rabbi’s three daughters resonate from the kitchen on the top floor down to the living room.

Keren Blum takes challah bread out of the oven. In Ashkenazi tradition, it’s custom to bake key-shaped challos to enjoy on the Shabbat after Passover. By Eleonore Voisard

Once everything is printed and ready, Blum picks up his hat from the fireplace behind his desk. On the way to campus, he and his daughter Shoshana buy some matches for the candle lighting. A few people are already gathered in the lobby of Earl Hall when they arrive. Students at Columbia, alumni or faculty members wait for the beginning of the ceremony in silence.  Blum sets up the candles on a rectangular table in the corner of the lobby. As he prepares the ceremony, a student from South Korea comes to him and expresses “solidarity with my Jewish friends.”

At 6:30, the vigil starts, right in time to make sure to light the candles before the beginning of Shabbat. Ian Rottenberg from the Office of the University Chaplain welcomes the growing crowd of about 50 people. “I know that it is good, in the face of violence, in the face of antisemitism to not be alone, but to gather and to stand in solidarity from our different traditions, together,” he says before reading Governor Cuomo’s letter to the audience.

One after the other, Columbia students, including a sophomore whose family attends the Poway Chabad, as well as, Columbia professors and faculty members share words of solidarity, equality and hope. The crowd is emotional, but revitalized by the positive speech.

Columbia student from the Chabad Poway community at the vigil. By Eleonore Voisard

“I want to challenge your idea of a regular Friday night,” says Blum to the audience. “To think about what was shared today, and transform tonight into just not any Friday night, but a Friday night of love, light and inspiration. Join communities, sit together, instead of talking about people, sit and talk to people.”

Rabbi Blum addresses the vigil in response to the Poway attack. By Eleonore Voisard

At the end of the ceremony, Rabbi Blum invites the crowd to light the candles, “to bring peace in the home and bring peace in the world.” He also invites everyone to join his family for Shabbat dinner, as an echo to his call to sit with and listen to people.

Candle lighting and prayers at the vigil in response to the Poway attack. By Eleonore Voisard

Candle lighting and prayers at the vigil in response to the Poway attack. By Eleonore Voisard

Back at the Chabad house, guests start to arrive and chat in the dining hall. On the other side of the floor, one of the Rabbi’s daughters plays chess with a guest from her sister’s high school. Just next to them, Blum and a fellow member of Chabad recite their prayers in front of Torah Ark, their eyes closed. Apparently not bothered by the ongoing conversations surrounding them, they seem to be in an elevated state.

The call of the Rabbi draws the crowd to their respective seats. Presiding over the large oval-shaped table at the center of the dining room, Blum opens the Kiddush with a few words honoring Lorie Gilbert-Kaye, the woman who died as she shielded the Poway rabbi from  the shooter. Then, flanked by his two sons Zaly and Gavy, he pours wine into his cup up until it overflows, and carries it to his lips.

As the guests enjoy the challah bread, Blum speaks about the weekly portion of the Torah, which recalls the death of Aaron’s sons while bringing a sacrifice in the ancient Jewish temple. Although he had issued an invitation to all at the vigil, the guests at dinner were mostly Jewish Columbia students who seemed to enjoy his Biblical references.

The rabbi said that there were no coincidences in life and death. “The fact that this portion of the Torah comes after someone entering a shul (synagogue) and firing on people has a reason, the name itself is striking. The lesson we can learn is that we can be upset about all of this, but we shouldn’t be upset in silence. We have to speak up, raise our voice, put our fist on the table so that antisemitism does not exist anymore.”

The dinner goes on, interrupted sometimes by chants launched by the Rabbi and carried out by the rest of the crowd. As it gets late into the night, some of the guests start to leave. Some students from Chabad remain at the table drinking wine and debating how to reconcile religious practice and belief with modernity. With his guests still at the table, Blum stands up, and goes to the nearby sofa to lay down. A few minutes later, he seems to have fallen asleep, soothed by the background noise of voices of these students, who can call this place home.


Redemption in a Quran class on the Upper East Side

Standing under an illustration of a boy brushing his teeth, changing his clothes, folding them neatly and “making wudoo” (ablution), the Quran teacher pointed to a sentence on the blackboard behind her: “‘Waikhfid lahuma janaha alththulli mina alrrahmati waqul rabbi irhamhuma kama rabbayanee sagheeran’. He has decreed that you serve none but him, and do good to parents, and speak to them generously.”

Students, some struggling to stay awake, nodded their heads. It was a little past 9 a.m. on a recent Sunday.

“We studied Surah [verse] al-Isra last class – how we treat our parents, remember?” said the teacher, who asked to be identified as Ayesha. Silent pause. “But for today, there are two important Surahs. I want you to choose one. Put your heads down, we’re going to vote.”

All but one student in class, a girl named Fatima, were happy to listen. With mischievous smiles, 29 students put their heads down, creating sudden, pin-drop silence in what had been the noisiest and youngest classroom in the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. There was a near-unanimous vote for “Surah al-Kahf.”

The cultural center claims to be the first mosque in New York City, built to accommodate a growing Muslim population in the city at the turn of the 20th century. Founded on the West Side in 1991 and now located at 1711 Third Ave., the center is an architectural marvel, characterized by sleek, diaphanous glass material and postmodern granite designs.

Teaching interpretations of the Quran and Arabic to adults and children, people from all five boroughs attend the prayers, activities and school services of the center, according to Imam Chernor Sa’ad Jalloh who is from Sierra Leone. “I teach Hadith – the lifestyle of the prophet, the way he spent his life, treated his family, his neighbours and companions,” said the Imam, adding that his audience includes West Africans, African Americans, Arabs, Asians and Americans. “We have a culture of inclusivity, it’s hard not to really enjoy teaching a session,” he said.

Ayesha, though, unlike the 10 other teachers at the center, seemed to be having trouble with her class, aged between seven and 11 – particularly with Fatima. In other classrooms, older children were learning other parts of the Quran, and later in the evening, the Imam would hold a Hadith class for adults inside the mosque next to the school.

“I’m counting to two. If you don’t stop scribbling in James’ notebook and laughing, I’ll call your mother and tell her you’re not respecting the teacher,” Ayesha said.

“But I am!” the 10-year-old said, her small face teeming with anger.

“It’s not funny anymore, Fatima,” said Ayesha.

Fatima, like the rest of the students in her class, was attending one of seven classes held at the weekend school of the center, which teaches students Arabic and the Quran from pre-kindergarten till sixth grade. The administrative staff says that almost 130 students, who attend regular school through the week, are enrolled in the weekend school. Ayesha, who is 45-years-old, continued teaching her class about Surah al-Kahf, the most popular Quran verse in class. The holy book is divided into 30 chapters and 114 verses.

“Al-Handiu lillaahil-laziii; ‘anzala ‘alaa ‘Abdihil-Kitaaba wa lam yaj-‘al-lahuu ‘iwajaa—” or “Praise be to Allah, who hath sent to his servant the book, and hath allowed therein no crookedness.” Ayesha recited the verse and then explained how to pronounce each part.

“Surah Al-Kahf will help you. It’ll protect you from bad Gods like Al-Masih al-Dajjal, and it has a lot of great stories,” Ayesha said, asking her class if anybody had heard of Al-Masih al-Dajjal, an anti-messianic figure in the Surah.

“I’ve heard about Judgement Day,” said a Senegalese student named Yasin. “That on Judgement Day, Al-Masih’s going to come up and he’s like, ‘Oh yeah I am God and you have to pray to me,’ and he’s like, ‘I’m going to kill you and put you back to life!’” he said.

“That’s right, Yasin! Because God gave him the power to do that! Thank you,” said Ayesha.

“It’s like a test, right?” chimed in a boy sitting on the last bench.

“It’s a big test, absolutely! He summarized it,” said Ayesha. Al-Masih al-Dajjal represents a big test by God, she added, and people will have to choose between following somebody who proclaims he is God and rejecting him. The latter risk getting punished, and reciting the opening verses of Surah al-Kahf is a form of protection.

“Mu’minii-nallaziina ya’-maluunas-saalihaati ‘anna lahum ‘Ajran hasanaa’ – to the believers who work righteous deeds, that they shall have a goodly reward, wherein they shall remain forever,” the class continued reciting in Arabic.

Fatima continued to disrupt the class. The teacher asked her to leave the classroom.

“She’s always like this. She’s the worst teacher, I hate her!” Fatima whispered while storming out. “She’s always mean. Even when I do something nice, she doesn’t appreciate me like the other boys.”

The class continued. “‘Inaa ja’alnaa maa ‘alal-azi ziinatal-lahaa linabluwa-hum’ – that which is on earth we have made, but as a glittering show for it, in order that we may test them, which are best in conduct.”

While Ayesha picked students to recite the verse aloud in class, Fatima was asked to come back inside. The next class would study the next Surah.

“Fatima, recite this verse for me?”

“Okay, ‘Inaa ja’alnaa maa-'”

“That’s beautiful, Fatima. Quiet, everybody else. Come on, alal-azi ziinatal-lahaa. Mashallah, she’s reading the Arabic and not the English translation, I adore that!” Ayesha said. “Give me a five!”

For the first time since the class began, Fatima smiled widely. The class went on.


For Shia Muslims, a special place for Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad

It’s noon on a Friday. Dozens of men in baseball caps and kufis overflow from the men’s section into the main hall of the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center, slowly settling into rows. Behind a curtain, nine women sit on the floor, scattered throughout the expansive women’s section.

 

Sheikh Fadhel Al-Sahlani, the imam of the mosque, strides up to a dark wood podium. He looks the part with his clipped graying beard and scholarly glasses. He wears a white turban and a brown flowing robe.

 

“There are a lot of [theories] about the martyrdom, the death, of Sayyeda Fatima Zahra…” Al-Sahlani begins. He speaks a halting but florid English, his Iraqi accent carried by the microphone.

 

He refers to Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, as “sayyeda,” leader, and “zahra,” lady of light. Fatima is a celebrated figure in Shia Islam as both Muhammad’s daughter and the wife of Ali, the first Shia imam.

 

While mosque-goers gather weekly for a sermon and Friday prayers at Al-Khoei – on the corner of the Van Wyck Expressway and 89th Avenue – today is special. It’s the 20th day of the Islamic month of Jumada al-Awwal, one of the three times a year Shias commemorate Fatima’s death in 632 C.E.

 

“You cannot ignore your history,” Al-Sahlani continues. “You have to study the life of Sayyeda Zahra to find out which is the right road to be followed and where is the wrong road to be followed.” He gesticulates with his right hand for emphasis, his left gripping the podium.

 

As the imam speaks, a stream of girls filter into the women’s section in navy blue dresses and light blue hijabs, students from the Al-Iman School next door. Their clothes match but with their own individual touches – different waistlines, pockets, and pleats. Some wear their hijabs like a kerchief, others wrapped like a headscarf. Small children peek glances at the older women. Teens whisper to each other as school staff in stickered nametags guide students into neat rows.

 

Al-Sahlani continues, describing Fatima as a fighter for justice and “the connector” between four major leaders in Islam: Muhammad, Ali, and her sons Hassan and Hussein. He emphasizes her role as a loving daughter, citing one of her reverential titles “umme abiha” or “mother of her father” because she was said to treat her father with a maternal level of kindness.

 

Kids “in this society” are often more rebellious than Fatima, the imam says. And once they become adults, you can’t try to change them.

 

“The tree when it’s raised straight, and you take care for it, it will remain straight,” he says. “But if you leave it for the wind, then it will be curved, and this curve will continue for the rest of their life.”

 

That’s why religious education is so important to him. “When we teach our children, when we teach our daughters,” Fatima should be upheld as a model, he says. “Hopefully they will follow half of what Sayyeda Zahra taught us.”

 

The girls watch Al-Sahlani on a wide-screen TV from the women’s section. The little ones fidget with their scarves. Some of the older girls chatter and giggle softly, gently quieted by teachers who don’t look much older. If they’re aware the imam is talking about them – daughters – they don’t show it.

 

Al-Sahlani goes on to praise the marriage of Fatima and Ali, citing a passage from Bihar al-anwar, an 11th century collection of Shia teachings and stories. According to the text, Ali said he never made Fatima angry, he never forced her to do anything she didn’t want to do, she never upset or disobeyed him, and when Ali looked at her, “all my sadness, all my problems… disappear.”

 

There’s a pause, then a wave of murmurs like leaves rustling. One voice rises, then another and another. The congregation is punctuating Al-Sahlani’s sentence with salawat, a phrase Shias say when they hear the names of the prophet and his family members.

 

“Allāhumm-a Ṣall-i 'Alā Muḥammad-in Wa Al-i Muḥammad.”

 

“Oh Allah, may you grant peace and honor on Muhammad and his family.”

 

Al-Sahlani chuckles. He didn’t pause for people to say salawat, he says. He was just struck by the quote. Who sees his wife and forgets his problems?

 

The men laugh. A couple women smile. The kids continue to look preoccupied.

 

“I don’t know why people [are] laughing,” Al-Sahlani says with the grin of a man who just made a dad joke.

 

In a more serious tone, the imam encourages couples to emulate Ali and Fatima’s partnership, and soon after, the sermon slips seamlessly into Friday prayers. On the women’s side, teachers drop multi-colored rosaries into children’s outstretched hands. They bow together as the prayer leader’s voice rises and falls.

 

As soon as they’re finished praying, teachers usher the girls out of the room and back to school. There’s an announcement in the background. That night and the next, there would be more programming to commemorate Fatima, and the following weekend, a forum on domestic violence.

 


For the devout Shia Muslim, Thursday night is also a time for prayer

On a recent Thursday just after nightfall in New York’s borough of Queens,  cars whoosh by on the Van Wyck Expressway, faintly honking in the distance. But inside the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center, the day is hardly over – even though mosque-goers have already finished the last of their five daily prayers.

 

On Thursdays, Shia Muslims traditionally recite Dua Kumayl, an extra prayer they attribute to Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and the first Shia imam. It’s not obligatory; just a highly-respected custom.  One place where it is taken seriously is  at Al-Khoei at the corner of Van Wyck Express Way and 89th Avenue.

 

In the curtained-off women’s section, a community member, Zehra Zaida, finishes her final prostration, her forehead resting for a moment on her turbah, a traditional clay tablet, before she rises. She finds a spot against the wall of the women’s section and sits down on the plush Persian carpeting, a slim Arabic book in her lap. Her daughter sits next to her and fills in a bubble chart with names of the prophet’s family. Her son holds a book of his own, though he’s hardly old enough to read it.

 

On a large, flat-screen TV, Zaida can watch the prayer leader sitting on the floor of the men’s section just behind the gold curtain, a microphone angled toward him. His voice rises mournfully in a minor key:

 

“Bis-millahir-rahmanir-rahim…”

 

“In the name of Allah, the all-merciful, the all-compassionate…”

 

The other worshippers read the words quietly to themselves from their books and iPhones.

 

“Oh Allah, forgive me for those sins which draw down adversities.”

“Oh Allah, forgive me for those sins which alter blessings.”

 

“Oh Allah, forgive me for those sins which hold back supplication…”

 

As the singsong notes waft over the divide, the tone of the room shifts. An older woman in a checkered headscarf, a tissue balled up in her right hand, seems to hold back tears.  Zaida’s wide brown eyes are serious, her long black hijab draped around her. She also sniffles quietly.

 

“Oh Allah, I find no forgiver of my sins, nor concealer of my ugly acts, nor transformer of any of my ugly acts into good acts but you,” the prayer leader continues.

 

“There is no God but you.”

 

The prayer goes on to appeal to God’s mercy. It asks God to forgive the reader for “every sin I have committed and to every mistake I have made,” to enable humility and gratitude. It begs God to come close, to build a relationship with the reader despite her human frailties.

 

“Some part of it makes us scared of our sin,” Sheikh Fadhel Al-Sahlani, the imam of the mosque, explained later that night. “Some part of it gives us [a] kind of hope [in] the mercy of God.”

 

Dua Kumayl also poses an argument to God, Al-Sahlani said. “If Your mercy is everywhere, where will You put me to punish me?” The prayer reminds people to do better, but also reminds God that punishment is against the divine nature, he said. Dua Kumayl ultimately “gives a hope and also gives a precaution.”

 

According to Shia tradition, Imam Ali imparted the prayer to his companion Kumayl Ibn Ziyad Nakha'i, who memorized it and shared it with others in the seventh century.  Eventually, it was written down and named for Ali’s friend. While Shias can recite Dua Kumayl anytime, it’s customarily said on Thursdays, the eve before Jummah or Friday prayers. It’s also recited on the 15th day of Sha’ban, a holiday in the lunar month before Ramadan. Traditionally an auspicious day for God’s forgiveness, Shia communities spend the entire evening in prayer.

 

Zaida has been reciting Dua Kumayl every Thursday night since she was a kid. Now she brings her own children to the mosque to hear it. It’s a commitment. The prayer generally takes up to 30 minutes to read. There are only five other women there, compared to the 20 or so men who also braved the below-zero cold that evening. But it helps her to introspect and set her intentions for the week.

 

“We try our best to do all the good deeds, but still, we are human,” she said. “We do so many sins and mistakes… Every Thursday, it’s a reminder for us that we have to [stay] away from the bad deeds and stay on the right path. It’s constantly asking for forgiveness.”

 

The imam’s voice rises and falls, and Zaida continues to murmur. She occasionally leans toward her son to playfully bump foreheads, breaking the night’s somber tone if just for a moment.

 

Twice, the room joins together in a refrain set to a simple tune that sounds like a sigh.

 

“Ya rab-bi ya rab-bi ya rabb.”

 

“Oh lord, oh lord, oh lord.”

 

It’s 9 p.m. Zaida has been at the mosque since nearly 7:30. After a few more interludes of private prayer with the imam’s voice alone in the background, the congregation  joins together for the final words of Dua Kumayl.

 

“Bless Muhammad and Muhammad's household, and do with me what is worthy of You.”

 

“And Allah bless His messenger and the holy Imams of his household, and give them abundant peace.”

 

Zaida and the other women exchange kisses on the cheek and filter out of the mosque, the Van Wyck Expressway a little less busy now. They’ll be back next week.

 


A church of many languages thrives in Brooklyn

The sounds of Arabic and Syriac could be heard at Our Lady of Lebanon, the Maronite Cathedral in Brooklyn Heights on Sunday, Feb. 10, as the church celebrated the annual feast of St. Maron.

 

At the 11:30 a.m. Mass, the cathedral was brimming with worshipers, some who joined the Mass at different intervals after it had begun. They padded across the church’s red carpets, with grand chandeliers suspended from the arched blue ceiling overhead. Mother Mary, painted above the altar, is crested by the mountains of Lebanon.

 

Unlike Roman Catholic churches, which largely say Mass in English in the United States (some parishes offer other languages, like Spanish, according to their parish needs), Maronite churches such as Our Lady of Lebanon have a Mass (or “Qurbono”) that combines English, Arabic and Syriac. The readings, for example, are recited first in English and then in Arabic.

 

The Rev. Bishop Gregory Mansour’s Sunday homily was one of the only parts of the Mass that was solely in English. On Sunday he spoke on the gospel reading, John 12:23-30. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” Mansour quoted. The passage is often used by Christians to explain why Jesus died. Mansour used this scripture to address the feast day the cathedral was celebrating. “This could very easily apply to St. Maron,” Mansour said, given how the saint’s influence and following grew following his death.

 

In his homily, Mansour described how the legacy of St. Maron lives on. The saint, he said, was an “open air hermit” who travelled into the mountains to be closer to God, and went on to build a church there in the elements. But he said he wanted to highlight the lessons that can still be learned from the saint. He said there was something special about the “particular feeling” you “might be doing God’s work”—a feeling he suspected St. Maron had when he was building his community.

 

Mansour also drew attention to unique history of the Maronite Church. “We are the only church named after a person,” he said of the various Catholic churches, which also include the Roman, Chaldean and Melkite churches. He noted that the Maronite Church is unique because it has no Orthodox or protestant counterpart—Maronites say it has remained united since its founding, and has always been in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. (Some scholars are in disagreement on this latter point.)

 

Mansour said the Maronite church never had the “luxury” of the corruption of the Middle Ages, obliquely referring to the period in which European Catholic leaders sold indulgences, forgiving sins for money. Meanwhile in Lebanon, Maronites were not in positions of power, and instead faced waves of persecution. St. Maron himself was an ascetic who chose a life of poverty. “This great church,” he said, “grew up in simplicity.”

 

This isn’t to say the Maronite Church is in conflict with the Vatican or with Roman Catholics—the Maronite Church is considered  “in full communion” with Roman Catholic Church.

 

But the Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic church with its own customs. For example, Communion is taken by mouth only and is dipped in the wine that Catholics say has been transformed into the Blood of Christ. While in many Roman Catholic parishes, the Sign of Peace consists of greetings, handshakes and hugs shared by congregants at will, in the Qurbono the Sign of Peace is offered at each pew by an altar server, who clasps his hands over those of the person closest to him. That person brings their hands to their mouths and turns to cover the hands of their neighbors with their own, and the chain of peace offerings continue down the pew.

 

The Maronite church also has its own local jurisdiction. Our Lady of Lebanon cathedral, for example, does not fall under the diocese of the Rev. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, but rather under the eparchy (or province) of St. Maron. Bishop Mansour presides over this area, which covers about 45 Maronite parishes in a vast area that includes the states of New York, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Maine. Both DiMarzio and Mansour serve on the United States Council of Catholic Bishops which reports to the Vatican.

 

In addition to highlighting the distinctive legacy of the church, Mansour seemed to temper outsize devotion to St. Maron. “Some people say St. Maron founded the Maronite church, but that’s not true,” he said. “Jesus is our founder, St. Maron was the follower.”