By Doreen Abi Raad
BEIRUT (CNS) — A Maronite priest is leaving Lebanon to become the first exarch of the newly erected Apostolic Exarchate of Colombia.
Father Fadi Abou Chebel, 46, will begin his new assignment in April, based in Bogota, the Colombian capital.
“I felt how much God loves me to have chosen me a second time after having chosen me a first time to join the order and become a priest,” Father Abou Chebel told Catholic News Service after Pope Francis made the appointment in Rome. “I feel blessed because the church has entrusted me with this new mission.”
The pope erected the exarchate to serve Maronites in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru at the request of the Maronite Synod of Bishops.
In addition, Father Abou Chebel was appointed a delegate of the Congregation for Eastern Churches representing the Maronite community in the three nations.
Father Abou Chebel said he planned to meet with the Maronites in the region and “to assess their religious engagement and involvement,” as well as examine the practical feasibility of establishing Maronite parishes.
“The real challenge lies in finding priests who love apostolic work and are willing to engage in such a mission,” he said.
Father Abou Chebel said he aims to be a shepherd “who is close to his people, who forgets himself and his own needs to meet the needs of others. . . . A shepherd whose word and deed both reflect the image of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd.”
Born in Deir al-Qamar, Lebanon, Father Abou Chebel joined the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1988 and was ordained a priest in 1995.
He has served as pastoral counselor at Notre Dame University — Louaize, north of Beirut, since 2005 and as general director of the University Pastoral Ministry in Lebanon since 2007.
University President Father Walid Moussa said in a statement that Father Abou Chebel “has always been, both in word and deed, a faithful servant working in the service of students and helping them deepen their love for Jesus and the Virgin Mary, our mother.”
As for reaching the youth in his new mission, Father Abou Chebel said “the challenge is to light up in them the desire to belong to the Maronite Church.” He suggested organizing meetings and social gatherings, lectures, teaching young people about Maronite traditions and introducing them to Maronite saints.
About 500,000 Maronite Catholics live in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.