Maronite Bishop Shaheen Resigns; Cathedral Rector Named Successor

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert J. Shaheen, 76, head of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon since early 2001.

He named Father Abdallah Zaidan, 50, rector of Our Lady of Mount Lebanon-St. Peter Maronite Cathedral in Los Angeles, to succeed him.

Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, charge d’affaires at the apostolic nunciature, announced the changes in Washington on 10 July. Canon law requires bishops to submit their resignations at age 75.

Bishop-designate Zaidan, 50, was ordained a priest in 1981 and professed final vows as a member of the Maronite Lebanon Missionaries in 1984. He has been cathedral rector in Los Angeles since 1994.

The Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon extends across 34 states, ministering to Maronite Catholics from California to Ohio and Michigan to Alabama.

In 2002, the eparchy’s headquarters were relocated from Los Angeles to a pastoral center built next to St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in the LaSalle Park neighborhood, just south of downtown St. Louis. There are 45 parishes with priests in the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, with an additional seven missions without priests.

At the dedication of its new headquarters in October 2002, Bishop Shaheen said the move marked “a new era in the life of” the Maronite eparchy, one of two in the United States. The other is the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Bishop Shaheen has called St. Louis home for nearly 47 years. In 1967, the Connecticut-born Father Shaheen was appointed pastor of then-St. Raymond’s Church, which was founded in 1912 to serve Maronite Catholics primarily of Lebanese and Syrian descent.

He became the first Maronite priest to serve at St. Raymond in more than 20 years and the first Americanborn priest to be trained in the Maronite rite in this country. He was ordained 2 May 1964, by then-Bishop Francis Zayek, founding bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron in 1972.

“St. Louis has been part of my life for almost 47 years,” said Bishop Shaheen, who is third-generation Lebanese. “It’s become my home more than in Connecticut where I was born. I am pleased the new [bishop-designate] will be here. I knew him since he was newly ordained. He’s a very wonderful and kind priest, and I know he will continue the vision I have for the eparchy.”

According to Bishop Shaheen, the ordination of his successor is expected to take place in his native Lebanon on 28 September.

Bishop-designate Zaidan received a licentiate in theology from Holy Spirit University in Kaslik, Lebanon, in 1986, and a license in philosophy in 1987. He holds a master’s degree in school administration from St. John’s University, and pursued doctoral studies in education at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

After his ordination, then-Father Zaidan’s assignments included assistant rector of the minor seminary of the Maronite Missionaries, 1986-1988. At the same time he was chaplain of the Lay Apostolic Marianist Movement and Young Catholic Students. From 1988- 1990 he was assistant rector of Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Brooklyn.

From 1990 to 1994, he was pastor at St. George Maronite Catholic Church in San Antonio and helped establish Maronite missions in Dallas and Houston.

In retirement, Bishop Shaheen will split his time between St. Louis and his family home, located in Danbury, Conn.

He oversaw the building of a new church at St. Raymond’s in the 1970s. He was ordained a bishop in 2001 at a historical ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The occasion marked the first time that a Maronite bishop was ordained outside of Lebanon. In 2011, Bishop Shaheen oversaw the establishment of the Maronite Heritage Institute, a center for education, research and preservation.

The Maronite Catholic Church is one of the world’s oldest Christian communities and continues to use Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the apostles, in its liturgy.

Maronite Catholics belong to one of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches that originated in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. They are fully in union with Rome but have maintained their liturgical and spiritual heritage.

Maronites have their geographic roots in Lebanon; the spiritual heritage of the Maronite Church is traced to a fourth-century hermit, St. Maron.

St. Raymond’s architecture, liturgy and devotions are all part of the Lebanese Christian culture.

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Contributing to this story was Jennifer Brinker, a staff writer at the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

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