History of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Brazil

"That all be one"- the symbol of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Paradise - the Melkite Eparchy of Brazil

The first Melkites in Brazil were Syrians and Lebanese immigrants who arrived around 1869-1890. Since their countries of origin were under the Ottoman rule they carried Turkish passports, so they were generically known to the Brazilian community as “the Turks”. Most of them established themselves in commerce, traveling all the country selling goods of the newborn Brazilian industry to the most distant towns. They continued to arrive in subsequent years and they brought with them their faith.

The first Melkite priest to live in Brazil was Archimandrite Georges Haddad, of whom little is known. In the thirties he was building little by little the first Melkite church in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian capital by then.

In 1939 a man came to Brazil who would be the responsible for the existence of an organized Melkite church in this part of South America. Archimandrite Elias Coueter was born in Damascus, Syria, in 1896. He had studied in the Melkite Seminary of Saint Ann in Jerusalem, and was ordained a priest in 1925. He worked in Beirut, Damascus and Cairo before being assigned to the Diaspora. In 1936 he was made Archimandrite and sent as Presbyter of the Melkite Church of Detroit, Michigan. Three years later he left for Brazil to organize the church here.

Elias Coueter

In Rio he immediately met Archimandrite Haddad who was leaving for Lebanon and was introduced to the Melkite community and to the Catholic hierarchy. He got the authorization to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the latin catholic churches of the city. Day after day he divided his time between the hotel, the latin church where he said the Divine Liturgy, his office, in fact a writing desk in a store of a member of the community, and the overseeing of the building of the new church, which was concluded in 1941 and took the name of Church of Saint Basilius.

Pastoral life was difficult because the faithful were sprayed in large areas. In 1945 the Melkite Church began to pay a special attention to the Diaspora, and Archbishop Maximus Sayegh was made patriarchal Delegate to the migrated Melkite Catholics. As a consequence some organization was given to the Melkite Church in Brazil, and in 1946 the new Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro made the Church of Saint Basilius a parish , the first Melkite parish  of Brazil.

When he became a Patriarch in 1947, Archbishop Maximus, then patriarch Maximus IV Sayegh, continued to pursue a better organization of the Diapora. In 1951 the Holy See responded in part to his requests and the Archbishop of Rio was made the first ordinary to the Catholics of Eastern rites of all Brazil (Melkites, Maronites, Ukrainians, Russians, Syriacs and Rumanians). And the archbishop made Elias Coueter the general Vicar of the Melkites of Brazil.

By the same year there were other Melkite priests in  Brazil. And in São Paulo, the largest Brazilian city, the Melkite Council of the city and Archimandrite Dimitri Alouche and Father Elias Jarawan were building a church in a quarter of the city known as Paradise. The project was the work of Architect Benedito Calixto, the same who made a handful of public buildings in São Paulo. After three years of construction the church of Our Lady of Paradise, now our cathedral, was consecrated in 1954 by Cardinal Mota, Archbishop of the city.

Another church was built in Juiz de Fora, a wealthy city of the hinterland. A daring and modern construction (see below), this church today is one of the landmarks of the town and it is popularly known as “flying saucer”. Its construction began in 1958 and the main responsible was Archimandrite Pedro Arbex, who also wrote several books about Melkite liturgy and spirituality.

In Fortaleza, a coastal city in northeastern Brazil, the church of Our Lady of Lebanon was build in a couple of years due to the energy of Archimandrite Ibrahim Riachi, from the Chuerite Basilian Order, and was consecrated in 1962. Its façade is all in granite, an unique building on that region.

In the city of Belo Horizonte the Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was created. Now this church is a Syriac parish, the only syriac parish of the whole country, and was visited in April 2000 by His Beatitude the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Moussa Daoud, later Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches and Cardinal.

The Melkite Church of Saint George, Juiz de Fora, Brazil - the "flying saucer"

In 1955 the Brazilian Melkites had the honor of receiving the pastoral visit of His Beatitude Maximus IV Sayegh, a recognition of the importance of our Melkite community. This honor we had again in 1969 and 1993, when we were visited by his successor the Patriarch Maximus V Hakim. Before that we have had the historic visit in 1870 of Archbishop Basilius Hajar of Tyrus and Deir El Kamar, Lebanon. He was bestowed a medal by Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro II. A few decades later, in 1904, Brazil was visited by Archbishop Cyril Moghaghab, of Zahle, Lebanon, later Patriarch  Cyril IX (1925-1947).

In 1960 Archimandrite Coueter was elected Bishop of Taua (a dioceses “in partibus infidelium”) and auxiliary Bishop of the Archbishop of Rio for the Melkite Catholics in Brazil.

At the beginning of 1972 the Melkite community had the great joy of seeing the establishment of an independent hierarchy in our country. By the Decree “Cum Fidelium” Pope Paul VI created three Eastern Catholic Eparchies in Brazil, the Melkite, the Maronite and the Ukrainian. The Decree elected Bishop Coueter officially “First Eparch of Our Lady of Paradise, to all Melkites of Byzantine rite in Brazil”.

In 1977 after a life in most part dedicated to the Brazilian Melkite Church, Bishop Coueter retired, and continued to live here, his new country, until he passed on in 1985.

In 1978 our second Eparch was elected, Bishop Spiridon Mattar, born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1921, and former General Vicar of Beirut, Lebanon. He was our bishop until 1990, when he retired. He continues to live in Brazil.

Bishop Pierre Mouallem was our third Eparch, elected in 1990, until 1996 when he was elected Bishop of Haifa, Nazareth and Galilea.

Archbishop Fares Maakaroun is our Eparch since 2000. He was born in 1940 in Rayad, Lebanon, and is former Archbishop of Lattaquieh, Syria.

Now the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Brazil has four parishes (click for addresses) and the Melkite Eparch participates of the Melkite Synod and of the Brazilian National Conference of Bishops, the prestigious CNBB.

Main Sources:

KHATLAB, Roberto. Os melquitas. São Paulo: Eparquia Greco-Melquita Católica do Brasil, 1993. 256p. Série Estudos Melquitas - 2.

KAHLA, Nicolas Gabriel. Igreja católica Melkita no Brasil. In: Chams, abril/2000, ano IX, n. 90.

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