AUTHORS/ Raya, Joseph M.
Joseph Raya (August 15, 1916 - June 10, 2005), born in Zahlé, Lebanon, was a prominent Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop, theologian, civil rights advocate and author. He served as metropolitan of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee from 1968 until 1974 and was particularly known for his commitment to seeking reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims. He was also a leading advocate of celebrating the Divine Liturgy in vernacular languages.
Joseph-Marie Raya was born to Almez and Mikhail Raya and was the seventh of eight children. After finishing his elementary education at the Oriental College he studied in Paris before entering St. Anne's seminary in Jerusalem in 1937. He was ordained a priest of the Melkite Catholic Church on July 20, 1941. He later taught at the Patriarchal College on Queen Nazli Street in Cairo. Raya was expelled from Egypt in 1948 by King Farouk for defending the rights of women. He emigrated to the United States in 1949.
BIRMINGHAM AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
After serving as assistant pastor of St. Ann's Melkite Catholic Church in Woodland Park, New Jersey he was appointed pastor of St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1952. His championship of civil rights brought him into close friendship with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Raya marched several times at King's side and suffered three times at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, including one occasion when he was kidnapped and severely beaten by three Klansmen. Defying the threat of excommunication issued by Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas Toolen, Raya helped King and other civil rights demonstrators organize protests and marches throughout Alabama during the 1960s. Raya went on to found the first Eastern Catholic mission for African Americans, located in downtown Birmingham.
He was also very close to social justice activist Catherine Doherty, and he became the first Associate Priest of her Madonna House Apostolate in Combermere, Ontario, Canada on July 1, 1959. When he became Archbishop of Nazareth he ordained her husband Eddie Doherty to the priesthood.
ADVOCATE OF THE VERNACULAR FOR LITURGICAL SERVICES
As a priest in Alabama, Raya saw the need of younger generations to have church services in their own languages, and translated the Gospels, Missal, and Byzantine Divine Liturgy into English. Raya created a controversy when he invited Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the famous television Catholic personality, to celebrate the Pontifical Byzantine Divine Liturgy in English in 1958 at the Melkite National Convention. Bishop Sheen celebrated the Liturgy in English on television, inspiring some Catholics to renew calls for widespread use of the vernacular but raising the ire of traditionalists.
The Roman Catholic archbishop of Mobile, Thomas Toolen, Alabama banned Raya from celebrating the Divine Liturgy in English in December 1959.
However, Pope John XXIII intervened in March 1960 at the request of Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh to decide the question in favor of the Byzantine custom of celebrating the Divine Mysteries in the vernacular. In 1963 Raya's liturgical translation was declared the official English translation for the Catholic Byzantine rites.
Patriarch Maximos IV recognized Raya's successes by elevating him to the dignity of Grand Archimandrite of Jerusalem and appointing him a member of the Melkite patriarchal delegation to the Second Vatican Council. In a stunning change of tradition, the church fathers of Vatican II decided to allow widespread use of vernacular in the Catholic Church. After completing his work at Vatican II Raya continued to translate Melkite works into English. In 1968, with Baron Jose de Vinck of Alleluia Press in New Jersey, he authored "Byzantine Daily Worship," a compendium in English of the Divine Liturgy, Office of the Hours, and the sacraments.
Following his appointment as archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee on October 20, 1968, Archbishop Joseph led a peaceful demonstration of thousands of Arabs and Jews in Israel seeking justice for the villages of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit in Upper Galilee that had been depopulated in 1948, and then destroyed. Iqrit was the hometown of his second successor, Archbishop Elias Chacour. He sought justice through non-violent means and called upon Palestinians to be good citizens of Israel
Describing Raya's actions, Father John Catoir wrote in 1969:
"They (Christian Arabs) are in no mood for brotherhood talks, but (Raya) commands them to stop hating the Jews, to purge their hearts of hatred and contention which breeds only misery and further suffering.
At the closing session of the Israeli parliament he thundered to the Jewish representatives, alternating between French, Arabic, and English for all to understand, that they have done to the Arabs some of the very same things they themselves lament so bitterly in their own history of persecution.
It is quite a thing to see a living prophet in action, challenging the inflamed passions of ancient enemies."
In August, 1972 he ordered all churches in his eparchy closed one Sunday to mourn for "the death of justice in Israel" as the two villages remained dispossessed. Explaining his position, Raya said:
"No end justifies injustice - even if that end seems to be the good of the state or of a nation. If you base security on denial of justice, no amount of money can guarantee that security. Not even an army as strong as all of the legions of Rome will be able to insure it."
As archbishop, Raya was a controversial figure. While many admired his charismatic style and ecumenical leadership, some Arabs and members of the church hierarchy resented his overtures to Israel. Raya was opposed to the Melkite Holy Synod's proposal to internationalize Jerusalem. He also upset the Vatican with his aggressive campaign for the return of the Bir'im and Ikrit refugees and the sale of church land to impoverished Moslem farmers. Raya's letter of resignation declared that the Church hierarchy forced his decision to leave his post. The government of Israel considered him dangerous, but when he resigned Prime Minister Golda Meir begged him to reconsider.
Raya's resignation came as a shock to many. The local Christian Youth Club collected several thousand signatures asking him to reconsider, and prominent Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders in Israel and abroad voiced disappointment. Yoram Kaniuk described their thoughts on the archbishop, describing Raya as "incomprehensible. The great majority of people viewed him with suspicion. Because he failed to conform to generally accepted notions... Unusual people, deeply religious men, men of morals we won't understand. Bishop Raya was out of step. He bore Israel no animosity. He cared for and looked after his spiritual flock." Departing his post, Raya used his final pastoral letter to underscore his ecumenical approach:
"I came to the Holy Land to give. And behold! I was overwhelmed by what I received! I came to enrich and purify! And behold! I was the one to be enriched and purified. I loved the family of the Lord. His family are both the Jews and the Arabs. I held the Muslims, the Druze, the Jew, the Christian, everyone believer and unbeliever, in the same embrace."
After resigning his archbishopric on July 13, 1974, Raya moved to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. At some time between his resignation and 1975 he suffered a massive heart attack and had a quadruple bypass operation in Lexington, Kentucky. From his home in Combermere he lectured and wrote on Byzantine spirituality at various places, among them the John XXIII Ecumenical Center in The Bronx, near Fordham University and the Patriarchal Major Seminary at Raboue in Antelias, Lebanon. He returned to Lebanon in 1985 to assist the Diocese of Beirut with Archbishop Habib Bacha. In 1987 he assumed interim leadership of the Archdiocese of Paneas in Marjayoun, Lebanon which had been destroyed by the 1974- 1991 Lebanese civil war. He moved back to Canada after the completion of this assignment and retired at Madonna House in 1990. Raya died on June 10, 2005 at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Barry's Bay, Ontario, Canada.