Meet another member of South Florida's many-sided faith community. This week we're talking with the Rev. Michael Thomas, spiritual leader of Heart of Jesus Maronite Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale.
Q: If someone asked "What's a Maronite?", what would you tell them?
A: I would tell them we're Roman Catholics, but our rituals and customs come from the Middle East and go back to the time of the apostles. In some parts of the Mass, we retain Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and the postles. The rest of the Mass is in the vernacular — say, Arabic or English.
Q: Do people regard Maronites with xenophobia? Or, conversely, do they think of the church as exotic?
A: Some prefer our Sunday Mass, where the music is in Arabic. They like the music, find it prayerful. Other people find it too exotic. They never come back.
Q: What distinctive contribution do Maronite Catholics make in America?
A: With our people, it's family values and hard work. We have accountants, engineers, architects, doctors. One owns a couple of hotels. Some are in real estate.
As a church, we support one American value that's disappearing: prayer. The doors of this church are open all day, every day. Anyone who wants to pray, they don't have to ask for a key. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I think that's still important.
Q: Do you have an overall philosophy of ministry?
A: As a Catholic priest, my first role is to bring people to prayer through the sacraments. Many people expect other things, like helping with immigration problems, family counseling, trying to find work. I do as much as I can. If they need more help, I find people who are more qualified.
Q: Do you have a motto, or favorite scripture verse?
A: My favorite scripture verse is from Matthew 11:28,29: "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you … For I am meek and humble of heart." That's why I named the church Heart of Jesus. From that verse.
My motto as a canon lawyer is "Mercy and Justice." We can rely on God's mercy no matter what we do. But we can't take advantage of it.
— James D. Davis
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Rev. Michael Thomas
Other posts: Chorbishop (similar to an auxiliary bishop) and vicar general for Bishop Gregory Mansour of Brooklyn, head of the 16-state Eparchy of Saint Maron.
Education: Bachelor of arts in French-secondary education, Providence College, Providence, R.I.; bachelor of sacred theology, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; license in canon law, Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome; doctor of canon law, Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome.
Personal: 55. Born in New Bedford, Mass.