Father Antoun Bou Antoun was born on 12 October 1933 to Antonious and Tamini in the northern village of Imar in Lebanon. He was six when World War II started and 12 when it ended. He was the second eldest of a family of four boys and four girls. He undertook some basic schooling in the village and then was required to help his father and family on the land. Father Antoun knew from an early age he wanted to be a priest. His father was not keen because they needed him to help the family.
Later Father Antoun decided to travel to Brazil with the hope of providing for his family, but also for the freedom to go out into the world. He spent seven years working in Brazil which was a wonderful experience for him. In Brazil he would attend bible studies and prayer groups in other Maronite homes. This strengthened his calling to be a priest. It also left a mark on the kind of priest he would become. He resolved to return to Lebanon and to convince his parents to allow him to enter the seminary.
In 1963, on his way back from Brazil to Lebanon, Fr Antoun visited Rome. At the time, the second Vatican Council was in session. He pretended to be an assistant to one of the priests and was let into Saint Peter’s Basilica where he was able to see Pope Paul VI. It was perhaps ominous that he would attend such a momentous time in the life of Church, because eventually he would become a priest of the Church in the era post the second Vatican Council.
Father Antoun had only a limited education and his road to the priesthood was long and often challenging. However, by the will of God, on 6 March 1976, Father Antoun was ordained to the priesthood.
On 27 November 1980, Father Antoun first came to Australia where the Eparchy was quickly growing as many had come from Lebanon to Australia for a new and better life. He recognised there was a huge need for priests in Australia. Many of the people who had arrived were already here from his own village and surrounding villages in the North and had left the difficulties of Lebanon to build a new life in Australia. Father Antoun stayed at Our Lady of Lebanon for a few years, retuned to Lebanon for a while and then came back to Australia for good.
In March 2016, he celebrated 40 years as a priest. I was blessed to organise a talk given by him to mark the occasion. He spoke of his love and devotion to Our Lady. He also recounted a beautiful story to us.
In the 1970’s, as a newly ordained priest in his hometown of Imar, Father Antoun was entrusted with money by the townspeople for safekeeping. It was the start of the Lebanese civil war and newly emigrated village folk were sending money back to the town from places like Australia.
At that time, the road out of Imar required villagers to pass through hostile towns and increasingly the villagers were running into trouble when they needed to leave the town. The village folk were saving the money to buy weapons.
When eventually the village folk came to Father Antoun to access the money, Father Antoun refused to hand it over for them to buy the weapons. He explained that there was a better way. He told the villagers that they would build a road that took them through an alternative route through other safe Christian towns. Some of the village folk were upset, but eventually the road was built and still exists today, out of Imar through the town of Miziara. Father Antoun calls it the “Road of Mercy”. Wisdom will always find a better way.
We encourage you all to look to your elders, as they have wisdom that can only come with the experience of age and advantage of time and time will pass and so will they. Father Antoun had an enormous influence on the lives of many especially at the Parish of Our Lady of Lebanon Harris Park.
We remember his wisdom, love and example and now ask for his prayers and intercessions for us from God’s heavenly kingdom. May God his soul rest in peace and may his memory be eternal.