When he was in Year 12, Charbel Raish was on the brink of converting to Islam. While he had little understanding of the Catholic faith into which he’d been baptised, there were several aspects of Muslim prayer and fasting he admired. A series of conversations with the local sheik, during which his own beliefs were challenged, led him to recite the shahada three times—‘There is only one God and his prophet is Muhammed’—and to prepare for the ritual washing that would welcome him into a new life in the Muslim community.

Something stopped him going through with it. As he was changing into his new gown—another symbol of that new life—he sensed a voice inside say, ‘Not yet. Not yet.’

To this day, he wonders if it was the voice of Mary. He went home instead and told his mother all about it. Unsurprisingly, she was not happy about what he was considering, especially since Charbel’s birth had been nothing short of a miracle.

He had been named after St Charbel (1828–1898), a Maronite monk from Lebanon. When his mother had started bleeding dangerously halfway through her pregnancy, she was encouraged by health professionals to abort for her own safety. Since she was also epileptic, they said that the baby would only have a 5 per cent chance of survival. Refusing, she turned to St Charbel, promising to name the child after him if he lived. The following day, her bleeding stopped completely.

His mother challenged Charbel to go to church and ask God if he wanted him to become a Muslim. Charbel followed her advice, and it was there he had a powerful experience of Christ that changed his life forever. As he was praying, he saw an image of Jesus appear on the tabernacle doors—black and white and bearded—and it didn’t go away. He also heard a voice that said, ‘Charbel, are you going to give up all that I have done for you?’

This experience set Charbel on a new course, diving deep into the Catholic faith and actively sharing it with others. He describes this time in his life as one of being ‘hungry’ for the faith, lapping up everything he could.

Later, he would be surprised when, seeing an image of the Shroud of Turin, he realised that it was the very image that had appeared to him on the tabernacle that day.

The origins of Parousia Media

Today, Charbel is the founder of Parousia Media, a distribution company that aims to form people in the faith. He is also married with eight children, and number nine on the way.

He has been travelling to a number of cities, sharing his testimony and promoting his book, How Islam Led me Back to Christ (2020). The book is about ‘how God can work through any of us,’ he says. It also shares some of the more complicated parts of his family history, because he ‘wanted to show that God can even work in someone like me, with the messy family background I had.’

Charbel has travelled the world with popular Catholic speakers, including Scott Hahn, Tim Staples, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Leah Darrow, Jason Evert, Fr Mitch Pacwa and many more. He recently came to Melbourne to speak at a God and Beer event hosted by the Knights of the Southern Cross. He regards these opportunities as a real privilege.

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Charbel Raish, in Melbourne

‘Sometimes I have to pinch myself,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t feel like a job. It’s a mission.’

Parousia Media started in 2005, somewhat unexpectedly. Out of seminary and now engaged to his soon-to-be wife, Charbel was hunting down cassettes of Catholic speakers for his own interest, but given cassettes were virtually extinct by that point, he wasn’t having much luck. Even CDs were difficult to find: the only way to get them was from the United States. Calling up St Joseph’s Communications, he discovered that it would cost A$70 to purchase and ship one CD from the States—a price that astounded him.

Charbel asked if there was a way to acquire these CDs more affordably. ‘Not without a distributor,’ the representative of St Joseph’s Communications said, before following up with a question: ‘Would you like to do that for us?’ All Charbel would need to do was set up a website, sell the copies and pass on the royalties.

So on 10 May 2005, Parousia Media was born. Since Charbel had no idea how to create a website, a quadriplegic friend of his did it for him, coding the website with a mouthpiece.

For a time, Parousia was a side-gig while Charbel studied, worked and married, selling CDs from the boot of his car. Over time, though, demand increased and Charbel knew he was on to something special. It wasn’t long before they were bringing speakers out from Catholic Answers to tour Australia. Now he runs Parousia Media full time.

Technological developments have presented interesting challenges as well as opportunities for Parousia. In the podcasting era, they’ve needed to adapt, figuring out how to make thousands of hours of talks available via that medium.

But a particularly exciting venture for Charbel in recent years is Parousia Academy, an online school for adult Catholic education. Partnering with Campion College Australia, the academy was launched in 2021, and now Charbel spends a lot of his time teaching, not just distributing, Catholic content.

Faith and family

Because Parousia is more a mission than a job, his workload extends well beyond 9–5, he says. None of it could be done without his wife, Christine, for whom he has endless praise.

‘She is my number one support,’ he says. ‘She makes me a better man, reminding me of why I do what I do. As much as I do, she wants people to experience the grace and love from our Lord as much as we have.’

Christine and Charbel met at the very church in Sydney where he encountered Christ as a high-school student. ‘She wanted a family. She wanted children. She wanted to get to heaven. And that’s what I wanted. We hit it off straight away.’

‘I love her more today than I did the day I married her. She’s been there, and without her Parousia Media doesn’t happen,’ he says. ‘We home-school as well, by the way. That’s another layer of commitment.’

They still get plenty of time to go on family vacations, and now the kids are growing older, there are more opportunities to include them in the mission—from road trips to pilgrimages overseas. ‘Family trips become mission trips,’ he says. ‘When they see Dad involved like this, it’s a beautiful thing.’

These trips are a great opportunity to share the faith with his children. When it comes to passing on the faith in the family, leading by example is so important, he says. ‘It’s caught, not taught most times.’

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Charbel Raish, in conversation

Interesting times

Since his company began in 2005, the world has changed in many ways. One of the growing challenges, he thinks—even for evangelisation—is learning how to separate the ideology from the person, recognising that regardless of what someone thinks, they are a human being infinitely loved by God.

‘Very interesting times we’re in,’ he says. ‘It’s become very hostile. We don’t know how to debate anymore … I think we’re at a point now where we can’t agree to disagree anymore.’

In many ways, however, the challenges we face are ones that go back to the Garden of Eden, Charbel believes. ‘What’s the very first temptation? “You will be like God.”’ The perennial temptation is always to put ourselves first. ‘When you don’t put God first, it’s not the devil that replaces him. He points it onto us, and we become our own god.’

But when we remove God from the picture, an inevitable emptiness ensues:

You take out God, and you have to replace that void with something. And it’s replaced with other gods: work, money, fame, power, greed, you name it.

The modern challenge is the same as the ancient one, according to Charbel: we must—day in and day out, in our own hearts and in our families—learn to put God on the throne, where he belongs. And that’s what Charbel hopes people will be inspired to do through Parousia Media.