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Appeals decision grants limited tax exemption

When the Arabic Catholic Church asked for a tax exemption in October, the Warren County Board of Assessment Appeals took its time and came back with a partial exemption.

The church holds regularly scheduled religious worship — mass every morning at 8 a.m. — at the former Budget Lodge property along Route 6 in Mead Township, according to Archbishop Ramzi Musallam.

Musallam explained the position of the church to board members Bernard Hessley, Joe Whipp, and Dale Forbes, but he is not the officiant of the church in Warren County. “I am the archbishop for all of the U.S. The chancery is located in Pottsville.”

“We will have a priest here and monks,” Musallam said. “It will be a religious community here.”

He said the parish priest will live in the rectory — formerly the motel office.

“I’m hoping to see the property exempt because it’s going to be used for religious purposes,” Musallam said.

The Arabic Catholic Church purchased the property in May.

Since then, the church has held regular services and the motel has been used as a retreat center, Musallam said. He estimated the size of the congregation at 45 members.

“I’m very happy to be in the community,” Musallam said. “I do have other retreat centers in the church and they are very helpful in the community.”

“Since May, we’ve been helping a lot of people in the community,” he said. “We’ve been having a lot of people coming in from the county.”

Typically, people stay at the retreat center for up to three days. “They attend Holy Mass. They stay, eat, go,” Musallam said.

He said there were four units occupied at the time of the hearing and as many as 11 since the retreat center opened.

There is no charge to use the retreat center, he said when asked by the board. “We ask people, if they are able, to give a contribution.”

The church is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church, Patriarchate of Constantinople, he said. But, there are no denomination requirements on attending the church or making use of its services, Musallam explained to the board.

“I respect the Catholics, the Protestants… I love everybody,” he said. “Believe in the God of your heart.”

After hearing the appeal, the board asked for 30 days to come back with a ruling.

The board ruled that the motel portion of the property would not be tax-exempt, according to Warren County Chief Assessor Brian Bull.

The worship building, a 32-by-16 foot structure brought to the property, was deemed tax-exempt, as was the fellowship hall.

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