insights from lebanon

thoughts from my two months abroad and other personal reflections

Posts tagged church

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religious encounters.

there is no doubt that religion plays a defining role in lebanese politics and daily life. after all, politics are determined by religious affiliation, and there are so many religious landmarks and history here that it is impossible to escape it. but what i found most interesting is that while religion can cause a divide which can fuel wars and lead to sectarian tensions, lebanon has proven that coexistence is not inconceivable. it is difficult, but still possible. although some of my previous posts touched on religion, i thought i’d share some of my small experiences with faith during my time here in lebanon.

my first taste of the religious diversity came in downtown beirut, where a huge mosque stands next to a maronite church (pictured above). i had the chance to visit both places of worship, and each was amazing in its own way. whether i was christian or muslim did not matter — i felt something. and i understood the dedication of these people to their faiths and the representation of their personal beliefs in the design and architecture of their respective places of worship. next to the buildings, christmas trees are lit during the holiday season, and a colorful display of the phases of the moon is shown during ramadan. the fact that these two amazing buildings can stand side by side in downtown beirut is testament to the pride the country has in its religious diversity.

visiting the site of prayer for the druze, another important faith represented in lebanon, was a new experience for me. it was a short visit, but i still got to get a glimpse of a faith i didn’t know much about. the shrine of st. job overlooked an amazing view of the shuf, and seeing their unity and closeness was very inspiring.  

another inspiring moment was visiting harisa, a pilgrimage site for many christians, where a statue of mary overlooks the city of jounieh and the mediterranean sea. the loudspeakers at the shrine were blasting voices praying the rosary inside the chapel, and at the same time, i saw women covered in hijab walking to the site and taking pictures. to me, that moment where these two faiths were respectfully colliding in one location was again a perfect example of what lebanon represents.

ramadan is taking place at the moment, and while there is a great deal of respect for those celebrating ramadan, it does not interfere with daily life during the day, something which oftentimes occurs in other arab or muslim countries. and in my opinion, the difficulty of continuing with work, school or other activities makes the time more meaningful. for example, when i went to lunch one day at mcdonalds, a young woman wearing hijab took my order and carried on packing the fries and the meal and giving me my soda. i am almost one hundred percent sure she was fasting and was definitely working in one of the most difficult environments, but she was still making the most out of it. here, i saw that instead of accommodating to the hardships that come with ramadan (difficulties which are familiar to me during the season of lent), people here continue with their daily lives as normal, adding the difficulty of fasting to their routines. and no one seems to complain.

is there anger and frustration between religious groups? of course. and when tensions boil over in lebanon, it can get very nasty. but for now at least, religious coexistence is a part of daily life and i think the lebanese people handle it very well. lebanon really is a crossroads of civilizations where east meets west. and with a lot of religious history combined into one tiny country, it becomes immediately obvious how difficult it can be to contain it all. what happens when you have a small bottle full of soda and shake it just a bit? that’s sort of like religion in lebanon.

so for now, things will stay quiet. that is, at least until the church next to the mosque in downtown finishes building the new bell tower equal in height to the towering minarets right next door.

Filed under christianity druze islam lebanon religion mosque church maronite beirut faith opinion travel

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this weekend was weird.

saturday morning, i had a midterm. i studied all week for it here and there, and literally spent all of friday reviewing. when i sat down to take the test, i felt more confident with every question i answered. and then when time was up, the computer flashed my grade. let’s just say it wasn’t good.

that was the start of my weekend. it put me in a bad mood going into my aunt’s car when she picked me up. she was also with a priest that we know, who was going to take us to some places in lebanon and show us around.

i pretty much had no idea where were going, because all i could make out was “were going to saida then blah blah eat fish for lunch at blah blah then the priest has to do a mass for blah blah at blah blah if that’s okay.” all i had was a sketch of our day, and i really didn’t care at that point because all i could think about was the test.

the drive was long, and i fell asleep, and when we reached saida, something happened to where we couldn’t find wherever we wanted to go and we turned back around and went to a really amazing church instead. it was still under construction (pictures below) and it was crazy because you could see half-finished mosaics and other soon-to-be-beautiful parts of the church in the process of being completed. and the view, which you can’t see from my pictures because my camera died (this day wasn’t going well), was ridiculous. the glass behind the altar revealed a valley below, full of trees and dotted with some houses. it was amazing.

during the drive to lunch and the mass at wherever we were going, i kept thinking about my exam. it was one of those things where i knew i messed up but i didn’t know why or what i did wrong, which made it a million times worse. and for some reason, my mind wandered, and i started thinking about church retreats i used to go on with friends during high school. i really don’t know why it came to my mind, but i think i was trying to recall the feelings i got from those retreats and how i was always in a great mood afterwards, how my life seemed to be coming together amazingly at that time and i just missed that. i wanted another retreat, and i promised myself i’d go on one.

we had lunch, and then we met these two women at a designated area to go to the mass the priest was performing. my idea for what was going on was only half accurate because of the language barrier, so i just followed along. we were in the mountains, and we drove through gravel roads until we reached the destination. we were led up some stairs placed randomly on a cliff, and once we got to the top, i saw small cabins, yellow tents, and fifty young girls either running around or doing each other’s hair. they were all in purple shirts which read “in his eyes.”

i guess god has a sense of humor, because i was standing in the middle of a girls’ church retreat, not too different from the ones i used to go on with my friends. except when the priest opened up the floor to prayers, these young girls weren’t shy like we usually were, and raised their voices to pray about things i never thought would be on someone’s mind at that age. and when they sang, they sang. so, amidst the purple shirts, the beautiful voices of fifty young girls, indistinguishable arabic, and nature, i celebrated mass with my aunt and the abouna (priest). and god.

it was a weird weekend. but i guess it was pretty awesome too.

(you can see a video of some of the mass below, or here. pictures are here.)

Filed under catholic church lebanon mass retreat opinion travel

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first mass.

i arrived late to church today. i didn’t really anticipate going to mass, but was more intent on just finding my way to church so i knew for the future and on taking a walk and grabbing something quick to eat before studying. i also didn’t know what time mass started and i couldn’t find the exact street it was on (no surprise), so it took a bit longer to get there than i expected.

i had passed st. francis catholic church several times while driving to aub the week before classes started when i was trying to get everything handled before the start of the semester. i thought i’d have to give it a try sometime.

i walked in about halfway through mass. but that wasn’t the issue. i stepped in through a small door on the side, which when opened, hit someone because the church was so full and some were forced to stand. upon entering, i could hear a multitude of female voices singing in highly accented english. i looked up from my spot in the back of the church, and even though i’m not tall at all, i was towering over most of the congregation with a perfect view of the altar (something not always possible back home), seeing the long black hair of mostly women directly in front of me and in the pews. the whole church was filled with filipinos and others of southeast asian descent.  

i immediately knew who most of these women were. in lebanon, san3as, or maids, are popular with the local population, especially those who can afford the assistance or who could use extra help with their big families. here they were, gathered for sunday mass with their community in this foreign land, along with a few lebanese and other catholics in the congregation. i stood quietly in the back with the rest of those who could not find seats, and participated in mass. i joined hands with those next to me for the ‘our father,’ just as i do back home, and i turned to those around me saying ”peace be with you” when the time came for that.

so there i was, in lebanon, a country with a culture familiar to me and where i blend in on the streets, and in a church of a religion i know very well and am a part of, feeling like i was in a completely unfamiliar and different part of the world — a giant, sharing a room with mostly small female filipino maids singing and responding to the priest in accented english. and yet somehow, i still felt at home.

Filed under aub beirut hamra catholic mass church catholicism travel filipino