insights from lebanon

thoughts from my two months abroad and other personal reflections

Posts tagged maronite

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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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little pilgrimage

i’ve been going through the motions with my faith recently, but today was one of those days where i got to experience some of the things that make lebanon, and its religious history, so amazing.

i went to three monasteries: saint joseph’s in jrabta, one in kfifane, and our lady of nourieh in hamat. the first two hold tombs of two of lebanon’s saints, and the monastery in kfifane also holds the tomb of a saint-to-be.

the scenery surrounding these monasteries was serene and truly peaceful, with mountains on each side all clear of any man-made obstructions. although i will spare you the stories of the saints, you can read more about saint rafqa, saint hardini, and brother nehme by clicking their names. saint joseph’s also had a music school taught by the nuns, and one spoke to us for a long time after we told her we were from the united states. she gave us incense and sand from around st. rafqa’s tomb, and recounted miracles the sand has reportedly helped perform.

their stories are amazing, but being able to kneel in front of their tombs and pray was probably the highlight of the trip. brother nehme, who died in the 1930s, had a glass tomb where you could still see his preserved body, and it looked like he had just passed away, if even.

seeing others beside me who had traveled there to pray and devote some time to these saints was inspirational. on the way to the second stop, we picked up an elderly lady from the side of the road who walks down to saint joseph’s every other day. she was making the trek back to her home, but it was getting hot, and we saved her a twenty minute walk. i laughed when she came in and sat beside me because something almost forbidden in the states seemed so natural here.

the last monastary, while there wasn’t a saint there, was at the top of a mountain overlooking the mediterranean. there, one of the nuns gave us the key to an old shrine built for the virgin mary in the 4th century. two lost sailors who were stuck in a storm in the mediterranean prayed to her and were guided by a light back to shore. they then carved a cave and dedicated it to mary, and a monastery was later built above it in the 17th century.

this trip was what i needed, and affirmed my understanding of the deep religious roots in the region and why the country operates the way it does, sometimes on sectarian lines. having the opportunity to see the monasteries and learn about the saints’ lives was inspiring and to me proves that there is something out there bigger than us that deserve recognition. although it shouldn’t be “seeing is believing,” these people who had so much faith in something they could not always see have allowed me to see so that i may strengthen my faith. i think that’s what we need sometimes.

(slideshow of pictures below)

also, i went to saint charbel’s tomb during my last visit to lebanon. another great trip.

Filed under catholic lebanon maronite orthodox religon saints lebanon travel opinion