St. George Church | San Antonio, TX | Regina Aune
How does one capture in a brief article the wonder and the excitement of visiting Lebanon for the first time, second time, or the twentieth time? Forty-one members and friends of St. George Church in San Antonio, Texas, embarked on just such a faith-filled and fun-filled pilgrimage to Lebanon on from 21 July to 1 August.
To describe all the beauty we saw, the shrines where we prayed, and the places we visited would take many pages and fill more than one book. We visited so many shrines, celebrated the Divine Liturgy each day in a different place, and visited so many historical sites that it was hard to capture just what it all meant until we returned to Texas and had time to reflect on the whole trip.
Perhaps the most poignant way to share our experience with you, is to share the insights of those who made the pilgrimage. The two most frequent, almost unanimous comments made by those who were on the pilgrimage were that the beauty of the country was spectacular and the influence of Christianity, particularly of the Maronite Church, on the people and the culture was astounding. Frank Rizzo said pictures of Lebanon do not do it justice; with its mountains, the valleys, the Mediterranean Sea, and the cedars no picture can capture the beauty of the land. Kathy and Albert Andry said they were “stunned” by how much the Church influenced everything in Lebanon. Nancy Karam elaborated on this notion when she said, “it was so readily apparent that they were determined to preserve their faith; seeing their faith deepened my own.” Edmond Karam said he was impressed with how familiar he felt visiting the shrines and churches and participating in the liturgy when he visited his family’s original village. He also commented, that he strongly perceived the influence of Christianity on life in Lebanon especially because Christians are not the majority. The monastic roots of the Maronite Church were so self-evident when visiting the shrines, that the experience made what has always been understood about the monastic influence very real and tangible. The strong sense of family and family values were also evident, it seemed to trump everything. Those who visited with relatives – including relatives they had never met – in the various villages were overwhelmed with the warm welcome that they received.
All the pilgrims commented on the sincere hospitality shown by the Lebanese people. Everyone expressed how welcome they felt during the whole time of the pilgrimage and how anxious they are to return to visit family, to see more of the historical sites, revisit the shrines, and learn more of the history of the country. So much more could be said and written about the pilgrimage, with each one who made the trip having his or her own story to tell. Perhaps the one thing that can be stated, is that this pilgrimage was truly a journey of faith that increased the pilgrims’ understanding and appreciation for what it means to be a Maronite.
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