Lebanon, The Only Country With A St. Charbel, Celebrates Having The Biggest St. Charbel Statue In The World

A 26 meter St. Charbel statue made its journey from Jounieh to Faraya. If that’s not enough of a Keserwan dose for one day for anyone, I don’t know what is.

The problem is it doesn’t stop there. The problem is that this huge statue is being celebrated as some kind of national achievement, à la the giant plate of hummus we made to beat Israel as they continuously attempt to appropriate our national food.

Except there’s really nothing to prove to the world or to ourselves or to even Mar Charbel himself here, and there’s no other society on Earth today that’s setting out to beat us when it comes to how big we can make a Mar Charbel statue. Why? Because there’s no other country on Earth that has a Mar Charbel to begin with, and no other country celebrates this particular saint as much as we do.

I’m beginning to think St. Rafca and St. Hardini are beginning to get jealous at the amount of attention Maronites put towards St. Charbel while completely ignoring the fact they have a bunch of other saints to indulge with endless veneration. But please don’t get any more ideas for 26 meter statues.

The fact of the matter is this St. Charbel statue is not a national triumph. It’s not even a religious triumph. If anyone knows any inkling about the life of St. Charbel, they’d have known that his entire life was centered around that which is humble. His pillow was a wooden log. His mattress was a thin layer of cotton on the floor. His entire life was a celebration of what it is to be a human who knows that pride is not how you heal your soul.

And yet here’s a 26 meter statue of him being paraded around as some form of victory. For whom? For him? He’s probably nauseous at the site of it wherever he is. For Maronite pride? It’s pitiful if that entity needs a 26 meter flag for validation. For Keserwan to have some claim to being a religious pilgrimage site for the country as it boasts to being the beacon of Maronitism while every saint in this country lays elsewhere?

This 26 meter St. Charbel statue is yet another example of a practice that we as Lebanese excel at: the art of vanity. Even in prayer and religion, two acts which should be as subdued and restricted to one’s person, we have to get out of our way to prove – no idea to whom – that we can do it bigger, flashier, and better.

I wonder, what does Faraya have to do with St. Charbel in the first place? He was not from there. His town Bkaakafra, in the heart of the North, is long forgotten in this equation. He was not buried there – Annaya, Lebanon’s top pilgrimage site seems not to be part of this. The only reason why such a gigantic statue would be placed in a town whose entire economy revolves around tourism can be summed up with one word: boasting. It’s a “mine is bigger than yours” country.

Picture this from now: visit Faraya, home of Lebanon’s most visited slopes… and the biggest statue of the country’s most famous saint.

What this statue does is further numb the masses to the many failings that their politicians have dealt them by giving them the opioids they crave most: look at how big we can make your religion look. It’s only a matter of time before the region’s and other Maronites politicians rise to the mantle of declaring themselves responsible for such a statue. Remember this come Election time, for they will remind you of it.

For a saint whose entire existence was to get his fellow Christians to rise beyond their idolatry, this statue is the biggest insult one can deal him. You’re not doing St. Charbel proud by erecting a 40 ton statue of him. You’re not making him proud by boasting about this being the world’s biggest, a foolish claim to say the least. We’re not proving anything to the world except how unfocused and deluded our priorities are as a nation if we go gaga over a statue whose purpose is to boost someone’s ego.

I wonder, as a closing thought, what this statue cost. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on a statue of a saint that could have been spent in donating money to the Monastery where that saint’s body resides or, better yet, to his village to better its infrastructure or, even better, actually help the needy societies – Maronite or otherwise – of this country, for that is what Charbel would’ve wanted.

Until then, enjoy the traffic.

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Between Brad and Bkerke…

February 9th, St. Maroun’s day, the founder of the Maronite Church.

On this day, we are observing two totally different scenes.
One in Bkerke, Lebanon and one in Brad, Syria.

In Bkerke, the Maronite Patriach, held Mass to celebrate the day. Notable politicians attended.
In Brad, a Lebanese Maronite political leader took his family and supporters to celebrate the day.

The difference in meaning between both celebrations is anything but subtle…

Do not be fooled by the apparent religious cover of the celebration in Brad… it is all political.
Brad might have been an important Maronite location in the past but the present value of this site is what matters: there is nothing currently Maronite about it except its history. If Maronites had felt it suitable to stay in Brad, I’m positive Brad would have been a Maronite beacon today. But this is not the case. What is left in Brad is a few ruins to commemorate the days when Maronites were actually there.

On the other hand, Bkerke is the seat of Maronitisim of the whole Levant region – it is the reference. It is the place where people should celebrate St. Maroun’s day. It is where all Lebanese citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations, come to share the celebration with the Patriarch.
Look at it this way, what would be the value of Rome and the Vatican if they weren’t the current location and base of the Holy See?

This political leader probably thinks he’s making a good deed by visiting Syria to celebrate this day. He probably believes that showing that not all Maronites consider the Patriarch and Bkerke their reference, to further solidify the idea that the diversity in Lebanon, even within certain sects, is a good thing, only working to the enriching of society. I believe this is the best case scenario explanation of his motive.
It would have been good if this precise leader wasn’t so adamant about fighting for Christian – and precisely Maronite – rights.
A simple common sense question I believe I am entitled to ask: do you believe, Mr. politician, that showing a divided front to the world is a good way to fight for your rights? What rights are we supposed to fight for if we can’t even agree where we want to celebrate our founder’s day? What gives us the right to even fight for our rights if we can’t even agree on a proper reference for us in our country?
The reality is: he wants to show that a sizable fragment of Maronites actually consider him their reference.

What is even more ironic is the hypocrisy this leader has shown throughout his dealings with Bkerke and yet his followers seem to forget about it.
2005: The patriarch and Bkerke side with him… the patriarch does not receive any bashing
2005 onwards: This politician shifts sides.
2005 onwards: The Patriarch and Bkerke became critical of him and he, along with his followers, began bashing the patriarch.

This leader is preaching to his followers in Brad. But what about those followers? I know some of them. Some of them are from my hometown, I even share blood with some. And I’ve heard them say on way too many occasions that “our patriarch isn’t worth Hassan Nasrallah’s shoe”. This is how low these people think of their patriarch, their true reference. What does that say of them?
And why do they think so low of the patriarch? Because their political leader is at odds with how the Patriarch views the right direction for our country to be… You see, the simple chronological sequence I illustrated earlier only goes to show that the Patriarch and Bkerke are firm in their convictions. They have not changed. It is those who have changed and cannot tolerate criticism that have been the most sensitive and therefore, the most brutal towards Bkerke.

There are many more differences between Brad and Bkerke than a few hundred kilometers… the difference between Brad and Bkerke is that of ideology.

The only thing this political leader is accomplishing is distancing himself from the Maronite Church. If only he had the common sense to see that this Church he is trying to ignore is a 1600 year old institute that has overcome many, many bigger hurdles than the one he thinks he’s setting up.
If only he had the common sense to see that, at least on St. Maroun’s day, he should at least attend Mass at Bkerke and show the world that at least on the day of their founding, Maronites are united in their cause to stay in the country that made them and in the country that they have made.