Look At All Those “Idiots” Attending The Pope’s Mass in Beirut

350,000. That’s how many people went to Beirut’s Watefront to attend the Pope’s Mass.

A few people is all it took for a wave of ridicule to start hitting them all. Some people were bothered by the Mass. And I don’t get why.

I didn’t go down to Beirut for the Mass although I would have liked to. And I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to. But why make fun of those who do?

Are they causing you any harm? No. Are they wrecking havoc to downtown Beirut? No. Are they giving a bad image of your country? No.

On the contrary, the Pope’s Mass in Beirut was broadcast for the entire world to see. And if there’s any decent image that we could have given the world, it’s this: 350,000 people, not all of whom are Christian, listening in to a message of hope.

You don’t like the Pope? Fine. You don’t think what he has to say is relevant? You have every right. But what you don’t have the right to do is make fun of those who like the Pope and who think what he has to say is relevant.

Religion may not mean anything to you but it means something to others. You find religions to be bringing societies backwards, others find in them a message of hope. And as it is your right to express your belief without expecting people to pummel you for it, the least you can do is extend that courtesy to those who don’t share your beliefs.

Personally, I felt proud as a Lebanese first and foremost and as a Christian second to see the crowds in Downtown Beirut chant and attend Mass. It made me feel hopeful, if only for a fleeting second, that somehow someday things might get better. I may be delusional, but that’s fine – at least for today.

The point is: the Pope’s visit means a lot to so many people. It may mean nothing to you but that doesn’t mean you can disparage the right of people to see hope in it or to attend Mass and feel delusional for one more day. It’s their life and if you believe they’re not reaching their “mental apogee” because of it, then it’s their loss not yours.

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The French Experience – Part 1

Let me tell you this… French weather is something.

You know it´s bad when you land in Lyon and, confident of the shorts and T-shirt you´re wearing, venture out of the facility only to find your face hit by ten degrees celsius.

Did I mention it was August 7th?

Let alone the fact that a typical Lebanese would never admit they´re cold when taken by surprise (we have this in Lebanon is the sentence we all say), I was freezing.

We met up with a French group who was more than welcoming. Imagine people you don´t know hugging you and innundating you with too many names, which at the time you thought would be impossible to remember.

We were then taken to the city of Lyon. We were supposed to vist the shrine of Notre Dame de Fourviere, which translates as Our Lady of Fourviere.

Located on a hilltop, it has the exact same statue of the Virgin Mary we have in Harissa in Lebanon, except it´s covered in a thin layer of gold, overlooking the city which it protects.

The church itself is huge. Have you ever been to a place where, despite being tired beyond measure, simply takes your breath away? That´s the church of Fourviere right there.

Pillars after pillars of marble, paintings and mosaics… the decoration inside is of epic proportions that our guide told us: “It´s very easy to get lost in the grandeur of the decor… but it´s the architecture that matters.”

Interestingly, there´s a small shrine for Harissa inside Fourviere – dedicated to Notre Dame du Liban. And based on what a good French friend of mine told me, the day the shrine was opened, the church had hundreds and hundreds of visitors attending the ceremony, something which is rare to be seen.

And then it was time for mass… now imagine the scenario: you haven´t slept in over 24 hours, you´re too tired to even open your eyes and you have to be attentive in mass because you, as a Lebanese group, are so important that you were placed in the first two rows of an overbooked cathedral.

Now imagine poor me trying every single way to sleep and make it look like I´m praying. Needless to say that I was unsuccessful. But you know what, that was one the best services I ever attended. Even though almost everything was different, I was mesmerized by how grand everything was. You had too many priests, too many readings and yet they all fit in so little time. The order of events in mass, which we´re used to as Maronites, is out of order in a Roman Catholic mass.

And then there´s the singing… there was a full-blown band called Malak performing the chants in church. And I got goosebumps when Claire sang a chant that I had never heard before: Couronnees D´etoiles.

And since we were V.I.P during mass, we were asked to chant something in Lebanese as part of the mass. So when I was leaving church, a woman stops me and asks: “Vous etes des Libanais?”

I nodded. She proceeded to say that her mother, who passed away nine years ago, was also Lebanese. And when we chanted in Lebanese, she imagined her mother standing between us and chanting with us. She hugged me in thanks and left.

I guess my first few hours in France were a success…

Remember, Remember The 26th Of March…

I’ve been breathing for 21 years and a few months. This totals to more than 7700 days of me being alive. Out of those 7700 days, the one that’s imprinted in my mind the most is a cold, grey and dark day in March, 12 years ago.

March 26th, 1999.

I remember it was a rainy day. One of those days that start off wrong for a nine year old because his favorite TV station was not showing his favorite TV show that night. They were showing an award show for ads, instead. So I was discussing how horrible that was with a friend as we were going back to class after a recess.

So I came back home on a Friday and I postpone doing my homework because, well, it is Friday. An hour later, around 6 pm, my mom comes into the house in a near state of hysteria. She was crying while shouting: “They’re lying to me…. Something happened to my brother, they’re lying to me”

I looked at my mom with a sense of disbelief. What was going on?

My grandma gets my mom to sit down and she hands her a glass of water. My mom was still shaking. Then, my dad comes inside. He sits next to my mom and hugs her.

She asks “Is Hanna dead?”

Hanna and my uncle had gone hunting.

My dad nods and says “but I’m not sure about Elias (my uncle)”.

My mom starts crying even more. It got to a point that a nine year old like me can’t handle so I went to my room and cried. When I came out, my mother had left with my dad. They had gone to tell my uncle’s wife about what happened.

So I go outside, still crying. My aunt (his sister) comes to our place and she sees us all distressed. She shouts from the top of the stairs: “Elie, what’s going on?”

I couldn’t answer her. I had no idea what was going on in the first place, let alone what to say to her. So my aunt left immediately.

That was the last I saw of my mom, aunt and dad for the next two days.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept hearing gunfire and I knew it had something to do with my uncle. I remember looking out from my room’s window and seeing people on our balcony. I asked them: “what’s going on? Is my uncle okay?”

They replied “Yes, Elie, don’t worry. Go back to sleep”.

Naturally, nothing was okay. The following day, the whole village was dead quiet. My cousins were brought over and we all had no idea what was going on. We were told my uncle had died but not the reason. So my cousin Perla, his daughter, started drawing on a board how her dad was now in heaven.

That night, there was a full blown report on the news about the events in my town. Toni Rouhana, a fifty year old man, had opened fire on my uncle and another man when they were hunting outside his property. The army was held in a crossfire with him all night. They had received orders from the president Emile Lahoud to keep him alive at all costs. They fired grenades at him, he fired grenades back. They fired smoke bombs, he was well prepared against them. He was trained in the civil war with Marada (Sleiman Frangieh’s party). Meanwhile, while the army fought him to attempt to capture him alive, my uncle bled to death because the man did not allow anyone to pick his body up, even the Red Cross. Later on that night, when the army realized it’s near impossible to capture a man so well-prepared alive, they blew open his house with an RPG missile and shot him down. They discovered a human skull inside his house and a book about devil worshiping. They also discovered the food my uncle had given him earlier that day, because he did not have enough money to buy it.

That Sunday was Palm Sunday. I woke up and saw my mother looking at the coffee she was supposed to drink. I went over and hugged her. She started crying and asked if I knew what happened. I nodded. She said my uncle was turned into a pincushion. She said he had pleaded for his life when the man opened fire and killed his hunting buddy. And I kept on hugging her.

Then they dressed us up in our Palm Sunday clothes and took us to my grandma’s house. My aunt was sitting in a corner alone, rocking her head back and forth. My uncle’s wife was sitting next to my grandma crying for her kids. My grandma was crying, telling everyone how “Elias from under the dirt wants them to go to church for Palm Sunday”.

So we were taken to church. Mass had already started. We opened the door and entered. The church fell quiet.

My grandma had worn black for twelve years till 1999. She started to move towards brighter shades of color early in January and April. I have not seen my grandma not wearing black since that day in March, 1999.