In a special way, this was Mary’s pilgrimage. From the blessing of the Beth Myriam and with the opening Liturgy, we were made aware that we had been joined by another pilgrim! It was as if she had said at Harissa, "Don’t leave me behind!" and we didn’t.
Our pilgrimage took place in May, a month traditionally associated with the Mother of Christ. This is Mary at her most joyful – before Heaven, that is - the Mary of springtime and the resurrection. Of course, after the Ascension, there would have been a great yearning to be with God; to be with her Beloved Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit in Heaven, but having met the Risen Jesus, having seen the living face of Jesus after the indescribable pain of Calvary, she must have been full of joy. In the West, Christians have traditionally sung, "Regina caeli, laetare! Alleluia!" (O Queen of Heaven, rejoice! Alleluia!)
Our Lady of Lebanon
"Vassula let it be known that I the Lord honour My Mother, let it be known to those who offend Her that She is the Queen of Heaven and that on Her Head I the Lord placed a crown, a crown of twelve stars She reigns beloved and this is written in My Word I honour My Mother and as I honour Her you should honour Her " Oct 8, 1987
The next church we visited was also dedicated to Our Lady; Our Lady of Mantara, at Maghdouché. The main celebrant of the Mass was the Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop, Georges Kahhale. The homily was given by Fr. René Laurentin, who spoke about the Blessed Trinity. We celebrated the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and once again there was a deep sense of unity as Orthodox and Catholic and Anglican priests stood together around the same altar. The Bishop is Catholic, in union with Rome, but it was the Orthodox who knew the Liturgy whilst the Catholics and Anglicans had to read the French translation.
Group after Mass at Melkite Greek Catholic Church, celebrated by Bishop Georges Kahhale
According to Mark 7:24, Jesus visited the area of Tyre and Sidon, Saïda today, to preach the Gospel and to heal the sick. According to a tradition stretching back many centuries, the Virgin Mary came with her Son, but because at that time Jewish women were forbidden to enter pagan towns, the Mother of Christ waited for Him in the cave at Maghadouché. The Roman road from Jerusalem to the Lebanese coast passed through this village. Here, Our Lady waited, praying and meditating. In this beautiful shrine she has the title: Our Waiting Lady.
Our visit to the shrine was surely one of the most moving experiences of the pilgrimage. Once again Our Lady was reminding us of her presence. It was as though she was saying, "I have been waiting for you because you have come with Jesus, My Son."
Our Waiting Lady
Outside the entrance of the Shrine
Inside the entrance of the Shrine
Grotto of the Shrine where Our Lady waited for Jesus
This area is also associated with the prophet Elijah who visited a widow and her son in Zarephtha, or Sarepta, a Sidonian town. Here he spoke words of prophecy which were not only about himself, but about the woman and her son, showing God’s care for each person, and through him the good God multiplied the little flour and oil that the woman had used to feed the prophet. Later when the son became seriously ill, God healed him through the ministry of His prophet: hospitality shown to the prophet of the Lord brings blessings from Heaven (1 Kings 17: 7-16).
Eventually we were all on our coaches heading for the border – ecumenism on wheels. There were fifty clergymen amongst the 281 pilgrims. Ten Christian denominations were represented: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Greek Melkite, Ukranian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Lutheran and Maronite. Our pilgrimage was also graced with the presence and participation of a Buddhist, a Muslim and a Hindu.
Forty countries were represented: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Lebanon is a country of questions, challenges, opportunities and blessings. The Lebanese hymns and church music are unique and deeply moving, expressing both sorrow and joy, but especially joy. God is praised in many ways, in many hearts, in many countries. The languages are different, the music is different but we sense the unity of hearts. It is possible to hear the language of the heart without understanding the words!
Lebanon is mentioned seventy-one times in Holy Scripture. The cedars of Lebanon are associated with strength, and the imagery of the cedars is used in references to both bad and good men, but Psalm 92 says:
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”
The cedars and their scent, and the streams of Lebanon are part of the metaphorical description of the loved one in the Song of Songs, a poem about God’s love for His people, and in particular, for each soul. In the Second Book of Chronicles we read that cedar wood of Lebanon was used by King Solomon in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Beauty, strength, fragrance, and the sign of true worship; such is Lebanon according to the mind of the Lord.
View of Lebanon from Harissa