St. Maron parish raises money for cross in Lebanon

| March 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

The cross in Ijdabra, Lebanon, is scheduled to be completed this fall.

When it comes to the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, parishioners of St. Maron in Minneapolis are turning to the cross.

They’re also helping to build one. The Maronite faith community, of which 70 percent have Lebanese ancestry, decided to do its part to preserve the roots of Christianity in Lebanon.

Parishioners are helping to fund the building of a cross on a hill in Ijdabra, Lebanon. They raised $7,000 several weeks ago at a fundraiser, and are hosting a dinner April 1 for more donations. The Maronite Catholic church of Mar Saba in Ijdabra is sponsoring the project and building the cross on land it owns.

“The idea is that the presence of Christianity there is so needed, even in symbols,” said Chorbishop Sharbel Maroun, pastor of St. Maron, who was born in Lebanon. “When you visit Lebanon … you will feel the presence of Christianity there. You look at every hill in the country and you’re going to find a cross, or you’re going to find a shrine for the Blessed Mother.”

Chorbishop Maroun said this cross building project is important because it will help keep Christianity alive in Lebanon and in the Middle East. Intense conflicts in the region and persecution of Christians in several countries by radical groups such as the Islamic State have pushed Christians out of their native lands and to other countries. Lebanon, which has a strong Christian population, has seen large numbers of persecuted Christians enter the country as refugees.

“They’re coming from Syria and Iraq. There are about 300,000 to 400,000 Iraqis who came to Lebanon, and most of them are Christians,” Chorbishop Maroun said. “There’s 2 million refugees in Lebanon. Not 200, not 2,000, not 20,000 — 2 million. What’s most surprising is that Lebanon’s population is 4 million. So, a country of 4 million is absorbing 2 million refugees.”

St. Maron parishioner Henry Estephan was in danger of becoming a refugee in the 1970s. He was born in Ijdabra and picked up a rifle when he was a teenager to help fight against the Palestinians who were trying to take over the government during the country’s civil war.

He and other Maronite Catholics fought to ward off the Palestinians, and later Syrians who joined the fight. He engaged in combat in his city at various points until 1980, when he moved to the U.S. Not long after, he joined St. Maron parish and has been a member since, along with his wife, Karen.

“I was 16; it was not a choice,” said Estephan, 58, of joining the conflict. “Everybody who was able would guard the town. Each town they [Palestinians and Syrians] came to, they destroyed. They burned it, they tortured people. You did not have a choice. You had to go there and defend the area.”

Like Chorbishop Maroun, Estephan is deeply troubled by the persecution of Christians in the Middle East today, and he thinks the building of the cross in Ijdabra “is a big statement.”

Fundraiser dinnerFor the building of a 12-story concrete cross in Ijdabra, Lebanon

6 p.m. happy hour followed by 7 p.m. dinner April 1 at St. Maron, 602 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis.

For questions about the dinner and to RSVP by March 26, contact Henry Estephan at 612-388-1013 or henrye@estephaneng.com, or call St. Maron at
612-378-2758.

For more information about the cross or to make a donation, visit St. Maron online.

“It brings strength to the people who are there,” said Estephan, who still has family living in Ijdabra. “It brings them motivation and boosts their morale. It’s a statement against them [those who persecute Christians] — ‘We are rooted in this country, you’re not going to kick us out of here. It’s our land, we are building, we are not leaving.’”

The concrete structure will stand 180 feet tall (about 12 stories) when completed sometime this fall. The cross arms will contain chapels and viewing areas for the surrounding mountains and Mediterranean Sea.

Thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit each year. Total cost of the project is $1 million, and all of the proceeds from St. Maron’s April 1 dinner will support it.
In addition to raising money for the cross, the dinner also will raise awareness of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and, hopefully,
unite Maronite and Roman Catholics in solidarity with the effort to protect the region’s Christian heritage.

And, Chorbishop Maroun said, what better time than Lent to bring Catholics together to support their persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East?

“This is the best time of the year to think about it and to connect with them [persecuted Christians],” he said. “The least that we can do is to be a Veronica and wipe their faces from the pain that they are enduring. … We can be Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross with Jesus.”

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