A Love Story – Lebanon’s Revival
When I was in Lebanon recently, after the formal delegation ended, I stayed on to visit family and to continue to observe change makers who innovate, nurture, and sustain Lebanon’s finest resources – its natural environment and its people. It’s no coincidence that the majority of those I met with were women – long saluted and yet seldom acknowledged as full partners in Lebanon’s rich history.
As a delegation, the ATFL had the privilege of visiting Beit el Baraka in Beirut, https:\\beitelbaraka.org, which supports 65 charity organizations across the country; and in Tripoli we stopped at Sanabel An Nour, http://www.sanabelnour.org/, a women-directed and -staffed organization providing a wide range of services to the vulnerable and marginalized. In addition, we met with representatives of Rotary International who are involved in critical grassroots projects as well.
When I began my private visits, I was hosted by Dr. Corrine Abi Nader, who will soon launch a pediatric care center at Hôtel Dieu de France, one of the hospitals damaged during the Beirut Port explosion. I also met with environmentalists and activists – all of whom work locally to change the sense of dignity and hope for their beneficiaries. All of their stories will be the focus of my next series that looks at the spirit of Lebanon and the people who keep it alive.
For now, I want to introduce you to the Maronite Sisters who live and work at the Saint Joseph Monastery and Tomb of Saint Rafqa in the Batroun District, north of Beirut. Saint Rafqa (1832-1914) is the second saint in Lebanon’s modern history.
I had never been to their facilities before and thank cousin Simon for his persistence in arranging my visit.
I was surprised to see fully modern structures providing space for a monastery, a home for the elderly, and lots of tilled grounds. We were greeted by the Mother Superior, Sister Raghida Antoun, who has an MBA in Administration from the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee (Springfield), MA and is simultaneously a formidable and lovely person. In January of 2021, she was elected Superior of Saint Joseph Monastery. Her intention was, and still is, to leverage her skills and combine her global educational experience in order to achieve the objectives of her Order.
The Sisters both interact with visitors to the shrine and minister to the local people of the area, working with the youth, those who are preparing for marriage, married couples, or those who are still discerning their way in life. I was immediately taken in hand by Sister Raghida for a tour of the facilities and grounds.
We started with a breakfast comprised of food totally sourced on their land, and some stimulating conversation. We were joined by the multitasking Sister Lea Lahoud, who is currently the Monastery’s accountant. She is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, with a Master’s in Patient Counseling.
After the catastrophic explosion of the Port, Sister Lea was frequently seen in Beirut, where she not only assisted the many volunteers with the clean-up but also sought out those who had no one to look after them. All of her efforts were done with the “widow’s mite.” As a multi-talented graphic artist, illustrator, and author, she gave me two illustrated softbacks for children – one called Got Celiac? Me Too and another, her memoir, called The Sister and the Bee.” It’s not hard to see why I so admire both Sisters so much.
The facilities for the elderly occupy a large portion of the activities at Saint Joseph Monastery, with its state-of-the-art nursing home for up to 100 residents, fully serviced by the nuns at a cost significantly less than other private facilities. The economic situation, the financial instability in the country, the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, the scarcity of job opportunities, and the massive proportion of people living below the poverty line all generate a daily line of folks seeking help and sustenance at the Monastery’s door.
Saint Joseph Monastery, however, is also not immune to the economic crisis and yet, still strives to offer in-kind assistance with basic food, clothing, dairy products for children; tuition assistance to deserved and needy students; and financial assistance for medications, especially for chronic illnesses.
Sister Raghida and her team continue to extend a helping hand to their less fortunate. One of her objectives is to continue to create job opportunities in the Monastery’s dairy farm and agricultural fields so people can become self-sufficient and partners in the charitable work of the Monastery, reflecting the Gospel admonition that “whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40), as well as the quote that stuck with me from Sister Raghida, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Saint Joseph Monastery – Tomb of Saint Rafqa established a nonprofit organization (501/C/3) in the United States to support its humanitarian and educational ministries as well as its elderly care facility and sustain the mission, objectives, and vision of the Monastery in Lebanon. And so you can partake of their excellent work and be awarded in a monthly prayer service for all its benefactors and their families, both living and deceased.
To support the essential work of the nuns, the options are:
Venmo: St. Joseph Monastery St Rafqa@strafqa Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bank transfer: Log into your bank’s website and choose “bill pay” services and add “Saint Joseph Monastery-Tomb of Saint Rafqa” as a “payee” using the following address: 14252 Culver Drive A818 Irvine, CA 92604
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.