Beirut 2019

Testimonies from young people


Leïla (France)

These days of meeting have been a blessing for me. Meeting with other cultures was overwhelming. In our sharing group, there were Europeans, Syrians, Lebanese and an Iranian. I could never have met such people in another context. To discuss and pray with them was very enriching and moving. The Lebanese are very welcoming. They were happy to receive us and spend these moments with us. These days will stay with me for a long time.

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Sarah (Berlin, Germany)

If somebody asked me what was special about this youth meeting in Beirut, some things, like meeting with people from the Christian Arab world, immediately spring to mind. This doesn’t happen to me everyday, even though it would perhaps be possible where I live in Berlin. But these days opened my eyes to some of the smaller things, even here at home. that I might take more notice of now that we had this remarkable chance to see some of the richness of local traditions. It will sure feed my thinking for a while.

From the moment we arrived to when we left, I felt so taken care of in the best possible way. The first encounter with some of the volunteers gave us a first hint of the warmth and joy with which we were to be welcomed throughout the five days. Everybody seemed so happy to greet us, seeing the preparation work of the past months and weeks come to fruition, sharing their excitement with us. This was already a treat! The fun and good humour of the first meals did the rest to get us into an equally exuberant mood and, had we not already been in one, the next part would surely have done the job: by taxi we were brought to our host parish.

Once in Hazmieh, we were immediately welcomed by a group of young people who put us in contact with our host families. They wasted no time in setting up the WiFi on our phones and just in general being the most helpful, clearly communicating people one could wish for in an unknown place after a long day. Getting to know my family was very nice indeed. After being shown everything, introduced to everyone and overwhelmed by the multitude of languages that were used equally easily I happily fell into my bed prepared with such care.

The next days were a swirl of the most amazing experiences. From the meticulously even distribution of people from different countries into discussion groups (I cannot even tell you how much many of us appreciated this!) to the careful facilitation you gave in the groups to the enthusiastic as well as endless bell ringing all of you so generously endured - Hazmieh, you rock! That first day already had us take part in a remarkable conversation, which once more revealed a striking effect I’ve to come to appreciate on this "pilgrimage of trust". Meeting on somewhat neutral ground., there are no hierarchies, no dependencies, no "advantages" of whatever sort involved (other than that of language, which usually is compensated for by uncomplicated spontaneous translators). Hearing of the experiences of two young Syrian girls was especially thought provoking, but also the testimonies of Egyptian, Lebanese, Swiss young people, negotiating and coming toward the roots of faith. After maybe an hour it felt like we had just got started, and what could be a better sign of how easy time was passing.

 Why is speaking on the same level so much of an issue? Shouldn’t it be taken for granted? It sure makes for a much more open communication than if there is an unmentioned but ever present hierarchy of need, as there always seems to be, when working with people from, say, Syria in Berlin, for instance and maybe naturally so, given the difficult situation many of the refugees are still in. It occurred to me only then, how much of an unquestioned hindrance this silent barrier is, and sadly, how difficult to overcome. At the meeting, however, no insecurities on that level disturb the exchange, not least because all practical concerns are so well taken care of. It gives a very welcome and much needed ease to all our conversations, and it becomes conceivable to escape prejudice. There’s room for everyone to naturally unfold. There’s room for humour, for questions about Christian unity, and also for whether my neighbour would like to exchange their shoes with me. There’s room for a heartfelt embrace between members of two different Orthodox churches, as well as for a question about the other’s opinion on purgatory. There’s room for all this; my eyes and ears grew by the day. Seeing this in practice teaches me that it is possible. Even if I had had to go home that first day after just this insight, it would have already been worthwhile.

I was so lucky as to take part in the Adyan workshop on inter-religious dialogue on Monday afternoon. It was tremendously inspiring, both the testimonies of the volunteers and their sincerity and, I never tire of mentioning this, their humour. One girl said how she thinks the focus of their work will soon have to shift to not only facilitate dialogue between religious groups but also between atheists and believers. Coming from a European context this seemed so much to the point for me. And it didn’t stop there: a lot of what was said about the reluctance of people in our vicinity (be it relatives or others) to meet the one who is different from us, and their suspicion about initiatives that do try out dialogue, appears totally applicable to some of the political situation in my own country, perhaps very much connected to the fear of identity loss. To discover such patterns (and proposals for remedy) really opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie in the exchange we were invited to take part in.

 The same counts for conversations with young Christians from Egypt and Slovenia: the similarity in the challenges we face in our churches are striking and, even though they all play out in slightly different forms, we discovered a lot of common ground. We talked about questions of authority, of science, of communication methods in our church hierarchies, of alienation, of trying to come to terms with the fact that it is our generation that can shape church now, that it is us who can take responsibility and about how to find the drive to do it. A meeting such as this is certainly not the worst place for getting ignited! Finding inspiration in a situation of difficult perspectives seemed like a topic a lot of Lebanese young people know a thing or two on, as well, and I can only say: what an opportunity to have this exchange with you!
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Lennart (The Netherlands)

During my stay in Beirut I saw the positive attitude of people from the Middle East. First of all, when we walked through the city with hundreds of young people, many locals looked at us with a surprised face. But after a ’Bonjour’ and a wave from our side, their faces turned into a smile and they happily waved back! When talking about this with two local priests, they said that this attitude is not despite the material poverty of Lebanon, but because of the this. They said: ’There is not much to lose, so why not be happy?’

Another story that I will remember came from a woman from Iraq. She told that ISIS destroyed many churches and mosques in the areas where she came from. However because of this the Muslims and the Christians grew closer to each other, to the point where the Christians could pray in the mosque and the other way around. This great act of solidarity is completely different from the negative stories we hear on the news!

This made me hopeful for a future with more dialogue and solidarity, and less loneliness and destruction. Thank you Lebanon!

— -

Johnny (Liban)

Two weeks before the meeting, I was invited to take part as a volunteer. I hesitated, but today I thank God because it enabled me to participate in this gathering, in which I shared pray, joy and meditation. Thanks to this, I became closer to God. The three days passed in what seemed like a few seconds.

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Paul, Henrik, Moritz, Philipp, Antonia and Patricia (Germany)

One of the best decision we made last year was inviting three Lebanese people to our Bible group in Taizé. We had an inspiring exchange and great discussions. In the end, we got invited very warmly to visit them in Lebanon. Now, not even one year later we took part at the International Youth Meeting and experienced the incredible hospitality of the people of this country that went outgrew all our expectations. We started a wonderful friendship and became a part of a loving and very welcoming Lebanese family. During the meeting, we felt a strong and peaceful community of young people from all over the world. We are really thankful for this unique experience and opportunity and are looking forward to host our new friends at our homes in Germany.

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Tomáš (Slovakia)

We came together to pray in Lebanon. The country shows us people of different faiths can live in peace and cooperate on a brighter future. It is certainly not easy, but it is possible. I am truly grateful I could participate in this meeting and pray with youth from various countries for peace in our hearts and in our world.

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Rafi (Palestine)

From the noise of the wars to the Holy Silence… From the Land of Christ our Lord, beloved Palestine, we came to experience spiritual life with Taizé community, in Beirut, carrying the Cross of sufferings that weighs the shoulders of our Palestinian people. We came united with all the young people who arrived from all over the world, who came also to be united, just as we did come united from all the churches of Palestine so we become one body that gives witness to Christ our Lord, and to the empty Tomb in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Living such an experience is a real grace which reminds us to whom we truly belong, and to whom we give adoration and love. Because we have touched the love of God for us through each one we met, and we felt our responsibility towards our churches and Palestine, our country.

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Veronica (Sweden)

When I arrived to my host parish, the first one I met was an old man who said "welcome home". It’s my first time in Lebanon but it has been like coming home, coming home to sisters and brothers in Christ. As a family, during these days, we have been sharing life; the joy of being together, our dreams and fears, our longing for peace and unity among Christians and in the world and how we together can be a sign for this, reaching out like the branches of the cedar tree. We may be different as sisters and brothers but these days has shown that in our roots we are one, just like a family.

— -

Jonathan (Germany)

The meeting in Beirut touched me in many different ways. One way was the brilliant organisation and the continual assistance of the young Lebanese coordinating the meeting. Another way was the spiritual and cultural dialogue that everyone, no matter whether she or he came from the Middle East, Europe or elsewhere, was seeking. In workshops, conversations and my reflection group I was able to listen to strong testimonies about the life of people of my age in the Middle East. Another highlight was the Christian-Muslim annunciation ceremony in which we, the young people and representatives of various Christian and Muslim denominations, were praying together and showing a sign of unity in our diversity. It was beautiful to see how the love of God brought all these different denominations and people together and let them look on what unites them and not on what separates them. These and many more moments and people which I could meet make me feel very glad and thankful.

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Another testimony (France) on the celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation on Monday 25 March at midday, a celebration where Muslims and Christians were gathered together in the exhibition hall in central Beirut.

On Monday 25 March, at midday, we experienced a very intense moment as Christians and Muslims together. Since several years, each 25 March in Lebanon, Christians and Muslims meet to celebrate together the Feast of the the Annunciation (remembering the story where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to a child, Jesus). The figure of Mary is present in the Koran and in the Bible. In Lebanon, 25 March has become a public holiday. A large image representing the icon of the annunciation to Mary was projected onto a large screen. On one side of the image, the story in Arabic of account from in Luke’s Gospel, could be seen. On the other side, the same event in Arabic from the Koran was projected. The programme included songs, testimonies, video clips. … Imams from different communities (Shi’ite, Sunnite, Alawite, Druze) were present. Sitting amongst them were the Apostolic Nuncio, different bishops and Christian leaders, the Taizé brothers and two Lebanese government ministers who told of their coming at the last moment. All accepted and understood that it was not possible for them to make speeches. They came first of all to pray with the young people.

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Matthijs (The Netherlands)

The meeting in Beirut has become one of my most spiritual experiences ever. Lebanon has a huge variety of Churches, who all worked together in the Spirit of Christ to receive us with joy and happiness. I was hosted in a Maronite church, one of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches. The service was held in Arabic, a beautiful language, currently held hostage by terrorists. I started to appreciate its beauty a lot.

For me, two things will stay in my mind for sure. First of all, the good talk with the Syrians, about how life was and is in all those ancient cities, especially how it is to live as Christians. Secondly, how the chairman of the Council of Churches asked the young people of Lebanon to say a word of thanks, since it was the youth who received us and it is the youth who are the future.

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Rosângela (Cape Verde Islands)

I would like to leave a small message to all those who have eagerly prepared the International Ecumenical Youth Meeting in Lebanon. Since my arrival at the airport, I felt welcomed. So many young Lebanese people gave up their comfortable bed and stayed up the whole night, to be able to welcome us late at night or early morning, at no matter what time we arrived. What a great joy to see a huge and magnificent Taizé banner right at the airport, announcing the meeting. 

I was welcomed at the Mar Michael parish (Saint George’s church, Chiyah). The welcome team and the families were so kind and helpful and thoughtful to each one of us. They were happy to open their homes to let us in, they were happy to feed us as their own children, they were happy to share their lives with us and get to know ours. Raymond, Charbel, Antonia, Sami Joe, Elias, and many more from my parish were working so hard to make us feel home, to make us have the best experience ever.

And all the workshops were so interesting, specially those related to the civil war, refugees, the Armenian and Syriac songs, the visit to the Mosque and the synagogue... Wow, I’m still so impressed I was able to visit a Mosque located side by side with a Cathedral. What a beautiful sign of interfaith dialogue and unity. In this country torn apart by the civil war, this is a great example of living together and coexistence beyond the religion differences. Some other countries should definitely take this as an example. 

I was even more touched when we celebrated Virgin Mary all together, Muslims and Christians. What a deep experience of interfaith harmony, what a huge step towards a better tomorrow, where we would all live in unity, no matter our religion. 

Thank you each one of you that have made this meeting possible.
Thank you all for allowing us to experience the best welcome ever in Lebanon.
Thank you for this graceful human encounter with each one of you who have participated and have given testimony of the presence of God in the middle of us.

I was so happy to see how all these young people are so strong in their faith, despite the adversity of living in the Middle East, where Christians are a minority. 

After this experience, I feel that I have grown deeper in my faith, "like a cedar in Lebanon" and I hope my "branches" will widespread towards the others, bringing them the same joy I have lived during the meeting.

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Last updated: 28 May 2019