Little Sisters of Jesus in Lebanon, Building and Rebuilding Bridges

During the Lebanese civil war of 1976, the city of Beirut was divided into East (with a more heavily Christian population) and West (more heavily Muslim).The Little Sisters' community of Ras en Nabaa is right at the border of the Muslim neighborhood. When clashes broke out between Sunni and Shia Muslims in May, 2008, Christians became fearful of venturing into Ras en Nabaa. Rania from Lebanon wrote about the ceremony of her final vows in their parish church:

Rania's final vowsRania's final vows

I was very happy to make final vows in Ras en Nabaa on Sunday, the feast of the Annunciation in the Maronite liturgy. I chose to make my vows in this parish because I'd lived there for nearly two years before going for the Common Year, our international program of preparation for final profession in Rome. At the time, God had helped me become reconciled with a part of my own personal history with Muslims, in the very place which had been the demarcation line between East and West Beirut during the war.

When we re-opened the house in Ras en Nabaa in December, 2003. we felt the need for building bridges between the two sides. But each time we tried to do our little part, in concert with other communities trying to do the same, there was always some new incident that would come along to destroy those bridges. In spite of it all, we continue to believe that bridges of peace, hope, and true love are stronger than war, which only destroys and which no one among us chooses.

These latest events in May, 2008, once again destroyed all the bridges which made life together possible. And fear once again invaded the hearts of the Christians of this region who, because of what was happening, no longer came to the parish like before. That's why we thought it was important to make my vows here, to be a witness that life is still possible in this parish, in this place.

The joy of all who responded to our invitation showed itself in the large number of people who came, and the prayerful atmosphere: the presence of Christians, especially those who were here for the first time because they had always been afraid to come to this neighborhood, and the presence of our Muslim neighbors who came to express their love and happiness to be with us. It showed that we could hold this ceremony and celebrate together in this neighbourhood, despite the challenges.

All this gave its true meaning to our 'prayer of offering' as I recited it that day, in the gift of my life 'in sacrifice for my brothers and sisters of Islam, and of the whole world, so that unity might reign beyond all divisions.

Rania and a group of young peopleRania and a group of young people

When the Bishop processed in to celebrate the Eucharist and saw the church full, he was astonished, and happy. He tried to be very encouraging in his homily, saying how important our presence is in this neighborhood, along with all who support that presence:

'I asked the Little Sisters to come back to this neighborhood, and I prayed that they would accept, because Ras en Nabaa sums up 'Muslim-Christian dialogue' and expresses in miniature the reality and vocation of Lebanon itself, which is to live together. Rania's consecration to this mission is shown by her saying 'yes,' as Mary said to the angel. This grace is not for her alone, but for her congregation, for the Church, for Lebanon, and for the whole world, everywhere where the Little Sisters are invited to carry the love of Jesus in their humble and hidden way.'

A note about my parents: in the beginning it wasn't easy for them to accept my making final vows during this year, which is a 'year of mourning' following the recent death of my father and my uncle. The year of mourning is in fact a very important tradition in our culture. But once they understood that the celebration of my vows is not like my brothers' marriage celebrations, but rather a Eucharistic celebration during which I offer my life, they accepted. They helped out wholeheartedly in the preparations, and tried to be as supportive as possible.  It was really a time of grace and of prayer.

Both I and my family felt my father's presence very strongly, especially my mother whose deep faith sustained us. In the process of touching my more hidden woundedness, I experienced how life can flow from it, life that can break through barriers and touch others in truth. That is how we are in communion with the death and resurrection of Christ. That is how we experience true joy...