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May 1st, a Marian celebration in the heart of Lebanon

Aline Haddad

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Our Lady of Lebanon. iStock photo.
In Lebanon, May 1st is much more than a date on the calendar. It's a spiritually charged day heralding the start of the month of Mary. Thousands of pilgrims head to Our Lady of Lebanon, a shrine to honour the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, patroness, protector and Queen of Lebanon. This festival bears witness to the deep piety of the Lebanese people, especially Lebanese Christians, for the Holy Mother.

The Pilgrims' March

Every year, on the first day of May, the roads leading to Our Lady of Lebanon fill up with Lebanese faithful, ready to undertake a spiritual duty. Walking to this Marian shrine is more than just a physical act: it's a symbol of devotion and deep faith. Pilgrims come from all parts of Lebanon to express their love and devotion to the Virgin Mary, some walking for miles, starting their journey the night before . I remember the demonstrations of people marching along the autostrade (a freeway in Lebanon) from Beirut via Antelias to Jounieh, then taking the winding roads up to the shrine at Harissa. I took this photo at the end of march, climbing up the statue:

The importance of Notre-Dame-Du-Liban

For the Lebanese people, the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon is much more than just a place of worship. It is a symbol of their religious and cultural identity, a place of gathering and prayer. Nestled atop one of the eight majestic peaks surrounding the Bay of Jounieh, the shrine is not only a place of pilgrimage, but also a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world.
The history of Our Lady of Lebanon goes back to Lebanon's long tradition of Marian devotion. The statue was built in 1908 on the initiative of Maronite patriarch Elias Howayek to venerate the Immaculate Conception. Patriarch Howayek also set the first Sunday in May as the Feast of Our Lady of Lebanon for the Maronite Church.
The statue of the Blessed Virgin looks towards Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. She opens her arms to all Lebanese people, as if to say: "Come, you who long for me, and be filled with my gifts."  Made in France and cast in bronze, it measures 8.5 meters in height, 5 meters in diameter and weighs 15 tonnes. As you can see in the photo I took above, the statue rests on a structure housing the chapel, with hundreds of spiral steps that visitors take to climb up to pray at the foot of the statue and enjoy the beautiful, breathtaking panoramic view. Next to the statue is the large basilica built in 1960 in the shape of a Phoenician ship. The imposing architecture of both the statue and the basilica, along with the panoramic view over Jounieh Bay (see my photo below), make the Harissa Shrine a unique and emblematic site.
On this first of May, the tradition of walking to Our Lady of Lebanon reminds us of the importance of faith and devotion in our lives. May this Marian shrine continue to inspire future generations and unite hearts in prayer and love. May the Virgin Mary always watch over Lebanon and all those who come with faith and humility.
For more on the Maronite Church, the largest religious group in Lebanon and an important Eastern Catholic Church, check out my earlier article here.
Also, join the prayer community at Salt + Light Media, where we can all recite the rosary together all throughout this holy month of Mary.
Prayer to the Blessed Virgin:
In this month of Mary, I'd like to invite all readers to join me in a prayer to the Blessed Virgin, entrusting her with our intentions and wishes:
O Mary, Mother of God, we turn to you with confidence, imploring your intercession to guide our steps on the path of faith and love. May your grace be with us, now and always. 
Oh Mary, queen of mountains and seas, and queen of our beloved Lebanon, spread peace on our country and on all the countries of the world.
The statue of Our Lady of Lebanon, along with the Phoenician-inspired basilica, looks across Jounieh Bay to Beirut. Wikimedia Commons.

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