By Doreen Abi Raad
BEIRUT (Catholic News Service) — Full of zeal for their faith, 920 Melkite Catholic young adults from the Middle East gathered in Lebanon for the first conference especially for them.
Meeting under the theme, “To You I Say Rise,” the participants, ages 18-35, came from the Palestinian territories, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon for the Aug. 9-13 event, hosted by the Melkite Catholic Patriarchate.
Edward Nazarian, 22, a student in medical devices engineering from Aleppo, Syria, said the conference restored hope for young people, particularly those from Syria.
“After going through so many years of war, we fell into despair. We are here to renew that hope, that confidence and faith,” he told Catholic News Service.
Melkite Father Kamil Melhem, spiritual director for young adults, told the group at the opening that the conference would “be the first spark that will illuminate the paths of our faltering lives in the East.” The main venue was the Liqaa (“gathering”) Conference Center, located in a valley beneath the Melkite Patriarchate in Rabweh, 12 miles north of Beirut.
The event combined prayer, educational workshops — including communication and social media — and presentations related to the Melkite Catholic identity. Participants also visited holy sites of Lebanon, including Harissa, Our Lady of Lebanon, the tomb of St. Charbel and the biblical coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon in South Lebanon.
During lunchtime the first day, horns bellowed from three buses signaling the arrival of 110 young adults from Damascus, Syria, after more than 10 hours of travel. The journey, under normal circumstances, should not exceed three hours. However, because of their large number, procedures at the border crossing between the two countries caused their delay.
Emerging from the buses, the Syrians’ weariness transformed into exuberance at the celebratory welcome. A group of Jordanians played traditional bagpipes and thundering drums. There was cheering, clapping and waving of Syrian flags. Young adults joined arms for the step-and-stomp traditional dabke dance.
Dina Fares, 26, an English teacher from Damascus, told CNS: “We are so tired. But we are so excited to be here. … We’re here to say, ‘There are Christians in Syria. We’re still here (in Syria), and we’re not going anywhere.’”