By Edgardo Alberto Bechara Arcuri
"A hunter was I, in a distant land. With aim and might I have spent the golden arrows they gave me…. I know not where they have spent their flight, but this I know: they have made their curve in the sky."
Gibran Kahlil Gibran The Garden of the Prophet
This part of my family’s story begins in Lebanon at the end of the nineteenth century near the sacred mountains of the Qadisha Valley. The town is called Bcharre and it stands fervently in Christ under the shades of the millenary Cedars planted by the hand of God.
It is in Bcharre, the hometown of the Poet Khalil Gibran, that my great-grandfather Assad Bechara El-Khoury married Maria Geagea and had three girls and a boy – Antonio, my grandfather.
At the beginning of the 1900s and due to the economic crisis that ravaged Lebanon, my family immigrated to Argentina where my grandfather Antonio married and became the father of five boys. I am the oldest of 17 grandsons of Antonio Bechara Arcuri (our last name, El-Khoury, was misspelled in Argentina).
At the age of 12, during a regular chat which I used to have with my grandfather about the traditions of his parents and his memories of Lebanon, that I promised him that one day I will visit Lebanon. I promised him that my eyes would contemplate for him his homeland. My grandfather was sick and knew that he would not be able to fulfill his dream of going back to Lebanon -- this dream that thousands of Lebanese had of one day seeing their homeland again.
One year after my promise, grandfather passed away. He left us the best of any possible inheritance – his testimony of love for his wife and children, his joy of his grandchildren, his dedication his work and church, his honesty and straightforwardness, and his unbreakable faith in Christ
His life was a clear example of struggle, tenacity and love characteristic of a true Lebanese.
It is difficult to express clearly and ardently the feelings that we experience when it concerns putting together our past, recapturing the origins, and returning to the source of our own history. It becomes something imperative in the life of a person.
It is the call of blood claiming firmly; an inner voice that whispers gently, inviting us to be part of the miracle of history. It is time to return to Lebanon.
In my case, as well as in many other cases of different people who wish to go back, the task becomes more difficult because 100 years have passed and many contacts have been lost, many relations have died. Add to all that, the distorted news diffused by major information agencies which give a hostile image of Lebanon.
God decided one day to touch the lives of hundreds of us through Father Hannoun Andraous, who is a monk of the Maronite Missionaries popularly known as the Kraim. Father Hannoun who serves at the Maronite Mission of Buenos Aires and who is known to us as "el Padre Andrés", is a soft-spoken and kind person with a tireless and energetic way of working for the community. He encourages and is helping us to visit our ancestral land. He carries on the noble and extremely important task of assisting us in researching our genealogy and locating family members. He teaches us about the economic, historical, social and cultural history of Lebanon in preparation for our visit. He took it upon himself to give a new dimension to our faith by visiting the sacred land of saints -- this eternal soil where Christ himself walked and where He preached the words of Salvation.
From that marvelous experience our love for the land of our ancestors will have new dimensions. It will be thereafter the legacy of those saints, men and women devoted to Christ, who will bloom in our hearts again the miracle of faith and life.
Today, we are traveling a road that will never again be strange to us; today, we understand that "Christian Lebanon" will be strong and forever a land that is a witness to Christ. "The just shall flourish like the palm tree and grow like the Cedar of Lebanon."
On July 29, 1999 and guided by Padre Andrés we landed at the International Airport of Beirut. Anxious and observant, we visited everywhere. We were fascinated by the cultural richness, the blend of great civilizations and the natural wonders of this profoundly beautiful land.
In its streets, villages and cities, in its clear skies, its generous, majestic and hospitable mountains, and the holiness of its history, we were discovering the Lebanon described to us by our grandparents. We were comparing what our eyes were seeing to what our grandparents have painted in our memories. Yes, Lebanon was as beautiful as they used to describe it and much more.
One Sunday in August, I visited Bcharre, the town where 95 years ago my grandfather was born. I felt there was joy in heaven. I was not just fulfilling a promise that I made when I was 12 years old; I was on my way to meet -- with the help of God, through Padre Andrés -- the side of my family in Lebanon of whom we knew very little in Argentina.
In the evening of that Sunday, two young men arrived at the hostel of the Maronite Holy Family Order of Nuns in Sarba, Jounieh, where some of us were guests. The men were asking about and were looking for some relatives from Argentina. The oldest, named Farid El-Khoury, asked me the name of my great-grandfather. "Assad Bechara El-Khoury," I replied. He smiled and from that moment on all family ties were the same and we were telling the same stories. It was only then when young men separated by 18,000 kilometers, by a different language and almost 100 years of history were united in an eternal hug, and acknowledged their belonging to the same family -- like the branch of the great Cedar tree, proudly Lebanese.
This way, I had the chance to know my family which remained in Lebanon and to spend a few unforgettable days in a dream-like environment. From now on, we can never be strangers.
We have recaptured the history of the family, not just for us but also for our children. We have carried close the real history of Lebanon to our loved ones and to people around us in our society. The historic, political, and spiritual value of this experience is in itself an invaluable inspiration to all those in search of the truth.
This is my personal experience and the story of many others. Hundreds of Argentinean children and grandchildren of Lebanese descendants have come back to the sacred land of Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands will follow from every corner of Argentina and the world, in search for that connectedness to ancestry.
We know now that we have a mission to achieve. There is a hard and worthy task that every Maronite should fulfill. Now more than ever, we have a duty to transmit the message of faith and love emanating from the Holy Scriptures and from our saints and martyrs. Now more than ever we should tell the world that Lebanon is a land of conviviality between ethnic, religious, and cultural groups. Our duty is to strengthen the identity of Lebanon, this place where eight thousand years of history have passed leaving a wonderful testimony of civilization; where a Phoenician people have multiplied, disseminating their talent, culture throughout the world. This same people accepted the message of the Messiah, recognizing the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as our Savior.
Jesus who walked and preached in the land of Lebanon continues to bless Lebanon’s children who are walking the same road, glorifying His name, and a living testimony that despite all odds, oppressions and conflicts, Lebanon shall stand and shall survive.
May almighty God give us the necessary strength and allow us to be part of this beautiful sacred mission of Lebanon and its people -- especially the Maronites.
Despite the distance that separates Argentina from Lebanon, our cultural identity will be strengthened and will bring us closer to our brothers and families in such a way that nobody can alter or destroy.
This is the message carried by our elders who engraved on our spirits the joy and hope which had carried with them from the Land of Lebanon. The hour has come to join forces and take part in the reconstruction of Lebanon and get to know the real dimensions of our faith.
Yes, arrows have had an uncertain destination; however their orbits in the sky of our souls have shown us the way of return. May God bless Lebanon and its people!
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