They Do Windows
by Marilyn Raschka
also dishes. They supervise youth camps, offer counsel and chant. They do all this while pursuing a life of spirituality and prayer as they prepare themselves for ministry as priests in the Greek-Melkite, Latin, Maronite and Syrian Catholic churches of Lebanon. Each church has its own history and traditions, the sources of their strength and spirituality. But as individualistic as each is in liturgy and community, their commitment to Jesus Christ binds them firmly together. In no area does this unity show a stronger presence than in the seminaries, where teaching faculties and facilities are shared among the four churches.
Beautiful in location and architecture, the seminaries are situated high in the foothills of the Lebanon Mountains. They face west toward Lebanons ancient Mediterranean coast. A thousand years before Christ this coast was dotted with Phoenician city-states. From these shores sailed the commercial fleets of the Phoenicians, loaded with the products of their land: fresh olives and olive oil, cedar wood, golden grains and the most important seed of all, the first alphabet.
Respect for the written and spoken word is well represented in the courses at the seminaries. The need and desire to communicate with the West dictates a knowledge of English and French. For Maronite and Syrian Catholic seminarians, lessons in Syriani, or Syriac, the liturgical language of their churches, are challenges all have to meet. Lessons are given after a hearty lunch and a short rest. Well-fortified, the seminarians face their Syriac tutor. Blackboard and photocopied text ready, its a matter of let the pain begin.
A student is directed to read a passage. The tutor frowns and judges: Five mistakes. Another seminarian tries. Seven mistakes, the tutor charges before setting a good example. Good-natured groans bear witness to the difficulty of this ancient tongue, akin to the language Christ spoke.
For three Iraqi seminarians studying under the Carmelite fathers, the first language challenge has been to understand and speak Lebanese Arabic. There is a gulf of difference between the two dialects. These seminarians will have to learn French as well because the Latin Catholic Church in Lebanon is historically French oriented. English too is required as a working tool for the priesthood.
But the study of languages is an anticipated challenge. For some of Lebanons seminarians the first hurdle came unexpectedly when they told their families they wanted to become priests. The Arabic word majnuun, or crazy, came up more than once from some families and friends. One seminarian said that even after being in the program for over two years, he is still asked, Are you really happy?
Some come from families of engineers or doctors. When one son broke the mold by not following familial footsteps there was a cry of objection. In another case there was a lot of discussion when not one but two brothers entered the seminary. One family offered land with high commercial potential to their seminarian-to-be in hopes he would catch the entrepreneurial spirit.
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Tags: Lebanon Eastern Christianity Seminarians