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Centenary of the Schools in Jbail and Amchit

07/05/2009: Lebanon

We Marists have been in this land since 1868 when, responding to repeated requests, Br. Louis Marie, Superior General, sent the first group of Brothers to Lebanon, then under the control of the Ottoman Empire; but the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the deaths of some of the Brothers forced him to withdraw them in 1875. Twenty years later, in 1895, Br. Theophane sent another group. Circumstances had changed and, summing up the historical record, the first group went from being the only community in 1895 to a District in 1903 and then the “Province of Syria” in 1908, and extended their educational endeavors, in addition to various cities in Lebanon and Syria, to Egypt (1898), Turkey (1900), Iraq (1902), Palestine (Jerusalem) and Syria in 1904, coming to be, as well, the founders of the Province of Madagascar.

The expulsion of the religious from France in 1903 moved the Province de Varennes to choose Lebanon as the destination for its Brothers, opening the provincial house and formation center in the town of Amchit. Thus in 1903 there were 33 Brothers and in 1904 the total was 110 and 116 in 1913.
The need to broaden the services of the house was the reason for building the school in Jbail, some 4 kilometers away; it opened in 1908. Today, both form just one school, with a total of 1800 students: about 1200 pre-school and primary students in Jbail and the rest in Amchit.

When World War I broke out in 1914, 44 Brothers had to return to France for military service. In 1919 some came back to Lebanon until, in 1939, World War II struck another blow, with only 68 Brothers remaining at its end. Today we are fewer than 15—in Aleppo, Syria and the two schools in Lebanon.

Centenary Year

On April 18, 2008, the anniversary of the canonization of St. Marcellin, we began the celebration of the centenary year. At the beginning of 2008, the wish was to commemorate “within the centenary year”, the first events of the foundation. April 18 was chosen for the kick-off. The ceremonies began in Amchit, beside the statue of Fr. Champagnat. The director, Br. José Remiro, addressed the assembly and lit the torch that would watch over the events of the 18th and 19th of April. The runners set out on the relay with the torch for the four kilometers to Jbail, where almost 3000 people waited to welcome them. The torch was placed next to the altar in the patio of the school, the façade of which was decorated with garlands and flowers. The ceremony begun in Amchit continued in Jbail, the two groups now together. Standing with respect, something second nature to the Lebanese, the people listened to the lively national anthem, which, as is customary when it ends, was loudly applauded. The director presented the educational “motto-message” of Marcellin Champagnat, which the school has tried to put into practice over these 100 years: “In order to educate children, you must love them”. Then a film was projected, describing the history of the Marists in the city, from the arrival of the first Brothers, showing actual photographs. Then the superior, Br. Andrés Delalande, gave an historical overview, covering the period from 1934 to the present. The ceremony ended with a procession around the school, with images of Mary and Marcellin, accompanied by members of the planning committee, a group of students carrying red candles and the public with vigil lights. Loudspeakers transmitted the voices of the school choir.

As planned, on Saturday, April 19 at 7:00 a.m., a Mass of thanksgiving was concelebrated in the school patio by 3 bishops and various other priests.

Everyone wanted to play a part and they all had a role to play: students, parents, teachers... even two students from COU, Muslims, asked to be in the offertory procession, which is what they did, receiving the bishop’s blessing when they presented the gifts.

All the ceremonies of the 18th and 19th were attended by the religious, civil and military authorities, most of whom were former students or parents of students now attending the school.
A memorable part of the religious ceremony was when a delegation of students gave Br. José Girardot—92 years of age and in Lebanon since 1932, and representing all the Brothers—a bouquet of flowers, which he then placed at the feet of the Virgin.

Among the events of those first two days, what stood out were the comments of the attendees, expressing a reality: “We’ve seen the spirit of Champagnat”. “Simplicity, fidelity, closeness to and much love for young people”.

During the year, various school and family events were held, the last one being on March 24 of this year. The administration of the school petitioned, as one of the centenary activities, a reception by the President of the Republic, General Michel Sleiman, alumnus of Amchit. It was granted and Brothers from both schools and a representation from both centers: parents, students teachers, alumni... were received at the presidential palace. The president personally greeted each attendee.
Then the director introduced the different groups present, greeting the president in their name and explaining each one’s role. The president, being a former student, is thus a member of the Marist Family. We invited him to a ceremony to be held April 18, 2009—the 10th anniversary of the canonization of Marcellin Champagnat and the 100th anniversary of the school where his children had also studied—at the national Marian sanctuary of Harissa, where the Cardinal-Patriarch and other bishops would concelebrate the Mass. He gladly accepted. He then spoke for almost a half-hour, informing us of his vision of the political situation in Lebanon today.

Finally, in the great hall of the palace we took a group photo and then each one present had his or her photo taken with the president. We all left more convinced of what we already knew: he is one of the family.

___________
Br. Emilio Alastuey

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