Maronite Academy - 2013 - Lebanon
Academy 2017 Winners List

The Maronite Academy 2013 Educational trip to Lebanon

The Maronite Academy is an initiative, undertaken by the Maronite Foundation, aimed at introducing young Lebanese immigrants around the world to their country of origin, Lebanon.
The overriding objective of the Foundation is to raise the awareness of the Lebanese expatriate communities regarding their legal rights such as their eligibility to the Lebanese citizenship and their right to vote.
The Maronite Foundation also seeks to awaken the Maronites around the world to their heritage and consolidate their links with their Lebanese and Maronite roots.

The Maronite Academy 2013 Educational trip to Lebanon

30 young people of Lebanese descent successfully completed the 2013 Maronite Academy online sessions and were selected to be part of the Maronite Academy’s all-expense-paid educational trip to Lebanon. 

July 2013 witnessed a worldwide gathering of young people who came all the way from the USA, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland, Canada and Egypt to visit Lebanon and reunite with their roots.

Photos

Christine Bou Moussa

I knew traveling to Lebanon was going to change me. I've always had a strong sense of pride and connection to my heritage and religion but actually seeing and experiencing Lebanon and all its splendor has ignited something within me. The trip was nothing short of a dream come true.

First off, travel accommodations from the airport to USEK University where we slept, were coordinated so that each of us had nothing to worry about from the moment we landed in Lebanon till our departure. We were each given a detailed itinerary of our daily activities listing all the places we would be visiting at specific designated times. I've spoken to friends and family who live in Lebanon and they cannot believe how much we were able to see & do during the trip! I am truly touched by all the Churches and holy sites we've visited. Words cannot express the close connection that the Maronites have to Lebanon. If there isn't a historical church every few blocks, then there is a small chapel or shrine created by the locals. It's beautiful. From the silence of the mountain tops to Harissa there is an unspoken, overwhelming feeling of peace and grace. It makes you realize how intertwined our faith is to the physical land of Lebanon and moreover how important the history of Lebanon is to our faith.

Standing on the top of Our Lady of Zahle, looking down at the panoramic view of the town where my family is from was indescribable. The kind of thing that gives you goose bumps and puts your life into perspective.

We visited many popular tourist attractions and better yet, places most people have never heard of. I took away with me so much from each experience because of how knowledgeable our leader Abouna Kmeid is, the other Monks we met, as well as the natives. It was awesome to listen as each person spoke to us with such conviction and passion making it impossible for us not to feel the pride they exuded. Sharing the experience with my classmates made the trip even more worthwhile. Never would I have been able to say I have a true friend in Switzerland or know firsthand how awesome the people are in Argentina without the Maronite Academy being the link between us. "The trip to Lebanon was fantastic but the friendships I made with such an internationally diverse group of people is nothing short of fantastic. When you share an experience such as this trip to Lebanon, I think it binds you to the ones you've shared it with and I treasure that".- Chrsitine Boumoussa Each day I learned more than I did the day before and I made sure I shared my experiences on Facebook. It wasn't a surprise that those back home in America were completely shocked that Lebanon is not one big war-ridden desert and were captivated by the pure beauty of Lebanon. There is nothing like seeing the sunset over the mountains while you're literally above the clouds.

No explanation or photo does justice to the mouthwatering food we ate every day.

No picture can capture the essence of Lebanon and no words can express the overwhelming hospitality the people of Lebanon extend to otherwise complete strangers.

Lebanon was good for my soul. I left feeling cleansed and refreshed. I left with the devout need to explain to those who haven't seen Lebanon, just how wonderful it truly is.

I have fallen in love with Lebanon and I am so thankful for this experience. This was my first trip but it is the first of MANY to come!! Thank you doesn't begin to express my gratitude to everyone involved in making this trip possible.

Helio Mokarzel Neto

"I was selected on my birthday and it was the greatest gift I could wish for. I learned about Lebanon, its customs, its origins, and made new friendships with Lebanese descendants from around the world (Argentina, Australia, Canada, United States, Egypt, Mexico, and Switzerland). I discovered a whole new world in one country. We visited ancient Maronite churches, participated in interesting talks and got acquainted with landmarks of extraordinary beauty. I thank God and the Maronite Foundation in the World for this opportunity that I will never forget."

Joelle Haddad

Prior to joining the Maronite Academy's educational trip to Lebanon, I had spent a total of 7 months in Lebanon throughout my life. Also, as someone who studies the history and politics of the Middle East (specifically Lebanon), I realized after joining this trip that there is still a lot I do not know about Lebanon's special history. The Maronites were an integral part in the formation of Lebanon, and their ability to survive as a strong Christian community in the Middle East is astonishing. I know a lot about Lebanon, but this trip allowed me to connect with my ancestors, understand Lebanon's struggle and that of the Maronites, and form a bond with my place of origin. We visited several churches and holy sites, learned about their history and importance. We were given the opportunity to appreciate Lebanon's beauty through its culture, its people, its food, and its nightlife. In the months leading up to the trip, we interacted with fellow students and our instructors through the online platform; but it was a real pleasure to finally be able to meet each other and learn from our instructors.

I have lived my entire life in the United States, but have always felt more Lebanese than American; however, it has always been difficult for me to explore my Lebanese side. The Maronite Academy showed me a new side of Lebanon, one rich with tradition, history, and passion. It also gave me the opportunity to form friendships with other Lebanese descendants, similar to myself, from around the world. These newly formed connections will surely last a lifetime!

Layla Yazbeck

Upon applying to the Maronite Academy, I had no idea what to expect. I anticipated it to be a series of articles and questions on topics that I assumed I already knew everything about. This program completely surpassed my expectations. I learned a tremendous amount about my religion and country’s history, current issues and even aspects of the Lebanese culture and language that I had not known. Had it not been for the Maronite Academy, I do not know where I would have learned such important details about a culture that is a huge part of who I am. I enjoyed the challenge of the analytical questions asked in regards to topics such as immigration, Lebanon’s challenges, and the sacred sites. Aside from learning about Lebanon, I became acquainted with other Lebanese young adults from around the world who shared the common love for Lebanon. My dreams and aspirations for Lebanon are for it to be restored to its original beauty and reputation. Nothing breaks my heart more than how Lebanon is perceived in a negative light by the media and by those who associate it with the stereotypes of other Middle Eastern countries. I believe the only way to overcome these obstacles is to educate people. It is important for Lebanon to be known as more than that small country bordering Syria and Israel. My piece of advice to all Lebanese abroad who haven’t really had the chance to learn about or visit Lebanon is not to give up. Do not give up on your roots. Always strive to learn more about where your ancestors came from. There are plenty of resources out there to trace family history. Also, be proud. Whether you are 1% or 100% Lebanese, you are still Lebanese; be proud of your heritage.

I have visited Lebanon several times before, but have never had an experience like this. Traveling to Lebanon with 28 other Lebanese from all over the world was truly the trip of a lifetime. Upon our arrival we began with an introduction to the Maronite Foundation and were given the schedule for the journey that was about to embark. With the group, I visited the sacred sites that we had been studying about with the online Academy. It was wonderful to be able to take everything that I had learned about the history of the Maronites and Lebanon and to see it play out in real life. For example, visiting the Qadicha valley and hiking through Quannoubine was a very surreal experience for me. This is the land where our Maronite forefathers had walked, lived, and suffered; to be able to walk in their footsteps is a feeling too strong for words. Aside from visiting places in Lebanon, the conferences held were also a great experience. I learned the mission of the Maronite Foundation and what their vision of the future is. I was able to understand the needs' analysis of the Foundation and their efforts to preserve Lebanon.

Maria Morales

How to begin describing such an unforgettable experience without omitting any detail? To be honest, it is difficult, but I will do my best.

First, let me emphasize that, for me, it was like the journey of a lifetime. Just imagine! I had the chance to visit the land of my maternal grandfather, whom I never met, and this made me feel so happy and enthusiastic about this trip. Also, being a Maronite and being in contact with this culture and history did motivate me quite a lot. Everything was perfect and appealing.

I registered in December 2012 and found out days later, via e-mail, that I had been accepted into the Maronite Academy. Of course I jumped with joy! We immediately joined a group on Facebook and started chatting, it was fantastic! People from around the world posting about themselves, sharing information, pictures, everything... We had this beautiful bond bridging the distances between us: the love and interest in our roots.

For 5 months, we all took the Maronite Academy's e-learning sessions. Through a virtual platform, we answered questions on different topics every week: history of the Maronites, challenges, emigrants, sacred places.

Each session taught me something new, something that connected me to my church and the country of my ancestors. The more I learned, the more I loved my roots. All these learnings became part of my identity, part of my blood.

Eventually, on May 8th we got the final results: I had been selected. On July 13th, I happily arrived to Lebanon. Everything was perfect, just like a dream.

I've lived beautiful unforgettable moments during those two weeks. I met extraordinary and warm people. Lebanon is a holy place and each of its sites is unique. Visiting the Maronite Saints' sanctuaries was an exceptional experience where you can breathe holiness.

We had the great opportunity to meet very important people, like the President, the Patriarch, and other personalities who gave exceptional speeches on Lebanon, the Maronites, and their roots.

During these days I never felt the difference between being home and being in Lebanon, although it was my first time there. It felt like I was part of a big family. We were always accompanied by Abouna Fadi Kmeid, who was our permanent guide to all the places we visited and taught us amazing historical facts. Mrs. Nada Salem Abi Samra was, from the start of the program, attentive to our concerns, and questions, always taking care of us, almost like a mother. Mrs. Boustani accompanied us to the various conferences we attended. She always motivated us to think about the importance of our learnings during this trip.
It was fascinating to see that all of us, though from different countries, shared the same love and concern for Lebanon.

Planting a cedar in the "Cedars of God" was a moving experience that deeply marked me. It felt as if we were planting our strength, our roots. We, like our grandparents, were betting on Lebanon.
Actually, the trip left in my mind and in my heart the seal of a commitment to this geographically far away land that was nevertheless very close in affection and appreciation. During this journey, God surprised me with an important event that was not within the planning schedule. Just a few hours before taking the plane and leaving Lebanon, I was reunited with my Lebanese family. The priest of the parish I belong to, Father Pedro Chwah, took me to Aintoura El Metn (where my family comes from) and there we found my grandfather’s sister. It was something inexplicable as we hadn't had any contact with each other for many years. Actually, we hadn’t been in touch since the death of my grandfather. What happened there was truly amazing and is very difficult to explain with words.
I am really convinced that this trip was a gift from God. Everything was a blessing: to travel to the land of my grandfather, to learn about my roots as a Maronite and to meet my two families: the great people that I was lucky enough to meet at the Academy and my biological family in Lebanon. I thank God for having blessed me with such wonderful people. Members of the Maronite Foundation are very generous, have a very noble goal, love their country, their roots and managed to convey that fervent concern to us. I think everyone takes home an indelible commitment: to preserve Lebanon as a Christian country.

I do not know if the words I've chosen can depict my I experience during this trip, express all my feelings, but at least I hope I was able to reflect some of the wonderful moments I've lived.

Mariam Deland

When I applied for the 2013 Maronite Academy, I really didn't know what the whole thing was about or whether there was a real possibility of a trip to Lebanon. To be honest, I didn't give it much thought after I had completed the online application, until one day I got a phone call asking me whether I was still interested in participating. Yes! I committed to reading the lessons and answering their related questions each week. My readings would spark my interest in new topics and I would sit for hours at my computer, opening a million tabs, reading about the Maronite history, the holy sites, the crusades, etc.

Meanwhile, I communicated with the other students and with Mrs. Nada Abisamara on Facebook and got to have a small idea of what everyone was like. There were siblings, cousins, friends, and strangers. There were people from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Switzerland; all united by a common bond: our Maronite Heritage. By the time I was selected to go to Lebanon, I was already thrilled! I read the itinerary and I couldn't believe it. I was amazed by all the planning, efforts, and expenses that had gone into making this experience a memorable one.
Somehow, it felt completely natural to be on the other side of the world sharing a new experience with a group of people I had never met. We did it all - continuing our courses and learning more about the Maronite history, visiting religious and holy sites, sightseeing, rock climbing and rappelling, swimming on Lebanon's beautiful beaches, shopping, eating the best food in the world...I can't believe how much we did during the time we were there. I could have never planned such a trip for myself. I don't even know what to say. Having Abouna Fadi as a tour guide was an amazing experience. He is so educated and knowledgeable about so many topics that he could just talk and talk about any subject and every holy site. For any young Maronite who would consider applying to the Academy, I cannot endorse this enough. It is an opportunity not to be missed; a truly amazing experience!

Michelle Haddad

"To truly understand Lebanon beauty you have to open your heart to the cedar roots that flow through your veins. This was a trip of a life time and I hope that everyone can visit Lebanon at least once in their lifetime. I've always loved being Lebanese but going and feeling the soil in my hands and breathing the fresh air for the first time. I fell in love with Lebanon."

Nicolas Abraham

Mexico, Canada, USA, Brazil, Switzerland, Egypt, Australia, and Argentina. But I prefer to say Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas; all continents were represented and gathered in one place: Lebanon, Asia. It is from there that our ancestors emigrated, and it´s there that the Maronite Academy reunited us with our roots. We went back to the genesis of our history. We returned to Lebanon.
This gift of Heaven was made possible by the Maronite Foundation in the World. The Maronite Academy, which belongs to this prestigious institution, has no other motivation than making young Lebanese Christians around the world, meet again with their roots and strengthen their relationship with their fellow Lebanese residents, as well as promoting Lebanon’s image in the new generation´s mind, inciting it to take pride in its Lebanese roots. Also, after studying the history of our beloved country and visiting it, understanding the problems that it is facing today and finding ways to help preserve it.
The experience with the Maronite Academy has been wonderful from all points of view. The courses we took were very constructive. During five months we studied different aspects of Lebanon: the history, the challenges, the emigration, and the holy sites. Every week we had to find the time to meet with Lebanon. I needed time to read, study, think about the courses I undertook and the questions related to them. It was beautiful because it was a way to be close to Lebanon and to know more about it. There is a saying that "you can´t love what you do not know", and as of January 2013 we started a love affair with our roots. We felt love and commitment towards Lebanon.
We learned about the history of the Maronites, which is in fact the history of Lebanon. In essence, we learned about ourselves. What we are, our identity, and our faith which is directly linked to the history of our ancestors who defended their land and their faith with their blood and their lives.
Another wonderful thing that happened along the way was beautiful solid friendships. The Academy started out with 80 young people chosen from around the world and who, obviously, had never met before. We began to interact with each other through a Facebook group. When we arrived to Lebanon, we felt we had been friends for a long time. We had an amazing coordinator, Ms. Nada Salem Abisamra, who was the heart and soul of our team.
28 people travelled to Lebanon from the different countries I mentioned at the beginning of the article. The different customs, languages and idiosyncrasies were no obstacle to making great friendships and enjoying one of the most amazing trips of our lives. These friendships carried on after our departure; some of us went to visit their friends in their countries. I hope we can all meet again.
Different people, various backgrounds, yet all were strongly connected by their love of Lebanon and their Christian faith. It really was a trip of faith. In every church we visited, each and every one of us took the time to pray. It's amazing to see young people from all over the world praying all together.

The organization of the trip was excellent. Ms. Hiam Boustani did a great job coordinating everything. We stayed at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK). It is a beautiful university, a fascinating place situated a few meters away from the sea. It´s a renowned university where the majority of the Maronite priests have studied. We were interviewed by newspapers and the Lebanese television. The last night we enjoyed a lovely gala dinner with the Foundation’s members at Mr. Neemat Frem´s home. We gave a gift to Mr. Michel Edde. It was a cedar engraved with the students and the staff’s names. It was very significant gesture as each of the branches bore the name of one of us. United in the same tree, we all reunited with Lebanon.
The excursions were extraordinary. We were greeted by the President of the Republic Mr. Michel Suleiman. We also met the Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Rai in his summer residence. We visited historical sites like the National Museum and Gibran Khalil Gibran´s house, and sacred sites such as the Maronites and Orthodox monasteries and Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa. We also marveled at the spectacular Jeita Grotto, the mountains, the cedars and the sea. We toured the beautiful cities of Beirut, Zahle, Byblos, as well as many others. Lebanon is a fascinating place. One of the guys told me on the first day: "Lebanon is the true holy land". That sentence was stuck in my mind the whole trip, and I feel it is absolutely true. In Lebanon you can breathe holiness. Every step you make, you can find a church, a statue of the Virgin Mary or a saint, a rosary, etc..
The convents of St. Charbel, St. Antony in Qozhaya, St Hardini and the Qadisha Valley, made the trip a meeting with the depths of our faith. Sleeping in the Holy Valley, visiting the hermitage, walking the mountains where long ago our grandparents lived, was an inexplicable experience that you have to live and feel for yourself.
Each person brought part of their own personal history to this trip. We lived very intense experiences. Some of us wanted to visit the villages of their ancestors; others met their relatives whom they had never seen before. A guy took his grandfather's ashes and left them in the village where his family lived. These were very exciting moments.
I greatly enjoyed the conferences we attended as they were very enriching. It was impressive to see the president of the Maronite Foundation, Mr. Michel Edde, speak to us with the same simplicity and warmth a grandfather would to his grandchildren. I think all the people who gave us lectures, did it out of unconditional love for their land and their faith. They are true lovers of Lebanon and it is wonderful to listen to people speak from their heart. It is impossible not to be moved by these testimonies. In fact, I feel they are the same ancestors talking to us today and reminding us of what they did for us.
The Maronite church deserves a special mention. Lebanon is indeed a beautiful touristic attraction, where everyone enjoys sunny beaches and beautiful mountains. But our trip had a major plus. We were coordinated and constantly accompanied by Father Fadi Kmeid, who told us the history of each place. He took us into the heart of every convent. In Lebanon, each stone has a story which was related to us by abouna Fadi. He answered all of our questions. Going around in Lebanon with a priest was undoubtedly a special joy and an enrichment of our Maronite faith. In conclusion, I think this is the legacy that our ancestors left us. They didn´t leave us gold or wealth but they left us the Christian faith. The Faith we profess daily. But our Christianity wouldn’t exist today hadn´t our ancestors fought hard to preserve it. My life changed forever when I joined the Maronite Academy. It is now my responsibility to keep this tradition alive, to preserve it, and to pass it on to my children and grandchildren.

Paul Yazbeck

I have been to Lebanon many times, but in the summer of 2013, Lebanon became a new land for me and others to explore. Going to Lebanon with the Maronite Academy was a truly unforgettable experience. Being able to travel around my country of origin with other people of Lebanese descent was amazing. Just when I thought I had seen it all, the Maronite Academy proved otherwise. The Academy took us places I would have never gone to by myself. The people I've met on this trip will forever be a part of my life. I can only hope to be part of such an experience at one point or another in my life journey. I am looking forward to the day the Maronite Academy class of 2013 reunites again.

Samantha Maron

My trip to Lebanon during the summer of 2013 was one of the most culturally enriching experiences I have ever partaken in. Not only did we learn about the history of our beautiful country, but we were also exposed to the Lebanese local culture: dance, food, language, religious customs, and social life. I was so blessed to be granted such an opportunity!

Victor Moussallem

"The trip to Lebanon was an incredible experience, actually one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was my second visit to Lebanon, but theoretically speaking it was the first time I experience and explore Lebanon this way.
We visited many Christian sites such as: St. Charbel's church in Zahle, Mar Moussa's monastery, Annaya, Our lady of Elige, St. Elias' monastery in Jeitta, Harissa, St. Anthony's monastery in Kozhaya, Qadicha valley, Deir el Kamar. We also visited many touristic & historic sites such as: Les Caves de Ksara, Taanayel Ecolodge, Beirut souks, Zeitounay bay, Jeitta Grotto, Gibran's museum, the Cedars forest, Byblos, the Fossils' museum, and Jezzine.
The trip was also full of fun as we went to the ATCL beach and swam in the Mediterranean sea, biked around the lake in Tannayel, took the cable car towards Harissa, escalated and rappelled at Kfardebian, and planted a cedar tree in the Cedars' forest.
We attended several conferences covering the economic aspects of emigration, steps to obtaining the Lebanese passport, the Maronites’ history and influence, as well as other interesting Q&A sessions.
The trip was well-organized; the coordinators were very helpful and dedicated a lot of time and effort to make this experience a success. Thank you all and thanks to the Maronite Foundation".

Miriam Moussalem

My trip to Lebanon with this amazing Maronite Academy's group was like a dream. The spiritual experience was very deep especially during our visit to Annaya, Mar Charbel, and the night we spent in the oasis. It was a great opportunity to disconnect from the stresses of life, relax, and enjoy the spirit of Lebanon and the Lebanese people - these beautiful and kind people who keep on smiling no matter the hardships they may face.
I was more than lucky to have been chosen to be a member of this amazing group and to be part of the Maronite Academy's body and soul.
The existence of our beloved Lebanon will stay intact if we all unite our efforts and start working hand in hand for the persistence of this Holy land; the land that our Lord has blessed and our Saints glorified.

Caroline Abou Bechara

I thank the Maronite Foundation, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. This educational trip was amazing and beyond expectations. I visited several historic churches and sites that date back to hundreds of years and discovered the importance of our Lebanese heritage, the depth of our faith, and the value of our history. Visiting the holy Qadisha Valley was the most amazing experience; it is there that I got acquainted with the Maronites’ origins. They lived a hard life in this harsh mountainous area, struggling to preserve their identity, their heritage, and their freedom. Despite all the setbacks they faced and the difficult conditions they lived in, they managed to keep their faith intact.
The 2013 trip to Lebanon instilled in me the pride, passion, and motivation to be continuously involved in the Lebanese cause and to promote Lebanon as a country, a holy land, a way of life, and an example of democracy. This was honestly an extraordinary educational and spiritual trip that had a major influence on my life.
I now have a new family in Lebanon (the Maronite Foundation), and one that is spread out across the world (the Maronite Academy students and teachers).

After spending two full weeks with individuals of Lebanese descent from all over the world, we developed a very close bond. We stay connected via our own Facebook group where we share stories, pictures, and life events.

The Maronite Academy 2013 Youths’ Testimonials

First Name Family Name Country
MaríaMoralesArgentinaCheck
Testimonials
NicolásAbrahamArgentinaCheck
Testimonials
MelissaZeidanAustralia
NadaBecharaAustralia
HelioMokarzel NetoBrazilCheck
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MiriamMoussallemEgyptCheck
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VictorMoussallemEgyptCheck
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FernandoCabello SchekaibanMéxico
SarahBechaalanySwitzerland
JessicaAbou-TanosCanada
SandraAoun Abou-TanosCanada
SergeHaddadCanada
FadiKhouriehCanada
WaseemKhouriehCanada
TheresaTradCanada
AliciaMassadUSA
MariamDeLandUSACheck
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ChristinaMagriUSA
paulyazbeckUSACheck
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LaylaYazbeckUSACheck
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JoelHageUSACheck
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EvonnaBoumoussaUSA
ChristineBoumoussaUSACheck
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MichelleHaddadUSACheck
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ThomasShiverUSA
AngelaMaronUSA
SamanthaMaronUSACheck
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KathyKuzniUSA
CarolynAbou-BecharaUSACheck
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