- Posted February 13, 2011 by
Mont Lebanon, Lebanon
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Middle East beauty
Largest Jesus Monument Worldwide Unifies Christians and Muslims in Mount Lebanon
by Joe M. Tekli and Elizabeth S. Kassab.
In a remote region of the district of Shouf, recognized as the ancient capital of Mont Lebanon, with its historical towns of Deir-el-Kamar (Convent of the Moon) and Beit-el-Dine (The House of Religion), the largest monument dedicated to Jesus Sacred Heart (JSH) is being rebuilt.
In a country which was torn by war, religious intolerance and discrimination for nearly 3 decades, the inhabitants of one of the most religiously diverse regions of Lebanon: the district of Shouf (with large Christian and Muslim communities), strive to re-erect what they hope to become one of the world’s most majestic projects dedicated to JSH, including a huge 57m (187 ft) tall monument and statue of Jesus.
What is more astonishing than the project itself are: i) its location: in the Middle East, in Lebanon, and not in some European country or the Americas, and more interestingly ii) the heartwarming enthusiasm amongst the Shouf’s inhabitants of all religious fractions, both Christian and Muslim, consisting mainly of Maronites (followers of the Maronite Catholic church of Lebanon) and Druze (Muslim sect whose followers mainly reside in the district of Shouf), to successfully complete the project.
The original project
The construction of a Church and a 12m (39.37 ft) statue dedicated to JSH was carried out in the late 60s by Wadih R. Aoun, a peasant of the small town, Bireh, in the district of Shouf, Mont Lebanon, helped by the inhabitants of the nearby villages. This was a time of peace in the Shouf, despite the early signs of war in the Lebanese capital Beirut, with growing tensions between the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization, led by Yasser Arafat) and its Muslim allies, on one hand, and the Christian militias (namely the Lebanese Phalanges, led by former president Bashir Joumael) on the other. Nonetheless, the district of Shouf was regarded by most political and military parties, as a remote region, where Christians and Druze (and a Muslim Sunni minority) have peacefully coexisted for decades.
Nonetheless, it was a dream that changed Wadih R. Aoun’s life and would henceforth impact his community for generations to come. In his dream, Wadih R. Aoun saw an appearance of Jesus Christ, whispering for a shrine to be built in his name, on the high hills of the village. From that moment on, Wadih R. Aoun scattered the region, searching for assistance (physical and financial) to make his dream come true. The original project was completed in the summer of 1978. It consisted of a 12m (39.37 ft) tall statue of JSH, located on a humble 200m2 church (photos 1 and 2).
Before it got the chance to be nationally (and internationally) recognized, the JSH church and statue were completely destroyed during the 1982 ‘Deportation war’ of Shouf (photos 3 and 4), when over 120 Christian villages were ravaged, their inhabitants partly slaughtered, and partly deported to Beirut.
The reconstruction started after the inhabitants of Shouf returned to their villages in 1994. The initiative was undertaken by Maroun A. Tekli, a western educated scholar from the small town of Bireh, and the newly established Jesus Sacred Heart Organization (JSHO – Shouf). Upon receiving the benediction of the archbishop of Beirut, the Maronite patriarch of Lebanon, and Pope John Paul II, the JSHO elaborated the plans for a new JSH project, so majestic, that it would soon catch the imagination of most inhabitants of Shouf, Christian and Muslim alike.
The new project consists of a cathedral, a statue, and a visionary social centre.
1. The church
The actual church project covers a 1,800m2 (19,375 ft2) piece of land, including:
· A 1,300m2 (13,993 ft2) assembly hall (first floor, already completed),
· A 800m2 (8,611 ft2) church (under construction) which elevation from the first floor is 30m (323 ft, photo 5),
· A 25m (269 ft) tall tower (completed) carrying two bells, weighting 350Kg and 1000Kg (photo 6).
2. The statue
Work on the JSH statue began in the year 2000, supervised by the late Lebanese sculptor Karim Rahbani, who had designed and built the original (1978) statue. The head of the statue, a 3m (32 ft) tall piece of art, was completed by his son, renowned Lebanese artist and architect Fadi Rahbani (photos 7, 8 and 9).
While the famous Jesus the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro is made of cement, thus its rather rugged (yet beautiful) features, the JSH statue in Lebanon will consist of a metal inner-skeleton covered by fiber and resin, which would enable the sculptor to master the smallest details. This can be clearly seen in the new statue’s facial features, which was completed in late 2005. Work has recently begun on the arms (photo 10).
A small comparison, to put the new JSH project in perspective:
- The JSH monument will be 57m (187 ft) tall, with a 22m (72 ft) tall statue and a 35m (115 ft) tall base (a ten story tower building), to be located at 1050m (3445 ft) above sea level.
- Jesus the Redeemer monument is 38m (125 ft) tall, with a 39.6m (130 ft) statue and a 9.5m (31 ft) pedestal, and is located at 710m (2330 ft) above sea level.
- The Jesus Christ statue in Bolivia is 40.44m (133 ft) tall, with a 34m (112 ft) statue and a 6.3m (20.5 ft) tall pedestal.
- The newly erected Jesus statue in Poland is 51m (167 ft) tall.
3. The Social Center
Unlike most existing statues or monuments of its kind, the JSH project is revolutionary in its futuristic design. The statue’s base is not merely a 35m (115 ft) pedestal, but consists of a 10 story building and social center, specifically designed to include:
· An emergency clinic,
· A retirement center for the elderly,
· A shelter for the homeless,
· A Lebanese Red Cross center,
· A civil defense and fire center,
· A public library,
· A scout center,
· An art museum,
· Different guest rooms,
Excavation works have been completed. The final updates and refinements on the center’s architectural designs are currently being undertaken.
A Chance for Consolation, and Hope for a Better Future
Based on the principals of equality and mutual respect, and the vision of a society where “an individual’s relationship with God follows a vertical axis, whereas his relationship with his neighbor is horizontal, guided by his moral values and the law”, the JSHO has gained the trust and assistance of most neighboring towns in the district of Shouf, both Christian and most noticeably Druze. While some view the project as the resuscitation of a religious symbol destroyed during the war, others recognize its role as a major opportunity toward social reconciliation, a means for forgiveness, and a way of giving back to the greater community.
The JSHO has succeeded in mobilizing a community of women and men, young and old, Druze and Christian, with the common goal of re-building the social bonds of affection and mutual respect, which had been gravely shattered during the war. ‘This is our major achievement’, as Maroun A. Tekli commonly states: ‘rebuilding the spirit, prior to resurrecting the stone’.
A Druze villager, helping to clear the ruble in the old JSH statue site, once said: ‘I don’t want my children to experience the same hatred and overwhelming fear I went through, so I’m helping rebuild a church’.