Nearly 1,500 faithful in Lebanon prayed, most on their knees, for more than three hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament to plead for heavenly help for their crisis-stricken country.
Coinciding with the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7, the “For Jesus and Mary” gathering combined Eucharistic adoration, all mysteries of the Rosary and Marian hymns, concluding with the consecration of Lebanon to St. Michael the Archangel.
The site, a public open-air soccer stadium in Jounieh, north of Beirut, was chosen for its location alongside the highway and for its view of the Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine atop a hill facing the stadium.
Maronite Archbishop Elias Sleiman, president of the Patriarchal Court of Appeal, presided over the gathering, leading the Eucharistic procession, prayers, Rosary and consecration.
As if timed precisely by God, soon after the prayers began, a huge full moon rose behind the shrine, brilliantly illuminating the statue, also known as Our Lady of Harissa.
“On the feast of the Rosary, we consecrate Lebanon, its land and people to the protection of St. Michael the Archangel and to the first martyr, our Lord Jesus Christ,” implored Archbishop Sleiman. “Martyrdom is something we are familiar with in this land.”
“Your blood, O Lord, is the only source of our salvation. Through this sacrifice of yours, we are all united, focusing our eyes on heaven, and you are our only goal. All offerings of lives in martyrdom are joined to yours, our Redeemer and Savior,” Archbishop Sleiman said.
Confessions were also in progress during the prayers.
The pleas for God’s mercy come at a time of severe deprivation in Lebanon, as the country continues to endure a crippling socioeconomic crisis since 2019 deemed by the World Bank as one of the worst globally in modern times. In three years, the Lebanese currency has crashed by more than 90%, and poverty has overtaken 80% of the population in the formerly middle-class country.
The prayer gathering was organized by a Lebanon-based lay apostolate called Marys Heart (no apostrophe).
Dominic Chikhani, who heads up Marys Heart, told the Register the evening was “like a pilgrimage in heaven.”
Not only were the prayers intended for Lebanon, but for the whole world.
“I believe, and it’s my deep feeling, that heaven was waiting for such an event,” Chikhani pointed out.
“We had the Eucharist, we had God with us and Our Lady, with our rosaries and the full Rosary, on our knees for reparation, for conversion of nations and to deter the forces of evil and hell. All was there, plus the consecration of the Lebanese people and nation and land to the special protection of St. Michael. That was very powerful,” Chikhani said.
Chikhani has a strong conviction that “God will be merciful towards us. He will answer our prayers.”
Marys Heart centers around a Facebook platform offering live Catholic prayer 24/7. Archbishop Sleiman is the spiritual adviser for the group.
The roots of Marys Heart began as a prayer group of around 15 people who regularly gathered in a suburb of Beirut at the home of Chikhani, a Melkite Catholic, to pray the Rosary.
When they could not meet in person during coronavirus lockdowns, the group decided to launch a platform on Facebook in March 2020. However, not all members of the prayer group felt called to lead prayers in a live broadcast format.
“So we started recruiting people of the same mindset: a passion for Christ and Our Lady and [for] the combat for souls,” Chikhani explained to the Register of the new cohort of pray-ers.
Now, 40 people are involved, around the world, across different time zones, such that live prayer is continuous on the Marys Heart Facebook platform, 24 hours, seven days a week, in Arabic.
In time, visitors to the site were also coming from other countries. By the names, it was obvious they were Arab, but not Lebanese — and Catholic, Chikhani said.
“It took fire quickly. We witnessed a tsunami,” he said of the Facebook participation. “Our Lady provided her grace.”
Now, there are some 107,000 followers, and the apostolate continues to grow. Typically, at any given moment, hundreds of people are praying together around the world.
“The people praying from abroad are now more than those in Lebanon,” he pointed out. Most of the participants are part of the Arab-Catholic diaspora in Europe, the United States and Canada.
The schedule includes the Rosary, novena prayers — including Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, St. Charbel, Padre Pio — the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart chaplets, Bible readings and teachings by priests, including Archbishop Sleiman.
“Our Catholic faith is a treasure,” Chikhani said of all the devotions and prayers broadcast by Marys Heart live on its Facebook page.
In preparation for the stadium prayer event, Marys Heart prayed the novena to St. Michael.
The group also promotes wearing of the Miraculous Medal and the brown scapular, praying the full Rosary, First Saturday devotion and frequent confession.
Its motto is “We belong to Jesus and Mary,” and its patron is St. Philomena, a martyr.
This zeal for the salvation of souls comes from a former agnostic. The 52-year-old Lebanese management consultant, a cradle Catholic, had lost his faith over the course of living in Europe for some 20 years.
“All my friends were atheists, and if you’re not really protected and equipped [faith-wise], it’s easy to fall,” Chikhani said of that period in his life.
In particular, he encountered a professor “whose hobby was to prove God doesn’t exist. I thought I knew my faith, but he destroyed me in his arguments,” Chikhani recalled.
He considers his faith path “a God-incidence, not a coincidence.”
“My river was met by a rock. I had to change course, and at 35 years old, I had to reread the New Testament,” Chikhani said. He went on to read it 20 times in a row.
“I fell in love with Jesus Christ and his words,” he said, and, soon, he developed a love for the Blessed Mother.
Chikhani has since written four books on apologetics and is currently writing a book titled, Mary’s Camp.
“Unfortunately, because we have this lukewarmness that has settled in the hearts and minds of Christians today, there is a confusion about salvation in the mind of Catholics,” Chikhani pointed out.
“The culture of death, the culture of apostasy, has gotten right into the minds, souls and hearts of our youth,” Chakhani warned.
“What we miss today as Catholics is a ‘holy cause,’” he said. “I feel that Lebanon has a unique role to play to get in the thick of things and hold the banner of Christ for the salvation of souls. We have a very special devotion to Our Lady.”
For Souleima Joseph Chreim, Marys Heart has been “a life-changing experience” that has deepened her faith.
Of the stadium gathering, she said: “The time when we started praying, we were looking up at Harissa, and there was the moon rising up, and it was like you could see St. Michael and you could see the rosary in the sky” amid the cloud formations.
“We prayed for the lost souls, we prayed for the sinners, and I am one of them. None of us is without sin, except Jesus and his mother,” Chreim said.
“And we prayed for Lebanon, keeping in mind what Pope John Paul II said,” referring to the saint’s declaration that “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”
Additionally, since 2013, Lebanon has been consecrated each year to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Maronite patriarch. In 2017, the consecration took place in Fatima, marking the centennial of the apparitions.