Annual Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival gives glimpse into the country Saint John Paul II once praised as “a message of freedom and example of pluralism”

By Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick

As Oklahomans flocked to Norman for the annual Norman Music Festival, some visitors instead went a few blocks away to experience the culinary culture and rich heritage of Lebanon.  Our Lady of Lebanon, part of the Maronite rite of the Catholic Church, hosted the third annual Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival on Saturday, April 26, and Sunday, April 27, expanding it to a two-day event. 

Throughout the day, visitors experienced the lively Dabke dance and other traditional dances by two groups of performers: University of Oklahoma’s Lebanese Student Association and the youth of the Maronite community from Lewisville, Tex.  The youth dancers encouraged festival attendees to participate in the dance by teaching them the basic dance step.  Many visitors, including a Lebanese Muslim family, danced with the group. Another dance group from Norman, the Dazzlers, provided further entertainment throughout the day.

Molly Hodgden, a senior member of the Dazzlers, said she was happy to participate in her second festival and learn more about the culture of Lebanon. 

 

“They taught us the Dabke dance,” she said.  “It is hard!”

For Molly, “the highlight is the food.  I had the chicken sandwich.  It was really good.”

Parishioner Cami Khouri, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, is also enthusiastic about the food.  She recommends visitors get the Beirut special. 

“It has everything,” she said, “Kafta, stuffed grape leaves, rice, hummus, tabouli.”

Khouri’s cousin and fellow parishioner Rana Jazaar was happy to share her culture with some of her friends from school.  “It is fun to show them our dances and our food.”

The festival also included a special lecture on actor Danny Thomas, born Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz.  Thomas, lifelong Maronite Catholic, co-founded the Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., with his wife, Rose.  They named the hospital after the patron saint of lost causes.  Thomas was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1990.

Visitors were also able to take relief from the heat and learn about Lebanon through the “Beauty of Lebanon” video presentation in the church, informing guests about the small country of 4,000 square miles and a population of 4 million with a rich history.  The country plays prominently in the Bible, where it is mentioned 71 times, and is host to a diverse population, including many of the world’s oldest Christians. 

Recently canonized Saint John Paul II said, “Lebanon is a more than a country, it is a message.  It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”

New pastor Father Fadi Matni MLM personally welcomed many of the guests and visitors, issuing a special invitation to participate in the beautiful Maronite rite liturgy.  One of the oldest liturgies, it provides a special link to Christ by saying the words of consecration in Jesus’ language.  Though Lebanese enthusiasts will have to wait until next year for more festival fun, all are invited to attend the Mass on Sundays at 11 a.m.

Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance writer and math tutor living in Oklahoma City.