A scaled-down replica of Our Lady of Lebanon Marian Shrine from Lebanon will be dedicated at Toronto’s Our Lady of Lebanon Church next month. Photo courtesy Fr. Wahid El Khoury

‘Piece of Lebanon’ graces west end Toronto parish

By 
  • August 17, 2022

A west-end Toronto Maronite parish has a new statue on its property, two years after a previous statue of the Virgin Mary was vandalized.

The new sculpture at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood is a scaled-down replica of the Our Lady of Lebanon Marian Shrine gracing the top of a hill in Harissa, Lebanon, north of Beirut. Erected in 1907, the 13-ton statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with outstretched hands is made of bronze and painted white. The statue faces the Mediterranean Sea.

Fr. Wahid El Khoury, pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon, told The Catholic Register that the new statue will be blessed at a special ceremony following 11:30 a.m. Mass on Sept. 11.

This anticipated event comes just over two years since the parish congregation was rocked by a still unknown man decapitating the Virgin Mary statue — and absconding with the head — early in the morning Aug. 30, 2020. A still image of the unknown suspect, captured on video surveillance, was released to the public.

Sgt. Jeff Zammit of 14 Division blasted the incident as “pathetic” when speaking to press outlets, and El Khoury told the media “that hurts” as parishioners were already experiencing pain from the explosion at the Port of Beirut earlier that month that killed 218 people, injured 7,000, created 300,000 homeless and caused $15 million in property damage. He said more people were visiting the church in the weeks that followed to offer support for their ancestral homeland through prayer.

Ultimately, weeks of no developments in arresting the suspect and recovering the severed head made it clear that the original statue could not be restored.

“The police tried for many weeks to do something but they couldn’t find that person (of interest), nor the head of the statue,” said El Khoury.

“So, we thought, ‘we can’t repair it, so we will replace it.’ Instead of replacing it with a normal — well, normal, all statues are good — statue of Mary, we made a replica of Our Lady of Lebanon that we would put in front of our church.”

El Khoury said the new statue “is like having a piece of Lebanon” on the parish grounds.

“Having a piece of their old country in their new country is filling people with hope. At least it buries that sacrilegious act of vandalism with something beautiful and hopeful.” 

Parishioners, other Catholics and anonymous donors raised funds for this effort, and many later helped with the required digging, stone-base-building and landscaping involved in a statue installation. The landscaping was completed at the beginning of this month.

El Khoury said all this work ultimately took over 18 months because there were interruptions caused by winter weather and COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, the statue was being carved in Italy in white marble.

Blessing the statue on Sept. 11 provides the congregation with good-news closure on this act of vandalism.

Bishop Paul-Marwan Tabet, the chief Maronite Eparch of Canada, will preside over Mass and the solemn ceremony to dedicate the statue.

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