Toronto parish lays its hero to rest

  • March 18, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - They decorated his favourite jeep with white flowers, wore buttons emblazoned with his military photo and filled the church with Lebanese and Canadian flags to welcome home the latest fallen Canadian soldier, 22-year-old Marc Diab.

It wasn’t the homecoming that parishioners at Toronto’s Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church had hoped for.

Friends and family were counting down the days when they would see Diab return to Canada. But on March 8 he was killed by a roadside bomb north of Kandahar, Afghanistan, a month before his expected return. Diab was the 112th soldier killed since Canada’s mission in Afghanistan began in 2002.

Diab’s parents were expecting to celebrate their son’s upcoming engagement to long-time girlfriend Mary Barakat, who is also a member of the parish. His mother, Jihan, said he was planning to propose to Barakat upon his return.

A day before Diab’s funeral, his father, Hani, said from the family’s Mississauga home that he wanted the funeral Mass to be a celebration of his young son’s life.

“We are proud Canadians. We always will be missing him. If we can give any more to Canada, we will,” Hani, 48, told The Register. 

He also thanked Canadians for their support, especially when dozens lined the overpasses along the Highway of Heroes to greet the military convoy escorting Diab’s body from the Canadian military base in Trenton, Ont.

Jihan said the family and Edy Nakhle, one of her son’s closest friends, wanted to decorate his Jeep Wrangler like it was going to be his wedding.

“We wanted him to have the celebration. We don’t want to cry or mourn. He will rise with Jesus,” she said. “He died in Lent time which means a lot to me.”

Jihan, 44, had planned to pick him up from the airport on Easter Saturday.

The Diab family emigrated to Canada in 2000 from Ain-Ebe, a small town in southern Lebanon.

Jihan said as the only son in the family, he was not allowed to enter the Lebanese  military under law. She recalls when Diab was about six or seven and said he wanted to become a “solider of freedom, peace and love.” Coming from a wartorn country, she said he wanted to protect the freedom of others.

When Diab informed his mother of his wish to enlist in the military, she said she was worried about the dangers he could face in Afghanistan. But he said he wanted to make a difference, Jihan recalls. At 19, he joined the Canadian military.

For summer camp participants at Our Lady of Lebanon Church, Diab was their “big brother” and “fearless leader.” Several spoke at a March 13 memorial Mass and remembered his joyful and dynamic personality.

Seeing the tear-stained faces of the teens who were part of the camp last year, including 16-year-old Maria Bhersafi, shows how Diab can make an impact, even if you only met him for a few minutes, said close friend Nakhle.

Bhersafi and her 13-year-old sister joined the parish’s summer camp last year and said Diab made a lasting impression.

“He always taught us really good morals, to adapt and overcome. Even if it’s hard, you can do it,” she said.

Fr. Emmanuel Nakhle said news of Diab’s death came as a shock. He had been chatting online with Diab several days before the bomb attack and they were making plans for the upcoming camp.

In his eulogy at the funeral on March 17, Fr. Nakhle said Diab was a born leader, especially when he first expressed interest in the camp as a 17 year old.

Two years later, Diab became camp leader.

“No love is greater than dying for others,” the pastor told mourners. “Marc, you served others ... You lived (your life as) a spectacular hero and you died as a spectacular hero.”

Diab’s mother said they planned to continue the summer camp and rename it after her son.

At the funeral, a video prepared by Diab before he left for Afghanistan was played. Diab had wanted the video shown to friends and family in the event that he didn’t return home.

Black-and-white photos of Diab with his family, girlfriend and summer campers on the beach flashed across the screen. It ended with the the words, “Don’t cry ... ’cause I’ll see you ... tomorrow.”

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