Happy 83rd Birthday, Your Holiness! Ad multos annos!
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This itinerary will help situate the visit made between April 9 and 13 in the Middle East:
Friday, April 9: 9AM Bus to Byblos, visit the historic citadel, then to Kobayat (Akkar); visit an olive press (CNEWA project), luncheon in Kobayat; bus (AFTER crossing into Syria at Bokayaa) travel to Krac des Chevaliers, crusader fortress; bus to Homs and check in at Safir Hotel; visit with Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria at residence of Archbishop Isidore Bhattikha; Mass in his cathedral (presided by Archbishop Dolan); reception and greetings with Christian religious leaders of Homs (and Aleppo), then dinner in downtown Homs.
Saturday, April 10: Check out, bus to Damascus; in Damascus, Mass at the church of St. Paul on the Wall, walk along Straight Street, visit to house of Ananias; bus to Kashkul to visit the Iraqi refugee program (CNEWA project), bus to the Dedeman Hotel, lunch; bus to “Bab Sharki”: visit with Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignatius IV Hazim; further visit to the Old City, return to hotel for free evening (visit from the Canadian ambassador Glenn Davidson).
Sunday, April 11: Check out, bus to Dar el Fatwa for visit with representative of the Grand Mufti of Syria Sheikh Hassoun and visit to the Great Mosque; bus to Saydnaya and the Shrine of St. Thomas (Divine Mercy Sunday) for Divine Liturgy celebrated by Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham hosted by Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, followed by luncheon with local Catholic bishops; visit to the monastery and seminary of St. Ephrem the Syrian and meeting with Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas; bus to Lebanon (crossing into Lebanon at Jdeidet Yabous); check into Notre Dame du Puits convent.
Monday, April 12: Mass at the shrine church of Our Lady of the Well presided by Archbishop Dolan, breakfast, travel to sites within Greater Beyrouth: bus to Bkerke, residence of Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir and bishops; bus to Harissa and visit with the Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, then brief stop at National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon; bus to Ain Warka, an orphanage of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters (CNEWA supported institution); bus to Jounieh for seaside seafood luncheon; bus to Ashrafieh for visit with Syrian Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignace Youssef III Younan; bus to Raboueh and St. Anne’s Melkite Greek Catholic Major Seminary (CNEWA supported institution); bus to Notre Dame du Puits convent: CNEWA Pontifical Mission Presentation by staff, dinner with Catholic and Orthodox Bishops and CNEWA staff.
Tuesday, April 13: Mass at the convent chapel presided by Archbishop Brunett, breakfast, bus to Dbayeh UNRWA camp for Palestinian refugees and Little Sisters of Nazareth; bus to Ashrafieh Armenian Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni; bus to downtown Beirut, luncheon at Place de l’Étoile; to Beirut International Airport for Rome departure (Cardinal Foley, Archbishop Dolan, Msgrs. Brouwers and Lyons and Fr. Cruz); bus to Saida (Biblical Sidon): Providence Home, technical school and orphanage (CNEWA project), Saint Élie home for the elderly (CNEWA project); bus to Maghdousheh and visit the shrine of Our Lady of Mantara; return to Notre Dame du Puits convent.
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BYBLOS is one of the top contenders for the "oldest continuously inhabited city" award. According to Phoenician tradition it was founded by the God El, and even the Phoenicians considered it a city of great antiquity. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7,000 years.
Ironically, the words "Byblos" and "Phoenicia" would not have been recognized by the city’s early inhabitants. For several thousand years it was called "Gubla" and later "Gebal," while the term "Canaan" was applied to the coast in general.
It was the Greeks, some time after 1200 B.C., who gave us the name "Phoenicia," referring to the coastal area. And they called the city "Byblos" (papyrus" in Greek), because this commercial center was important in the papyrus trade.
Today Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) on the coast 37 kilometers north of Beirut, is a prosperous place with glass-fronted office buildings and crowded streets. But within the old town, medieval Arab and Crusader remains are continuous reminders of the past. Nearby are the extensive excavations that make Byblos one of the most important archaeological sites in the area.
History: About 7,000 years ago a small Neolithic fishing community settled along the shore and several of their monocellular huts with crushed limed stone floors can be seen on the site. Many tools and weapons of this stone age period have been found as well. The Chalcolithic Period (4,000-3,000 B.C.) saw a continuation of the same way of life, but brought with it new burial customs where the deceased were laid in large pottery jars and buried with their earthly possessions. Read the rest of the story of Byblos at this website: http://www.middleeast.com/byblos.htm
Byblos on the coast between Beirut and Tripoli is 7000 years old, with 17 different civilizations discernible, was a seaport exporting papyrus for books (biblia, our "Bible"); it formed a scenic backdrop for the first of many group photos
In the citadel at Byblos, Seattle Archbishop Alex J Brunett and CNEWA-USA program director Mr. Gabriele Delmonaco
Some artefacts in the Museum at Byblos, established with financial assistance from the Government of Quebec
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KRAK DES CHEVALIERS is a Crusader fortress in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval military castles in the world. In Arabic, the fortress is called Qal'at al-Ḥiṣn, the word Krak coming from the Syriac karak, meaning fortress. It is located approximately 40 km west of the city of Homs, close to the border of Lebanon, and is administratively part of the Homs Governorate.
First impressions of the citadel are of its imposing mass
The castle is located east of Tripoli, Lebanon, in the Homs Gap, atop a 650-metre-high hill along the only route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of many fortresses that were part of a defensive network along the border of the old Crusader states. The fortress controlled the road to the Mediterranean, and from this base, the Hospitallers could exert some influence over Lake Homs to the east to control the fishing industry and watch for Muslim armies gathering in Syria.
Krac des Chevaliers, Syria
Krak des Chevaliers was the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades. It was expanded between 1150 and 1250 and eventually housed a garrison of 2,000. The inner curtain wall is up to 100 feet thick at the base on the south side, with seven guard towers 30 feet in diameter.
The Hospitallers rebuilt it and expanded it into the largest Crusader fortress in the Holy Land, adding an outer wall three meters thick with seven guard towers eight to ten meters thick to create a concentric castle. The fortress may have held about 50-60 Hospitallers and up to 2,000 other foot soldiers; the Grand Master of the Hospitallers lived in one of the towers. In the 12th century the fortress had a moat which was covered by a drawbridge leading to postern gates.
Between the inner and outer gates a courtyard led to the inner buildings, which were rebuilt by the Hospitallers in a Gothic style. These buildings included a meeting hall, a chapel, a 120-meter-long storage facility, and two vaulted stone stables which could have held up to a thousand horses. Other storage facilities were dug into the cliff below the fortress; it is estimated that the Hospitallers could have withstood a siege for five years.
Left to right: Msgr. Robert Stern, director of CNEWA, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Board Chair of CNEWA and Msgr. Hans Brouwers, Chancellor of the Equestian Order of the Holy Sepulchre
In 1163 the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Nur ad-Din Zengi, after which the Hospitallers became an essentially independent force on the Tripolitanian frontier. By 1170 the Hospitallers' modifications were complete. In the late 12th and early 13th century numerous earthquakes caused some damage and required further rebuilding.
Saladin unsuccessfully besieged the castle in 1188. During the siege the castellan was captured and taken by Saladin's men to the castle gates where he was told to order the gates opened. He reportedly told his men in Arabic, the language of his captors, to surrender the castle, but then told them in French to hold the castle to the last man.
In 1217, during the Fifth Crusade, king Andrew II of Hungary strengthened the outer walls and financed the guarding troops. In 1271 the fortress was captured by Mamluk Sultan Baibars on April 8 with the aid of heavy trebuchets and mangonels, at least one of which was later used to attack Acre in 1291. However, to conquer the castle, Baibars used a trick, by presenting a forged letter from the Crusader Commander in Tripoli, ordering the defenders to surrender the castle. Otherwise, this immensely strong castle would probably never have fallen. Baibars refortified the castle and used it as a base against Tripoli. He also converted the Hospitaller chapel to a mosque. King Edward I of England, while on the Ninth Crusade in 1272, saw the fortress and used it as a model for his own castles in England and Wales.
Local children pass the visitors from other continents
Post-Crusades: The fortress was described as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world” by T. E. Lawrence. This fortress was made a World Heritage Site, along with Qal’at Salah El-Din, in 2006, and is owned by the Syrian government. The fortress is one of the few sites where Crusader art (in the form of frescoes) has been preserved.
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Reverend Gerald Gahagan (born April 10, 1931, ordained June 5, 1965, entered into eternal life April 16, 2010)