December 8, 2018 – The Christmas Spiritual Retreat 2018 for NDU faculty and staff members took place at the Maronite Convent of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament of Ain Warka, Ghosta, Kesserwan.
Upon our arrival, the participants were warmly welcomed by Fr. Omar Hashem, who opened the day with a special prayer. Papers and pens were then distributed to the participants who drew their hands on the paper, and were taught about the role of each finger in prayer, meditation, and life, as explained by His Holiness Pope Francis.
The Mayor of Ghosta Antoine Estephan talked about the history of Ain Warka School, which was the first school in Lebanon—after the school under the oak tree— that graduated priests, bishops, and patriarchs. He explained the role of this school in shaping minds and paving the way for establishing other schools across the country.
Fr. Hashem, who conducted the retreat, discussed the topic “importance of good human communication…”. He reflected on the relationship between communication, the Bible, and spiritual values, particularly love that stems from a free, genuine, and honest heart.
Fr. Hashem celebrated at noontime the Divine Liturgy, assisted by Fathers Samir Ghsoub, Jean-Pierre Eid, and Albert Assaf. Fathers Walid Nassif and Antonio Feghali were available to hear the confessions.
In his homily, Fr. Hashem expanded on the verse quoted from the Gospel of St. John: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (3:16) He highlighted—through a short, moving story— God’s love for humans, which changes their lives and makes of them an expression of love for their brothers, an expression that embodies Christmas.
After Mass, the participants headed to the dining hall where they enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by the Sisters. They then visited the Monastery of the Holy Savior (Batha-Kreim), which is celebrated as the Mother House of the Congregation of the Maronite Lebanese Missionaries and the center of spiritual retreats. The Congregation of the Missionaries established a rehabilitation center for the handicapped and a Shrine to the Divine Mercy in its proximity.
Fr. Hashem briefed the participants about the history of the monastery, which Bishop Youhanna Habib purchased in the nineteenth century A.D., and which was considerably expanded by consecutive monks over the passage of time.
This special retreat ended at 4:00 p.m., and participants returned home filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the peace of Christ, and the love of the Virgin Mary, who intercedes for them before God. It is worth noting that the retreat coincided with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.