Lebanon : Religious tourism
Bechouat (Lebanon) - "She healed Christians and Muslims and her miracles have given life in the region." She is Our Lady of Bechouat and her sanctuary, a model in multiconfessionel Lebanon seeking to develop religious tourism.
- Monasteries, churches and shrines abound in a country that remains a bastion of Christianity in the Arab world, although the Muslims have become the majority.
"Formerly, in the Bekaa, tourism stopped at Baalbeck. Our village was forgotten", says Marie Keyrouz, who runs a souvenir shop in Bechouat, a town in the eastern plain of the Bekaa which become a place of pilgrimage after several witnesses of "miraculous cures" in 2004.
Near stall at the entrance of the sanctuary, crutches and wheelchairs were abandoned, witnesses "miracles" achieved.
"Today, tourists and pilgrims come by the hundreds. We work all year," said Marie, a forty whose shop is full of rosaries, key chains and bracelets hit the picture of the Virgin.
For Mary and her husband Yaacoub, the greatest miracle of "Notre Dame" Bechouat has been the decision of the State of paving the roads of this village of 500 inhabitants and to install electricity.
"Without her, there would have been nothing," said Yaacoub, who runs a restaurant in Bechouat.
Aware of "the importance human and economic of growing religious tourism", the Ministry of Tourism has chosen this year to launch a real campaign, said Nada Sardouk, director general of the ministry.
"We have a huge wealth, religions," she said referring to the 18 Christian and Muslim communities in the country.
Twenty roads leading to Christians and Muslims shrines have been ordered in a book, "The paths of faith" to be launched in late September in conjunction with a film highlighting the beauty of the sites.
In addition to the holy shrines of Lebanon, there are very symbolic places like Qana, where Jesus performed his first miracle, transforming water into wine, and Maghdouche, where the Virgin Mary was visited by the Christ in the Upper Galilee.
But it is the Holy Valley of Kadisha (north), or Wadi Qannoubine, which attracts visitors.
World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1998 for its natural beauty, the site is a very important historical center for Eastern Christians, "said Samir Mazloum, Maronite Apostolic Visitor in Europe.
In caves and monasteries carved into the rocks, the first Maronite took refuge from Syria in the 5th century, fleeing persecution.
"Many European tourists and pilgrims began to plan their visits here," said the prelate.
"Even people from the Gulf come here," says Mary, a souvenir vendor.
They find local produce, wine from the convent, but also several restaurants.
A hotel at the entrance of the valley will soon see the day "to allow backpackers to stay several days," explains Ferzê Tok, a responsible project.
"We also encourage the villager to develop the idea of guesthouses," says Ms. Sardouk.
If the most famous places are mostly Christians, there are several Muslim shrines, including Shiites.
In Baalbek, Lebanese pilgrims and Iranians flock to the mausoleum of Khawla bint al Hussein, daughter of Imam revered by Shiites.
"Religions should not be our wounds, but a blessing," summarizes Ms. Sardouk, while the country remains plagued by sectarian strife.
Ennaharonline/ M. O.