Published August 6, 2015
ATLANTA—The community at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church celebrated a saint from Lebanon with a Middle Eastern potluck and a hafla, a traditional gathering among friends and relatives.
The Atlanta parish marked the July 24 feast day. The event began with the community reciting the collect prayer for the feast of St. Sharbel. Then with recorded Lebanese music, people enjoyed a spread of food, from fresh-baked pita bread and fried kibbe (ground meat with cracked wheat, onions and pine nuts), to fatayah (spinach pocket pies) and dozens of other dishes. An estimated 100 people attended.
People left with a special prayer card. Born Youssef Antoun Makhlouf, the saint was a Maronite monk and priest from Lebanon, revered as holy. In 1875, St. Sharbel began living as a hermit at the Hermitage of Sts. Peter and Paul. He spent the next 23 years living as a solitary hermit, until his death in 1898.
Msgr. Al Jowdy, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, organized the event to host a summer parish gathering. He wanted to attract lovers of Lebanese food to bring their favorite dishes to share. The longtime priest has Maronite Catholic heritage in his family tree, which is rooted in Lebanon. His paternal grandparents came to this country in 1905.