A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LEBANESE MARONITE COMMUNITY & MISSION IN SOUTH AFRICA

The history of the Lebanese Community goes back to the late 19th century, when the first immigrants arrived in Johannesburg, the biggest city in the Transvaal. They came from Sebhel, Becharre, Deir el-Ahmar, Hadath el-Joube, Mezyara, Maghdouche and other places. The majority of the Lebanese immigrants were Maronite and were concerned about keeping their Maronite faith alive in a new country, they wrote to the Maronite Patriarch in Lebanon, insisting on a Maronite Priest to come to South Africa to celebrate the Maronite Liturgy and to keep the Lebanese tradition and heritage.

  • 1880-1885- It is recorded that during this time the first Lebanese pioneer arrived in the Transvaal. He did not come accidentally, as is foolishly suggested by some, having lost direction on his way to America. In fact, he came like thousands of others from Europe and elsewhere because of the discovery of precious stones and minerals at this end of the African continent. As far as is known, it was Elias Mansour Eid from Beiteddine, south east of Beirut, who worked in Ferriera’s Mining Camp (as early Johannesburg was called) for 10 years and amassed a tidy stash of gold sovereigns in that short time, who returned to his hometown. His financial success story inspired hundreds of husbands and fathers, courageous adventurers, to make similar sea voyages on cattle boats sailing between Port Said and Delagoa Bay (as early Maputo Bay was called).

     
  • 1905- In this year, Maronite Patriarch Elias Howayek, sent Fr. Emmanuel El-Fadle to South Africa from Kfarhata-Elzawye, North Lebanon. A historical year for the entire Maronite Community in South Africa - Fr. Emmanuel El-Fadle was the first Maronite Priest to walk on South African soil. After time as a student in Rome and Paris, he began serving the South African community on both spiritual and social levels. Fr Fadle converted a building in Johannesburg into a church and residence. He left South Africa after 4 years. On his return to Lebanon he died on 27 July 1909, a victim of the ill-fated ship, SS Waratah, which sunk at Transkei off the Wild Coast between Durban and East London. No wreckage was ever found.

     
  • 1910- Fr. Joseph Ashkar arrived to build a church and a home for the priests. He purchased a church and a rectory in Commissioner Str. and later moved to the corner of Diagonal & Kerk Str, Johannesburg. The Patriarch then sent another priest to assist - Fr. Wakim Estphan who stayed for a short time before he went back home to Lebanon, and Fr. Ashkar continued to serve the community alone until 1928.

     
  • 1913- The members of the future SA Lebanese Association took action and defeated the Supreme Court in the case known as the ‘Ghandur Case’ which would classify the Lebanese as non-white (Asiatic) and therefore subjected to all the impediments of these laws against human rights with appeal in the Appellate division of the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein.

     
  • 1928- Fr. Ashkar resigned his office and returned to Lebanon. The mission was then handed over to the Congregation of the Maronite Lebanese Missionaries, known as the “Kreim”.

     
  • 1928-1929- Fr. Youssef Juan, who was appointed as a temporary visitor, received instruction from the Patriarch Howayek and the General Superior Fr. Youssef Moubarak to succeed Fr. Ashkar in serving the South African Maronite Community. The Congregation of Maronite Lebanese Missionaries has since served in South Africa among other countries and continues in its mission in serving and assisting in the Maronite and Latin Rites. Fr Youssef Juan served the community for almost one year. After, in December 1928, Fr. Peter Alam, sent by the Maronite Patriarch, succeeded Fr. Juan and set about serving the community.

     
  • 1936- Fr. Peter Alam acquired a former Dutch Reformed church at 61 Mint Rd, Fordsburg Johannesburg, and later built a community centre, a four story building, beginning the second Lebanese school in SA and serving the community tirelessly for 34 years until his death.

     
  • 1947- The community represented by the South African Lebanese Association - SALA (established in the early 1920s) purchased 33 acres of ground on the Pretoria - Johannesburg road (Cedar Park – Woodmead) with the cost of 9,000 pounds, which resulted in the building of Our Lady of the Cedars’ church in 1990.

     
  • 1954- First Honorary Consulate of Lebanon to South Africa - Mr. Boutros Khoury Sebaalani, before the Official establishment of the Consulate of Lebanon to SA took place in 1958.

     
  • 1962- Fr. Alam passed away in South Africa on the 13th June, and Fr. Michael Chebli arrived to assume duties. He served with tireless zeal for 30 years until 1992.

     
  • 1983- Permission was granted by Fr. Paul Najem (Superior-General) to build a church at Cedar Park, three acres of ground was set aside (Erf.712) for the new Church, donated by the Cedar Park - Lebanon Christian Association (LCA) of South Africa.

     
  • 1990- The foundation of the new Church of Our Lady of the Cedars was completed. Fr. Nabil Rizkallah arrived in Johannesburg to assist with pastoral duties at Our Lady of Lebanon church in Fordsburg. After two years he was transferred to Brazil.

     
  • 1991- Dedication of the new church, Our Lady of the Cedars, on Palm Sunday, 8th April. Fr. Elie Madi arrived to assist in the needs of the Maronite community and to serve at Our Lady of Lebanon in Fordsburg and later at Our Lady of the Cedars in Woodmead, where through his efforts, built the Shrine of Our Lady, the priests’ house and the church hall.

     
  • 1992- The historic visit of His Beatitude, Cardinal Nasrallah Peter Sfeir, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and the entire Middle-East. It was the first visit of a Maronite Patriarch to the African Continent.

     
  • 1993- Construction of rectory and offices at the church of Our Lady of Cedars, Woodmead.

     
  • 1994- Fr. Nadim Abou Zeid arrived to assist in both churches, and more so at Our Lady of Lebanon.

     
  • 1995- Completion of conference center and hall at Our Lady of the Cedars church. Between 1991 and 1995, four missionaries helped Fr Madi sustain the community’s needs. Frs Nabil Rizkallah, George Bou Msallem, Marwan Tabet and Nadim Abou Zeid originated and revived educational, pastoral and cultural activities. Emphasis was placed on youth. Fr. Hannoun Andraous succeeded Fr. Madi as Superior, in October 1995. His main accomplishment was the Families Tree and the introduction of the pledge system.

     
  • 1996- On 20th October, Fr. Marwan Tabet arrived back from the U.S.A. to replace Fr. Hannoun as head of the Mission.

     
  • 1997- The community has grown in spiritual, social, intellectual and cultural activities, as well as in numbers. The religious education programs were expanded. New spiritual, social and cultural activities were introduced. Fr. Pierre Albalaa joined the missionaries' team.

     
  • 1998- The agenda of new projects included the acquisition of property on the southern side of the Johannesburg Metropolitan area.

     
  • 1999- 1st May, unveiling the new statue on the Shrine at Our Lady of the Cedars’ church by Archbishop Manuel Monteiro de Castro, Apostolic Nuncio. 25th July – Consecration of the ground and dedication of the cornerstone of the new church, Our Lady of Lebanon, at Liefde-en-Vrede, by Bishop Reginald J. Orsmond. Fr. Tabet returns to Lebanon and Fr. Pierre Albalaa is appointed Superior of the Mission. Fr. Maurice Chidiac joins the mission in South Africa.

     
  • 2000- March – Construction of the new church in Mulbarton begins. First group of Maronite Assistant Ministers to the Maronite Mission are appointed to assist our priests in pastoral work.

     
  • 2001- Fr. Nadim Abou Zeid is appointed Head of the Maronite Mission. July – Construction of the new Shrine begins at Liefde-en-Vrede in Mulbarton. Fr Maurice Chidiac returns to Lebanon and Fr. Pierre Albalaa takes up his new mission in Los Angeles. Frs Pierre El-Khoury and Bechara Trad arrive in South Africa to assist the mission.

     
  • 2002- 26th May – Opening of the new Shrine of Our Lady at Mulbarton and celebration of the arrival of the statue of Our Lady from Fatima, Portugal, in the presence of 6000 people and the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Blasco Francisco Collaçao and our Superior General, Fr. Khalil Alwan. Completion and blessing of the foundation stone for St Charbel Garden of Remembrance erected at Our Lady of the Cedars, Woodmead. Fr. Boulos Habbouche arrives to assist the mission. December – Fr. Ihab Chamoun and Fr. Michael Chebli arrive in South Africa. 21st December – Our congregation celebrated the 50th Priesthood anniversary of a zealous missionary, Fr. Michael Chebli, & his 80th birthday in Feb 2003.

     
  • 2003- 25th May - Official opening of the new Church of Our Lady of Lebanon, Liefde-en-Vrede (Love-and-Peace) in Mulbarton, South of Johannesburg. Securing the land of the new Church, purchasing the nursery school and future vision for education.

     
  • 2004- Finalizing the master plan of the new church, Our Lady of Lebanon, in Mulbarton which will include Catechism Centre; Monastery of St. John the Apostle; Hall & Community Centre; and Maronite Catholic School. The sale of the building and parking area (except the church) in Fordsburg is finalized. Rediscovery & Revival of our Maronite Lebanese Community by introducing the “Lebanese Family Club”, an initiative to promote the family within the community. Began with the Sham Family Day, followed by Bakos, Leicher, Becharre, Kalil and other families. In September, Fr Kozhaya Sarkis arrives at Our Lady of the Cedars to replace Fr. Chebli who left on 7th February 2005 to take up an appointment in Argentina. Fr. Pierre El-Khoury joins Fr Bechara at Our Lady of Lebanon, Mulbarton.

     
  • 2001-2004- Reaching out spiritually to all our people in the Southern Suburb and throughout the community. Our six priests giving of their commitment, time and talents for the unity and upliftment of the community throughout South Africa, consolidating vision and action in order to move into the new millennium as a strong community, committed to Christ. Financially, the community was stabilized with the pledge system, and elimination of outstanding debts. Many remodeling projects to upgrade existing facilities were accomplished, and others initiated. Many activities have been implemented to reach the community outside Johannesburg. Parishioner attendance over this period has increased from about 600 to approximately 2500 at the end of the period, and looking forward to further increasing this number through the implementation of empowerment of the laity through children, teens, youth & adult formation and education.

     
  • 2007- September - Appointment of Fr El-Badaoui Habib, who joined the Mission on 2nd July 2006, Head of the Maronite Mission in SA. On 7th September, Frs George Kairouz and Charbel Habchi joined the Mission.

     
  • 2008- 7th to 15th May - His Eminence Maronite Patriarch and Cardinal, Nasrallah Peter Sfeir, for the second time visited the Lebanese Community in South Africa, and He consecrated the new church and shrine, Our Lady of Lebanon, Mulbarton. In July Fr Nadim Abou Zeid took up his new mission in Las Vegas.

     
  • 2011- January - Opening of the New Lebanese School, Our Lady of Lebanon, Maronite Catholic School, in Mulbarton next to the Maronite church. In December - Publishing a new book “People of the Cedars” A 20th Century insight into the Lebanese South African Community by Fr Charbel Habchi & Mr Ken Hanna.

     
  • 2013- On 22nd September, Frs Pierre Chemaly and Jean Yammine joined the Mission. In December, the extension and renovation of the Bowling Club Hall and Field at Cedar Park were completed.

     
  • 2014- In February the new General Superior of the Maronite Lebanese Missionaries, Fr Malek Abou Tanous, visited the Mission for 10 days, attended the Festival of St Maroun in Woodmead on Sunday 9th of February. Then he blessed and laid the foundation stone of the intermediate building of the Maronite Catholic School in Mulbarton on Wednesday the 12th February.

     
  • 2015- In February 17th, Archbishop of JHB, His Grace Buti Tlhagale, in the presence of the General Superior, Fr Malek Abou Tanous, the Maronite Apostolic Exarch of Western & Central Africa, Mgr. Simon Faddoul, and the Chargé d’Affaires of Lebanon in South Africa, Mr & Mrs Ara Khatchadourian, His Grace blessed the intermediate building of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic School in Mulbarton.

     
  • 2016- 19th to 23rd May - His Beatitude Maronite Patriarch and Cardinal, Bechara Peter Rai, for the first time visited the Lebanese Community in South Africa. He inaugurated the Sports Facility and blessed the Foundation Stone of the Community Center & Hall at Our Lady of Lebanon, church and school in Mulbarton.

     
Download a pdf version of
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LEBANESE MARONITE COMMUNITY & MISSION - SA (full text with pictures)
SS WARATAH

27 July 1909
Sunk off the Transkei Coast, near East London
On board was Rev. Fr Emmanuel El-Fadle
Our First Maronite Priest
On his return to Lebanon


Centennial of the First Maronite Priest in South Africa
1905 – 2005
Rev. Fr. Emmanuel El-Fadle



The history of the Lebanese Community goes back to the late 19th century, when the first immigrants arrived in Johannesburg, the biggest city in the Transvaal coming from Sebhel, Mesyara, Becharre, Hadath El-Joube, Maghdoushe and other places. It is recorded that in the year 1892 the first Maronite and Lebanese immigrants arrived in Durban, Cape Town and Mozambique, and congregated around their local Catholic Churches. The majority of the Lebanese immigrants were Maronite and were concerned about keeping their Maronite faith alive in a new country, they wrote to the Maronite Patriarch, insisting on a Maronite Priest to come to South Africa to continue their tradition and the Maronite Rite. In 1905, Patriarch Elias El-Hoyek, sent Fr. Emmanuel El-Fadle to South Africa from Kfarhata–Elzawye, North Lebanon. A historical year for the entire Maronite Community in South Africa - Fr. Emmanuel El-Fadle was the first Maronite Priest to walk on South African soil. After time as a student in Rome and Paris, he began serving the South African community on both spiritual and social levels. He converted a building in Johannesburg into a church and residence. He left South Africa after 4 years in 1909. On his return to Lebanon he died, a victim of the ill-fated ship, SS Waratah, which sunk at Okeanos off the coast of East London, no wreckage was ever found.

In 1910, Fr. Ashkar arrived to build a church and a home for the priests. The Patriarch, then sent another priest to assist - Fr. Wakim Estphan. Fr. Ashkar returned to Lebanon and retired in 1928. The mission was then handed over to The Congregation of Maronite Lebanese Missionaries. Fr. Yousef Juan, who was appointed as a temporary visitor, received instruction from the Patriarch and the General Superior Fr. Yousef Moubarak to succeed Fr Ashkar in serving the South African Maronite Community. The Congregation of Maronite Lebanese Missionaries have since served in South Africa among other countries and continue in their mission in serving and assisting in the Maronite Rite.

 

 

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