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Wheeling Lebanese Festival Feeds Both Bodies and Souls

photo by: Photo by Shelley Hanson

Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church members, from left, Nicholas John, Tommy John, Philip Carl, Mark Joseph and Greg John grill lamb kabobs during the 89th annual Lebanese Festival held Sunday at Oglebay Park.

WHEELING – Area residents braved the rain to get a taste of Lebanese food and culture during the 89th annual Lebanese Festival held Sunday at Oglebay Park.

The day began with a church service by Monsignor Bakhos Chidiac, pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church of Wheeling. Afterward people enjoyed a variety of Lebanese food made by church members and by Pitaland of Brookline, Pennsylvania. There were also games for children and traditional dancing and music.

Liz Murad, festival committee chairwoman, said it was great to have the festival back on again after a two-year break because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s basically a big family reunion,” Murad said, noting local residents’ relatives come back to visit during the festival each year. “It’s a very good time, but it’s mainly to reconnect with everybody – especially after a two-year hiatus.”

Murad said her favorite part of the festival is everyone coming together to celebrate Lebanese culture and family.

Wheeling resident Nicholas John, a lifelong member of the church, said he has been heading up the church’s kabob cooking station during the festival for more than 15 years. His father, Tommy John, who was on hand Sunday, led the effort in the past along with John’s grandmother.

Also helping cook were John’s cousins Philip Carl and Mark Joseph, who traveled from Maine, and his uncle Greg John.

photo by: Photo by Shelley Hanson

Msgr. Bakhos Chidiac, pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church of Wheeling, holds a church service Sunday morning during the 89th annual Lebanese Festival held Sunday at Oglebay Park.

“It’s a good time – family, food. It’s good times for all of us,” John said. “We have a party here at the grill. This is kind of the happening place to be.”

John said the festival is a family-friendly event.

“It’s a good, clean, fun time. There’s music, dancing, faith and fellowship with family,” he said.

In addition to the lamb kabobs, John and his crew were also cooking kibbeh. Church members also made some traditional desserts.

“The kibbeh is like a Mediterranean hamburger. It’s ground lamb with bulgar wheat, mint and spices. That’s cooked at the church and we put them into the deep fryer to warm them up,” he said.

John said Pitaland also made a variety of Lebanese food to sell during the festival.

“Pitaland is here because we’re a small parish. We’re running out of grandmothers to do this,” he said of cooking and serving all the different traditional foods. “Pitaland is kind enough to come down; they’re great people and are another great family from Pittsburgh.”

John enjoys cooking on the grill because, “It’s what my grandmother would have wanted me to do,” he said.

Church member Joe Roxby also was on hand to help during the event. He noted he grew up attending a Roman Catholic church, but started attending Our Lady of Lebanon after talking to and getting to know Chidiac.

Roxby said he always enjoys hearing the service during the festival.

“It’s the closest to what the apostles heard at the last supper,” Roxby said.

He noted the festival is just one of many held annually that helps make the city and Ohio Valley an interesting place to live.

The festival is the church’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Our Lady of Lebanon is the only Maronite Catholic Church in West Virginia.

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