- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Joe Karam, a lawyer from Lebanon, boarded a plane for Chicago July 12, with a colleague set to join him on the next available flight.

But, Mr. Karam’s flight was the last to leave the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport before the facility was attacked by Israeli planes last week. Now Mr. Karam, 37, is stranded thousands of miles away from his family and friends who are still in the war-torn country.

“It’s a sad situation,” Mr. Karam said yesterday. “I flew from Beirut … on the last plane before the airport was hit. My colleague was to follow me in the next plane, but he couldn’t because the runway was bombed.”

Mr. Karam was one of several hundred people who attended a special Mass yesterday at Our Lady Of Lebanon Maronite Church in Northwest, where they prayed for peace.

The church, which was established in 1966 to serve the Lebanese Catholic community in the D.C. area, serves about 400 families. More than 71,000 Lebanese Catholics live in the United States, according to the 2006 Official Catholic Directory.

The Mass — celebrated by Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church visiting from Bkerke, Lebanon — called for peace in Lebanon, which has been rocked by a week of deadly fighting with Israel.

The Israeli military went on the offensive after Hezbollah guerrillas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid last week.

Georgette Ammons said her mother had been visiting from Lebanon and returned the day before Israeli jets struck the airport.

“We can’t believe she’s still alive,” Mrs. Ammons said while cuddling her 5-month-old baby Marylynn after the service.

Her relief is tempered with worry about the safety of loved ones still possibly in danger there.

“All my friends, all my brothers, all my family are in Lebanon,” Mrs. Ammons said in a nervous whisper.

Cardinal Sfeir and Archbishop Wuerl denounced the recent violence in the region.

“As Christians, we believe that war is not inevitable,” Cardinal Sfeir told those who attended the Mass. “People can choose war and people can choose peace.”

Archbishop Wuerl said the retaliatory acts of violence only perpetuates a deadly spiral that ultimately does not rectify the dispute.

“Violence, simply, is the one thing that is not working,” he said. “An eye for an eye, and soon everyone will be blind. Give peace a chance.”

Most of those in attendance agreed that the guerrillas need to be eradicated, but retaliatory acts of violence is unwarranted.

“What Israel is doing now is out of context with what happened,” said Kyra Abraham, 45, of Alexandria, whose father was from Lebanon.

“The taking of the soldiers has been done before. It’s almost like Israel wants civil war in Lebanon, or have an excuse to reoccupy the south of Lebanon — which will only give Syria an excuse to reoccupy the north of Lebanon. The only thing left is just pray and hope that God can intervene.”

Miss Abraham, who has many distant relatives still in Lebanon, said the “arrogance” of Israel has gone unchecked for years, giving the country a false sense of impunity.

“You can’t just start bombing another country because of a group in that country,” she said. “A lot of the world is afraid to criticize Israel for fear of being called anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli. But that was a long time ago, and now Israel needs to be held accountable for their actions. What they are doing now is in no way justifiable.”

Nearby, Elias Abi-Naber, 65, sat solemnly in the front pew of the church, quietly reflecting as he leaned on his cane.

Though he worried about the many relatives in Lebanon he hasn’t heard from recently, Mr. Abi-Naber remained unshaken, saying that the violence is nothing new in the country.

“The Lebanese suffer as they have for centuries,” he said. “The Jews complain about their Holocaust, [but] the Lebanese have been going through theirs for a long time.”

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