Beirut (AsiaNews) – She died a Carmelite. This is the surprising news that Jocelyne Khoueiry‘s immediate family and her family at large heard at her funeral yesterday at St Simeon Church in Ghosta, her hometown.
Her family at large was the Lebanese Phalanges Party (Kataeb) to which she belonged and fought for as a true lioness, during the early years of Lebanon’s civil war, before going through a conversion that made her switch from an ethnicised Christianity to living the faith in the Risen One.
At the end of the ceremony led by Bishop Antoine Nabil Andari, patriarchal vicar in Jounieh, attended by MP Roger Azar as representative of the country’s president, several speakers addressed those present, starting with Carmelite nun, Sister Agnes of the Cross, who created a real surprise.
The nun began by recounting Jocelyne Khoueiry’s last days and the heartbreak the latter felt at the idea of departing, since “her time had come”, and of leaving her work unfinished, but what work is completed during its founder’s lifetime?
After Jocelyne Khoueiry’s death, the decision was taken not to keep her body and beautiful face, with her haloed white hair, in the hospital, but to ask the monastery of the cloistered Carmelites in Harissa to hold a vigil in their chapel, in accordance with Maronite tradition.
It was in fact at the door of this Carmel that Jocelyne knocked, in 1978-1979, with the intention of embracing the religious life, before Bashir Gemayel got her to desist in order to provide spiritual training to his forces, after she gained a reputation as daring fighter in the Kataeb.
Jocelyne Khoueiry’s fame was born in 1975 when she took part in the famous battle of the hotels, fighting at Holiday In, and later, in 1976, defending along with a few other young women a building in Martyrs Square, downtown Beirut, against Palestinian fighters.
During the 1977-1979 truce, she thought of laying down her arms. But in 1980, Bashir Gemayel asked her to train 500 young women to carry arms and be the party’s ‘female fighters’.
In the convent chapel, her body was watched over by the nuns and those close to her, her face radiant. However, the nuns, separated from the faithful in the chapel by a wooden fence and a curtain, were not able to see her, Sister Agnès de la Croix said.
Upon their request, after the lay faithful left the chapel before the arrival of the funeral directors, the Carmelites of Harissa, contemplated her face in peace, and were inspired to place their own habit on Jocelyne’s body and to officially count her as one of them.
This was a “spiritual consecration”, said someone who witnessed the prayer vigil. Jocelyne was crowned with flowers, embalmed, praised, the ceremony symbolically responding to a deep desire that had accompanied her for more than 40 years.
Standing, those present were able to hear Patriarch Al-Rahi read the eulogy in which he focused not on Jocelyne Khoueiry the fighter, but on her journey of faith which led her, with the same passion, nearly five years ago, to obtain a doctorate in theology from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik.
Putting aside the years 1975-1979, where she was a fighter with Kataeb’s regular forces, and the years 1980-1985, when she joined the Lebanese Forces (LF) and tried to “evangelise” them, a former LF member, Assaad Shaftari (Chaftari), who also converted, called her work “military pastoral outreach”.
The patriarch spoke of a “radical conversion of life”, marked by an unwavering attachment to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary. He briefly mentioned Jocelyne Khoueiry’s works, in particular her main foundation, La Libanaise 31 mai (Lebanese Woman 31 May), the date of the Marian feast of the Visitation, and the John Paul II Centre for Cultural Dialogue. The families of fallen fighters, orphans, the needy, and the disabled were the focus of her apostolic action.
With the ‘Oui à la vie’ (Yes to Life) movement, she fought against the trivialisation of abortion. She was also interested in interfaith dialogue and the process of purification of memories, which defuses violence in the very hearts of former enemies.
The Patriarch noted that John Paul II and Benedict XVI chose her to attend the Synod on Lebanon and Synod on the Family. Pope John Paul II also appointed her to the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Born on the day of the Assumption
Speaking at the ceremony, Souraya Bechaalani, president of the Ecumenical Council for the Middle East and a long-time friend, summed up Jocelyne Khoueiry in three words: she was a woman, with all the dignity the word carries, born on 15 August, feast day of the Assumption; she gave herself completely to the Virgin, Queen of Peace, to whom she dedicated her life: and she was Lebanese, with all the commitment one may have for one’s homeland.
Fouad Abounader, former LF commander and one of Jocelyne’s comrade in arms also spoke. Like her, he broke with the LF in 1985, after the first intifada when Samir Geagea’s forces fought those of Elie Hobeika. He too spoke with admiration of the influence gained by the Christian associations founded by Jocelyne Khoueiry after 1985 in Italy and in the Vatican.
Former Kataeb party chief and former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel was the last to speak at the farewell ceremony. As party leader, he mentioned Jocelyne Khoueiry’s faithfulness to Kataeb’s motto “God, Country, Family’ before citing a war story, on the Chekka front, which he personally led. Jocelyne Khoueiry and her unit, who had come to the rescue, indignantly refused to be on simple guard and police duty, and demanded instead to be deployed in the most dangerous positions on the front.
Sami Khoueiry, Jocelyne’s brother and Kataeb regional chairman in Kesrouan, received the Kataeb party badge of honour on her behalf. As a sign of the time, the party founded by Pierre Gemayel yesterday claimed for itself an old fighter who went beyond partisan lines.