When Father André Ghaoui, L.M., looks back on his Catholic education in Lebanon growing up, he says the rich spiritual life he experienced there “left something deep in me.”
Aside from the rigorous studies at Frère de la Salle College, the K-12 school he attended in Beirut, the ongoing character formation the school instilled in the students made his education special, he said.
“We learned how to be honest and how to speak the truth, how to love each other, how to care for each other and how to forgive each other. These are the main qualities I learned in my Catholic education,” said Father Ghaoui, superior of St. John the Apostle Seminary of the Congregation of Lebanese Maronite Missionaries in Harissa.
“I will never forget my ‘Catholic family’ that brought me up in the faith, and taught me to love the church and the Mass. This is what has inspired me in my priesthood, my vocation and all through my life,” said Father Ghaoui, who as a teen had considered becoming a lawyer or joining the army.
“But Jesus knocked at the door of my heart and I answered his call,” he said. “It was definitely a very clear decision that I would be a priest, according to God’s will.”
Father Ghaoui said that, more than ever, Catholic schools in Lebanon — which welcome students of all faiths — have a “big mission” to spread the teachings of love, care and forgiveness, and to be a witness to all.
This mission has endured for centuries and is considered one of the pillars of Lebanon — a foundation for coexistence in the country.
Father Ghaoui contributed to this mission when he was rector of Cadmous College, a pre-K-12 Catholic school in the southern city of Tyre, established by his congregation in 1966. The biblical city currently has a Shiite Muslim population of more than 90 percent, and the majority of students at Cadmous are Muslim.
Educating both Muslims and Catholics together in Catholic schools in an ambience that promotes “living together as one family” helps students and their families to be more open and contributes to the spirit of coexistence for which Lebanon has become known, the priest noted.
“My testimony is that Muslims are happy to enroll their children in Catholic schools” and they also understand the value of learning about Jesus and Christianity at school, said Father Ghaoui.
However, the future of Catholic schools in Lebanon is in jeopardy, as the country spirals further into economic meltdown. The majority of parents simply cannot afford tuition. Without outside financial support for teacher salaries, many of the schools are in danger of closing.
“If Catholic schools in Lebanon collapse, we are worried that the whole country will also collapse,” he said.