Many parishioners at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Toronto lost family members and friends when a devastating explosion on Aug. 4, 2020, killed hundreds and injured thousands in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital.

A large number of Maronite Catholics are of Lebanese descent, and some parishioners still consider Lebanon, as well as Canada, their home.

But the suffering intensified at Our Lady of Lebanon when just a few weeks after the blast, on Aug. 30, 2020, the church’s statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was beheaded. To add to the vandalism, there was no chance of repairing the statue since the statue’s head was also stolen.

“It was like continuing the trauma that happened in Beirut,” Laure Abou-Jaoude, a 71-year-old parishioner, told CNA.

Abou-Jaoude’s mother’s cousin, whom she considers an uncle, died two months after he sustained a severe head injury as a result of the Beirut explosion. She also said that her childhood neighborhood, Mar Mikhael, was devastated and many of her friends sustained injuries.

Many parishioners at Our Lady of Lebanon had similar experiences as Abou-Jaoude, Father Walid El Khoury, O.A.M., the church’s pastor, told CNA.

Because of the two tragedies, the parish decided to raise money for a new statue that would remind its people of Lebanon. That statue, 100% paid for by donations from inside and outside the parish, came in the form of a replica of the monumental Our Lady of Lebanon statue in Harissa, Lebanon.

The original statue in Lebanon, which is located about 16 miles north of Beirut and sits more than 2,000 feet above sea level in the mountains overlooking the coastal Bay of Jounieh in the Mediterranean Sea, is made of seven bronze pieces.

The statue, painted white, is just short of 28 feet tall and is approximately 16 1/2feet in diameter. Made in France, the statue weighs 15 tons and stands on a 66-foot-high base that has 104 stairs spiraling it, leading up to the foot of the statue.

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The statue has a chapel built into its base and is a popular tourist attraction in Lebanon, having immense spiritual significance for Lebanese Christians.

Abou-Jaoude said she always visits the statue to pray when she travels to Lebanon. However, she can’t walk up the stairs anymore because of a hip injury.

But she’ll be much closer to the top of the new statue at her parish, because the replica stands only about 12 feet high. The base is 8 feet tall and the statue itself is 4 feet tall. Abou-Jaoude and El Khoury both say it looks identical to the statue in Harissa, which depicts Mary in all white, shawled in a robe with her hands outstretched, palms up, similar to the depiction of Our Lady of the the Immaculate Conception.

The replica, which is made of marble with a base made of stone in Italy, even has a small chapel built into the base, just like the original.

“It’s like a piece of Lebanon that is here in our front yard,” El Khoury said. He added that, with the statue, the parishioners feel at peace and are hopeful about life again.

Abou-Jaoude said that the replica has brought healing and happiness to the parish.

The replica was inaugurated with a celebration ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 11. The spiritual leader of the Maronite Eparchy of Canada, Bishop Paul-Marwan Tabet, presided over the Mass and the blessing of the statue that followed.

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In his homily that included both Arabic and English, Tabet told the congregation that the Maronites were violently persecuted for 400 years in the Middle East for their belief in Mary.

“No one can remove a Maronite from his or her love for Our Lady,” he said.

During the blessing, about 400 parishioners flowed out onto the street, singing hymns and praying as the statue was showered in incense.

No suspect has been found in the investigation of the vandalism. But the parishioners are ecstatic about the new addition to their parish home.

“The day of the consecration, we were happy; we were really happy,” Abou-Jaoude said.