Lebanon's Voice of Charity
BEIRUT, Lebanon — “Whenever I need you, wherever I go, your voice is with me, from the Voice of Charity,” resounds the theme song during the English hour of the Middle East's only Christian radio station.
From its humble beginning 20 years ago, Lebanon's Voice of Charity radio can now be heard all over the world, thanks to satellites and the Internet.
The Voice of Charity was the inspiration of Father Hannoun Andraos as part of the Lebanese Missionaries Congregation in Jounieh, Lebanon. Father Andraos began by building a studio “for those who wanted to record Christian songs for Jesus and Mary but who didn't have money.”
His timing was crucial: The country was experiencing the devastation of a civil war, and Lebanon's Christians, particularly its youth, were in need of evangelizing. The project evolved to producing audiocassettes for distribution, with topics ranging from Bible readings, the lives of saints and the sacraments.
“I realized there were a lot of broadcasters working in Lebanon. But for Jesus, there was no one,” Father Andraos explained. He produced the first transmitter with an electronic kit; volunteers supplied the labor.
In 1982, Father Andraos sought permission from Lebanese government officials and was denied. At that time, he pointed out, many radio stations were operating illegally in Lebanon.
“If they are broadcasting without permission, then Jesus doesn't need permission,” he recalled thinking.
After doing a small test, the Voice of Charity began broadcasting on Pentecost Sunday 1984.
“No one thought we could carry on,” Father Andraos said.
Nor could anyone have imagined that the station would become a link to Christianity (via the Internet) for Christians living and working in the Gulf area, as it is today.
Initially airing for just a few hours, the Voice of Charity — Sawt el Mahabba, as it is called in Arabic — steadily increased its broadcasting to 24 hours a day. Finally, the Lebanese government relented, allocating an official waveband to the station in 1996.
Father Andraos is now the superior of Harissa, Lebanon's renowned shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Entering the parking lot of the Voice of Charity, Our Lady — perched on a 1,866-foot summit overlooking the Bay of Jounieh — looks as though she is watching over the station. Last May, about 7,000 participated in the station's annual pilgrimage, on foot, to Harissa.
Something for Everyone
With St. John as its patron, the radio station offers a combination of live and taped programs by bishops, priests, nuns and lay people from all the rites of the Church represented in Lebanon.
“Our programs are targeted to everybody — young kids, youth, mothers at home, the elderly — at specific times of the day,” said Father Fadi Tabet, who has served as director of the Voice of Charity since 1999.
Program titles include “The Blessed Mother in Our Life,” “The Difficulties of Faith,” “Whispers of the Spirit” and “You're With Jesus!”
“For sure, our listeners are becoming well-informed about their religion and deepening their faith,” Father Tabet said.
A wide range of Arabic Christian music can be heard throughout the day. There is Maronite liturgical music, Marian songs and uplifting praise music as well as recordings by Father Tabet, who has a music ministry especially popular among the youth.
The Angelus airs at noon (Lebanon is seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). The rosary is prayed three times daily, including a live broadcast from Harissa. Every Sunday, Mass is celebrated live from Bkerke, the Maronite Patriarchate. A Saturday vigil Mass is also broadcast live from various churches throughout Lebanon.
In addition to the Voice of Charity's regular Arabic-language programming and daily broadcast from the Vatican, there are daily or weekly segments in French, English, Armenian and Italian. Weekly programs in Ethiopian, Filipino and Ghanan are especially important to Lebanon's large population of migrant workers.
Currently there are 32 paid staff and more than 200 volunteers involved in the Voice of Charity. Mona Ajaka has been with the station for 13 years, beginning as a volunteer. Today, her responsibilities include scheduling programs, typing scripts and hosting a live call-in program.
“I came to buy cassettes, and Father Andraos asked me if I had some free time to offer the station,” Ajaka said. “That's why I'm sure there are no coincidences in the Christian life. There is providence. I was called to be here, and it's a privilege I can never deserve.”
“The Lord speaks to me through that station,” said Nyla Mouzanar, a regular listener. “There have been many times when I have experienced a desert time in my faith and have been put back on the right path through listening to the Voice of Charity.”
The station does not receive funds from the Church, instead depending on a number of fund-raising activities, including pilgrimages to holy sites in Syria, Jordan and Europe. A group of 500 was scheduled to travel to Rome with the Voice of Charity for the canonization of Lebanon's Nimattullah Kassab Al-Hardini on May 16.
The station began broadcasting its programs live on the Internet in 1997. Based on the e-mails he receives, Father Tabet said there are listeners from all around the world. At one time during Holy Week, for example, there were 35,000 people tuned in to its website.
Through its satellites, the Voice of Charity is now able to reach Syria, the Holy Land, Cyprus and parts of Alexandria and Jordan.
“A few months after we started broadcasting in Syria two years ago,” Father Tabet said, “a bishop called to tell me that 22 young Muslims came to him asking to be converted.”
Doreen Abi Raad writes from Bikfaya, Lebanon.
- May 23-29, 2004