October 16, 2011

Celebrating Father Vlugt

St. Joseph church in Tabaris, Ashrafiyeh

I’m not much of a religious person. You’ll find me in church for weddings and funerals, and that’s about it. Maybe a Midnight Mass on Christmas. But today it was on occasion for a celebration in church. Mind you, I first showed up at the wrong church, because how many St. Joseph churches can you have in Ashrafiya? Well, quite a few, it seems. But being Dutch, you show up on time, and so my mishap wasn’t noticed.

Father Vlugt in between his congregation

The celebration was for a Dutch Jesuit priest, Theo Vlugt, who has been in Lebanon for some 60 years now, of which 50 as a Jesuit priest. In the Dutch community he is primarily known as the gentleman who played ‘St. Nicolas’ on December the 5th for years and years. A number of generations of Dutch children growing up in Lebanon know him as ‘Sinterklaas’.

The Missionaries of Charity; the nuns of Mother Theresa

But for many years, Father Theo Vlugt real job was working in education with the poor in Lebanon. However, when he noticed that his brothers and sisters had all become grandparents, he decided it was time to get out. The last decades he has been helping the migrant worker community as the head of the Afro-Asian Migrant Center  in Lebanon.

The child of a mixed union (Fillipino mother, Lebanse father). Athough you see it more and more, these children face incredible discrimination, as their mothers are considered 'of lesser value' than their Lebanese counterparts.

Migrant workers, better known to you as the Pilipino and Ethiopian housekeepers, aren’t dealt a fair pack of cards by Lebanese law. Discrimination is rampant in this society, and they can – at times - be treated quite awfully. Employers can literally get away with murder. He’s been on the forefront for many years now to help these women and men and alleviate some of their problems.

Migrant children play the angels

The man, although 82 years old, still serves a community of some 200,000 migrant workers. And so the migrant community came out in force – at the Saint Joseph Church in Beirut – to celebrate this priest. I tell you, these ladies (they are mainly ladies) know how to sing and smile. The African ladies came with fantastic head dresses, the nuns of Mother Theresa were there and the Filipinos (those that are allowed out of the house on Sunday) all came in white. What a lovely sight, quite a difference from the austere masses I am familiar with. And so, I spent (part of) this Sunday in church to celebrate this remarkable man.

Here’s a nice interview with him in Dutch

The ladies of the incense


joseph said...

Great post, thank you.

Raffi said...


Mich said...

What a great way to celebrate such a remarkable man!

Charlotte said...

Tell me about it, you haven't experienced racism until you've been to the Middle East. Lebanese people often mistake me for a Russian woman, which basically means they assume my husband married a prostitute. Oh well...

Danielle said...

What a beautiful story! Great to see that there are some people in Lebanon fighting for the rights of migrant workers. Too bad that person isn't Lebanese!