South Philadelphia: Annual Festival Helps Share Lebanese Culture

A festival organizer prepares shish kabob, a traditional Lebanese dish.

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St. Moran's Church in 1981. Photo Credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The St. Moran’s Church has spent the last 40 years bringing the sights, sounds and tastes of Lebanese culture to South Philadelphia.

Two festival-goers dance to the variety of Lebanese music that was showcased.

Last week the church, located on the 1000 block of Ellsworth Street, held its annual Lebanese Festival. Established by Father Istfan Korkemaz in 1895, St. Maron’s was the first Maronite Catholic Church in the United States.

“We were trying to raise money for the church. It wasn’t always as beautiful as it is now,” said John Zaidain, who has attended the church since 1942. “It was 1976 when we put the first block party together. All we had was a grill with the shish kabob on it, but it turned out to be a nice thing. People really enjoyed themselves.”

The festival, which has grown since then, continues to be a source of enjoyment. “They get to enjoy the music and the food, and they get to see the person behind the stereotype,” said Terri Koway, who grew up in the neighborhood and started attending the church after her marriage. “I really think it brings people together.”

A festival organizer prepared a shish kabob, a traditional Lebanese dish.

The church and the festival not only benefit members of the community. “I came to America on Sept. 13, 1989, and from the first day at this church I’ve felt like I’m home,” said Boulos Semaan, whose family immigrated to the U.S. to escape persecution. “From the minute I wake up to when I fall asleep, everything I do is to show appreciation to this country and to this church.”