St. Rafka Church in Greer puts the flavor in food and fellowship

Middle Eastern Food Festival

Volunteers from St. Rafka Maronite Church brave the rain to dish out delicacies at the Middle Eastern Food Festival in Greer on Oct. 19. (Photo provided)

GREER—It’s scientifically proven that healthy family bonds are forged around the dinner table. The members of St. Rafka Maronite Church have taken this approach to a new level with their increasingly popular Middle Eastern Food Festival.

The fundraiser was the timely notion of their pastor, Benedictine Father Bartholomew Leon, who wanted to show off the talents of his parish. The idea was met with enthusiasm and the church folk quickly put together a sumptuous meal with music and fun. They were almost overwhelmed at the amount of people who showed up — an estimated 250 or more.

“We learned a great deal last year when we undertook this for the first time. We had a lot of on-the-job training that equipped us for this year. This festival is a great undertaking and I am grateful to all who work to build up our parish community,” Father Leon wrote in his parish bulletin.

This year Heather Sijon cochaired the Oct. 19 event with Paul Sleiman and planned well ahead. They organized food, entertainment and music, and fun events for children such as  inflatables and games. There was even a  fun beer truck for the grown-ups. 

All photos provided: Zinah Yagoob, Norma Sijon, Maggie Hamberis and Pascale Hanna enjoy dancing at the festival.

In addition to making the advertising rounds on social media, Sijon said about 15 ladies came together to make the food in the church’s function hall. They didn’t follow particular recipes, though, as much of it is made from memory and personal taste. 

It doesn’t hurt its popularity that the Middle Eastern diet is a healthy option. It uses heart-healthy ingredients such as olive oil, almonds and legumes, and isn’t overtly meat dependent. Spices are a common element of the food, including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, black pepper, parsley, mint, Thyme and garlic.

“It’s not spicy from a heat standpoint,” Sijon said. “We do heavily season our food and use a lot of cumin, a lot of allspice, and a lot of pine nuts.” 

She learned how to cook this fare from her mother-in-law because her husband, David, comes from a Lebanese background. 

The festival, however, represents the true diversity of its membership. St. Rafka Maronite Church is the legacy of the faithful Syrian and Lebanese Catholics who moved to Greenville in the 1800s. Now its members are quite eclectic, with Catholics hailing from Asia, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, and other backgrounds.

“We’re a small parish, but it’s a good group of people,” Sijon said.

Candice King-Palgut prepares fatayer, which are spinach pies.
Chris Beckman grills skewers of tasty delicacies at the festival.