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Volume 44, Number 4
15 December 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

A 53-year-old Christian mother displays a photo of her son, who was killed in sectarian violence. (photo: Safin Hamed)

Today, after nine years of bloodshed and billions in spent resources, the United States has quietly and solemnly closed its war in Iraq. I will not debate the merits of this military venture, but the following statistics reveal the enormous human toll brought about by the invasion, occupation and the insurrection and sectarian strife that ensued:

Number of dead: about 151,000 Iraqi civilians, 4,777 coalition soldiers
Injured: about 30,000 coalition soldiers; statistics for the number of Iraqi civilians are unavailable
Refugees: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports more than 4.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes.

  • About 2.4 million are displaced within Iraq or live in the semiautonomous zone controlled by the Kurds.
  • Some 2.3 remain in a limbo-like exile in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or Egypt. Very few have found permanent asylum in the West.
  • The United Nations estimates that almost half of Iraq’s middle and professional classes have fled.
  • Three-quarters of Iraq’s Christian, Mandaean and Yazidi minorities have fled as well.

Since 1991, the pages of CNEWA’s magazine have covered the various crises in Iraq, especially the impact on the Christian communities there. Most recently, ONE featured the Christian community seeking refuge in historic Christian villages now under Kurdish control. In A New Genesis in Nineveh, reporter Namo Abdulla writes, “the Nineveh plains are among several disputed territories in northern Iraq. Iraqi Christians increasingly view the area as the future homeland for the country’s Christian community, and many now demand it become a semiautonomous region.”

For more than a millennia, Christians have lived side by side with Muslims in this land between the Tigris and the Euphrates — ancient Mesopotamia. A semiautonomous Christian region sounds ghetto-like, and hardly sustainable. But who knows what the future holds.

Between 1991 and 2010, CNEWA has provided more than $8.3 million in direct assistance to Iraqi needy, whether in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon or Syria. Some who have benefited from this assistance are Christians, and some are Muslims. All are in need and all have come to our attention by the local church and its army of sisters, priests and lay people.

Armed combat in Iraq may be over, but now the real work of healing Iraq’s people begins. Join CNEWA and the churches of the Middle East in helping to lift up their people. To learn how, click here.

Tags: Iraq War United States Occupied Territories

15 December 2011
Erin Edwards

St. Joseph’s girls perform a traditional Keralite dance. (photo: Cody Christopulos)

In the September 2005 issue of ONE we featured a story on St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Pulincunnoo, Kerala:

But for all its classes and study periods, St. Joseph’s Orphanage is hardly a brain-stuffing sweatshop. The girls have plenty occasions for fun, and even the classes are likely to be interrupted by a fit of giggles. On feast days, the girls choreograph elaborate dances, which they perform in their school uniforms and bare feet in the orphanage’s common room. There is also occasion to sing, play sports and gossip. The girls also tend to their pets — tiny turtles that have made their home in the orphanage’s garden.

“Nearly all the girls are scared when they first get here, which is only natural,” said Sister Flower Mary. “But they soon make friends. We try to make this transition period as easy as possible for them by making sure the new girls are well-attended to.

“In many cases, the friends they make here will be with them for the rest of their lives,” Sister Flower Mary continued. “And they will always be a part of my life. Just because they move away and get a job or get married doesn’t mean I don’t stay in touch with them. We are all one big family.”

For more from this story see, St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’.

Tags: India Kerala Orphans/Orphanages

14 December 2011
John E. Kozar

A bedouin shepherd leads his flock out of Smakieh to graze. (photo: George Martin)

I forgot to mention in my blog post the other day that I had a wonderful visit on Monday afternoon to CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission Library in Amman. This multipurpose facility serves many age groups and many needs and is run by a most devoted corps of Teresians, a secular institute, and many volunteers. The team does everything — from catechetics to English classes, study hall opportunities to the provision of audio-visual materials in English, Arabic, French and Spanish offering study materials in theology, philosophy and culture. This project is subsidized by CNEWA and makes us proud of how many people pass through its doors.

Today, Father Guido and I are in Petra, where we are scheduled to visit the marvelous ruins of Nabataean Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Yesterday, however, as we left Amman we headed south to the city of Kerak. This is a large city with a very small Christian population (Christians only make up 6 percent of the kingdom’s population). Our first stop was to the Italian Hospital, which is run by the Comboni Sisters. They have been here for 75 years and have decided to concentrate their resources and personnel at this hospital, since the city has so many poor and almost no Christian presence.

The hospital very recently welcomed a new administrator, Sister Adele Brambilla, C.M.S., who has just returned to Jordan after finishing two terms as the worldwide head of the Comboni Sisters. She and the other four sisters in the community welcomed us with open arms (and the usual coffee and baked goods) and took us on a tour of this aging facility. Although there are some very new high tech pieces of equipment, the hospital is badly in need of a complete makeover. There is a new wing under construction and the sisters express their hope that God will allow them to bring the renovations to fruition.

While visiting in the nursery, I was escorted by an older Italian nun with real charm and a mischievous smile. She pointed out to me the crèche next to the babies in incubators. I showed my surprise at seeing the crèche in the nursery, and she said: “Why not? What better place to have a crèche than here with the babies.” That sure makes sense to me.

By the way, I couldn’t help but notice three Muslim nurses decorating a Christmas tree and putting up some religious symbols for Christmas. The sisters commented that the spirit of acceptance among the Christians and Muslims at the hospital — and in this city in general — was such that they had great respect for each other in the practice of the faith. This mutual respect, I understand, is not unusual in Jordan and it underlines the importance of the sisters being present in Kerak. Their presence as ambassadors of Christ is even more important than the wonderful health care they provide the poor.

The sisters expressed to all of you their gratitude for the help given by CNEWA and ask for your continuing prayers.

From the hospital we went to visit the Melkite Greek Catholic pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Abuna Boulos (or Father Paul), and were joined there by Archbishop Yasser Ayyash and some other priests. We had a delightful lunch, where I learned much about the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. When I entered the rectory, Father Boulos immediately introduced me to his wife, as it is the Melkite tradition for priests to marry before ordination. After a brief visit to the church, which is finishing up a major restoration project sponsored by CNEWA, we headed for the Bedouin village of Smakieh for the highlight of the day and the spiritual highlight of this pastoral visit thus far.

We were invited by the archbishop and Abuna Boulos to concelebrate at the ordination liturgy for a subdeacon and deacon. What an honor for Father Guido and myself. Not only did the archbishop make us feel welcome, he even vested us in the Melkite vestments used for their liturgy. It was a very proud moment for both of us.

I had a singular honor of processing through the congregation holding up the Gospel book and having people touch it or kiss it as I passed. The pastor made special mention of Ra’ed Bahou, Father Guido and me as special guests and participants in the Divine Liturgy and expressed appreciation for the many forms of assistance rendered by CNEWA to all of the five parishes that he covers.

A couple of impressive sights from the ceremony: Being welcomed outside the church as we arrived with the archbishop by all the men removing the agal, or cord, from their kaffiyeh, a traditional head covering. It was a sign of deepest respect given to us. The men were robust in their handshakes and in their welcoming.

After the ceremony, after all the elders and people of the parish had personally greeted the new deacon and given him a kiss on each cheek, a group of younger parishioners hoisted the deacon on their shoulders and began dancing to the beat of their chanting which created a most festive mood.

The village of Smakieh is entirely Christian, which is rare in this Muslim kingdom. There are only two families of Bedouin living in the village, the Latin Hijazine family and the Melkite Akasheh family. Between these two families they have offered 14 priests in service to the church. Added to this are the number of Catholic and Orthodox priests that have come from neighboring Bedouin towns, such as Raba and Ader, who basically supplied much of the entire presbyterate for Jordan and Israel and Palestine. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

From the spiritually charged experience in this Bedouin village in southern Jordan we drove about three hours to the famous ancient treasure of Petra. I will send you my next update on Thursday, which will offer you a glimpse of Petra, and much more.

You were all remembered at that ordination Eucharist, and not just by Father Guido and me, but by the parish family in Smakieh. Their prayers carry at least double points in heaven.

Watch the video below of our visit with Bedouin Christians.

Tags: Msgr. John E. Kozar Melkite Greek Catholic Church Amman Teresian Association

14 December 2011
Greg Kandra

Jan Mrug and his children play with a new pony at the family farm in Jakubany, Slovakia.
(photo: Andrej Bán)

In much of CNEWA’s world, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Two years ago, writer Jacqueline Ruyak wrote about an icy corner of Slovakia celebrating the season, and Greek Catholics holding fast to their heritage:

“The church is very much the center of the community here,” said Father Saraka. “It helps older people keep their traditions and younger people to understand them better.

“But we have a problem with people observing religion as they would a tradition. Traditions are not the purpose of faith: they should help people with their faith.

“When young people leave,” the priest said, “they often lose their faith as they lose their traditions. I want to help them realize the beauty of life lived in accord with Jesus.”

Jakubany has a rich cultural heritage, including distinctive folklore, music, dance and dress. Villagers developed traditions in relation to their deep, historical relationship with the forests, pastures and mountains that surround the community.

For more, read Those Who Remain Behind from the January 2009 issue of ONE.

Tags: Greek Catholic Church Slovakia

13 December 2011
Erin Edwards

Hermina Tharwat, 12, studies for winter exams at Santa Lucia, a home for the blind
in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)

Today is the feast day of Saint Lucy, the patron saint of the blind. In the May 2010 issue of ONE we profiled a home for the blind in Egypt named after the saint:

The Santa Lucia Home — named in honor of the patron saint of the blind — was built with funds from CNEWA’s donors and houses ten girls and eight boys from ages 8 to 18. The children do not attend school next door, which is not equipped to teach the blind. Rather, they are enrolled in public programs in other areas of the city. The boys attend El Nour School in Alexandria’s Muharram Bey neighborhood, while the girls attend a similar school in the Zizina area.

Sister Souad and her colleague, Sister Hoda Chaker Assal, rouse the children every morning for breakfast, baths and a 7:45 date with the school bus.

“Here we wake them and prepare them for school, we feed them and do their laundry and we tuck them in at night and make sure they get a good rest,” says Sister Souad. “It is just like at home.”

For more from this story see, Blind to LImitations.

Tags: Egypt Children Africa Disabilities

12 December 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

Cardinal John Patrick Foley greets a Syriac prelate in Lebanon on a fact-finding trip with members of CNEWA’s governing board in April 2010. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)

Early Sunday morning, I learned that a good friend of CNEWA and of the Catholic press, Cardinal John Patrick Foley, had died in Philadelphia after battling leukemia. He was 76, and just a few weeks shy of the golden jubilee of his priesthood.

For those of us in the trenches of the Catholic media, Cardinal Foley was like a godfather, a prelate with media credentials; he had a Master's in Journalism from the Columbia University School of Journalism, and was a longtime editor of the Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia. He understood us and sympathized with the challenges we faced as Catholics and as journalists. “We know as journalists,” he said, “that the more some people try to cover up bad news, the more likely it is to be known.”

For more than two decades, Cardinal Foley headed the Holy See’s social communications council, and perhaps he is best known for his commentary during the pope’s celebration of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

I remember him best for his yearly trek to the annual convention of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. This ragged band of wounded warriors (well, some of us) were his colleagues and friends, and he made no attempt to hide the fact that this visit was a highlight on his very busy calendar. Though an archbishop, he did not preside at events or deliver key note addresses. Instead, he mingled with the gang — attending seminars, asking questions, grabbing minutes here and minutes there for a question or simply to tease. His presence was powerful.

His annual celebration of the Eucharist commemorating those colleagues who had died since the previous convention — and his excellent homilies at those liturgies — stand out. Whether in a convention hall or a 19th-century church, John Patrick Foley celebrated the Mass as one expected from a priest bred in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: with reverence, thoughtfulness and care. His homilies always inspired, always brought laughs, always brought tears.

Despite my reluctance to hobnob with the famous and the titled, for 20 years this kind priest — Philly’s best — took the time to tell me how he read the magazine “cover to cover,” how he “always learned something new,” and urged me to keep pursuing excellence in Catholic publishing.

Last February, the cardinal retired to his beloved native city of Philadelphia after serving for four years as the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. During his brief tenure as grand master, the cardinal reanimated the ancient chivalric order — which was founded to support the church in the Holy Land through the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem — by extending its mandate to include the support of Latin Catholic initiatives in Lebanon and Egypt.

In April 2010, the cardinal traveled to Lebanon and Syria on a fact-finding trip with members of CNEWA’s governing board, which included Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., of Ottawa and Archbishop Alexander Brunett, emeritus of Seattle, and the cardinal’s good friend and classmate, Msgr. Robert L. Stern, who then led CNEWA.

The group met with patriarchs and seminarians, refugees and farmers, needy children and religious superiors. “It was,” said CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon and Syria, Issam Bishara, “a whirlwind visit that benefited from the cardinal’s astute analysis, compassion, curiosity and wit.”

“The church in the Middle East,” said Msgr. Stern, “has lost a good friend. The church universal has lost a shepherd, a humble and prayerful giant.”

Tags: Lebanon Middle East Vatican Cardinal John P. Foley

12 December 2011
John E. Kozar

Msgr. John Kozar visits a patient in the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan.

After a full night of rest and a good breakfast, Father Guido and I were welcomed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan by our host, Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq.

Our first stop was a large and historic hospital (in fact, the oldest) in the capital of Amman, which is known as the Italian Hospital, after the Italian missionary organization that founded it. Begun almost 80 years ago, and staffed for years by the Comboni Sisters from Italy, the Italian Hospital now stands as a refuge for the poor, and at the same time, a sparkling example of a very modern facility.

Much of the renewal and change is the work of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, who have staffed it for the past four years. Five years ago, faced with the risk of losing the presence of sisters and the possible closure of this venerable institution, Ra’ed negotiated with this community of religious to come from Iraq to take over its management. Presently, there are four Dominican sisters working there, two Iraqis and two from Kerala, India. Their provincial house is in Baghdad.

The hospital has seen many changes, including a huge modernization program, much of which has come from the direct assistance of CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission office in Amman and in cooperation with other funding agencies. There is a dynamic spirit present here, revealing the close cooperation between the sisters and the very committed team of lay professionals. While grateful to CNEWA for our assistance, they share a strong desire to take on their share of responsibility in supporting themselves. They all made special mention that everyone is asked to pay something for the health care services rendered, even if almost nothing. And those who can afford to pay do so to help subsidize the poor. This formula seems to be working.

It was very uplifting to hear their testimony that they do not want charity, but just a little help, which allows them to lift themselves up.

One doctor put it this way: “We want to do our share, as this gives us our dignity.”

We left Amman for densely crowded Zerqa, where we had an appointment to visit the Mother of Mercy Clinic. Perhaps the word “clinic” is a misnomer; this facility teems with activity and offers a multitude of services to a huge number of poor, almost all of whom are Muslim.

I have to tell you, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who run the clinic, are dynamos and command tremendous respect by the hundreds who come each day. Though the facilities are old, humble and crowded, the service provided is exceptional. On a typical day, the dispensary or emergency room might see between 100-140 patients. Additionally, there may be hundred mothers with their infants lined up for vaccinations. There are only two full-time doctors on staff, but they are complimented very well by a trained group of nurses, technicians, midwives, assistants and other helpers who make the delivery of services something to behold. I think our huge mega-hospitals in North America could learn a thing or two with the efficient management style seen here.

But most of all, there is a loving spirit demonstrated by the four sisters who work here and the dedicated staff that collaborates with them. Ra’ed mentioned that most of the staff have been employed at Mother of mercy for many years, and while they could make greater sums elsewhere, they have made a commitment to stay and serve the poor.

Mother of Mercy is located right beside a huge Palestinian refugee camp, which houses about 80,000 inhabitants. You can imagine the volume of traffic to the clinic on some days, which lies within a compound that includes a parish church, dedicated to St. Pius X, and the parish school.

Another indicator of how beloved the sisters are is the fact that in every instance, save one, all the Muslim women with their children and infants felt very comfortable in allowing me to photograph them. Being cautious, I let one of the sisters accompanying me to ask their permission to take their photograph. I must tell you, the faces of both mother and child were prize-winning smiles, thanks to the sisters.

An extra treat was to join the sisters for lunch. We left the noisy clinic for the convent and were surprised to be welcomed at the door by Mother Maria Hanna, O.P., the superior general of this community, which is based in Iraq. What a sweetheart is Mother Maria. And imagine this, she has no home! Let me explain:

A few years back their motherhouse in Mosul, Iraq, was bombed and destroyed. Located in a city at the heart of recent extremist violence, the motherhouse was never rebuilt. They still have no place to call home, no center, not even a novitiate to house the young women who want to serve the community. So, Mother Maria travels from one home to another where her sisters are now working. Thanks be to God, the sisters are now located in other countries, two are even studying in Chicago. But Iraq is home, to be sure.

Mother and the sisters served us a magnificent meal, mostly Iraqi delicacies. The outstanding feature is what I would call a “rice loaf,” which was a huge baked loaf of rice, meats, some chopped vegetables and raisins (I’m told raisins are prominent in Iraqi dishes) with plenty of spices then wrapped with a thin type of bread that envelopes this huge loaf-like presentation. But the best part was watching Mother Maria serve it with a special “flip” of the crusty bread for your plate. What a great meal, what an inspiring leader of the church, what a lovely group of sisters.

After these pastoral visits, we headed to the offices of our Jordanian “family.” I felt so much at home with the warm welcome from each member of the staff. We barely sat down before they were serving us some Jordanian delicacies. Over our tea and coffee, we all agreed how important it is for us to heighten this special sense of family and unity between CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission.

I told them how appreciative I am for all they do on our behalf. And I thank all of you for making these wonderful works of charity possible in Jordan due to your generous gifts. God is good for giving us the opportunity and the blessing of helping the people here. And as they said many times today, “All we want is a little help — please God — so we can accomplish great things for ourselves.”

My dear friends, you have done just that. May God continue to bless you as models of coexistence and love.

Check out the video below from our visit to the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan.

Tags: Jordan Health Care Msgr. John E. Kozar

12 December 2011
Greg Kandra

A girl lights a candle in the original wooden church in Butovo. (photo: Julia Vishnevets)

From Moscow comes word that there is a new voice calling for changes in the Russian electoral system — and it’s coming from the pulpit.

The New York Times reports:

The Russian Orthodox Church added its influential voice over the weekend to calls for a just election process in Russia. The step followed demonstrations across the country that called for a recount or a fresh vote, and outpourings from individual members of the church’s clergy, who reflected popular anger at the flawed Dec. 4 election.

“It is evident that the secretive nature of certain elements of the electoral system concerns people, and there must be more public control over this system,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the most prominent spokesman for the church, in remarks to a widely followed Orthodox news Web site. “We must decide together how to do this through civilized public dialogue.”

The pronouncement by Father Chaplin, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s synodal department of church and society relations, was especially significant because he is often criticized as an apologist for the Kremlin. He has made several conservative statements in the past year, including a call for an Orthodox dress code in Russia, that have stirred controversy.

In a telephone interview on Sunday night, Father Chaplin said that if the church obtained proven documentation of election violations from named sources, it would be ready to take it up with government officials.

“If there are proven facts, then of course we’re going to examine them, present them to the church hierarchy and discuss them with the Central Election Commission and other government bodies,” he said.

Father Chaplin’s remarks to the Web site appeared intended to get the church back out in front of individual clergy members’ condemnations of election rigging, a first for the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church. The comments might suggest the government is accommodating the critique of the political system, perhaps because it has become too widespread to stifle.

“It’s amazing that this awakening of civic consciousness has affected the church as well, and not just lay people but clergy, too,” Sergei Chapnin, editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, said last week, on the sidelines of a seminar about Russia’s historical identity, before the new statement by Father Chaplin.

For years, Mr. Chapnin noted, many Orthodox were skeptical or indifferent toward electoral politics, though the church has regained influence since the fall of Communism and is publicly embraced by the Kremlin.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Mr. Chapnin said, “it would have been impossible to imagine” priests speaking out in such sympathy with public anger over election manipulation and fraud.

“I think society simply experienced such a shock,” he added. “We understand very well that elections have been falsified before, but now public consciousness has matured to the point of expressing its opinion or speaking out against it.”

You can read the rest at The Times's link.

The challenges of a changing Russia — and how that affects its Orthodox clergy — is a subject ONE explored just last year. In March of 2010, writer Victor Sonkin wrote in Orthodoxy Renewed:

As with everything in post-Soviet Russia, the revival of the Orthodox Church has provoked controversy. Hierarchs now participate in most important state functions. And the highest state officials, including President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, regularly attend major Orthodox celebrations, which air on all state-sponsored television stations.

Many observers fear the church’s return to favor has happened too quickly and its growing dependence on the state has gone too far. Some bishops and priests, anxious about accusations of corruption and xenophobic nationalism, have been marginalized for their criticism.

In the mid-1990’s, a dispute erupted involving several Orthodox bishops and the tobacco trade regarding tax exemptions. And recent plans to introduce the “basics of Orthodox culture” into the curriculum of state schools have fueled bitter public controversy.

Read the rest and view a slideshow here.

Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Democracy

10 December 2011
John E. Kozar

Msgr. Kozar embraces a patient at the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross Hospital in Lebanon.

Today marks our last full day in this country of beauty and poverty, faith and conflict. Tomorrow, after we celebrate Holy Mass with Issam, his staff and their families in Beirut, Father Guido and I fly to Amman, Jordan. But first, let me catch you up on what we did yesterday.

Friday began with a climb by car of a mountain that hovers over the Beirut suburb of Jal el Dib to the mother house of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross. This is the same community of sisters who have hosted us at the Notre Dame du Puis Retreat Center.

My first impression upon arriving on the campus was the sheer number of buildings and the size of the layout. This isn’t just a mother house, however, but a home for more than a 1,000 people with special needs, most of whom live out their lives with these dedicated sisters and their superb staff. The government of Lebanon does not sponsor any facilities for those with mental and/or physical handicaps or those with substance abuse addictions. But thanks God for these sisters, who identified a need and have reached out to these marginalized children of God, who are treated with dignity, grace and love.

We spent some quality time visiting with many different groups of residents and were greeted warmly by most of the residents. In fact I was greeted with many hugs from patients who told me, “I love you.” A warm greeting indeed!

Our most memorable visit was in an area for profoundly mentally challenged boys and men, some of whom have severely physical handicaps. There was a remarkable sister who had a God-given ability to discern in the moans, groans or unabashed sounds of these patients ranging in age from 6 to 45 years a need for some type of attention. She calmly reached out and gave them a little hug, a pat on the check, a little touch on the head, and their anxieties or fears went away. She did it so instinctively and so calmly it might not have been noticed – she did it with love.

In the many other departments of this hospital we encountered loving patients and even more loving sisters and staff. And even in the very old sections of this huge facility, everything was immaculately clean, as were all the residents.

A special highlight of this visit included a tour of a newly furnished museum that featured the founder of this order of women, Blessed Frere Jacques, who died in 1954 and was beatified in 2008. We had seen his face on huge posters all around Beirut, but now we could appreciate this saintly man by walking through the wonderful display of his personal artifacts and all things connected with the process of his beatification.

CNEWA continues to be a part of this story of love that unfolds each day at the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross Hospital, especially through our sponsorship program. Your support assists these dear sisters in sharing the love of God in a heroic way with these special children of God.

We left the sisters and their charges to visit a few recipients of our microcredit loan program, which is quite successful. CNEWA makes available small sums of money to individuals seeking help to begin a small business or even to expand it. The applicants are recommended to us by a parish priest and their loan is held by a local bank. In every instance, it is understood that these small grants (which range from $1,000 to $10,000) are loans and must be paid back – this is not a welfare assistance program.

Our first visit was with a family who now have a grocery store in a teeming neighborhood. Sales seem to be doing well, as evidenced by the traffic in the brief time we spent with them. They offered us a nice refreshing glass of juice as we milled around the store.

Our second stop along this microcredit tour was a visit with a woman who has grappled with the results of juvenile polio all her life. And in her words, as a result of a miracle, she long ago snapped out of any depression or despair and decided to make something of her life. Now, thanks to a very modest loan, she has published two catechetical books used in many schools and also a CD of music written by herself. Her gratitude was beautifully reflected when she gave me a copy of her CD and her two books. I fibbed a little and told her this would inspire me to learn some Arabic!

Issam surprised us again with a side trip to the world famous Grotto at Jeitta, one of the wonders of the world. This cavern, as we would call it in North America, has two levels. We walked on foot along a channel of clean cold mountain water over four miles. To traverse the lower level one boards a boat. The geologic formations inside this cavern are spectacular – but I was disappointed I could not take a few photos to share with you: No photos are permitted inside the cavern.

From the grotto we headed to one of the refugee camps that have housed Palestinians since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This crisis prompted Pope Pius XII to found the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, which the Holy Father asked my predecessor several times removed at CNEWA, Msgr. Thomas McMahon, to head as its president. Once, there were three camps in Lebanon that housed Palestinian Christian families, most of whom were from the Galilee. Dbayeh is the last camp in Lebanon to house Christian refugees, almost all of whom are Catholic.

A camp is not what you might think, or at least what I thought before coming here. I conjured up a picture of refugees living in cardboard shelters or in tents. Well, a camp is like a little city within the confines of another municipality, but the people have no rights, no citizenship, no legal recourse and little social acceptance. The homes here in Dbayeh are very basic, even crude, but the people are most happy to be here instead of the other camps in the country, which are armed and lawless, centers where a “survival of the fittest” mentality reigns.

We were engaged in a very lively discussion with members of the Dbayeh Camp steering committee. Unwanted in Lebanon, these folks cannot go back to their homeland either. They live in a kind of limbo where they cannot travel – they have no passports – they cannot own land, work legally or even improve their homes without permission (which is almost never given). We met two lovely Belgian Little Sisters of Jesus whose door is always open to the families living in there.

Pray for them, and thank you for your assistance to them. Since this camp opened in the early 1950’s, our Pontifical Mission has supported them by building an running a school – destroyed in the civil war – the parish church of St. George, as well as providing small grants for various community needs. It is a tough existence for these families, many of whom still have the keys to their homes back in the Galilee.

Today, we left Beirut early and traveled south to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mantara, which is famous throughout the country. Legend has it that Jesus arrived in the nearby biblical town of Sidon to meet his mother there, but she had to wait for him in a cave on a hilltop, now called called Mantara, which in Arabic means “wait.” It is a natural cave and now houses a beautiful little chapel commemorating this visit by Mary. We greeted the parish priest and he invited us to step inside the new shrine church, which is still under construction. We also enjoyed stopping at a magnificent overlook, which gave us sweeping views of the entire countryside below. The largest Palestinian refugee camp was right below us; some 70,000 people live there.

From the shrine we traveled further south to the town of Tyre, one of the ancient biblical cities mentioned in the Gospels and had a delightful coffee with the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Tyre, Georges Bakhouny. His knowledge of the realities of war and conflict in Lebanon were most helpful to me in getting a better grasp of what is a most complicated political, religious and social mix.

I was fortunate to accompany him in his car for a 45-minute drive to the village of Yaroun. What a big surprise to find about 80 people waiting in the chilly outdoors for us in front of the parish hall. Father Guido and I were taken aback how these parishioners, some of whom had come from neighboring villages, were here to greet us and thank us for the help that CNEWA has provided before, during and after the war of 2006.

Archbishop Bakhouny led us into the meeting hall and after some remarks by the pastor, I was invited to speak to the group. After my remarks, I invited them to ask questions or make comments. Even the archbishop encouraged them to be open with me, even in his presence. Well, they were most kind in offering thanks to all the CNEWA family and the solidarity that my visit meant to them. They also expressed the fear in each of them about their future, as it is increasingly more and more difficult for them to remain there for a host of reasons that are too delicate to mention here.

They were most grateful that I listened and assured them that we would continue to do what is possible to assist them, not just with financial assistance, but with technical help and always our prayers. I also told them I would return another time.

To end our visit in Yaroun, the parish priest and the archbishop took us to the church, which was shelled in the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006 and remains under construction. CNEWA has assisted in covering some of the costs to furnish the church, especially the erection of the iconostasis that separates the sanctuary from the nave.

I feel a close bond with Archbishop Bakhouny, and have invited him to visit us in New York this coming May when he will be coming to the United States for the first time to participate in an international congress in New Jersey. That would be a treat and an honor to host him at our residence. He, too, seemed very enthused about this possible visit.

Several of our hosts at this village gathering left me with the same parting message: “Monsignor, please do not abandon us.” On your behalf, I assured them we stand with them as one family in Christ. They gratefully accepted this pledge and I pass it along to you.

9 December 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

A villager samples clean water from the new filtration system in Lebanon.
(photo: Marilyn Raschka)

“Water is the stuff of life,” Msgr. John Kozar wrote on this blog a few days ago. Traveling through Lebanon on his first visit as CNEWA’s president, Msgr. Kozar is observing firsthand how this modest-sized agency of the Holy See is reclaiming land, restoring families and reviving parishes simply by bringing the basics like water to a forlorn community.

Since the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-90), CNEWA’s Beirut staff has worked tirelessly to resettle displaced families, revive abandoned villages and restore what has made Lebanon unique: A diverse mosaic, a home to all people, Christian, Druze, Sunni and Shi’ite. “Lebanon is more than a country,” Pope John Paul II said during his visit in 1997. “Lebanon is a message.”

In 2000, in the pages of our November issue of the magazine, writer Marilyn Raschka wrote about two neighboring villages in the Chouf region, just south of Beirut. Dmit is home to the Druze, a religious community that developed from Shi’ite Islam. Serjbal is a Christian farming community.

Historically, the two villages got on well, “feast days and funerals find villagers heading in each other’s directions for a respectful courtesy call,” writes Ms. Raschka. “But it’s water that will bring these two communities closer together, now that their pipe dreams have come true.”

Creating reservoirs, excavating trenches and laying irrigation pipe isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t even sound appropriate for an agency of the Holy See, but in Lebanon it reinforces what the Holy Father believes is that nation’s unique calling: to serve as a model of coexistence and love.

Tags: Lebanon Beirut Water

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