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None of the staff was injured, but all had been through a month-long ordeal huddled in shelters with little food, no services and under heavy bombardment. Sister Maureen’s driver had spent 13 days in a stairwell with his children. A project worker was not able to reach his house for 26 days, his mother there all alone. Another shared a basement with 85 people for the same period of time.

“Essentially I just asked them what was their perspective of things,” Sister Maureen said of the staff. “And then 1 just looked in their faces. I sensed some real fatigue.”

“I lost about half my clothing as a rocket hit a storage closet, but I consider that minor. The worst part is the cold, since the windows are gone,” Sister Maureen wrote from Beirut in a letter to the Pontifical Mission’s headquarters in New York. “Actually, I am satisfied that I returned now if for nothing else than to boost the morale of the staff. They could use it, as it is evident that they are really sad and discouraged.

“I think the circumstances of this last battle – that is Christian versus Christian – have been a source of shame and sadness for them," she continued. “As for me personally, my spirits are good and I am anxious to get the staff together and begin the service of reparation and rebuilding for the poor.”

Sister Maureen and her co-workers – she is an American from Indiana, the rest of the staff are Lebanese – tried to patch parts of the office up and moved what could be salvaged to safer areas. As far as field work, they did what they could do, such as trying to organize an Easter-time correspondence between needy children and sponsors from North America who help finance their care in programs the Pontifical Mission supports. They were also trying to continue a needs assessment of Lebanese refugees in Cyprus. Sister Maureen said that for the most part, however, “we were paralyzed in terms of work.”

But for Michel Constantin in North Lebanon, everyone and their immediate families made it to Cyprus. There they organized themselves in groups to reflect on the past month, keep themselves going for the present and plan for the future. They formed a social group to plan activities together, a finance team, a group to record the staff members’ experiences, a review group to examine how things could have been done differently, and an information and reception group.

“The staff needed to keep up some form of discipline…to keep them intact and working, because Cyprus was such a dramatic change for them,” Sister Maureen said. “While we were in Cyprus it was fairly quiet [in Lebanon], which was good because everybody would have been very worried.”

“This last year is the first time I saw the staff diminished in terms of their emotional energy, so you see I had an obligation to them,” Sister Maureen reflected. “They had a great time in Cyprus, they really relaxed. Coming out they were unshaven, dirty, embarrassed about it. They had been deprived in every way, physically and emotionally.”

For herself, Sister Maureen said that her own levels of stress are minimized by a commitment to prudence and caution, a necessary priority in high-risk ministry like this.

“And it’s important to listen to local people who really know what’s going on,” she added.

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Tags: Lebanon Christianity Muslim Beirut Civil War