18 August 2014
CNEWA has been a consistent source of support for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, here shown helping a patient in the Al Jamh-Al Zahrawi hospital in Mosul, Iraq, in 2004.
To alleviate the suffering of some 100,000 homeless Iraqi Christians, Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA, is rushing $75,000 to partners in northern Iraq for urgently needed supplies for infants and children, as well as sanitary facilities for displaced families seeking shelter in U.N.-sponsored camps.
“The response of our donor public to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Iraq has been overwhelming,” Msgr. Kozar said of the CNEWA campaign launched in North America. “These funds represent that generosity, and are an initial installment to help the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic archbishops meet the most basic needs of their homeless flock.”
Ordered by fighters of the extremist group ISIS to convert, pay protection money or die, about 20,000 Christian families fled their villages in the Nineveh Plain for refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this summer. They arrived in Dohuk and Erbil with little more than a change of clothes, leaving behind their homes, belongings, jobs and businesses. Some found shelter in churches, convents, monasteries and schools, but most have found space in schoolyards, open to the searing summer heat and the blazing sun.
Msgr. Kozar said the emergency approach of Catholic Near East Welfare Association will encompass several phases, and will incorporate, as appropriate, CNEWA’s ongoing commitment to the churches of Iraq. This includes, among other activities, support for Catholic hospitals in Baghdad and care for endangered children.
“Diapers and milk for infants and children are not included in the food packages distributed by the United Nations and other relief organizations,” said Msgr. Kozar. “Also, our partners on the ground tell us portable sanitary facilities — toilets and showers — that can accommodate those with special needs are desperately needed. These funds will help secure these basic needs.
“In addition to providing assistance to those hunkered down in northern Iraq, our staff in Amman and Beirut is already working with the local churches in Jordan and Lebanon, respectively, where hundreds of Iraqi Christian families have just arrived, to assess and prioritize needs.
“CNEWA takes seriously its mission to accompany the church — even in flight — and to respond to the needs of all people, especially the poor and marginalized,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And thanks to our generous friends and benefactors, we can build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and instill hope.”
An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the children, elderly and disabled; and offering formation and supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders.
Click here to join us in this important work.
29 July 2014
Tags: Iraq CNEWA Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
Smoke rises from Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike on 29 July. Violence escalated the previous night after an attempted unofficial truce for the three-day Eid ul-Fitr holiday crumbled. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
What is causing the wave of violence that seems to be overwhelming the Middle East right now? I explore that question and more this week in the pages of The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington:
“The situation on the ground [in Gaza] is horrific. The attack on the Shajaia neighborhood yesterday [July 20] was very ugly and left 50 dead (including 17 children, 14 women and 4 senior citizens) as well as 210 wounded and 70,000 displaced. … “Those who visited the neighborhood during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday reported bodies of women and children scattered in the narrow streets. …
“The Latin and Greek Orthodox parishes have opened facilities to receive those displaced mostly from Shajaia. There has not been any human loss affecting Christians, and property damage is limited to broken glass and minor damage. Let’s hope it remains this way. The most serious damage to the community is clearly psychological.
“We are continuously assessing the situation and continue to pray for an end to this madness.”
In just a few sentences, Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Palestine and Israel, describes the madness engulfing much of the Middle East, and the role of its Christian community as menders of the body and soul — even as some of its own members flee their homes.
What accounts for this wave of violence? Is there any hope?
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East, with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the British and French after World War I, is collapsing. This is irrevocably and indiscriminately affecting the lives of millions ofpeople every day: Arab and Israeli, Jew and Christian, Muslim and Mandaean, young and old, male and female, urban dweller and shepherd, rich and poor.
In Iraq and Syria, the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire nearly a century ago, the powder kegs once controlled by strongmen have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even Al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq, once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves, is unraveling, its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war.
Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated, its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist Sunni Muslim militias have overrun vast swaths of territory and proclaimed a caliphate, an empire akin to those that once dominated the region for centuries. They have targeted minorities: As the extremists drive Christians from their homes and monasteries, they rob them of their few remaining possessions. If captured, members of the ancient Gnostic and synchretic sects of northern Iraq are executed.
In reports that sound eerily similar to the death marches of Armenians and Assyro-Chaldeans by Turkish soldiers 100 years ago, residents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul describe an exodus of Christians walking on foot in the summer heat, among them the elderly and the disabled.
“We’re providing people with shelter, food and water; people don’t have anything left and they can’t travel without the money to buy tickets,” Chorbishop Yosip Benjamin told the Telegraph as Mosul’s last remaining Christians gathered in the town of Tel Keif.
Read more about all this in The Dialog And to learn how you can help those who are so much in need right now, especially in Gaza, please visit our giving page.
28 July 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Middle East War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Iraqi Refugees
Catholic Near East Welfare Association has launched a campaign to rush emergency assistance to tens of thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Ordered by ISIS extremists of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate to convert, pay a special tax or die, Mosul’s Christians have instead fled to the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain — some just a few miles from Mosul — or to the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
“These Christian families have arrived with only their clothes, having fled the city on foot, forced to leave everything behind in Mosul,” said CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, Ra’ed Bahou. “At ISIS checkpoints, militants then stole whatever dollars they had in their pockets, even their passports and identification papers.”
Christian families have found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries, he added. With Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena — who themselves are homeless — the clergy, religious and villagers are trying to provide the basics. But the refuge, especially in the villages of Alqosh, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Bartella and Tel Kaif is tenuous at best, as ISIS has cut the electricity and water supply, and has announced its intentions to overrun the region. “These villages are in the hands of God,” Mr. Bahou said, “as ISIS says their next ‘gift’ will be the villages of the Nineveh Plain.”
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, announced CNEWA will rush support to the bishops, clergy and religious, “who in the frenzy are courageously providing water, food, mattresses and medicines to their flock,” wherever their flight takes them.
“We are witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization,” Msgr. Kozar said. CNEWA’s emergency support will provide the “shepherds of this flock to tend their sheep, with the basics they need for survival now,” he continued. “We will help them even if their flock is dispersed, providing for their well-being, body and soul.”
Fewer than 150,000 Christians remain in Iraq from a high of more than a million before 1991.
An agency of the Holy See, Catholic Near East Welfare Association works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to religious caring for orphaned and abandoned children; caring for displaced or refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; offering formation and catechetical programs for children and young adults; supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders; and assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the elderly and disabled.
CNEWA has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years, but redoubled its efforts among the vulnerable Christian population in 1991.
A religious charity registered in the State of New York, all contributions are tax deductible. Donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org, by phone at 800.442.6392, or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195.
8 July 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
In this photo from January, Latin Patriarch Faoud Twal of Jerusalem leads an annual pilgrimage at the baptism site on the Jordan River. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
“We need your solidarity, your advocacy and yes, your material help,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem during his visit today with CNEWA.
“But we need you to be courageous, courageous to tell the truth.”
The patriarch is in the United States on a three-week journey that will include the priestly ordination of an Arab American man, who will serve the patriarchate as a pastor.
“For us, things have gotten worse since the pastoral visit of the Holy Father to the Holy Land in late May,” the patriarch said. “His gestures, his simplicity, his words moved our people,” he continued, “but the day after the pope prayed for peace with the patriarch and the presidents of Israel and Palestine, the Israelis announced the building of 3,000 more apartments for settlers.
“And now,” he said quietly, shaking his head, “the terrible deaths of those three young Israelis, the death of the two Palestinian men the Israelis say are responsible, the death of that boy in East Jerusalem, and now Gaza…” his voice trailed off as he thought about the cycle of tit-for-tat violence that has haunted Israelis and Palestinians for decades.
When the Holy Father visited the Holy Land, “he could not avoid the politics in our region. He had to meet with the refugees, Palestinian, Iraqi and Syrian. He had to be clear that the drama of Syria cannot go on.
“Outsiders cannot decide Syria’s future,” the patriarch added. “Who appointed outsiders to police the Middle East? And why start with Syria?” There are other Middle Eastern regimes, he said, where extremists are harbored and Christians and other minorities, discriminated against.
The patriarch expressed his gratitude for the support of CNEWA and other organizations such as Caritas and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, solidarity he said that gives good witness to the followers of Jesus in the land of his birth.
“Our people, especially the refugees I meet, are conscious of their dignity,” the patriarch said softly. “They say, ‘help us find work, abuna [father], all we want is to keep our dignity, to keep our pride.’ ”
The patriarch ended his interview reminding readers: “Don’t be satisfied with what you read in the newspapers.” Dig deeper, he urged, there you’ll find the truth.
Click here to learn how you can help Middle East Christians reclaim that dignity cited by the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.
26 June 2014
Tags: Middle East Holy Land Israeli-Palestinian conflict Holy Land Christians
In this image from last fall, a woman in Lebanon clutching a rosary prays for peace.
(photo: CNS/Hasan Shaaban, Reuters)
Elizabeth Scalia, the managing editor of the Catholic portal at the spiritual website Patheos, asked me to share some thoughts with her readers about the worsening crisis among Christians in the Middle East.
The picture is grim:
Today’s headlines are dramatic; the emotion raw: “Middle East Christians Feel Abandoned.” “Beleaguered Christians Make Final Stand.” “Christians Wonder if it is Time to Leave.” “Christians Last Journey.”
As the artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East collapses, millions of lives are altered irrevocably and indiscriminately each day: young and old, male and female, city sophisticate and nomadic shepherd, Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Armenian, rich and poor. In Iraq and Syria — by far the largest states in the region created by the Western Allied powers after their victory in World War I — the pressure cookers once controlled by strongmen have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even Al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq — once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves — has disintegrated, its people exhausted by more than 25 years of constant war. Syria — once the bedrock of regional stability — has crumbled, its people displaced and maimed. Meanwhile, extremist militias overrun vast swaths of devastated territory to restore an Islamist empire akin to those that dominated the region for centuries.
Middle East Christians bear the brunt of these brutalities. Though descendants of those who first received the Gospel almost 600 years before the advent of Islam, Christians are perceived by the extremists as imports from the West and, therefore, as enemies of Islam. Spread from Egypt to Iraq, and numbering no more than 15 million, Middle East Christians possess neither powerful allies supplying arms, nor an exclusivist ideology capable of rallying and uniting a diverse community with distinct traditions, rites and histories. And so to survive, Middle East Christians do what they have always done during similar waves of violence in their long history: they head for the hills.
Observers describe the current wave of violence in the Middle East, and the flight of its minorities — especially its Christians — as an existential threat. Can the Middle East survive without its Christians and other minorities? Sure, but can a region thrive though overwhelmed by extremist ideologies at odds with mainstream Muslims?
Check out Elizabeth Scalia’s blog, The Anchoress, for more.
To help Iraq’s besieged Christians, visit this page. And remember them, please, in your prayers.
6 June 2014
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople venerate the Stone of Unction in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 25 May. The two leaders marked the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. (photo: CNS/Grzegorz Galazka, pool)
The Holy See announced this morning the structure for this weekend’s prayer with the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, and confirmed the participation of the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople.
From the Vatican Information Service:
During a briefing held this morning, the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa O.F.M., custodian of the Holy Land, and the Rev. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, presented the details of the “Invocation for Peace” initiative scheduled to take place in the Vatican on Sunday. Pope Francis has invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, to join him in a prayer encounter.
Peres and Abbas will arrive at the Vatican within a few minutes of each other (the former at 6:15 p.m. and the latter at 6:30). The Holy Father will receive them at the entrance of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and will then speak briefly with each. All three will then join together, along with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and will then proceed by car to the Vatican Gardens where the event will take place, beginning with a musical introduction and an explanation in English of the structure and form of the celebration, which will follow the chronological order of the three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
At around 7 p.m. there will be a prayer (creation) in Hebrew, a brief musical interlude, a prayer invoking forgiveness, another musical interlude, a prayer invoking peace, and finally, a Jewish musical meditation. The Christian part will follow the same structure, but the first prayer will be in English, the second in Italian, and the third in Arabic. Finally the Muslim part of the celebration will proceed as above, in Arabic.
The reader will then introduce in English the final part of the celebration, beginning with Pope Francis’ discourse invoking peace. The Holy Father will then invite each of the two presidents to formulate his own invocation. Shimon Peres will begin, followed by Mahmoud Abbas. As a gesture of peace, in which the Patriarch Bartholomew will also participate, they will all shake hands and the Pope will then accompany them in planting an olive tree, symbol of peace.
At the end of the celebration the four will remain side by side while the delegations pass by to greet them. The Holy Father, the two presidents and the Patriarch will then proceed to the Casina Pio IV to speak in private.
Finally, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas will leave the Vatican, while Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew will return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
5 June 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Ecumenism Middle East Peace Process Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Pope Francis stops in front of the Israeli security wall in Bethlehem, Palestine, on 25 May. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, pool)
On the feast of Pentecost, Sunday, 8 June, the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, and the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will gather in the Vatican with Pope Francis to pray for peace in the Holy Land.
“In this place where the Prince of Peace was born, I desire to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, and President Shimon Peres, to raise together with me an intense prayer to God for the gift of peace,” the pope said while in Bethlehem in late May.
“And I offer my house in the Vatican to host you in this encounter of prayer.”
The pope has made it clear that this gathering is not a summit or an act of mediation, but an act of prayer.
“Everyone wants peace, many people build it every day with small gestures, many suffer patiently and bear the fatigue of many attempts to build it. And everyone — especially those who are at the service of their people — have a duty to be the instruments and builders of peace, above all in prayer.
“Building peace is hard,” Francis concluded, “but living without peace is a torment. All men and women of this earth and of the whole world are asking us to bring before God their ardent desire for peace.”
Since this is a private act of prayer among the sons of Abraham, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, the form this prayerful gathering will take remains private among the participants. But prayers for the pope and presidents, who will meet in the Vatican in the afternoon, are encouraged.
So, on this sacred feast celebrating the birthday of the church, join Francis in praying for peace in the land of the Prince of Peace.
9 May 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Israel Middle East Peace Process West Bank Separation Barrier
Msgr. John Kozar and Cardinal Timothy Dolan meet with the CNEWA staff to discuss their just-completed pastoral visit to Jordan. (photo: CNEWA)
Fresh from his pastoral visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — he only returned last night — an exuberant Cardinal Timothy Dolan met with the members of the CNEWA team in their New York offices this morning.
“You are making great things happen in Jordan,” the cardinal said, his arm resting on his traveling companion and CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar.
We are very close to the local churches there, the cardinal said of CNEWA. “We do not lord over them, but accompany them, walking with them every step of the way.”
Though Jordan’s Christian community in Jordan is tiny, maybe two percent of the population, he said, it is well respected and faithfully lives the Gospel for all those in need, Christian and Muslim. “They don’t preach the culture of life,” he exclaimed, “they live it!”
“And isn’t the work of the women religious something, Monsignor?”
Follow our special coverage on the pastoral visit to Jordan here. You can also read more from Cardinal Dolan on his blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age, or on the blog of Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, who as a member of CNEWA’s board of trustees, joined the cardinal for the pastoral visit.
3 March 2014
Msgr. John E. Kozar visits with a patient at the hospital run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Jal el Dib, Lebanon. (photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
During this pastoral visit to Lebanon, Msgr. John Kozar and I have met many graceful people — graceful in the truest sense of the word.
On Friday, we traveled to the Armenian village of Anjar, which lies in the Bekaa Valley some 34 miles from the walls of the Syrian capital of Damascus and just miles to the Syrian frontier. The visit to Anjar entailed a drive along the international highway connecting Beirut to Damascus. Stunning scenery competed with smog and car exhaust. Climbing, twisting and turning gave way to a descent into the Bekaa and a mass of humanity shopping, planting, driving, walking.
Anjar was a welcome relief. A drive lined with palms and young geraniums revealed a well-planned town designed by the French military for Armenian refugees in 1939.
“It feels like Palm Springs!” I told the laughing mayor. But Palm Springs it is not.
Anjar is overwhelmed with Syrian refugees — Armenian Syrians and non-Armenians alike.
Evidently, the neighboring village of Majdel Anjar is a hotbed of Sunni extremists. Reportedly including immediate family members of one participant in the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
CNEWA, through its Beirut office of the Pontifical Mission, has deep roots in Anjar, having provided support to its Catholic school and boarding house for orphaned boys founded by Cardinal Gregory Peter Agagianian (1895-1971), former Armenian Catholic patriarch and prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. Today, CNEWA partners with the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Cooperation, a lay group that provides a host of services — especially health care — to the Armenian Community throughout Lebanon, Syria and Armenia.
I felt as if the little oasis, with its clinics, its schools, its churches, its restaurants and its palm trees, was as fragile as the tender leaves sprouting from the fruit trees in its fields.
Just as we were leaving, the pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Armenian Catholic parish, Mekhitarist Father Mesrob Topalian, grabbed my arm and said: “Don’t forget us, Michael, and pray for us — especially for the children.”
As I left, another visitor took my place: the 75-year-old sister who runs the parish school, a resident of Anjar who arrived as a penniless refugee from Turkey at 4 years of age.
I looked back as they waved and offered blessings in French as the bells of the newly dedicated church tolled.
“Life goes on,” I thought, “until passion and ideology and fear and hate appear on the doorstep.”
Our drive back to Beirut was rather quiet.
On Saturday, our team, led by Msgr. Kozar, visited the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross at their hospital in Jal el Dib. Led by Mother Marie Makhlouf, these are tough women doing some of the most thankless work throughout the Middle East.
In this image from 2010, Mother Marie Makhlouf greets a young man in one of centers operated by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Jal El Dib, Lebanon. (photo: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
They care for the poorest of the poor: children and adults who are profoundly physically and mentally handicapped, those with mental illnesses, substance abusers and the abandoned.
And they do it with tenderness and compassion. You know it when you see it and when you hear it.
As the sisters took us through their facility that clings to a cliff high above Beirut, beds shook loudly, voices screeched, patients applauded raucously and scores sought their attention.
Things quieted down only when one sister pulled out her rosary, and the elderly and broken men struggling to cope with life and its troubles joined her in praying this familiar Catholic devotion — in Arabic.
Having visited the sisters before, I knew that they have a hard time finding the resources to feed and clothe the 1,000 or so forgotten souls entrusted to them.
But as I pondered this, half listening to the hospital’s rehabilitation therapist, Msgr. Kozar was busy creating commotion from one room to the next. Hugging, laughing, blessing and taking portraits of the patients, he connected with almost every one we visited, focusing on the individuals entrusted to these good sisters and their staff, and the desire of each patient to communicate. The joyful atmosphere roused me from my thoughts.
“Somehow they do it,” I said to myself, and then I thought about Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, especially its final and bloodiest stage in spring 1990, when Christian militia shelled Christian militia and an embargo prevented even bread from getting into the enclave. I asked one sister, “how did you do feed your patients in 1990, when bread did not exist?”
She looked at me over her glasses, and said, “I don’t know how we did it, and I pray we never come to that again.”
And with that she lovingly patted the head of an abandoned boy with autism and cradled him to her side.
Ah, to be this graceful and loving in the face of real adversity and real enemies.
Finally, on Sunday, before spending a lovely afternoon at the home of our regional director, Michel Constantin, his wife Lynn and three children, Peter, Sasha and Mark, we joined Msgr. Kozar in celebrating the Eucharist with the Filipino migrant community in the old church of the Maronite parish of Mar Elias, the largest Catholic parish in the Middle East.
No one knows the true number of Filipinos — almost all of whom are women — living and working throughout the Middle East. “With few job opportunities in the Philippines and families to support, these women come to the Middle East,” we reported in ONE magazine in 2011, “where jobs in the ‘care-giving industry’ are plentiful. Motivated by the promise of comparatively high earnings, most of which they intend on sending home to their families, they often accept without complaint long hours, little personal time or freedom and substandard living accommodations.”
Reporter Nicholas Seeley had also spoken with a local pastor:
“I understood that the first task was to give people a place where they could be at home,” said Jesuit Father Kevin O’Connell, who pastors the large Filipino community in Amman, Jordan. “For these people, just the ongoing, regular liturgy — with Filipino music, with people reading, with them being able to participate in whatever way they want — gives a strand of consistency and continuity. It’s their home. It’s their place. In most cases, there’s no place else they can gather.”
Very much at ease with the Filipino congregation, who spilled outside the doors of the lovely stone church, Msgr. Kozar addressed them directly throughout the liturgy, reminding the women that God hears the prayers of the poor and that “we who are poor always have our God-given dignity.” And he praised them for being a model to the rest of the world in their compassionate response in caring for one another after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the islands last November and killed more than 6,200 people.
Michel and I heard many a sniffle. The Filipinos, as they left Mass, asked Msgr. Kozar to come back next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that!
After the final blessing, as Msgr. Kozar greeted each and every worshiper personally, Michel and I chatted with a young German man, who, with a number of his friends, has committed ten months between high school and college to volunteer with the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross and their hospital in Jal el Dib. Clearly moved by the singing and participation in the liturgy, and the homily directed to the migrant workers, he said that when he returns to Bonn, he will look back on “all of this as if it were a dream.”
I asked him if he was worried that the dream would vanish. He looked at me, showed me the chaplet of St. Charbel he now wears on his right wrist, and said, “I’m now half Lebanese … anything could happen.”
27 February 2014
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War Beirut Maronite
Good Shepherd Sister Hannane Youssef greets CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar at the clinic she runs in Beirut. (photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
Note: CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, and Michael La Civita, chief communications officer, are on a pastoral visit to Lebanon, focusing on the works of the local churches caring for displaced Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese families.
To most of Lebanon’s visitors, Beirut sprawls along the Mediterranean coast and climbs the steep mountain range that gives this country of 4.5 million people its name. What most do not know is that Beirut is a collection of municipalities and districts with distinct personalities and histories inhabited by families who hail from villages long lost to development. One such neighborhood is Jdeideh in the eastern district of Metn, an industrial area almost entirely populated by Christians. Churches and roadside shrines — often dedicated to the Maronite monk St. Charbel or the Prophet Elijah, better known here as Mar Elias — are as common as colorful vegetable stands. This is the Christian East Beirut of the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
Yet in the middle of Christian Jdeideh rises a Shiite Muslim neighborhood. Ramshackle structures of cinderblock, concrete and tin climb the hill of Rouweissat Jdeidet, which is capped with a snow-white mosque. Long the home of Shiite Muslims, the neighborhood is densely populated with young families, roosters and feral cats. At the base of the hill, the Good Shepherd Sisters run a dispensary that treats some 100 people a day. Founded more than 15 years ago by a Lebanese ascetic known throughout Lebanon as Pere Nour, the dispensary draws the poorest of the poor from the local community and, increasingly, Iraqi and Syrian refugee families. Most of those seeking assistance are Muslim.
Good Shepherd Sister Hannane Youssef was happy to welcome back Msgr. John Kozar, who first visited the clinic during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon in September 2012. “So much has changed since you were last here!” she said. Indeed, the facility had expanded to include more room for gynecological and psychological care, pediatrics, and eye, ear, nose and throat care. But the facility is not a fancy structure — it does not even meet the requirements necessary for accreditation by the Lebanese Ministry of Health.
“This is built with containers, prefabricated materials I myself designed and ordered,” she said.
The modest facility, which is spic-and-span and well lighted, hosts some of the finest medical professionals in Lebanon — more than 35 doctors and health care professionals — who offer their services and talents weekly to the sisters in their care for the poor. In addition to providing treatment, the sisters commission focus groups, who work street by street in the area to determine best the health needs of the community, especially the women.
“We believe the poor deserve the best,” Sister Hannane continued, and “Providence blesses us with these volunteers and support and prayers from our friends.” Moved by the generous spirit of the sisters and their team, Msgr. Kozar pointed out that the CNEWA family was privileged to support the sisters and their work.
“The spirit hasn’t changed,” Msgr. Kozar added. “This is the church of the Middle East at its best!”