29 September 2016
Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C. worked for CNEWA in Beirut during a dangerous time in the 1980’s.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Some of our CNEWA heroes have witnessed remarkable moments of suffering, courage and grace. One who worked closely with us for many years even described her tenure in the Middle East as a time of “amazing grace.”
Sister Maureen Grady, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross, served in Beirut as the chief operating officer of Pontifical Mission, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East.
When she stepped down from that post in 1993, she wrote of her early days in Lebanon in the 1980’s:
Lebanon was in the midst of its own civil war, a war that witnessed the unlimited capacity of hatred, greed, corruption and the thirst for power. While emergency relief programs for displaced families and the handicapped were implemented, I fell in love with the people and country.
The hope of the young and the courage of the women religious inspired in me a passion for a people who were saddened and burdened by the destruction of their country by their own.
We Americans know the danger and extent of the power of hatred as it was unleashed in Lebanon. It was a very dangerous time. How I survived I do not know; and now that I think of it, I do not know why I took the risk. I know taking such a risk is something you only do once. However I made calculated decisions and took advice from those in the know.
I was protected. There are many incidents I could describe that illustrate this protection: lunching in a quiet restaurant that 30 minutes after I left became the scene of a bloodbath; boarding a ferry to travel from Cyprus to Beirut as I habitually did, only to change my mind and fly into Beirut instead — that ferry was bombed that night. It was God who invited me to begin this journey and it was God who sustained and protected me.
Not long after that, she began working with CNEWA and Pontifical Mission full time. She described meeting the agency’s chair, Cardinal John O'Connor:
[CNEWA’s National Secretary] Msgr. John Nolan arrived in Lebanon with Cardinal John O’Connor, president of the Pontifical Mission’s sister agency, Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The cardinal approached me and asked, “Could you handle this?” and I responded, “Yes.” Msgr. Nolan then formally asked me to accept the position of director.
Later at a gathering of Lebanon’s religious, male and female, the cardinal introduced me as his representative in Lebanon, saying, “remember, my last name is O’Connor, and hers, O’Grady!”
It was a perilous period. In 1989, her convent was shelled during heavy fighting in east Beirut. A report at the time noted that she spent the night in the convent basement after the windows were blown out. But she persisted:
The greatest resource of any organization is its people. I recruited a young, energetic and intelligent staff; a group of people who were interested in doing their part to bring peace to their country. And though they could profit from formation and guidance, their dynamism and energy strengthened our efforts to work with the poor. And unlike the majority of the populace, they were freer of the prejudices that have haunted their homeland.
For four years, the biggest decision each day was whether or not to call each person to the office. Every morning we communicated with one another via walkie talkie — the phone lines were almost always down. Usually we discussed the fighting in each individual’s neighborhood and whether it was relatively safe to leave the security of a stairwell or a bunker. I was responsible for the safety and lives of each staff member. Yet in those four years of fighting, we only missed two working days. In a nation that saw schools, businesses and basic social services disrupted 50 percent of the time, our staff’s desire to work was amazing and their accomplishments, astounding.
“Astounding” could well describe the heroic work of this tireless sister, whose tenacity and resourcefulness paid off — and her work reminds us still of the spirit that guides all who work among the poor and suffering of the world.