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Priest Who Led Lebanon’s Caritas Heads to New Exarchate in Africa

Chorbishop Simon Faddoul, who headed the Lebanese church's response to the Syrian refugee crisis, will lead the new Exarchate of West and Central Africa for the Maronites and will serve as a visitor to South Africa. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, courtesy of Bkerke, the Maronite Patriarchate) 

26 Mar 2014 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — From Lebanon, where he led the church’s response to one of history’s biggest humanitarian crises, Maronite Chorbishop Simon Faddoul will carry with him to Africa the motto he took when he was ordained a priest 27 years ago: “Here I am Lord, send me.”

On 1 April, Chorbishop Faddoul becomes the first apostolic exarch to the Exarchate of West and Central Africa for the Maronites and a visitor to South Africa.

When Chorbishop Faddoul was first elected president of Caritas Lebanon by the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon in January 2010, the organization was still grappling with the needs of Iraqi refugees, in addition to serving the poor and needy in Lebanon.

That was nearly a year before the Syrian uprising and ensuing war that brought waves of refugees into neighboring Lebanon. What started as a “bleeding” soon developed into a hemorrhage, Chorbishop Faddoul told Catholic News Service. “And the hemorrhaging continues,” he said of the Syrian refugee crisis in his country.

Lebanon is now the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in the world, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The agency said in mid-March that it had registered more than 950,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, constituting 25 percent of Lebanon’s total population, an amount it says is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the United States over a span of 18 months.

Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon have never registered with the UNHCR. Each week brings another flood of about 12,000 Syrian refugees to Lebanon, taxing the country’s already stretched resources, the UNHCR said.

Caritas Lebanon, managed by Chorbishop Faddoul, has a staff of more than 400 and some 4,000 volunteers. About 200 staff and 150 volunteers are dedicated solely to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Chorbishop Faddoul and his staffers have dealt with people who have had to flee their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They have heard countless stories, such as those of widows who have lost not only their husbands, but also other family members.

For the thousands of children — many of them orphans — living in makeshift tent settlements in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, “there is no playground but mud strewn with litter,” said Chorbishop Faddoul. “We struggle to hold back our tears.”

Amid a lack of adequate resources for the problem and budget cuts, especially among the U.N. agencies, Caritas does everything it can to make a positive difference, he said.

Chorbishop Faddoul told CNS that when Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, visited Lebanon in December, one of the Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley tent area, a Muslim, told the cardinal: “We thank the church for Caritas. They spend time with us. They listen to us and follow us.”

“I’d like to think that what makes Caritas unique is the loving touch we provide,” Chorbishop Faddoul said.

In the interview, he told CNS he never thought of Africa as a place to which God would call him.

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Tags: Lebanon Africa Caritas Maronite