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The Drama of Lebanon

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

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Last March I traveled to Beirut for the first time. I went to our Pontifical Mission office to get a personal appreciation for the work being done. I came away from that two-week visit with many memories of people who each day show remarkable courage, hope, faith, and love. But the program at the Centre St. Coeurs in Roumieh stands out among my many memories of that time in Lebanon.

Roumieh is a small village in the Kesrouan region in the mountains somewhat to the north and east of Beirut. In the midst of olive groves and fields, a small 300-year-old monastery building of weathered limestone serves as a home for about 45 children. Most of these children are mentally retarded. The program is directed by a dedicated Franciscan sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition. She is assisted by a staff of 12 people, who are specialized teachers, social assistants, and psychologists.

The Centre is a fairly new program, founded in December of 1984. The work is done under conditions which can be called primitive. The accomplishments can be called remarkable. In a workshop area some of the brighter children are taught weaving on handlooms, and even how to card and spin.

Not everything is so quaint, however. Some rudimentary recreational equipment, including swings and a slide, are in the courtyard. I laughed to think how the monks of old would grin at that!

Sister Maureen Grady, director of the Pontifical Mission office in Lebanon, and Miss Marlene Chamieh, our needy child program manager, escorted me to Centre St. Coeurs. As we entered, the kids swarmed around us – loving and trusting, and curious like kids everywhere. Some spoke their native Arabic, others addressed me in pretty good French, and some of them were even speaking to me in English. I was overwhelmed.

Later they performed a simple musical program. To a tune played on a small keyboard, one little girl marched around and then stood before us. Another child came out, clutching his stomach in feigned hunger. The girl gave her food to him. Then another child marched out to the music, all the while rubbing his hands as if they were cold. The first child offered him her gloves. A barefoot child then followed, and the first girl gladly gave her shoes away. Finally, two little angels came to escort the girl to heaven after she had given all she had to the others.

No costumes. A bare floor in an empty room. Children marching, making tiny gestures. The simple music of an old keyboard… Yet that little skit had a power all its own because it came from the hearts of these precious children. They had learned the idea behind the story they were acting out. They learned what it means to love.

You would be moved to see those children. I’m proud that we help take care of them amid Lebanon’s terror and destruction.

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Msgr. Stern is President of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and Grand Officer of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.



Tags: Lebanon Children Education Msgr. Stern Sponsorship