Care for the Holy Land’s Disabled

JERUSALEM (CNS) — When it comes to helping suffering children, one’s religion is not a consideration at St. Vincent Home in the Holy Land.

Run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the facility serves 61 children and young adults with special needs. Most of the residents at Muslim or Jewish. Only three of the children are Christian.

St. Vincent Home is located in the village of Ain Kerem, the birthplace of St. John the Baptist, in western Jerusalem. The village also is where Mary visited Elizabeth and provides the setting for the selfless love, charity and respect that is lived out daily at St. Vincent.

Eighteen of the 61 residents — who range in age from 18 months to 24 years — are nourished through feeding tubes. All but two are in diapers. Two young people can carry on a conversation and a few others speak a few words. Most of the children are wheelchair-bound and only six can walk unassisted.

Their care involves around-the-clock shifts with four caregivers assigned to each resident.

“Most of all, it is a matter of the heart,” said Sister Susan Sheehan, an American-born member of the Daughters of Charity and one of five sisters from three continents who live at the home. “Jesus said, ‘What you do to the least of the little ones, you do to me.’ That’s it. Jesus is in each of these children.”

Many of the children are physically unable to smile, but usually Sister Susan and her staff can detect a smile on even the weakest child when they experience joy.

“Our hands become our way of communicating our affection, as does how we feed a child with care, wipe their face of food or free it of secretion, how we see that they are comfortable in their chair or bed,” Sister Susan said.

The staff is a “reflection of the land,” Sister Susan said of the sisters, health care workers and 24 volunteers — they are Christian, Muslim and Jew.

The group brings joy to the children with parties, outings to the community, visits from pets and various types of care that include water, physical, speech and art therapy.

“Hearing” the other — be they parents, child, volunteer, or staff member — is an important part of each day at St. Vincent’s, according to Sister Susan. Each person witnesses to each other in their own way, by broadening understanding in a place all too often mired in conflict.

Sister Susan noted that the parents of the residents support the initiatives of the home and find no difficulty that the home’s administrator is a Catholic nun.

The mother of Moshe, a 7-year-old Jewish boy — his name has been changed to protect his family’s privacy — recently shared with Sister Susan how the family’s life has been transformed since she and her husband decided to place the youngster in St. Vincent Home.

The woman said her relationship with her husband and two small children has been enriched. She is astounded how Moshe is improving because of the care he receives. She feared that he was near death because of a long list of disabilities when he was first brought to St. Vincent.

Moshe needs a lot of attention, affection and care, Sister Susan said. Eating each meal, for example, takes him 45 minutes to an hour. Still, he recognizes his parents and younger brothers and is often taken home for weekends.

There are other stories like Moshe’s.

Samira — whose name also has been changed to protect her family’s privacy — comes from a Bedouin family of 10 children, five of whom are disabled; two of the remaining five have died.

For most of her life, Samira, 18, has been fed through a feeding tube. Severe scoliosis causes her great pain. She also has cerebral palsy and a genetic disorder; she convulses often and her muscles and brain are not fully developed. Even so, Samira has a ready smile and knows her family and caregivers, Sister Susan said.

Even though she has no control of her limbs, Samira’s faces lights up for parties. Samira’s parents visit her and her sister, who also resides at St. Vincent, every week even though they must travel from afar.

Sister Susan said the work she and the St. Vincent staff carries out is a symbol of peace for a land where the number of Christians is dwindling because of violence and insecurity.

“Don’t forget the minority Christians of this land who are tempted daily to emigrate away,” she said, “where life is easier, where their children are safe and free to choose their future … to a place where they don’t have to forgive daily insults and love their enemies who violate their rights daily.

“To be a true Christian in this land is to carry a heavy burden,” she added. “Pray that they can endure and witness joyfully to the good news amidst hardships.

“For us at St. Vincent Home for children, don’t forget us either as we try to bring happiness and at the same time challenge our children to develop their full capacities. For us five sisters who seek to be bridges of hope to all who enter our home and dwell here, please don’t forget us in your prayers, too.”

Recent Posts

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español