Someone said to me once that coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. Be that as it may, an interesting and, I hope, fortuitous coincidence occurred to me yesterday. There was an ecumenical-interfaith prayer service for Lebanon last night. It was held at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral in Brooklyn. Christian leaders of churches related to the Middle East—Catholic and Orthodox—took part in the service which was streamed live. (You can view it online on YouTube.)
One of the participants was the recently installed Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of America. It was his name that struck me. Although fairly familiar with Greek religious names, it was one I had never seen before. He is Archbishop Elpidophoros. Strange to ears accustomed to English, it is a magnificent name composed of two Greek words elpis, “hope,” and fero, “to bear, carry.” Thus, Elpidophoros means “bearer of hope.”
Later in the evening, a second coincidence occurred. While working on my weekly blog piece — on an unrelated topic — I accidentally discovered that 19 August is United Nations International Humanitarian Day. For decades I have believed that gratitude is one of the most beautiful virtues. It is, however, also one of the easiest. Gratitude costs the giver nothing. It requires no great, heroic, effort. All it requires is an attentive heart. While I have no statistics, I suspect gratitude is also one of the most ignored virtues.
Faced with Archbishop Elpidophoros and International Humanitarian Day, it struck me that humanitarians—those quiet, often unseen servants of humanity—are truly elpidophoroi, “bearers of hope.” Where there is war, hatred, poverty, pandemic and—worst of all—indifference, humanitarians are there bringing help and hope.
These bearers of hope are truly unsung heroes. In CNEWA’s magazine ONE, we often highlight the work of a priest or sister who is helping the poor physically or spiritually. However, that is really only the “tip of the iceberg” of humanitarians. As I belatedly observe International Humanitarian Day, I think of so many other less visible bearers of hope. I think of CNEWA’s staff in Beirut, coming into an office where the windows have been blown out in a devastated city. I think of the men and women of CNEWA in places as far flung as New York, Ethiopia, southern India and elsewhere, who every day—nowadays often under very challenging conditions—work behind the scenes to bring food, clothing, medicine, housing and education to suffering people in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, India and elsewhere.
I suspect few of them would consider themselves humanitarians and it is safe to say none of them consider themselves elpidophoroi. Yet they really do belong to an extraordinary class of people, true bearers of hope, even if behind the scenes. Deserving of our gratitude and support, humanitarians are also incredibly brave. Being a humanitarian can be dangerous. The UN keeps statistics on its own humanitarian workers, and in 2019 alone 125 were killed, 234 wounded and 124 kidnapped. Again, they are just a fragment of the many humanitarians around the world whom the UN holds up every year on 19 August.
Earlier I wrote that all gratitude requires is an attentive heart and I do believe that. However, the remark of Jesus to Martha applies to us too “Martha, Martha, you are concerned and busy about many things” (Luke 10:42). It is easy for even the most attentive heart to get distracted. One day a year dedicated to humanitarians is not very much. However, it does give us the opportunity to be attentive and focus our gratitude on all those women and men, known and unknown, recognized and unrecognized, on the front lines or behind the scenes who, manifesting the best of what it means to be human, are helping — sometimes at great personal cost — their fellow human beings.