CNEWA
ONE Magazine
God • World • Human Family • Church

All in the Family

A look at the families whose lives have been changed through the generosity of our benefactors.

The United Nations has proclaimed 1994 as the Year of the Family and in response to this proclamation Pope John Paul II noted in his 2 February “Letter to Families” that “this initiative makes it clear how fundamental the question of the family is for the member states of the United Nations.

“The church,” he continued, “shares in the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of people’s daily pilgrimage, firmly convinced that it was Christ himself who set her on all these paths…Among these many paths, the family is the first and the most important.”

In October the Pope will travel to the United Nations in New York City to speak yet again about families and family life with the delegates of the world’s nations.

For more than 65 years, generous friends and benefactors of Catholic Near East Welfare Association have been on pilgrimage daily with families who have been assisted through our numerous programs and projects. In supporting these activities our friends have built and maintained families and family life in the turbulent world served by our Association.

Consider the story of a young man named Farhan who lives in the village of Byakout in Lebanon. Although he lost both legs during Lebanon’s civil war, he now owns and operates an automobile repair shop. A small grant from our Pontifical Mission’s Beirut office enabled him to purchase tools and an old, badly damaged car to use for spare parts. Now when Farhan starts work, he takes off his artificial legs and ties himself onto a homemade dolly, which was designed for him to slide under vehicles with ease. Farhan’s success has given him the opportunity to marry and begin a family.

Farhan is one of 20 handicapped people who have received grants this year from our Beirut office to improve or start small businesses.

In 1983, the remote village of Majdel Meoush in the Shouf region of Lebanon was part of the war zone. When hostilities ceased in 1991, the 350 families who had fled returned to find the church bulldozed, homes stripped of doors and windows, no electricity, no water and their fruit and olive trees destroyed. These displaced persons were destitute. Now Majdel Meoush and 19 other villages are being rebuilt for displaced families by our Pontifical Mission.

In “the little town” of Bethlehem, the six members of the Tushieh family live in one rented room. The father, a municipal worker, cannot support the entire family on his meager earnings. For the past few years his children have been enrolled in our sponsorship program for children in need. This has given the Tushieh children food and clothing – basics that the head of household could not provide. Now, with financial assistance provided for housing, the Tushieh family is looking forward to moving into a new house. All this in the town where more than 2,000 years ago “there was no room in the inn.”

Across the border, one third of the Jordanian population suffers unemployment. Jiries Dahdal, a 37-year-old printing press operator, was let go without compensation after suffering back and eye damage. For three years he was without work. His wife Miriam took a job as a janitor at a clinic for $100 a month. As Jiries became weaker and more depressed, Miriam came to our Pontifical Mission office in the capital city of Amman to seek help. She wanted to set up a kiosk for selling snacks and cigarettes on a busy square where taxies and buses are numerous.

The life of the Dahdal family has completely changed. Even though Jiries is frail, he and his family now operate what has quickly become a profitable business. Their monthly income has doubled and their self-confidence has been restored. Now when our staff members walk by the kiosk, they see a happy and successful family.

Also in Amman we have the story of Abu Soufeh, who at 32 is relatively immobile – he has no legs and his hands are deformed. One of eight children, his father died leaving the family without resources. A single salary of $65 per month supports this Muslim family in a two-room apartment. After petitioning several private charities he came to our Amman office to present his case. Tearfully he pleaded for a wheelchair. After many months of frustration and humiliation with other charities, he had his wheelchair within a matter of hours.

Far off in the subcontinent of India a monsoon struck the southwestern state of Kerala with such force that even elephants were swept away by the rising waters. So too was the home of Binu, a young girl enrolled in our sponsorship program. When her sponsor in the United States learned of this tragedy, he had a new home built for Binu’s family, costing a mere $1,500.

Then too we have a young girl named Manju, whose parents died while the child was still quite young. An uncle brought her to a congregation of sisters in Kerala’s capital of Trivandrum where she was quickly enrolled in our sponsorship program. Her sponsor, aware of the importance of the dowry tradition in India, has established a trust fund for her. When Manju is 18, she will have her dowry of 25,000 rupees ($800), which will make possible her wish to marry and start a family.

Other families, by extension, have been formed in our world. A couple from Iowa sponsored the training of a seminarian in India. And not without their own problems – a son with meningitis, a daughter’s divorce, another daughter’s unemployed husband and finally the husband suffering a stroke – they continued to sponsor their seminarian. Both husband and wife have told us it was their way to pass on their cherished faith. For their 40th wedding anniversary they traveled to India for the ordination of Father Matthew. Their 17-day trip to India was a gift from their children. What a tremendous witness to the importance of family!

Returning to the Middle East, we meet Madeleine, a pretty Egyptian girl of 18 who had an affair, which merited condemnation and death; Egyptian society does not accept a child born out of wedlock. Fearful and desperate she turned to the church in Alexandria for help. Her honor was saved through marriage and a daughter, Usama, was born eight months later.

Consider too the situation of Fayza, a young widow mourning the premature death of her husband and left with three young children to rear. For Fayza, life had ended until she met a young painter named Adel. But how could he possibly support an instant family of five? Adel and Fayza met Bishop Egidio Sampieri, the Latin Apostolic Vicar of Alexandria, and in collaboration with the humanitarian assistance committee established with funding from our Association, a house was located for them in a small village in Lower Egypt.

“[We give] thanks to all of the benefactors who have come through Catholic Near East Welfare Association to assist in this humanitarian project and have favored us with their donations,” the Bishop said in a recent letter.

Our friends and benefactors make these stories success stories, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

In the southern Lebanese village of Kfarfalous, 29-year-old Samira Melken was born with scoliosis. Later as a toddler she contracted polio. At age seven her parents, unable to care for her, asked the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Deir Kamar to care for her. She lived with the sisters and was sponsored by Msgr. Anthony Drozd of Texas until he was tragically killed in an automobile accident in May 1988. It looked as if Samira would spend the rest of her life with the sisters at Deir Kamar.

However last October Samira’s life suddenly changed. Msgr. Drozd had designated her a beneficiary of his insurance policy and she was scheduled to receive a handsome sum of money. Samira will use the money to build a small room on her parent’s home in Kfarfalous and will use the income from the invested principal to pay for living expenses and medical care. After more than 20 years away from home she has returned to live in the surroundings of her own family.

In northeast Africa, revolution, civil war and famine plague the land. A report from our office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, describes yet another scourge to reach the area – AIDS. The report describes a family of three children, ages 12, 10 and 8 whose parents both died of AIDS. The 10year-old is HIV positive and the 12-year old girl attempts to support the family by working as a servant for $3 a month. She uses the money to buy sugar cane, which she cuts into small pieces to sell. She also buys grain to roast and sell. Their home – a mud hut – is empty. The parents sold all their possessions in order to survive. Compounding these difficulties, the social stigma of AIDS adds yet another burden.

Working with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, help is available through an AIDS counseling center where food and clothing are available for such struggling youngsters. Efforts are made to find shelter and even foster homes for the children, many of whom are without living relatives.

Without the collaboration of our benefactors and the sisters, this struggling family and others like it would not survive in dignity.

In his “Letter to Families,” Pope John Paul II noted, “the future of each family unit depends upon this fairest love: the mutual love of husband and wife, of parents and children, a love embracing all generations. Love is the true source of the unity and strength of the family.”

Throughout our history, Catholic Near East Welfare Association has aspired to be a source of unity and strength for families.

The Catholic bishops of the United States, in their 17 November 1993 letter “Follow the Way of Love,” tell us that children “…need to know the joy of contributing to the common good: in the home, in the neighborhood, in the church and in society. Duty is an anchor in what seems an ocean of chaos.”

To this our friends and benefactors utter a resounding “Amen.” You support programs and projects that have a direct and immediate impact on the families of our world. You are witnesses of love.

Brother David is Director of Educational and Interreligious Affairs.

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