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Pammacaristos Home

A home for girls in Greece offers hope and a home to those who have none.

As the car turns from the main route into the winding dirt road that leads to Pammacaristos, you get the feeling that you’re stepping into a watercolor painting. With the Aegean Sea as a backdrop, the blazing sun above, and the mountains and pine trees all around, the area is a superb blending of pinks, oranges, blues, greens and purples.

From the various “play” spots which dot the 24 acres of land, the girls and their dog come running excitedly toward the wide veranda of their house. Those who speak English bid you “Welcome,” and those who cannot so verbalize a greeting, convey the same, unmistakably-clear message with their eyes and smiles.

And then, Sr. Marina offers you her hand and heart in friendship – and you know instinctively that this day is going to be a very special one.

This is a very real first impression of the Pammacaristos Children’s Home in Nea Macri, Greece. Run by the Sisters of the Byzantine Catholic Order, Pammacaristos, (which aptly means “All blessed”), houses 94 girls and most of the Staff, as well as caring for 40 other daytime students. The children, ranging in age from three to eighteen, are either true orphans, or victims of broken homes.

After seeing the peaceful beauty of the place and watching the genuinely-happy expressions on all surrounding faces, the visitor is shocked to hear the harsh facts about the Home’s existence. One would never have guessed, for example, that its very foundation has been tragedy…. (Started as a summer camp in 1952, the Home expanded the next year to accept the orphans of the earthquakes which shook the Ionian Islands.)

Nor would one have guessed that Pammacaristos has not received any regular monetary support since 1970; and that their survival thus depends upon the kindness and understanding of suppliers and “paid” Staff, as well as upon the generosity of their “friends” in Europe and the United States (C.N.E.W.A. is one of those “friends”).

You’d never guess any of these things, because no one at Pammacaristos seems to be bitter or unhappy.

This year marked the 25th Anniversary of Pammacaristos. On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Sr. Marina, the director, and the Staff reminisced about the Home’s birth and growth. As those who live at Pammacaristos are such an “extraordinary” family, it is only fitting that they themselves tell the “extraordinary” story about the last twenty-five years at Nea Macri.

Pammacaristos, Greece, 1977

“Some feel bewildered and others are confused about the aim of our institution. We don’t blame them!

We ourselves were a little puzzled by the events, as the years rolled on. We did not start with the intention of ‘founding’ any ‘Welfare Institution.’ But then, the earthquakes, wars, migrations and needs of all kinds have knocked at our door…and we’ve opened it (as well as our hearts) wide.

The available space, too, very scanty in the beginning, seemed to widen every time it had to embrace one more distress, one more pain…

In those early days we were living in the unfinished place, and building, room by room, whenever we had a chance. Many things were missing and our resources were never flourishing, but what was – and still is – never lacking, is love and joy. At Home (as we named our house from the very beginning), at School, in summer as in winter, an invisible spirit seems to animate everyone.

The main care of all of us: the happiness of the children.

Even though there have never existed employers and employees, patrons and beneficiaries at Pammacaristos – but rather, one warm, united family – we thought that we had to take one more step forward.

And so, inspired by successful experiences abroad with the Pestalozzi System, we created a new type of units called ‘Vertical Families,’ in 1973. These remind us of true families, and operate in the following way:

A few children, always the same group, of all ages, are placed in a steady surrounding. Each ‘family’ has a responsible older girl caring for the group, as well as its own apartment (with living room and dormitory-style bedroom.) This apartment is ‘theirs,’ and is closed to outsiders. Whoever wants to enter must ring their doorbell. The locked doors and bells are to preserve the feeling of intimacy and privacy that a real family would have. (There are five such ‘apartments’ at Pammacaristos.)

The apartments should remind us of a true home – living room with some kinds of recreational means – and it should be with at least reasonable comforts. Certainly, in this last respect we are lacking a lot. We comfort ourselves, though, with these words from the Scriptures: “Love covers a multitude of deficiencies.”

Anyhow, we hope that gradually, and with the help of all of those who have assisted us through the years, we shall be able to ‘fill up the gaps’ and offer our children something more.

During the twenty-five years of our Home’s life, everything has been far from easy and smooth. Besides the financial problems which have never been solved, we’ve also had to face a thousand other problems and difficulties.

We’ve met and hugged many little wounded hearts, many little disturbed personalities, difficult and maladjusted children, parents without any desire to cooperate, or without any interest at all.

We have tried, and we still try, to face all of this, so that we can offer our children, in the present, utmost joy and happiness, and give them, for the future, a feeling of security, love and trust…and also, the desire to create and build a good, Christian and united family.”

Sr. Marina and the Staff

The sun is setting as the car once again snakes its way down the unpaved road, and turns into the main route, and out of the lovely watercolor picture.

You hate to leave Sr. Marina and the little ones; and yet, you can’t help smiling on the way to the airport…

Because you know that in the four, short hours you’ve been lucky enough to spend with this “family,” they’ve given you a beautiful memory that you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

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