Note: CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, and Michael La Civita, chief communications officer, are on a pastoral visit to Lebanon, focusing on the works of the local churches caring for displaced Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese families.
To most of Lebanon’s visitors, Beirut sprawls along the Mediterranean coast and climbs the steep mountain range that gives this country of 4.5 million people its name. What most do not know is that Beirut is a collection of municipalities and districts with distinct personalities and histories inhabited by families who hail from villages long lost to development. One such neighborhood is Jdeideh in the eastern district of Metn, an industrial area almost entirely populated by Christians. Churches and roadside shrines — often dedicated to the Maronite monk St. Charbel or the Prophet Elijah, better known here as Mar Elias — are as common as colorful vegetable stands. This is the Christian East Beirut of the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
Yet in the middle of Christian Jdeideh rises a Shiite Muslim neighborhood. Ramshackle structures of cinderblock, concrete and tin climb the hill of Rouweissat Jdeidet, which is capped with a snow-white mosque. Long the home of Shiite Muslims, the neighborhood is densely populated with young families, roosters and feral cats. At the base of the hill, the Good Shepherd Sisters run a dispensary that treats some 100 people a day. Founded more than 15 years ago by a Lebanese ascetic known throughout Lebanon as Pere Nour, the dispensary draws the poorest of the poor from the local community and, increasingly, Iraqi and Syrian refugee families. Most of those seeking assistance are Muslim.
Good Shepherd Sister Hannane Youssef was happy to welcome back Msgr. John Kozar, who first visited the clinic during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon in September 2012. “So much has changed since you were last here!” she said. Indeed, the facility had expanded to include more room for gynecological and psychological care, pediatrics, and eye, ear, nose and throat care. But the facility is not a fancy structure — it does not even meet the requirements necessary for accreditation by the Lebanese Ministry of Health.
“This is built with containers, prefabricated materials I myself designed and ordered,” she said.
The modest facility, which is spic-and-span and well lighted, hosts some of the finest medical professionals in Lebanon — more than 35 doctors and health care professionals — who offer their services and talents weekly to the sisters in their care for the poor. In addition to providing treatment, the sisters commission focus groups, who work street by street in the area to determine best the health needs of the community, especially the women.
“We believe the poor deserve the best,” Sister Hannane continued, and “Providence blesses us with these volunteers and support and prayers from our friends.” Moved by the generous spirit of the sisters and their team, Msgr. Kozar pointed out that the CNEWA family was privileged to support the sisters and their work.
“The spirit hasn’t changed,” Msgr. Kozar added. “This is the church of the Middle East at its best!”