Take Five: Making a Difference in the Middle East

Sister Georgette Foukey works with a student at the Franciscan Sisters orphanage school in Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Pope Benedict XVI — who is now traveling in Lebanon — is being received throughout the Middle East as a herald of peace and hope. The pontiff has a busy schedule, meeting with youth, celebrating the Eucharist, meeting with Christians of all varieties, as well as Muslims and Druze. He will also release an apostolic exhortation, which is “addressed to everyone” and “is intended as a roadmap for the years to come.”

Yet the chief audience for the exhortation, which concludes the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held in the Vatican in 2010, are those Catholics of the many Eastern churches who live throughout the Middle East, from Egypt to the Persian Gulf. Often these Catholics, who have been emigrating in significant numbers in the last few decades, are the bridge-builders in Middle Eastern societies.

This role is unique to them for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant, however, is the role social service efforts of the local churches play throughout the region. Here are five examples of Christian works of mercy. Thanks to friends and benefactors, all these works are supported by CNEWA through our operating agency in the region, the Pontifical Mission. These works are making a difference in the Middle East, and with no distinction of race or religion:

  1. Bethlehem University is the only Catholic institution for higher learning in the occupied West Bank. Founded by Pope Paul VI and administered by the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools, Bethlehem University is an oasis of hope in a land burned by fear and violence.
  2. Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, provides the best in pre- and post-natal care to impoverished Palestinian refugee families. Subsidized by CNEWA and administered by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, an Iraqi community based in Mosul, the clinic serves some 30,000 annually, almost all of whom are devout Muslims.
  3. Franciscan School in Abou Kir, near the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, enables Christian and Muslim children to receive the finest education is one of the poorer districts of the area. Run by the Lebanese Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, the school also offers the best of care for blind children at its Santa Lucia Home.
  4. Oum el Nour, or “Mother of Light” in Arabic, is a substance abuse rehabilitation and prevention center in Beirut. It began as an act of faith in a tent some 20 years ago, and today Oum el Nour is one of Lebanon’s most successful rehabilitation centers for substance abusers.
  5. The care of Iraqi refugeesand now the displaced from Syria — is not the exclusive work of any one community or institution. But throughout the Middle East, Christians are rolling up their sleeves, helping refugee families find housing, temporary employment, schooling, clothes and food. Bishops, priests, sisters and the laity are working together to help stabilize families driven from their homes by ignorance, hate and violence.

The real work will take place after the pope leaves Lebanon. @VVVV-1

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