The Autumn edition of ONE turns a spotlight on Lebanon and Sister Wardeh’s World, where refugees from Syria are seeking a safe haven. Writer Amal Morcos here offers some additional context:
Muslims of the Middle East have a saying: “If there are no Nazarenes [Christians], it is a pity.” The saying is better in Arabic because it rhymes, but the gist is that Muslims recognize the value of having Christians in their society. Muslims aspire to send their children to Christian schools, to live in Christian neighborhoods, and to be helped by Christian organizations. But in Lebanon, a place where Christians were once powerful, wealthy and numerous, I discovered that there is an entire sea change taking place. Large numbers of Christian middle class families, affected by the country’s soaring prices and scarcity of jobs, have dropped into poverty. This has left Christian institutions — schools, hospitals, orphanages — underfunded and struggling to help the growing numbers of needy Christians.
First, there are the elderly. While Lebanon is typical of traditional Arab culture where the elderly are primarily cared for by family, growing numbers are being placed in nursing homes. Sunnis and Shi’as (who outnumber Lebanon’s fragmented Christians — the country has seven different patriarchates) have several well-financed charitable institutions. But for elderly Christians who have no family and no money, the Daughters of Charity run one of the very few nursing homes in Lebanon that will take care of Christians for free.
Christians have also been affected by the Lebanese government’s almost legendary corruption. Corruption deprives the country of resources — resources that could go into funding the nation’s crumbling public schools. Ten years ago, the overwhelming majority of Christian Lebanese school children attended parochial or private schools.
These days, growing numbers of financially burdened Christian parents are sending their children to public schools.
Sister Ann Sauve, a nurse and Daughter of Charity who runs a medicine dispensary in Beirut’s working class Karm al Zatoun neighborhood, finds herself serving more and more Christian families. She believes that Christians are especially vulnerable in Lebanon because of the lack of safety nets. “Lebanon is not like Egypt or Syria where the government will provide you with social services such as free medical care,” says Sister Ann.
Christians may also not get as much help as Muslims from international aid organizations who are more accustomed to aiding Muslims. Sister Wardeh Keiruz of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — who works with Syrian Christian refugees — says she plans to ask for more funding in 2015 to help Lebanese Christians cope with the psychological stress of the refugees crisis, the economic crisis, and the country’s political turmoil. She’s clear though that she wants to help Christians because they are poor, not because they are Christian.
“I just want to help those not getting help,” she says, “and that is the Christians.”