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Food, blankets and hope – nuns risk lives to serve Syrian refugees

By KEVIN JONES

Beirut, Lebanon, Nov 12, 2014 / 04:27 am (CNA/EWTN News) - Near the Lebanon-Syria border, two religious sisters are among the staff members at a refugee service center working to give relief – and hope – to thousands who have fled the armed conflict in Syria.

“I keep my hope in prayer,” Sister Micheline Lattouff, a Good Shepherd Sister, told CNA at a Nov. 1 meeting with journalists in Beirut.

“I seek how to help the children, how to help the families,” she said, calling the refugees “victims in their own country.”

Sr. Micheline is director of the Social and Community Center of the Good Shepherd in Deir-al-Ahmar, a Christian village in Lebanon’s northern Bekaa Valley.

She and another Good Shepherd Sister are among the half dozen staff members who help both local Lebanese and 8,000 to 9,000 Syrian refugees who are among the millions displaced since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

The refugee numbers keep growing. Sixty to 80 refugee families, ranging in size from five to 15 people, arrive in the area each month.

These refugees are predominantly Sunni Muslims fleeing a conflict in which rebel forces are themselves predominantly Sunni. They feel unsafe in surrounding Shiite Muslim areas and so have flocked to the Christian village not far from Baalbek, a major center for Lebanon’s Shiite party Hezbollah, a supporter of Syria’s ruling government.

“With the Christian people, they feel safer. Because for them, we are a people for peace. We want to live in peace and love,” Sr. Micheline said.

Such a pattern of Christian-Muslim interaction is common in Lebanon, where Christians provide an important buffer between different Muslim communities.

Many of the men among the Deir-al-Ahmar refugees have a history of working in the region as migrant laborers. Before the conflict, they would return to Syria after harvest season to live off their earnings in a country with a low cost of living.

But when the Syrian conflict started, they began to bring their families with them to stay in a country where basic needs are increasingly expensive.

The refugees now live in unorganized spontaneous settlements, sometimes grouped by clan or family. Some were separated from their loved ones during the flight from their homes. Those who could not come by car or bus walked for as many as seven days to arrive, often over mountainous terrain.

Living in tents and houses with walls of burlap sacks and plastic sheeting scavenged from used billboard signs, many of the refugees reside around the Good Shepherd Sisters’ community center.

“They feel very bad at their situation. They want to go back to Syria, and they are not able. It is not a life,” Sr. Micheline said.

The community center was originally established to run after-school programs and remedial classes for Lebanese children. The sisters have expanded their mission, helping educate refugee children and distribute food to Syrian families, while continuing to support a Christian tent settlement.

A school established by the sisters teaches 330 refugee children in the morning, then teaches local Lebanese children in the afternoon.

The sisters have found Syrian teachers among the refugees and pay them to teach the refugee children according to the Arabic-only system in their home country, rather than Lebanon’s multi-lingual system. The curriculum includes peacebuilding programs that encourage cultural coexistence and cross-cultural relationships.

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a papal humanitarian relief agency, supports the school. The U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services supports the families in the settlements.

Packages of supplies are given to the refugees, containing items such as olive oil, sugar, rice, pasta, humus, cheese, and milk.

While a $50 package can supply one family for a month, the demand is overwhelming, and packages have been split in half to serve more people.

“It’s not enough,” Sr. Micheline said, noting the danger of malnutrition.

The upcoming winter threatens a “very bad” situation, the sister said. Mud season collapses tents and creates unsanitary conditions in camps where the sewage system consists of open-air toilets.

The presence of humanitarian agencies can save lives.

Catholic Relief Services funds tents, heaters, wood, diesel fuel, clothes, and blankets for the refugees.

While visiting a refugee tent, a delegation from the Catholic agency Caritas Australia discovered a wounded 11-year-old boy named Melhem, whom a hunter had shot by accident. The boy had been laid down in the bed and his bandages had been left undressed for weeks after his initial medical treatment. His wound had become infected.

Catholic Relief Services and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd jointly sponsored surgery for the boy. He continues to recover from his injury and his lack of initial medical care.

“He is very good now,” Sr. Micheline said.

The community center also tries to help adults find agricultural work, she explained. “These people are workers and they want to work.”

Day labor is hard to find for adults. The economic situation has pressured many refugee children to become breadwinners for the family.

Another challenge is that the high number of refugees has caused unease and security fears among the local Christian population, whose numbers are as low as 3,000 in the winter months.

If even a miniscule percentage of area refugees sympathize with violent radicals like the Islamic State group, that could mean several dozen people, noted CRS Lebanon country representative Davide Bernocchi.

Sr. Micheline said she has some fears about possible Islamic State supporters within the camps.

“I am afraid sometimes. We have to be careful,” she said. “We take care of them, we receive them in our center, but with open eyes.”

Some people have suggested to Sr. Micheline that she could be killed by the Islamic State group because of her work.

“I tell them, ‘maybe’. But that’s not reason to stop my mission,” she said. “I have my mission, and I continue my mission.”

“If they kill me, it’s not a problem… maybe another sister will have courage to continue the mission.”

She cited the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 after criticizing the government’s human rights violations.

“I think if maybe I will be killed because I work with refugees, maybe the world today needs another Oscar Romero.”

The sister said she took inspiration from the 330 Syrian children at the school.

“We can see the transformation in their behavior and their hygiene and their relation between the Lebanese community and the refugees,” she said. “When I see the transformation in children, I see they are happy. They are happy to come to the center, to learn. They want to learn.”

“When I see them, 30 or 40 people in a small room, they are waiting just to learn. That gives me great hope for the future.”

 

Past Issues

Dec. 9, 2018

Nov. 25, 2018

Nov. 11, 2018

Oct. 28, 2018

Oct. 14, 2018

Sept. 16, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: 2018 Golf Classic; student athletes; physically challenged; Leonard Stegman; Lesson in forgiveness; Sending us on a mission

Sept. 2, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Priest crisis; Scandal; Opioid addictions; Seeds of Suicide; Leightons; St. Anne; Vincke; seminarians; Dominican Sisters; Stewardship Conference; Dead Sea Scrolls; PSR programs; Roe V. Wade

 

August 12, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Prayer and Action; Totus Tuus; Janee Bernal; Diana Ramirez; Heidy Ramirez; Bishop Gilmore honored for 20 years ministry; suicide; contraception and abortion; Dead Sea Scrolls; Humanae Vitae; certification in youth ministry; Chuck Weber; Cathedral rectory chapel; Sister Viola Heichelbech; Adam Urban

July 15, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Immigration Protest/Rally; Faith and Light Fiesta; Seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls; Corpus Christi procession; Prayers for priests; Sisters turn 100; Michael Brungardt; Gerald Vincke; Massacre in San Salvador; Action for Alex 

 

June 3, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Parish Pray for Priestly Vocations; Appeal reaches $10 million; Gangs; Seminarians; Pam Willis; Why I like being a priest; Happy Father's Day; Patricia Lujan; Tyler and Rachel Bennett; Adoption Protection Act.

May 20, 2018
KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Track meet; Beloved Sinners; Benjamin Martin retires; Smiles; Future of Fortune Telling; Hoisington mission; DofI; Getting Equipped; Spring Social; First Communion; Confirmation
KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Track meet; Beloved Sinners; Benjamin Martin retires; Smiles; Future of Fortune Telling; Hoisington mission; DofI; Getting Equipped; Spring Social; First Communion; Confirmation

May 6, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Archbishop Romero; Seeing, Touching, Tasting; Exhortation; Father Patrick Conroy; Happy Mother's Day; A child on your doorstep; Vibrant Ministries Grant; From the heart of a young father; Love Gives Life; Roman Holiday; Smartphone; retirement
Fossil Hunting

 

April 15, 2018

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Easter Vigil; Angelica Village; Colorado woman; The art of anger; Cimarron Couple; Staats; Adoption; 

Father Ultan Murphy anniversary; Coughlan; Spiritual Advisor to Hoodlums; Woman of Courage; Oration contest; Darcy Feist  

 

April 1, 2018

 

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Defending Adoption; Led by the Spirit; Knights; ABC Pregnancy Center;
Memorial of Mary; Homeless; Relics; Down syndrome abortion; Chrism Mass

 

March 18, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: SKYAC; Aleksandr Men; Fasting for Priestly Vocations; Uganda; School for deaf; Rannah Evetts; Oberle; Rachel and Doug Trombley; Oscar Romero; Paul VI; DACA

 

 

March 4, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Fasting for priestly vocations; Father Juan; Fasting and prayer;
Quest Weekend 2018; DACA; With God, anything is possible; Homelessness in our communities; Rhubarb, Kansas;
What's the point of fasting; Rite of Election; same-sex couples

 

Feb. 18, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Catholic Schools Week; Rachel Doll; Ellinwood; Great Bend; Garden City; Ness City; Dodge City; Sister Rita Schwarzenberger; Nigeria; Bishop Hermes; Fasting for Priestly Vocations; World Day for Consecrated Life; 50th Anniversary St. Dominic School; What will life be like in 50 years?

 

 

Feb. 4, 2018

 

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: March for Life; Tracy and Ross Smith; Adoption; Vibrant Ministries; Faith and Light;
Pro-Life; Mortal sin to discard elderly; DACA; Abortion; Dreamers; Human Trafficking

 

Jan. 21, 2018

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Louise Korbe; Anne Frank; Miep Gies; Home Heat; Father Solanus

 

Jan. 7, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Good news and kingdom living; dreamers; Sister Teresa Orozco; Infant Adoption; Elderly; a moral conundrum; seminarian; feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

Dec. 17, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Celebrate Christmas 'unplugged'; Msgr. Matthew Smith; Klan; Catholic Charities Annual Appeal; Fr. Larry Rosebaugh; A Guadalupe Encounter; Laci and Joe Salazar; A Christmas Wish; Adoption; Confession; Advent; EWTN; Christmas Blues; Tilma; Pittsburgh; PSR

 

Dec. 3, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: 2017 NCYC; Wheel of Balance; Marita Rother; Stanley Rother; slavery; trafficking; Windthorst water damage; martyred priests; confession; reconciliation; How to go to confession; recipe for codfish cakes; Catholic schools; appeal

 

Nov. 19, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Saints; Father Kola; Black Elk; Giving Tuesday; velvet Elvis; a Slice of Time; Dani Sandoval; Mexican Village; Father Tim Hickey; New faces at chancery; priests share thoughts on confession; Wheel of Balance

 

Nov. 5, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Matrimony Anniversary Mass, 2017; Riebel; Faith and Light; Scripture Day; Sex in the Bible; Quilt, Mexican Village Story; Finance; Fatima pilgrimage; Fowler church window renovation; Medicare; Crazy Glue


Oct. 15, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Father Francis Jordan; Sister Renee Kirmer; Father Rother beatified; religious liberty; RCIA Kansas; V Encuentro; Bishop Weisenburger; Daughters of Isabella; Bishop Gerber Science Center


Oct. 1, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: De Colores; Rebein; Dreamer; Pies; Kellner; Code Quilts; Sister Crucita; Feezor; Formed.org; Sin and pain

 

 Sept. 17, 2017

 

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Sister Lucy Fidelis; Underground Railroad; Sister Irene Hartman; DACA; new priests; teachers; Volunteer of the Year; Golf Classic; St. Francis Xavier; St. Nicholas Parish Center, Kinsley; seminarians; Knights Lite; Stewardship Day 2017

Sept. 3, 2017

Aug. 13, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Coronado Cross; Masada; Moody Gardens; Elders; Rother; undocumented children; cages; year of mercy; Kumi; Hollywood makeup artist; New Mexico; refugee women.

July 16, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Summer camp; tithing and almsgiving; Bill Baalmann; Nathan Schaller; Jubilarian Sisters; Sister Hortencia Rodriguez; Sister Petrona Stockemer; Sister Denise Sevart; Convocation of Catholic Leaders; Mother talks about her son entering seminary; Arcoiris; Youth group travels to Colorado Springs; Major Phillip Roth

June 11, 2017 (Updated)

Ordination; Mark Brantley; Jacob Schneider; Father's Day; Thanks, Dad!; Appeal; Sister Mary Martin Weaver; Bishop Maralit; Budget; Trafficked women; Deacon Michael Brungardt; Dead Sea Scrolls; softball; Father Urban retirement; Sister Kravec retirement; Father Mazouch retirement; Authentic Joy; Pris Climate Accord; Jack Schramm; Pieta.

May 28, 2017 (Updated)

 

Grateful Hearts; MSFS Provincial; Reddy; Reif; Opossum; Dead Sea Scrolls; Our Lady of Fatima; Jorge Herrera, Jr.; Cursillo; Kough; First Communion; Confirmation

May 14, 2017

Esteban Hernandez; citizen; Lilly Ann Rein, Amberly Jimenez, Mother's Day; peacock; Quattrocchi; President Kennedy; Teen Moms; Junior High Youth Rally; Encounter With God's Call; granny/nanny; seniors' contributions; tornado anniversary; harvest; healthcare; Mr. Brown; Store-bought teeth; Louis and Zelie Martin; Father John Sullivan; Irish priest whose prayers could heal; Mexican beauty queen; Esmaralda Gonzalez; religious life

April 30, 2017

   KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Easter Vigil; bully; TEC; Father Marvin Reif; Bet'sie; What makes a hero?; St. Mary of the Plains; tornado

Easter, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: SKYAC; Honorable courtship; footsteps of migrants; CHRISM Mass 2017; honoring priests; Encuentro Cross blessed; Daughters of Isabella State Convention; Fatima pilgrim statue; Mary Sharon Moore interview; Senate advances pro-life measures; love must be at the core of family life; Father John Forkuoh's car story; Confirmations; Sisters of Concordia; CNN hero Father Khalil Jaar

March 26, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: From the heart; kidney; Rother; Friar Carmelo; Schnauzer; Lauren Seachris; Lauren's Treat; fire; Guatemala; immigration; Lenten Regulations 1888; Hot Cross Buns; budget; Trump; Forkuoh; Seiwert; South Sudan; hot ashes

March 12, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Refugees; immigrants; Gilbert Herrman; When you give alms'; Lent; Call to Continuing Conversion, Rite of Election; Charell and Jeremy Owings; adoption; Our Growing Church; Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia; water; creation; Sudan; Darlow Lampe

Feb 26, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Night to shine; Immigration; immigrants; Knights of Columbus; Pete Gomez; this foreign mission; Creole; Robin Doll; Eagle Scout; Quest

Feb 12, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Catholic Schools Week; March for Life; Pro-life; Executive Order; Secular Franciscan Order; teachers; Down Syndrome; Eagle Scout; Bronze Pelican

Jan. 29, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Thank you, religious; SEEK 2017; homeless man to priest; Fourth Sunday; Secret Service to Sacred Heart; Dr. Gerard Brungardt; Martin Luther King; 110 year old nun; Toddler miracle; Letter from undocumented immigrant; health care; immigration

Jan. 15, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Mary helps us share; Tighe donates home to Birthright; Pro-life billboard; Theobald Hattrup; Helen and Steve Eck; Pearl Harbor; Reigning Grace

Dec. 18, 2017

KEYWORDS: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 2016; Pope Francis Christmas schedule; 2016 high school youth rally; Aerospace engineer; Father Stanley Rother; Radio station; Dying girl's letter; Scout nominations; 12 days of Christmas

Dec. 4, 2016

KEYWORDS: Vocations Day; Pope Advent advice; Ex-prostitute; Spearville mission; Pilgrims v. Zombies; Face of God; Mission bazaar; Ness City fall festival; Rural health care; Archbishop Gomez; Bishops congratulate Trump

Nov. 20, 2016

Nov. 6, 2016

Oct. 23, 2016

Oct. 9, 2016


Sept. 25, 2016


Sept. 11, 2016

 
Aug. 7, 2016

July 10, 2016

June 12, 2016

May 29, 2016

May 8, 2016


 April 24, 2016

 April 10, 2016

 March 27, 2016

March 13, 2016

Feb. 28, 2016

 

Feb. 14, 2016


Jan. 31 , 2016

Jan. 17, 2016

Dec. 20, 2015

Dec. 6, 2015

Nov. 15, 2015

Nov. 1, 2015

Oct. 18, 2015

Oct. 4, 2015

Sept. 20, 2015

Sept. 6, 2015

August 9, 2015

July 12, 2015

Jun 14, 2015

May 17, 2015

May 3, 2015

April 19, 2015

Easter, 2015

 

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