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AmericanCatholic.org had the opportunity to go on an immersion tour of several countries in the Middle East, sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Jennifer Scroggins reports from Lebanon in early November. On Day 1, they visited Yaroun village.

Special Features
Day 1: Yaroun, Lebanon

View ACO in Lebanon in a larger map

Day 1: Yaroun, Lebanon

The future is uncertain for Christian Lebanese young people.(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
The old man clasps his hands as if he’s praying—no, pleading—for help as he speaks. “They need work … opportunity to work,” he says of the younger generation of Yaroun, a small village in southern Lebanon. “Most of our young people go away. Why? Because of the war—and also no opportunity for their future.”

What he is describing is a phenomenon all too common throughout Lebanon, which is seeing its youth leave its small towns—and often, the nation itself—to pursue education and employment in larger Lebanese cities or abroad.

In the south, a predominately Shiite Muslim region, the emigration problem is particularly acute as small Christian communities worry for their survival after some 2,000 years of existence. Once the young Lebanese leave home to make their way in the world, they rarely return to the villages in which they grew up.

In Yaroun, for instance, both the public and private schools have closed due to a lack of students. In the village of 1,500, only 170 are Christians. Among them, there are a mere 15 children in the village—only one girl.

Melkite Greek Catholic priest Marios Khairallah, Archeparch of Tyre, says in Yaroun there are no new marriages, no newborns. Many of the Christians he serves live in Beirut and return home to visit only on weekends or holidays. In many cases, he sees families being broken apart as children move on, leaving behind aging parents and grandparents.

Ironically, construction booms on the outskirts of many small southern towns, as large homes with gated entrances are beginning to overtake the otherwise sparse landscape. Those homes are the property of Shiites, most of whom have made their fortunes elsewhere, especially in the Gulf states, and now are returning to build estates, many for only temporary use, in their original villages.

In the land of the powerful Hezbollah party, the growing presence of Shiite wealth is more than just a symbol to the dwindling Christian communities. It underscores that behind the lack of jobs and educational options, the region’s war-torn history is the root issue.

Melkite Catholic Archbishop George Bakhouni(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
“People need security from fear of war,” says Melkite Catholic Archbishop George Bakhouni, from the seaside town of Tyre. “They want security for the long term.”

Lebanon was plagued by wars both internal and external for a decade and a half, beginning in 1975. As recently as 2006, the nation found itself caught in a war between Hezbollah and Israel.

In the south, where water is scarce, cultivation of products such as tobacco and olives long has sustained the population. To return to any kind of prosperity, however, the region needs more options for its people—and that means support and investment from the private sector. (Nearly universally, the Lebanese decry their government as corrupt and neglectful.)

But in an area where war could break out at seemingly any time, private investors are seemingly impossible to come by. Thus, so is economic development. In the village of Ain Ebel, only 200 meters from the Israeli border, even the vice-mayor splits his time between his hometown and Beirut. Nevertheless, he says that with some help, the southern Christians will not lose their hold on the land they love.

“We’re here because our roots are deep in this land. But that’s not enough,” says Tarek Matta. “To stay, we need support from others. “As long as there’s blood in our veins, there will always be crosses on these hills.”

Matta speaks with an obvious passion and expresses his determination to find a solution for his region’s many problems.

Rita Sidawi(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
In the meantime, though, young people such as Rita Sidawi, 20, will continue to move to Beirut for college—and beyond.

Sidawi says she feels “a special affection” for Ain Ebel. “Yes, of course, if we have work here, we stay here.” She describes the difficulties of being new to Beirut, where she feels like a stranger. It’s “like being born again,” she explains.

Bakhouni, the Melkite archbishop, insists that governments must take the initiative to make real peace. Only from there, he says, can the situation in Lebanon be reversed or improved. Says Bakhouni: “The one who is looking for peace will make sacrifices.”

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Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta): Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the tiny woman recognized throughout the world for her work among the poorest of the poor, was beatified October 19, 2003. Among those present were hundreds of Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1950 as a diocesan religious community. Today the congregation also includes contemplative sisters and brothers and an order of priests. 
<p>Born to Albanian parents in what is now Skopje, Macedonia (then part of the Ottoman Empire), Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu was the youngest of the three children who survived. For a time, the family lived comfortably, and her father's construction business thrived. But life changed overnight following his unexpected death. </p><p>During her years in public school Agnes participated in a Catholic sodality and showed a strong interest in the foreign missions. At age 18 she entered the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. It was 1928 when she said goodbye to her mother for the final time and made her way to a new land and a new life. The following year she was sent to the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling, India. There she chose the name Teresa and prepared for a life of service. She was assigned to a high school for girls in Kolkata, where she taught history and geography to the daughters of the wealthy. But she could not escape the realities around her—the poverty, the suffering, the overwhelming numbers of destitute people. </p><p>In 1946, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. The message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them.” She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.” </p><p>After receiving permission to leave Loreto, establish a new religious community and undertake her new work, she took a nursing course for several months. She returned to Kolkata, where she lived in the slums and opened a school for poor children. Dressed in a white sari and sandals (the ordinary dress of an Indian woman) she soon began getting to know her neighbors—especially the poor and sick—and getting to know their needs through visits. </p><p>The work was exhausting, but she was not alone for long. Volunteers who came to join her in the work, some of them former students, became the core of the Missionaries of Charity. Others helped by donating food, clothing, supplies, the use of buildings. In 1952 the city of Kolkata gave Mother Teresa a former hostel, which became a home for the dying and the destitute. As the order expanded, services were also offered to orphans, abandoned children, alcoholics, the aging, and street people. </p><p>For the next four decades Mother Teresa worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor. Her love knew no bounds. Nor did her energy, as she crisscrossed the globe pleading for support and inviting others to see the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On September 5, 1997, God called her home.</p> American Catholic Blog A healthy marriage is that it is a witness of Jesus’s love for the 
Church. We are the bride of Christ, and the greatest declaration of the groom’s love is found at the cross. The complete gift of self by Jesus at Calvary is so entire that it is life-giving.


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