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Today Jennifer visits Message de Paix, a program that serves about 60 mentally handicapped clients.

Special Features
Day 3: Bikfaya, Lebanon


Candle display created at Message de Paix. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
A holiday candle or a piece of Plexiglass could be the difference between a rich, productive life or an existence spent on society’s margins. That’s because those two seemingly mundane items are key components in the program run by Message de Paix, which helps the handicapped and recovering substance abusers find new places for themselves in a world that often disenfranchises those two groups.

“We want to change the mentality of the Lebanese society that people aren’t here out of pity or because they’re no good,” says Anita Khoury, social worker for Message de Paix. “They have certain capabilities— they need a system to show it.”

Social Worker Anita Khoury (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
Khoury and her colleague George Nehme are part of Message de Paix’s lay ministry that operates under the auspices of the Maronite archdiocese here.

Message de Paix serves about 60 mentally handicapped clients between the ages of 16-65 who come to the center six hours a day for five days a week— free of charge—to participate in workshops or activity centers, depending on their level of cognitive and physical capacity. The workshop clients are grouped into four divisions: They make or decorate candles; prepare food for staff and other clients; or work in the Plexiglass workshop, a for-profit organization called Plexi Pro. Through their work, the clients receive training to help them become more self-sufficient and possibly earn their own income.

More important, Nehme says, they learn to have more faith in themselves when they see what they are truly capable of. For some clients, simple tasks such as listening to music, producing tiny handicrafts or making Jell-O to share at the center are actually great leaps. “It’s like training newborns,” Nehme says. “We teach them basics we take for granted. … Everything is a step in their training.” The program includes physical, educational and social development as the staff of 20 employees tries to bring out what’s already inside each client, Khoury says.

Woman displays decorative candle. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
Message de Paix has an annual budget of $200,000-$300,000 per year, with 30-35 percent of that coming from a contract with the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs. The difference is self-financed, which is where Plexi Pro comes in. Plexi Pro is an income-generating arm of Message de Paix, as clients craft saleable products for businesses and industrial consumers.

And it’s through Plexi Pro that the ministry reaches out to recovering addicts. Those in recovery are coordinated by a Maronite church-based program. That program lasts for 15 months, with the final three in the Plexi Pro workshop, which Khoury explains is something of a laboratory to test whether a recovering addict indeed is ready to be re-integrated into society.

At the conclusion of the three-month period, many of the Plexi Pro workers return to a previous job or resume their education. Nehme says this kind of outreach is a key part of his commitment to lay ministry.

Where the church addresses issues such as poverty, Message de Paix fills in other gaps. “The main goal is to help with contemporary problems, such as drugs,” Nehme says. A bonus of the rehab program is the symbiotic relationships that form between Message de Paix’s handicapped clients and the recovering addicts working for Plexi Pro. “The addicts have proven to be more understanding of the needs of the handicapped,” Nehme says, “maybe because they come from a background where they had a problem.”



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Jeanne Jugan: 
		<p>Born in northern France during the French Revolution—a time when congregations of women and men religious were being suppressed by the national government, Jeanne would eventually be highly praised in the French academy for her community's compassionate care of elderly poor people.</p>
		<p>When Jeanne was three and a half years old, her father, a fisherman, was lost at sea. Her widowed mother was hard pressed to raise her eight children (four died young) alone. At the age of 15 or 16, Jeanne became a kitchen maid for a family that not only cared for its own members, but also served poor, elderly people nearby. Ten years later, Jeanne became a nurse at the hospital in Le Rosais. Soon thereafter she joined a third order group founded by St. John Eudes (August 19).</p>
		<p>After six years she became a servant and friend of a woman she met through the third order. They prayed, visited the poor and taught catechism to children. After her friend's death, Jeanne and two other women continued a similar life in the city of Saint-Sevran. In 1839, they brought in their first permanent guest. They began an association, received more members and more guests. Mother Marie of the Cross, as Jeanne was now known, founded six more houses for the elderly by the end of 1849, all staffed by members of her association—the Little Sisters of the Poor. By 1853 the association numbered 500 and had houses as far away as England.</p>
		<p>Abbé Le Pailleur, a chaplain, had prevented Jeanne's reelection as superior in 1843; nine year later, he had her assigned to duties within the congregation, but would not allow her to be recognized as its founder. He was removed from office by the Holy See in 1890. </p>
		<p>By the time Pope Leo XIII gave her final approval to the community's constitutions in 1879, there were 2,400 Little Sisters of the Poor. Jeanne died later that same year, on August 30. Her cause was introduced in Rome in 1970, and she was beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2009. </p>
		<p> </p>
American Catholic Blog The people who know God well—the hermits, the prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found to be an abusive father or a manipulative mother, but a lover who is more than we dared hope for.


 
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