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On Day 4, Jennifer Scroggins travels to Jal El Dib, Lebanon, and meets members of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, who minister to the handicapped, the aging, the chronically ill and children.

Special Features
Day 4: Jal El Dib, Lebanon

"Mural of Charism" for the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
An autistic child bangs his head against a wall, and a nurse races over to comfort and protect him. A young man with Down syndrome is singing Christmas carols, in November, and one of his caregivers raises her voice to sing along with him, cheering for him as he makes his way through the verses.

Still another boy, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, shouts and is immediately tended to with gentle hands and a reassuring smile. The sights and sounds of this room are hard to take in —so many children whose futures seem to hold little promise or joy. Yet in this very room, the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross see God made manifest.

“When you serve these children, you serve Jesus Christ,” says Sister Manal Haddad. “I work to make their lives more easy, more happy.”

Sister Manal is one of 250 sisters in this congregation, which has dedicated itself to living the principles of Blessed Father Yaacoub El-Haddad. Father Yaacoub, a Capuchin, founded the group in 1930 with the priorities of caring for elderly priests; serving the handicapped, the aging, the chronically ill, and children; and promoting education. Today his work has resulted in care centers for all of those needs, and the ministry stretches into Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

Sister Manal Haddad. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
The institution where Sister Manal works serves about 1,000 patients, including four children who literally were abandoned on the hospital’s doorstep. In a country like Lebanon, where the government makes few, if any, genuine provisions for healthcare and social services, the Franciscans’ work is crucial.

“If each of us serves in our own capability and knowledge, we will contribute to the expansion of the Church,” says Mother Superior Marie Makhlouf, speaking both specifically and universally. “If each one does his own work in honor and good faith, this is the only way to spread the Church.” Mother Marie says the sisters do things “the Father Yaacoub way,” faithfully persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Caregiver Manoon Sallouh and Michael Lacivita, of CNEWA, talk to 17-year-old Tony, a patient at the center. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
Chief among the obstacles? Money. The Lebanese government pays the sisters $15 a day per patient—when the average cost of care is $66 per patient. To make matters worse, the government is typically two or three years behind in its payments. Thus, organizations often are forced to take costly loans to survive in the short term. By the time the government contributes its share of funding, the loan interest and the devaluation of Lebanese currency combine to create an upside-down financial picture.

Yet somehow the Franciscan sisters are thriving. They’ve undertaken an initiative to rehabilitate their Christ the King home for aging priests, relying on divine providence to support the effort and see it to fruition. “God somehow manages,” Mother Marie says.

Though Father Yaacoub died in 1954, his spirit and his vocation of service still permeate the congregation and inform its works. Multiple times, Mother Marie cites Father Yaacoub’s guiding spirituality: To be like a spring, quenching the thirst of all the needy, without asking to what religion or confession someone belongs. “‘My religion is Lebanon,’” Mother Marie says, quoting Father Yaacoub.

Mother Superior Marie Makhlouf explains the mural of charism. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
It is clear that St. Francis also is a guiding light of this ministry. As he embraced the leper, so the sisters embrace the patients in their care. For many of the mentally and physically handicapped children, there is no one else to look after them. Of the 62 boys in the mental retardation ward, 32 are completely dependent. Only 10 can speak. Yet Sister Manal sees opportunity when she looks around—she sees a chance to make service more humanistic, and to provide kindness and care to those most in need. She also sees a path for serving as an example. Says Sister Manal: “My hope is that this spirit will be spread and become rooted in the culture.”

Click here for more daily reports from Lebanon.


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Anthony Grassi: Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
<p>Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
</p><p>In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life.
</p><p>More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
</p><p>He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
</p><p>In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
</p><p>He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
</p><p>But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.</p> American Catholic Blog God of love, as I come to the end of this Advent season, my heart is ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I join with Mary in saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with you, O God.


 
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