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Jennifer Scroggins tells the story of an Iraqi refugee family in Lebanon.

Special Features
Day 6: Sin El Fil, Lebanon

Fadi, Mark and Donia Habou with their mother.(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
In his 15 short years, Fadi Habou has lived a story almost too tragic to believe. He was kidnapped off a street in Baghdad at age 9 and ultimately set free in exchange for the life of his father.

His family, part of the diminishing Christian minority in Iraq, fled to the north of their country for four years before moving to Lebanon, where Fadi now works up to 11 hours a day wrapping chocolates. The $300 a month he earns pays for his family’s rent in a rundown neighborhood north of Beirut.

Fadi doesn’t go to school, doesn’t have friends. In the eyes of the Lebanese government, he is illegal. In the eyes of the United Nations, he is a “displaced person.” In his own eyes, he is a lost boy.

“Before, I used to be very good at school, and I had lots of friends,” Fadi says, speaking Arabic through an interpreter. “My only hope is to return to school. … I have no sense of humor now, no friends.”

Fadi Habou, 15. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
The story of Fadi and his family is truly horrific. Yet such atrocities are becoming increasingly common among Iraqi Christians, who are targeted by Muslim extremists in their home country.

As the violence escalates, Christians are seeking refuge outside Iraq’s borders. Although they might find relative peace and some degree of physical security away from home, they also find estrangement, poverty and a lack of civil rights as aliens in a land where they are trapped between religious and geopolitical forces.

Fadi lives with his mother, Amal Toma; sister Donia, 13; and brother Mark, 6, in a sparsely furnished apartment in a Shia-owned building. People on the streets speak Syriac. As young Mark watches Japanese cartoons, the evening call to prayer can be heard emanating from a mosque directly across the street.

Fadi's mother, Amal Toma. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
If ever a family were caught in a cultural clash, Amal Toma and her children are the perfect, painful example. Amal, whose name means “hope” in Arabic, can only assume her husband of 22 years, Fouad Habou, is dead.

No one in the family knows who the kidnappers were – or what religion they practiced, if any – but the sense is the family was targeted simply for being Chaldean Christians.

In 2005, Fadi was taken, and the family received a note with a phone number to call. Over the phone, the kidnappers demanded $20,000 in 24 hours or else they would “cut (Fadi) into pieces and put him in a bag on the front door.”

Amal and Fouad, a taxi driver, approached local churches and friends for help and managed to collect $5,000. They contacted the kidnappers and negotiated a meeting spot, and Fouad made the journey to rescue his elder son. He never returned.

Fadi remembers being told by his captors that his father had paid. He then was dropped off in an unfamiliar place, where he was scared and didn’t know the way home. Ultimately, he encountered an acquaintance who took him to Amal. But Fadi never again would see his father. The kidnappers contacted Amal again and told her she had 24 more hours to raise $20,000 for her husband’s return. Knowing the task was impossible, she told police of her situation. Shortly thereafter, kidnappers told her, “Consider yourself a widow; your husband is dead now.”

After two months of continued threats, Amal took her family north, leaving behind Baghdad for good. After four years in the north, she relocated again to Lebanon. Having secured tourist visas, she brought her children to Beirut, where she thought she’d find greater job opportunities and more money than in Syria or Turkey. Her aspirations, though, have been thwarted at seemingly every turn.

Donia Habou, 13. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
Amal suffers from rheumatism, which prevents her from working. Her son Mark suffers from epilepsy, which prevents him from attending school. Donia works alongside Fadi and says her only dream is to return to school someday. The $300 a month she earns pays for the family’s food and other needs.

Donia and Fadi say their co-workers are largely Iraqis, under 18 years old. Their hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a 15-minute lunch break, though Donia says the children often stay until 6:30.

When they come home, they enter a living room furnished with two old, hard sofas, a TV resting atop a cabinet, and two yellow plastic chairs. A fan sits in one corner of the room, helping to circulate the stagnant air.

A shrine to Mary in the living room. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
The walls are virtually barren, but for two items. Above the TV is the wedding photo of Amal’s oldest daughter, who now lives in Australia with her husband, an Iraqi with Australian citizenship.

The family has applied for refugee status with the United Nations in the hope of being able to move Down Under, a common location for Middle Eastern émigrés. After seven months, however, there has been no word on their paperwork.

Yet somehow, hope remains. Amal says her greatest dream is for every one of her children to have equal rights. As she speaks, she sits across from her apartment’s only other decoration, a picture of the Virgin Mary, with a candle and ribbon dangling from the image.

Her Christianity is what sustains Amal, even through unspeakable adversity. “I still have a lot of faith,” she says. “I am a strong believer, so I have hope.”

Click here for more daily reports from Lebanon.


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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog God is great. God is good. And God, in his fatherly love, has a plan for our lives that will work out for our benefit and salvation. All we have to do is trust and obey.


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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Blessed Junipero Serra
This Franciscan friar was instrumental in founding many of California’s mission churches.

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Sts. Peter and Paul
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Help the bride and groom see their love as a mirror of God’s love.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
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