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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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Pio of Pietrelcina: In one of the largest such ceremonies in history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on June 16, 2002. It was the 45th canonization ceremony in Pope John Paul's pontificate. More than 300,000 people braved blistering heat as they filled St. Peter's Square and nearby streets. They heard the Holy Father praise the new saint for his prayer and charity. "This is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching," said the pope. He also stressed Padre Pio's witness to the power of suffering. If accepted with love, the Holy Father stressed, such suffering can lead to "a privileged path of sanctity." 
<p>Many people have turned to the Italian Capuchin Franciscan to intercede with God on their behalf; among them was the future Pope John Paul II. In 1962, when he was still an archbishop in Poland, he wrote to Padre Pio and asked him to pray for a Polish woman with throat cancer. Within two weeks, she had been cured of her life-threatening disease. </p><p>Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio grew up in a family of farmers in southern Italy. Twice (1898-1903 and 1910-17) his father worked in Jamaica, New York, to provide the family income. </p><p>At the age of 15, Francesco joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, 75 miles from the city of Bari on the Adriatic. </p><p>On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>Life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed. However, he wrote no letters after 1924. His only other writing, a pamphlet on the agony of Jesus, was done before 1924. </p><p>Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after a 5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time his confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be handled. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that they had never mentioned. </p><p>Padre Pio saw Jesus in all the sick and suffering. At his urging, a fine hospital was built on nearby Mount Gargano. The idea arose in 1940; a committee began to collect money. Ground was broken in 1946. Building the hospital was a technical wonder because of the difficulty of getting water there and of hauling up the building supplies. This "House for the Alleviation of Suffering" has 350 beds. </p><p>A number of people have reported cures they believe were received through the intercession of Padre Pio. Those who assisted at his Masses came away edified; several curiosity seekers were deeply moved. Like St. Francis, Padre Pio sometimes had his habit torn or cut by souvenir hunters. </p><p>One of Padre Pio’s sufferings was that unscrupulous people several times circulated prophecies that they claimed originated from him. He never made prophecies about world events and never gave an opinion on matters that he felt belonged to Church authorities to decide. He died on September 23, 1968, and was beatified in 1999.</p> American Catholic Blog In times of intense loss and grief, we take our place with Mary as she embraces all our grief in her own as she is silently holding in her arms the stark presence of our suffering God in the lifeless body of her Son.


 
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