Holy Land journey: Challenges for the church in Lebanon

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (right) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, and to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will attend an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY THREE: Jan. 7, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Today was planned to be focused on learning more about the life of the Catholic Church in Lebanon as well as the place of interfaith dialogue in this land so rich with diverse expressions of faith.

* * *

We left rather early for Harissa to meet with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia. Traffic in Beirut is not unlike traffic in Tucson or most cities, a nightmare. Congested streets coupled with very aggressive drivers make for quite an adventure. Horns bark as cars cut in and out seeking to get an inch up on another car in order to turn into a lane or make a U-turn from anywhere at any time. We had an experienced driver who seemed to delight in the battle. Honk and move is the strategy. Pedestrians beware.

The nunciature was moved during the war from central Beirut to Harissa, which is located outside the city in the suburban area. We drove along the ever-present turquoise blue sea glimmering in the early morning sun. Mark pointed out to us the Armenian compound as we passed and the Maronite and Greek Orthodox Centers high up on the mountain. Like Tucson, Beirut has its mountains on which many homes and structures have been built. However in the city there is little open space or gardens. The city and its environ are dense with homes and businesses.

We climbed the road leading to the nunciature and entered a beautiful garden space. A religious woman greeted us with a warm welcome in several languages and escorted us in for a brief wait until the nuncio, Archbishop Caccia entered. He is a very young man, new to Lebanon. His family is from Milan and he served in the diplomatic corps in Tanzania and in the Secretariat of State in the Vatican before being named to this challenging and complex responsibility. He was ordained by Pope Benedict XVI as archbishop in September and arrived in Beirut in October.

The group with Archbishop Gabriele Caccia. (Photo courtesy Bishop Kicanas)

He said — at times depending on whom he is talking to — that he tells people he has only been in Beirut for a very short time, just a few months, and, at other times, that he has been here a year since he arrived in Beirut in 2009 and it is now 2010.

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Holy Land journey: A full day seeing the needs of Lebanon

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (right) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, and to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will attend an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY TWO: Jan. 6, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The day began with a hearty breakfast which readied us for what was an informative, engaging, moving and powerful day.

* * *

It began with a visit to the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, begun in 1994 to respond to a few Sudanese refugees who faced tough conditions and needed special care. A life-size picture of Mother Teresa greets you on the wall as you enter the office.

Women read and watch TV at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut in 2008. (CNS/Norbert Schiller)

It means so much to see the church aligned with the poor and the marginalized. Caritas Lebanon and Catholic Relief Services work hard to be present to those struggling and in need of support to assist and to empower them. I feel that same pride with programs in our diocese like Dioceses Without Borders, a cross-border effort to link the Archdiocese of Hermosillo, Mexico, and the dioceses of Tucson and Phoenix in addressing the needs of our community, and the Kino Border Initiative in Ambos Nogales, a Jesuit-born initiative which is serving migrants crossing into the United States and those sent back across the border. This concern for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is what the church should be about.

In Lebanon, the Migrant Center reaches out to serve people, mostly women, from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Nepal, Sudan, Somalia, Madagascar, Bangladesh, Iraq and, of course, the Palestinian territories. When Caritas Lebanon first got involved it had only one office and three people being served. This year there are 10 offices serving 110 people. They also serve a detention center with 500 people housed in a former garage, a bleak place where people struggle to retain their human dignity.

In this file photo from 2008, Hussein and Samina Khafagi share a snack of grapes with their four children in their small apartment in Beirut. They were receiving assistance from the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, which is funded by Catholic Relief Services. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Migrant workers in Lebanon, as in other countries, can be subject to exploitation. They are brought to the country by agencies to serve mostly as domestic workers. They are taken advantage of by these agencies and, at times, they can be physically and sexually abused by their employers or their families. They have no rights and are living a kind of slavery. The Migrant Center provides legal assistance, social counseling, medical aid, and they are working to formulate a unified contract that would protect worker rights. They have begun an advocacy program to raise awareness in Lebanon of these abuses. A sign on the wall in the office shows kitchen utensils surrounded by the words that read, “Would you tolerate someone hitting you or mistreating you?”

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Holy Land journey: Back in my grandparents’ homeland

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (below) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is in Lebanon, his ancestral homeland. The trip will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories for an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY ONE: Jan. 5, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — I arrived in Beirut at night. I flew over the pitch black Mediterranean Sea on Middle East Airlines to see the lights of the city glittering in the night. I felt excited to be back a second time some 40 years later in the land my grandparents spoke about, whose food I grew up enjoying, and where my roots lie. I hope to learn more about this land which has faced so many heart-breaking struggles and keeps bouncing back proudly.

Steve Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. bishops’ conference, and William O’Keefe, senior director for advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, are accompanying me. They have visited this country before and know well its challenges.

Samir, a young man born in Lebanon who works as a driver for CRS, greeted me with the words, “Welcome home, Sayeedna (Bishop).” It felt so good.

Being late we drove right to the hotel where I met Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director of CRS, and Melinda Burell, country director for CRS, who planned our itinerary. We enjoyed a late evening meal of Arabic food at a lovely restaurant quite close to the hotel. Hummus, baba ghanouj, good Lebanese bread, grape leaves and lots of olives adorned the table. Mark and Mindy spoke of our next-day activities, which would start at 9:00 a.m. and end around 10:00 p.m. non-stop. I collapsed that night hoping jet lag would not menace my sleep.

Robbery of home of Near East Council of Churches Gaza official nothing more than a normal crime

Never let it be said that Judith Sudilovsky, Middle East correspondent for Catholic News Service, is asleep at the wheel.

She has been reporting for us for many years and hardly any news of significance escapes her careful watch. So when she learned that robbers invaded the home of  Constantine Dabbagh, executive director of the Near East Council of Churches, July 23, she was on the story in a flash. She wondered: Could he have been targeted because he’s Christian?

Sudilovsky got to the bottom of the story quickly and accurately. Here’s her report:

The robbery in his Gaza home could have happened anywhere, said Near East Council of Churches Gaza executive director Constantine Dabbagh, a day after three masked but unarmed men broke into his home and took money, jewelry and his car, leaving his four-room apartment in an upheaval.

Dabbagh was quick to dispel the notion that the robbery was an anti-Christian attack.

“It’s something that happens everywhere and yesterday I was a victim. My name could be Mahmoud or Cohen, it would have been the same thing,” said Dabbagh in a July 24 phone conversation with Catholic News Service.

“It had nothing to do with the fact that I was Christian. They were only interested in taking the money and jewelry and car.”

A day after the attack Dabbagh could even joke about the incident.

“Their questions were very unpolitical and very unreligious. They just asked where the gold and money was,” he said wryly.

The attackers forced their way into his home as he was leaving for work, he said, and handcuffed him and his wife and hit him once as they ransacked the apartment. The police responded quickly after he reported the crime, he said, and indeed found his dismantled car within 24 hours.

Dabbagh has heard of several instances of robberies in Gaza in the past few weeks. Most such robberies are carried out by one person and normally take place when the homeowners are away, he explained.

The fact that there were three robbers who carried out the attack in broad daylight has riled Gazans and the attack is the talk of the street now, Dabbagh said. People are furious, he said.

Still, he added, he can’t gauge whether these robberies are an indication of growing lawlessness in Gaza or just the result of “normal” crime as there is in every other society.

“In any place where this is unemployment and a continuing siege, you may expect to have more crime,” he said.

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Pope Benedict’s homily at Mass in Nazareth

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