Jo Kitterick is Head of Development Education at CAFOD. In this blog she describes meeting Fr Paul, Director of Caritas Lebanon and hearing a powerful story of mercy, love and hope.
‘How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!’ (Misericordia Vultus April 2015)
Across schools, parishes and cathedrals, momentum has been gathering to mark the Year of Mercy. I hear talk of holy doors, children writing poems and prayers on mercy, people making time to reflect on how we really open our hearts to God and to others.
CAFOD partner, Fr Paul, Director of Caritas Lebanon, passed through the door of CAFOD’s London office just two weeks ago. I had the privilege of speaking with him before he left to return home to Beirut.
The civil war in Lebanon was a regular news item on the television when I was a child. Lebanon continues to be in the news because this small country of just over four million is hosting over a million refugees affected by the war in Syria. The door to these refugees’ homes are the flaps of tents, openings to disused buildings. Some are doors shared with local families. The bed for a family can be a towel or a cloth on a cold concrete floor.
Welcoming the newcomer
Caritas Lebanon has a long history of opening its doors to support those who have no home, no access to medical help, with little food and income to sustain them. I asked him about what life is like right now. He said:
“We welcome and we embrace. Our region has been subject to years of political, cultural and religious conflict and Caritas has worked in all that time in response.
Why do we keep embracing? We keep embracing, because we have to hope. And we can at least give a sandwich to someone today and a sandwich to someone tomorrow. It is what our faith compels us to do. How do you measure trying to live the Gospel and loving your neighbour? By kilogrammes? You measure by what you do…we just do our best.
I hear the debates about how many people should be accepted as refugees in your country
and other parts of Europe. But imagine if 15 or 20 million people arrived as refugees in your country? This is the equivalent number of people Lebanon is hosting right now. The doors of our schools are open as much as we can manage. Children come to school in shifts throughout the day, so that they have chance to continue their education. We have no more schools, no more teachers, and our economy struggles to cope. But we share what we have.”
My Friday gesture of mercy
Mercy is an action which shows God’s love for all of us. God does not limit himself to saying he cares for us. God makes it visible and tangible. And during this holy year we are all invited to do the same.
Pilgrims passed through holy doors as a gesture of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold to from slavery to freedom, and from darkness to light. Listening to Fr Paul reminded me that there are thousands of ordinary people who keep the door of welcome open every day across the world. They offer a place of rest, welcome and shelter; even when on many levels it is incredibly difficult to do so and they may have very little to share.
Next week I will be meeting people who live nearby to me who run a befriending service for refugees arriving in our local community. I will listen and learn about what it is I can to welcome the newcomer.
15 March marks five years since the start of the conflict in Syria. The prayers, compassion and generosity of the Catholic Community across England and Wales, has given courage and much needed support to Fr. Paul and his team who are able to go out every day and do the important work of bringing hope to the Syrian refugees, but providing , shelter, water, food, and medical care.
As the Syrian war enters its sixth year, the many, many years of support the Catholic community has given through CAFOD to Caritas Lebanon enables the important work of supporting people affected by conflict to continue.
Pope Francis has promised to make a gesture of mercy every Friday. We have committed to do the same during Lent. We invite you to join us. Join our Lent appeal.