A delegation including CCCB representatives and organized by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace / Caritas Canada is visiting the Middle East, 29 January to 9 February 2017. Intended to be a tangible sign of the charity and solidarity of the universal Church for the Catholic faithful in the region, the delegation is focusing on Catholic communities in Lebanon and Syria.
The delegation is led by two Bishops from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB): The Most Reverend Raymond Poisson, Bishop of Joliette, Quebec, and The Most Reverend Ken Nowakowski, Eparchial Bishop of the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Eparchy of New Westminster, B.C. The two are accompanied by Gilio Brunelli, Ph.D., Director, International Programs Department, Development and Peace; Mrs. Hélène Tremblay-Boyko, from Sturgis, Saskatchewan, Vice President of the National Council of Development and Peace; and Mr. Kyle Ferguson, Advisor for Ecclesial and Interfaith Relations with the CCCB.
During the first week, the Canadian visitors met with the Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon, representatives of Caritas Lebanon, the Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon, and the Patriarch of Maronite Catholics, His Beatitude and Eminence Béchara Boutros Cardinal Raï, O.M.M. At each of its visits, the delegation discussed the challenges facing not only Lebanese Christians but the entire country and region. The conflict in Syria and the turmoil in Iraq have caused enormous complexities for the people of Lebanon and have far-reaching implications for the global community. A particularly challenging situation for Lebanon is the ongoing need to receive and care for the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict and the violence in Iraq. To date, Lebanon has received approximately 1.5 million refugees from the two countries; this in a nation with a total population of approximately 4.5 million.
In addition to listening firsthand to social and political analyses from the communities they are visiting, the visitors have personally seen the human costs of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. The delegation's experiences include visiting a Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley; speaking with staff and patients at the Caritas Lebanon Primary Healthcare Centre in Rayfoun; and sitting down with Caritas Lebanon staff operating a shelter for women and children asylum seekers who have been displaced because of human trafficking, war, and economic hardship. The dire needs of children fleeing the conflict zones became painfully evident during a visit to a school operated by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Deir El Ahmar, as well as during a visit to a local soup kitchen in Beirut run by Caritas Lebanon which serves predominantly Iraqi refugees.
The visit has also provided the opportunity to admire the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of the Lebanese people together with the vibrant and resilient faith of the Maronite Catholic community. The Gospel of Christ remains a light of hope and love in this land, and its people are strengthened and guided by their deep devotion to Our Lady of Lebanon, as well as by the holy witness of Saint Maron, Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, O.L.M., Blessed Nematallah Hardini, and Blessed Rafka Er-Ryiess, along with the many other holy men and women who are celebrated in the country.
Throughout their visit, the members of the delegation have also seen the deep cultural and religious diversity of Lebanon. Saint John Paul II in his address to the Maronite community in 2000 remarked that Lebanon is not solely a country but a message, "a place where Christians can live in peace and brotherhood with the followers of other beliefs, and can foster this form of coexistence."
The Development and Peace delegation departed Beirut on Monday, 6 February, to travel to Damascus, Syria.