An Urgent Message of Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako

An Urgent Message of Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad
Mosul Christians: Whither?

To all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world
To the voice of moderate brother Muslims who have a voice in Iraq and all the world
To all who have a concern that Iraq could remain a country for all His Children
To all leaders of thought and opinion
To all who announce the freedom of the human being
To all protectors of the dignity of human beings and of religion


The control exercised by the Islamist Jehadists upon the city of Mosul, and their proclamation of it as an Islamic State, after several days of calm and expectant watching of events, has now come to reflect negatively upon the Christian population of the city and its environs.

The initial sign was in the kidnapping of the two nuns and 3 orphans who were released after 17 days. At the time, we experienced it as a flash of hope and as a clearing of the sky after the appearance of storm clouds.

Suddenly we have been surprised by the more recent outcomes which are the proclamation of an Islamic state and the announcement calling all Christians and clearly asking them to convert to Islam or to pay the joziah (the tax all non- Muslims must pay while living in the land of Islam) – without specifying the exact amount. The only alternative is to abandon the city and their houses with only the clothes they are wearing, taking nothing else. Moreover, by Islamic law, upon their departure, their houses are no longer their properties but are instantly confiscated as property of the Islamic state.

In recent days, there has been written the letter ‘N’ in Arabic on the front wall of Christian homes, signifying ‘Nazara’ (Christian), and on the front wall of Shiite homes, the letter ‘R’ signifying ‘Rwafidh’ (Protestants or rejecters). We do not know what will happen in future days because in an Islamic state the Al – sharia or Islamic code of law is powerful and has been interpreted to require the issuance of new I.Ds for the population based on religious or sectarian affiliation.

This categorization based upon religion or sect afflicts the Muslims as well and contravenes the regulation of Islamic thought which is expressed in the Quran which says, “You have your religion and I have my religion” and yet another place in Quran states, “There is no compulsion in religion”. This is exactly the contradiction in the life and history of the Islamic world for more than 1400 years and in the co – existence with other different religions and nations in the East and in the West.

With all due respect to belief and dogmas, there has been a fraternal life between Christians and Muslims. How much the Christians have shared here in our East specifically from the beginnings of Islam. They shared every sweet and bitter circumstance of life; Christian and Muslim blood has been mixed as it was shed in the defense of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing.

It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co – existence between majorities and minorities. It will be very harmful to Muslims themselves both in the near and the distant future.

Should this direction continue to be pursued, Iraq will come face to face with human, civil, and historic catastrophe.

We call with all the force available to us; we call to you fraternally, in a spirit of human brotherhood; we call to you urgently; we call to you impelled by risk and in spite of the risk. We implore in particular our Iraqi brothers asking them to reconsider and reflect upon the strategy they have adopted and demanding that they must respect innocent and weaponless people of all nationalities, religions, and sects.

The Holy Quran has ordered believers to respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force. The Quran commands refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless and respect “to the seventh neighbor.”

We call Christians in the region to act with reason and prudence and to consider and to plan everything in the best way possible. Let them understand what is planned for this region, to practice solidarity in love, to examine the realities together and so be able together to find the paths to build trust in themselves and in their neighbors. Let them stay close to their own Church and surround it; endure the time of trial and pray until the storm will be over.
† Louis Raphael Sako
Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldean
17 July 2014

Posted in General

A Tomb Which Illuminates The Journey

A Tomb of Light

Father Franz VAN DER LUGT (1938 – 2014) was a Dutch Jesuit priest living in Syria since 1972. Fluent in Arabic, he held a doctorate degree in psychology. Father Franz advanced dialogue between Muslims and Christians, especially through youth ministry, retreats, and gatherings. He gave good care, especially for the mentally handicapped. He began an agricultural cooperative for the disabled, advocated for needed childcare, and assisted in the restoration of churches and parish centers in the small rural area.

To demonstrate his confidence in his fellow Muslims, Father Franz refused to leave the old city of Homs, where he was also the only priest to serve dozens of Christians abandoned by their pastors. He was martyred in Homs on April 7, 2014. There was no priest to celebrate his funeral. Father Franz was buried in the courtyard of the convent by a small number of Muslim and Christian refugees who form a community of “cloistered” life, living with scarcity and in fear.

His tomb now attracts a large number of Muslim and Christian visitors. By his life and death, Father Franz shows the way to the future in Syria through a message of brotherhood among men and women. Both in life and in death Abouna Franz is an apostle of love and peace embodying the life of his Master, witnessing the values of justice, truth, and total self-giving.

 A Sign In Our Midst – A New Priest Without Parish Ministry

Syria, plunged into violence and suffering, continues to be a fertile ground for vocations, a sign of hope. Numerous youth are responding to the call of the Lord, despite dispersion, exodus, great suffering, and difficult prospects.

Maroun, a deacon from Homs, has been preparing for the priesthood for twelve years. He will be ordained a priest, for a diocese torn by war and violence, on August 15, 2014, at the Maronite Cathedral in Damascus. Maroun will not have a parish or a specific duty, other than the social care of refugees, families and the moral and spiritual support of the youth. His ordination is the future of the Syrian Church and hope in the restoration of peace. This spiritual vitality is encouraging. Maroun’s is a vocation that risks in a Christianity that refuses to die. This new priest is a sign in the midst of a people proud of its martyrs.

I confide in the prayers of Father Franz and in your prayers,

+Samir Nassar

Maronite Archbishop of Damascus

Posted in General

Please Sign the Pledge

Over 200 American Christian leaders, I am one of them, from a great many traditions and across partisan lines have signed the Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on behalf of Suffering Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  In a few days, Congressman Frank Wolf will lenter the Pledge and its list of signers into the Congressional Record.

If you would like to be a signatory to the Pledge, the Pledge, the List and a Fox News article can be accessed here:

+ Gregory

Posted in General

The Paschal Mystery in Life and in Liturgy

Pope Francis must be a Maronite at heart, because of his particular love for our Lord in His Paschal Mystery and his desire to live it every day! On New Sunday, Mercy Sunday, the Pope spoke of the wounds of Christ, and how Saint Theresa touched them; how the two new saints; and how we touch them today in those suffering. 

This past Holy Week and Easter we realized once again the power and meaning of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, His passion, death and resurrection, which gives meaning to our own life, death, suffering and future hope. Hopefully our liturgy was also transformed into loving action for the good of others. This is what makes for a fruitful Holy Week.

In the Maronite Evening Prayer for Holy Week we have the courage to touch Christ’s wounds as we remember:

O Christ, in recalling your passion we are saddened,
   but its memory also fills us with joy.
   For you and for us, it is both sorrowful and joyful;
   it kills and gives life;
   it brings humiliation and glory.
   For us it is necessary and there is nothing equal to it.
   For you, it is both feared and desired.
   Because of your passion may we feel the sadness,   
   which brings repentance and the joy, which does not forget you.
   Thus, all sadness and joy will be for your glory, now and forever.

Walking the streets of Buenos Aires, accompanying the poor, Pope Francis lived this passion and prayed it. Through the writings of Saint Paul, he was reminded: “I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me” (Gal 2:20). He touched the living Christ.

In Eucharistic liturgy we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.  But as Pope Francis reminds us in dramatic ways, like in the foot washing ritual, we must also give ourselves as a gift and receive Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, as a gift under the veil of bread and wine. The Eucharist celebrates the Paschal Mystery in a most fitting way, and is the most meaningful of all liturgical celebrations because it leads us to deeper union with Christ in His Paschal Mystery and to a deeper communion with others through the Church. But liturgy and life must become one and the same mystery translated into a loving service for those who need it.

During liturgy, especially during Holy Week, the Church uses everything at Her disposal to convey the meaning and power of the events of Christ and His Church. Liturgy incorporates chant, procession, ritual, and material goods, such as water, oil, incense, bread and wine. Liturgy draws the worshiper more deeply into union with the risen Christ.  But most of all, liturgy should draw us into loving service for others, as Saint John reminds us in his account of the Last Supper, which poignantly is devoid of the narrative of bread and wine, and is clear about foot washing!

In liturgy and in loving service, time stands still. Events of the past become present again, and we appropriate their power and meaning for our lives today.

In the Maronite Evening Prayer for Fridays in Easter we pray:

O Christ, may we understand the meaning of your resurrection
so that we may not see in it a purely historical event
or only a foundation of our faith,
but a life which we must realize in ourselves every day,
a hope which we must draw each moment from our faith,
so that our souls may become just by your life,
and our hope may be united to your hope,
and in your kingdom we shall glorify you face to face.
Both here and there we shall praise you with a ceaseless love, forever.

After the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, we no longer know him in his earthly  presence, as the early disciples knew him, but in a sacramental way, a mystical way, a prayerful way, in a communion of love and service, by touching His wounds today!  When we “wash the feet” of those we love and those who need us it is no longer “I who live, but Christ Jesus who is living in me,” and the Paschal Mystery is once again lived in both liturgy and loving service.

May we not be afraid to face his sorrowful passion and death and to touch His wounds in our own lives and in the lives of others.  May we also have the courage to understand the meaning of the Resurrection, not only as a historical event, but also as a “life we realize in ourselves every day.” May the Paschal Mystery of Christ inspire us to continue to long for him, in the poor and the needy, as does our Holy Father Pope Francis, and as all who seek the One who is Love and who is not to be found in the Tomb, but is Risen as He promised.   The Lord is Risen! Truly Risen!

Bishop Gregory Mansour


Posted in Religious Education

Arrival In Port!

Our Church in Damascus celebrated the evening of Palm Sunday liturgy.  The arrival at Port on the boat of the Church traveling in time to Lent, arriving at Holy Week, a haven of salvation.

The faithful gather in front of the closed door of the church, lighted lamps in hand as Wise Virgins (Mt.25 1-13) awaiting the Bridegroom. The door of the church is struck three times before it is open to let in the faithful of the Paschal Lamb who will live the sufferings of Holy Week which culminate in the Empty Tomb.

This holy week was introduced by the murder of Father Franz Homs in the fourth year of war and violence.

Shells raining down on our neighborhoods, schools closed, we can not give an account of the victims. We are abandoned to Providence.

This small Syrian people, so kind, generous and patient, become accustom to suffering and die in silence.  It is in this spirit that we live Holy Week and Easter holidays, knowing that the Way of the Cross that has marked our lives for three years, accompanies the fourth year … the end of the tunnel is invisible.

At the opening of the door of the Church the congregation implores:

“O Lord, Gate of Mercy, open to those who knock and ask your saving grace, bring us into the light of your kingdom, we are the children of your Church come to our port of welcome, our lamps lit to anchor at your house. ”

Our eyes fixed on the Risen Jesus Christ, haven of peace; we entrust ourselves to Our Lady of Martyrs.

Easter 2014.

+Samir Nassar

Maronite Archbishop of Damascus


Posted in General

Are Christians being persecuted in the Middle East?


Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: Communiqué of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land

Are Christians being persecuted in the Middle East?

Persecution! In many parts of the Western world, this word is people’s lips. It is said that Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East today! However, what is really happening? How should we speak in truth and integrity as Christians and as Church about the suffering and violence that are going on in the region?

There is no doubt that the recent upheavals in the Middle East, initially called the Arab Spring, have opened the way for extremist groups and forces that, in the name of a political interpretation of Islam, are wreaking havoc in many countries, particularly in Iraq, Egypt and Syria. There is no doubt that many of these extremists consider Christians as infidels, as enemies, as agents of hostile foreign powers or simply as an easy target for extortion.

However, in the name of truth, we must point out that Christians are not the only victims of this violence and savagery. Secular Muslims, all those defined as “heretic”, “schismatic” or simply “non-conformist” are being attacked and murdered in the prevailing chaos. In areas where Sunni extremists dominate, Shiites are being slaughtered. In areas where Shiite extremists dominate, Sunnis are being killed. Yes, the Christians are at times targeted precisely because they are Christians, having a different set of beliefs and unprotected. However they fall victim alongside many others who are suffering and dying in these times of death and destruction. They are driven from their homes alongside many others and together they become refugees, in total destitution.

These uprisings began because the peoples of the Middle East dreamed of a new age of dignity, democracy, freedom and social justice. Dictatorial regimes, which had guaranteed “law and order”, but at the terrible price of military and police repression, fell. With them, the order they had imposed crumbled. Christians had lived in relative security under these dictatorial regimes. They feared that, if this strong authority disappeared, chaos and extremist groups would take over, seizing power and bringing about violence and persecution. Therefore some Christians tended to defend these regimes. Instead, loyalty to their faith and concern for the good of their country, should perhaps have led them to speak out much earlier, telling the truth and calling for necessary reforms, in view of more justice and respect of human rights, standing alongside both many courageous Christians and Muslims who did speak out.

We fully understand the fears and sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, when by violence they lose members of their families and are driven out of their homes. They have the right to count on our solidarity and prayers. In certain circumstances their only consolation and hope is to be found in Jesus’ words: “Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). However, the repetition of the word “persecution” in some circles (usually referring only to what Christians suffer at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslims) plays into the hands of extremists, at home and abroad, whose aim is to sow prejudice and hatred, setting peoples and religions against one another.

Christians and Muslims need to stand together against the new forces of extremism and destruction. All Christians and many Muslims are threatened by these forces that seek to create a society devoid of Christians and where only very few Muslims will be at home. All those who seek dignity, democracy, freedom and prosperity are under attack. We must stand together and speak out in truth and freedom.

All of us, Christians and Muslims, must also be aware that the outside world will not make any real move to protect us. International and local political powers seek their own interests. We, alone, can build a common future together. We have to adapt ourselves to our realities, even realities of death, and must learn together how to emerge from persecution and destruction into a new dignified life in our own countries.

Together, we must seek out all those who dream as we do of a society in which Muslims and Christians and Jews are equal citizens, living side by side, building together a society in which new generations can live and prosper.

Finally, we pray for all, for those who join their efforts to ours, and for those who are harming us now or even killing us. We pray that God may allow them to see the goodness He has put in the heart of each one. May God transform every human being from the depth of his or her heart, enabling them to love every human being as God does, He who is the Creator and Lover of all. Our only protection is in our Lord and like Him we offer our lives for those who persecute us as well as for those who, with us, stand in defense of love, truth and dignity.

Assembly Of The Catholic Ordinaries In The Holy Land,  Commission Justice and Peace

Jerusalem, 2 April 2014

Posted in General

The Death of Two Great Churchmen

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This past week we were saddened by the passing of two great churchmen, Metropolitan Philip Saliba of the Antiochian  Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
On behalf of the clergy, religious and laity of the Eparchy of Saint Maron, I extend to their beloved faithful our heartfelt sympathies and promise of prayers. For more about each of these great leaders please see:
In the Letter to the Hebrews 13:7  we read this :
Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
May they rest in peace.
+ Gregory
Posted in General

Lent 2014

The Holy Father has set the stage for us at the beginning of Lent. May God help us live this Lent everyday:

Pope Francis: Do Not Get Used To Behavior That Anasthetises The Heart

Vatican City, 5 March 2014 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father celebrated the general audience with 30,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis dedicated this Ash Wednesday’s catechesis to the Lenten journey of forty days that leads us to the Easter Triduum, and recalled the two suggestions offered to us by the Church in this period: to be more aware of the redemptive work of Christ, and to live our Baptism in a more committed way.

“The awareness of the wonders that the Lord carried out for our salvation should lead our minds and hearts to gratitude to God”, he said, and added, “Fully living out our Baptism – and this is the second invitation – means not becoming inured to the situations of degradation and poverty that we encounter when walking the streets of our cities and towns. There is the risk of passively accepting certain types of behavior and of not marvelling at the sad realities that surround us. We grow accustomed to violence, as if it were a normal part of our daily news; we get used to seeing our brothers and sisters sleeping in the streets, as they have no roof to shelter them. We are used to refugees who search of freedom and dignity, but are not received as they should be. We get used to living in a society that claims to be able to do without God, in which parents do not teach their children how to pray or how to make the sign of the Cross. This inurement to forms of behavior that are not Christian, that are the easy way, anesthetise the heart!” He asked the faithful present, “Do your children know how to make the sign of the Cross? Do they know how to pray the Our Father or the Hail Mary?”.

Francis explained that Lent comes to us “as a Providential moment for changing our route, for recovering our capacity to react when faced with the realities of evil that always challenge us. Lent should be lived as a time of conversion, of renewal at personal and community levels by drawing closer to God and through trusting adhesion to the Gospel. In this way, we are able to look upon our brothers and their needs with new eyes”.

The Pope remarked that this moment is “favorable for converting to love for one’s neighbor; a love that assumes the gratitude and mercy of the Lord Who made himself poor so that by his poverty we might become rich, and invited all to “invoke with particular trust the protection and help of the Virgin Mary, so that she, the first believer in Christ, might accompany us in days of intense and penitential prayer, to allow us to celebrate, purified and renewed in spirit, the great Paschal mystery of her Son”.

Posted in General

Visit to El Salvador

(Every year, bishops and lay faithful who serve on the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are asked to visit one or more of the 91 countries that CRS serves, in order to see firsthand the work of the more than 5,000 CRS employees worldwide.)

There is something beautiful in seeing people who so lovingly serve others who can never repay them. Yet even knowing this in my heart, I was not really prepared for the joy that welled up inside me (oddly enough) last year during my trip with CRS staff to Syrian Refugee camps near Zahle, Lebanon and to the underground Migrant Retention Center in Beirut, both places where God’s presence was so badly needed and so lovingly given.  This same joy was also present during my recent trip to El Salvador, which was also an official visit of some members of the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Service (CRS).  With my whole heart I can sincerely say that after both these visits I was again so proud to be Catholic!

On the plane going to El Salvador a little girl asked me was I going “on vacation” like her? I told her it was not actually a vacation, but I was going to see how Catholics from America help other people, especially the poor, in El Salvador.  She seemed content with that answer, but then she asked me “what is a Catholic?” Once again I did my best to explain. I said that we are people who love Jesus and because we love him we love to help others. She seemed satisfied with that answer. Thank God.

El Salvador, Day 1:  “God’s Office”

Our first day was spent in San Salvador, the capital city, and began with Mass at the Altar where Archbishop (“Monsignor”) Oscar Romero was killed while celebrating Mass. One bullet from the assassin pierced his heart, and then embedded itself in the wall behind the altar, just behind where I stood as we concelebrated there.   His heroic witness to the dignity of every person, rich or poor, was inspiring. Day one ended with a visit and dinner at the Jesuit University of San Salvador, where six Jesuit priests and two lay women helpers were gunned down, victims of hatred towards those who sought justice for the poor.

In between the rich experiences of those who witness to truth and give everything for the faith, were several encounters. We spoke at length with Monsignor Romero’s successor, Archbishop Jose Louis Escobar, as well as to a personal friend of Monsignor Romero, Bishop Gregory Rosa Chavez, Auxiliary Bishop. We were surprised and edified to know that since the death of Monsignor Romero, the Church of El Salvador has experienced a spiritual renewal with many new and indigenous vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  The words of Tertullian of the second century are still valid today, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

We also visited the Papal Nuncio, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and who spoke to us about the special circumstances of the Church in El Salvador.  We then had an “information lunch” with the CRS staff as we discussed their four key projects: 1. support for at-risk youth, 2. advocacy for environmental and safe water issues, 3. emergency disaster preparations, and 4. the careful planting and organizing of small cocoa farms for families in the Sonsonate region.

After meeting the 33 full-time staff of CRS (almost all are born and raised in El Salvador) and learning how they interface, support and collaborate with the local Bishops’ Conference and with Caritas El Salvador, we then heard several stories from the staff, some whom have worked for over 25 years with CRS.  Each one recounted the specific role they play on the CRS team, many with heartfelt gratitude for the great privilege to work in this field.  Two staff members, in particular, recounted that as children they could remember “caritas leche” or milk that Caritas would distribute to the poor.  In their time of great need, the efforts of American Catholics, who chose to go beyond themselves, reach out to others, and assist local Catholics to share love and the Gospel in the simple form of “milk,” has left a lasting impression!

One such CRS employee, a native of El Salvador, told us that she tried to explain to her little son about the office where she works and what she does because his friends wanted to know.  Since her son could not fully understand her explanation of what Catholic Relief Services (CRS) of the United States actually meant, she said he just decided to say that his mom works at “God’s office.”  How humbled we felt to hear these stories of great love and joy by CRS staff. We promised to send a message of gratitude back to the CRS Board and to all Catholics who support the work of CRS: Thank you for giving some of the good people of El Salvador the privilege of working in “God’s office!”

El Salvador, Day 2: “Mauricio”

Our second day was more of the same, grace, joy and love. Our morning was spent in one of the poorest “barrios”, in the outskirts of San Salvador.  Barrio “October 10″ in the municipality of San Marcos is composed of hundreds of cardboard, tin, or in some cases, brick, makeshift shanties, one right next to the other, perhaps 2,000 of them. In the barrio is located a K-12 grade public school, a common gathering building, which included a small medical clinic and meeting rooms, and a police post. The barrio was much like the very poor “favela” Pope Francis insisted on visiting during his trip to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day August of last year.

We heard there the stories of several youth whose lives were redeemed by a successful CRS effort. All together there are more than 4,000 youth throughout the country, 18-25 year olds, who have been mentored by CRS and local partner staff and prepared for meaningful and legitimate work. Many of them now, in turn, mentor others.

“Mauricio” was one such young man who left a lasting impression.  His brother was cut up and killed before his very eyes by his own gang members. Why?  Because his brother, who became a true believer in Jesus Christ shortly before, refused to stay in the gang.  He wanted something more for his life and with his last breath, he also urged Mauricio to resist.  It was a miracle that Mauricio ever made it out alive. He was beaten and left half dead, but somehow, by God’s grace, he did survive.

After a few different prison sentences, and because a family, not his own, loved him, and like his brother, shared their true faith in Jesus Christ, by the grace of a CRS initiative that arrived just in time, Mauricio’s life was redeemed and set on a totally new path.  Now he is a graphic artist, painting murals around his barrio, and now mentoring others. He now lives with that family who loved him unconditionally during his difficult time in and out of the gang and in and out of the prison system.  The father of this family told me that he himself grew up without a father or mother and made his way on the streets, so when he first met Mauricio, he wanted him to have so much more than he ever had! How beautiful and true is redemptive love! There were many other heartfelt stories, but since I had the chance to spend part of the day in the little shanty with Mauricio and his adopted family, his story stands out.

The day ended with a dinner, in which around 10 prominent businessmen were invited to share in the work of CRS.  I was personally quite blessed by the presence of three of the 10 men whose grandparents, like mine, migrated from the Holy Land, from the “little town” of Bethlehem to El Salvador in the late 1800′s.  Jose Jorge (Don “Pepe”) Simán, Jorge Zablah, and Javier Simán all have founded their own businesses, are successful, and have retained their love for justice and respect for the poor.  We shared our common stories of grandparents from the Middle East and their migration to the new world. I was proud to know and work alongside them for CRS.

One of them, Javier Simán, and I spoke at length about a special mission to do what we could for the many “Mauricios” of El Salvador.  That evening we were able to put him in touch with the work of CRS and thus develop a lasting partnership that the CRS staff are happy to cultivate. The day finished in fraternal dialogue about the important work of the Church for the poor and how businessmen can be of special service in this mission, especially using their expertise.  I think Mauricio has a bright future!

Day 3: “It’s a Wonderful Life”

On this the last of our three full days in El Salvador, we went to visit small cocoa-farming families in the Sonsonate region of the country, accompanied by CRS staff and experts.  The Bishop of the area met us for Mass in the small town of Caluco and we visited several families that have been helped by the intelligent master design of the dedicated CRS staff.  The theme of “It’s a wonderful life,” where Jimmy Stewart despaired and was shown what life might have been without him, kept running through my mind.  What would have happened to these good people (today over 300 families) without the helping hand of CRS and their local partners?  If, God willing, this effort succeeds, and everyone in the region is hopeful that it will, we will have touched 10,000 families!

By finding a young agriculture expert from an El Salvadorian University, who also has a special talent and love for people, by connecting him with water experts from CRS, by finding indigenous men and women from the region, which was known in ancient days as a cocoa region, and by respecting their desire to replant cocoa, which can be easily cultivated by a family because cocoa plants grow to be around 6 feet tall and their large pods are easy to pick, CRS was able to make people’s dreams come true.

In the past, large coffee and sugar-cane farms in the area were the projects of big businesses, workers were paid very little and had very little personal investment in the work.  Likewise, the crop was oftentimes subjected to the fluctuations of climate and the market, and this kind of farming often impoverished agricultural areas. CRS, by finding American donors willing to finance a project that included many poor families, by leveraging the expertise of many people in El Salvador, and by taking the time and patience to work with individual farmers, families and small town governing committees, the CRS staff, like Jimmy Stewart of “It’s a wonderful life,” were able to pull off something quite “wonderful” indeed!

One farmer donated his land to accommodate an experiment with seedlings and planting arrangements; one allowed his land to be used as the main water source, one farmer and his wife are project managers, one grandmother is the secretary of the cooperative committee, one young woman is responsible for the germination and fertilization of all the coffee plants, two young bright college students from among the families there are responsible for the nature-friendly, bio-degradable soil and seedling treatments. When put all together, this careful planning, two years already in the process, has enabled families to cultivate, hopefully by next year, the cocoa plants on the land that they themselves own.  Some families have two acres, some have less, some more, but everyone has a chance to work individually on their own land, and cooperatively with others to get the right soil conditions, best possible cocoa seedlings, and reach a variety of market opportunities.

It was commonly decided that the cocoa plants should be placed six feet apart, because they need shade, thus mangos, avocados, and other larger fruit trees are to be planted around them.  This gives the soil the variety it needs, and the family the variety of foods they need.  What a beautiful and intelligent way to help families honor their own land, have dignity from the work of their own hands, and work closely with one another, with God, and with the good earth.

This project helps marriages because husband and wife can be together in the raising of their children. It also helps communities to be both independent and interdependent. Thus the project is marriage and family friendly, earth friendly, and local community friendly, and these are among the best ideals of what CRS stands for.  As a member of the Board of Directors of CRS I was grateful that CRS could make a difference in the lives of so many families to live happy and hopeful lives. It is indeed a “wonderful life” when people choose to make a difference for one another!

Bishop Gregory John Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn

Posted in General

Trip To El Salvador

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I travel to El Salvador February 17- 21, 2014, as part of a delegation led by the CEO, Carolyn Woo, and the Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). One purpose of the five day visit is to see firsthand the work that CRS is doing with the poor of El Salvador. We will be visiting cocoa farmers in the fields and youth-at-risk programs in the city; and the CRS staff that assists them there will be with us.

As you know, El Salvador, like Lebanon, went through a horrific civil war. Archbishop Oscar Romero and many others were killed for defending the rights of the poor. Our visit is intended to better inform us on the Board of the great work American Catholics are doing in El Salvador, which is one of the 191 countries that CRS serves. Last year with CRS, I visited Syrian Refugee camps in the area of Zahle, Lebanon, as well as the Detention Center for migrant workers (built underground for 60 but now detaining 600 migrants!) in Beirut. I am always amazed by, and so grateful for, the great witness of Catholics who serve the poor!

I have received all my (several!) vaccination updates and am ready to go. Please keep us in your prayers, and keep the good people who serve the poor, sometimes at great risk to themselves, in your prayers as well.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Gregory John Mansour


Posted in General