Seminarian Marcus Shammami with Fr. Fadi Philip about his trips to help displaced Christians
This month, a group of missionaries will travel to Lebanon to give medical and spiritual aid to displaced Christians who have been forced to leave their homes due to wars and persecution. The team, led by Fr. Fadi Philip, a Chaldean Catholic priest and the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Warren, Michigan, will visit displaced families throughout the region to give them much needed medical and spiritual support. In addition to Fr. Fadi, the team includes five medical doctors: Ranin Paolus, M.D.; Maha Bishara, D.M.D.; Sara Alsakka, Michael Haddow, D.M.D.; and Rand Touma, M.D. who are part of the MERCI project.
On December 26th last month, you and a team of volunteers traveled to Lebanon on a medical and spiritual mission trip to help our displaced brothers and sisters. Although you have been on a number of mission trips around the Middle East, this will be the first medical and spiritual mission trip. How did you first get involved in these mission trips and what makes this trip different than the others before it?
There are about 15,000 – 20,000 Christian refugees in Lebanon, so the need there is very great. In Lebanon, many of them have been stuck there for the past 3-4 years and are not sure when they will even be able to leave. To make matters worse, life in Lebanon is very expensive and people will generally focus on providing for food and a home for their families. Because of this, there is very little money to spend on other things, like medical care, and this is why many will only go to the doctor’s only when they get a health problem, because they cannot afford to go to the doctors for a regular check-up and many cannot afford medical care at all.
Our main purpose in this mission trip is to help treat the refugees there in whatever way we can help them. There will be two physicians and two dentists travelling with me to help treat those who need medical care. Our goal, however, is not just a medical one but also a spiritual one, and I want to bring them the message that our Eparchy cares for them and loves them, that we are all one Church and that they have brothers and sisters that care for them and want to help them. As Christians, we are all called to help those who are most in need and to show them Jesus Christ by our words and actions. In addition to praying with the families, I will also be holding Bible studies for them.
Spiritually and practically, what are some things that you learned from these trips?
They have changed my life and the way that I look at my vocation as a Christian. Jesus asks of all Christians to go to those who are in need and to help them in whatever way you can: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matt. 25: 35-40). Jesus is in every one of these people that we serve. It is as Mother Teresa says when she was serving the less fortunate in her own ministry: “I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day.” She said this because she was truly able to see Jesus in everyone that she met or helped.
Adopt a Refugee has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. What is Chaldean Catholic Charities (of which Adopt a Refugee is a branch of) and how have you seen Chaldean Catholic Charities help our displaced brothers and sisters in need?
The Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle seems to be the most involved in helping our brothers and sisters who are refugees. Currently, we are helping about 650 families in Lebanon, 250 families in Jordan, and 200 families in Syria. In Iraq, MERCI has helped to start and fund 6 clinics throughout Iraq, helping to provide prescription drugs and medical care to our refugees and we also have programs, in Jordan and Lebanon as well, that help our refugees with affording medication. MERCI and Help Iraq also support special cases of people who need a procedure or surgery done because of medical emergencies and cannot afford its great costs.
We also have Students 2 Students (S2S), a program started by Help Iraq that involves college students in this Eparchy helping college students in Iraq, helping them with things like supplies, living costs, and transportation costs. We also have St. Jude Iraq, which specifically helps children. All of these organizations have been doing a great job, and they could not do any of it if it wasn’t for our community’s generous support.
What seems to be the greatest need of our displaced brothers and sisters?
Their physical needs are many… they struggle to make enough to pay for rent, food and medication costs. But what struck me most is how much they hunger for Jesus, especially Jesus in the Mass. Once, I was on a mission trip in Turkey around Christmas time and I saw people crowding outside of a closed church. They held and kissed the main doors of the church as they said their prayers, praying everything that they knew and remembered, like the Lakhu Maran and the Qadeesha Alaha. During that trip, as we celebrated the Mass with them, many of them began to sob in joy as they received the Eucharist, as many of them had not been able to receive the Eucharist or go to a Mass for a number of years, some having been without Mass for 10 years!
Another story that I can remember is that we were celebrating Mass in an apartment building in a room on the 5th floor. Many had heard that Mass was being celebrated and had come to hear it. The entire hall and the stairway all the way down to the first floor was filled with people who simply wanted to hear the Mass. Not expecting the great amount of people who came to the Mass, I had to break each host into multiple pieces for everyone who came to receive.
In your estimate, how many displaced Christians are there that Chaldean Catholic Charities is trying to reach? How can one help to support the mission of Chaldean Catholic Charities?
In Lebanon, there are currently 650 families that are being helped, but there are still around 2,000 more that need help. One can help by either donating to Chaldean Catholic Charities or by simply praying for our brothers and sisters who are displaced and for the many groups that help to serve them.
If you would like to donate specifically to this mission trip, you can either contact Fr. Fadi (email below) or donate through Chaldean Catholic Charities, writing ‘Lebanon Mission’ in the memo.
If you are interested in helping with this mission or future missions, or just would like more information, you can reach Fr. Fadi by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcus Shammami is a Theology II seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary expected to be ordained in 2020.