Led by Maronite Eparch Gregory Mansour, a four-member delegation from CCST represented the Metuchen Diocese on its first visit to Lebanon June 2-13, 2016
The goal of the trip was to establish a program of long-term project support in Lebanon. To that end, the team was introduced to the leadership of Caritas Lebanon and CRS Lebanon, and had the opportunity to visit projects and talk with staff and beneficiaries.
The Metuchen delegation also sought to gain a better understanding of refugee conditions in Lebanon, so as to better prepare for a proposed refugee resettlement program in the diocese.
Along with Bishop Mansour, Deacon Aaron Sandbothe from the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn accompanied then-CCST director Msgr. Joseph Kerrigan, Deacon Peter Barcellona, Susan Feeney and Melissa Chedid.
The delegation also spent time in prayer and pilgrimage, visiting sites associated with the Lebanese saints Sharbel, Rafka and Blessed Nematallah Hardini, touring the Sacred Valley, and meeting Patriarch Cardinal Bachara Rai and other officials at the Patriarchate in Bkerke.
Susan Feeney, from St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Skillman, said, "You read about the refugee situation in the newspapers, but when you are actually on the ground in Lebanon and present to hear firsthand a story of a Syrian woman who struggled to get her orphaned niece and nephew out of Syria and to a safe place with her in Lebanon, you realize the day to day struggle for survival these refugee families face. I came away inspired and in awe of the work of the individuals who are being Christ every day to these vulnerable Syrian families at the refugee camps, schools and shelters."
Deacon Barcellona, from St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Port Reading, reflected, "We visited a school run by the sisters of Good Shepherd in Dar El Ahmar, where the sisters provide an education for both Lebanese and Syrian refugee children. We were told more than half the refugees in Lebanon are children. As I looked into the eyes of these children, I was reminded of Pope Francis' words, 'with each human face we see, behind each one of them, there is a life....a story to be told.' Our faith calls each one of us to listen and to respond to their needs."
As the team turns to project support in response to such needs, several potential options emerged. One from CRS Lebanon, actually involves helping in Cyprus. There is a CRS Lebanon project with Caritas Cyprus and Maronite Archdiocese of Cyprus, led by Archbishop Joseph Souief, where there are options to provide shelter for migrants and refugees, establish charitable activities on Turkish side of Cyprus, assist with peacebuilding activities between Muslims and Catholics, and support development projects, including job creation initiatives, to bring Christians back to villages.
As the summer 2016 unfolded, discernment and discussion continued between New Jersey and Lebanon, with a final project decision centered on CRS-Caritas implementation of a disabled children's refugee program. In late fall 2016, CCST sent an initial donation of $10,000 in support of that project.
In March 2017, CCST approved a technical assistance grant to support operations of Caritas Cyprus, now managed by Melissa Chedid.