The humanitarian work of Catholic Relief Services and its partner agencies directed toward refugees in the Middle East deserves far more attention than it has received and Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour says it’s time Catholics in the pew know about it.
The work of feeding, sheltering and providing health care for
hundreds of thousands of people who have trekked to safety in Jordan and
Lebanon from Iraq and Syria is a story that the mainstream media
largely has ignored, much to the chagrin of Mansour, the incoming
chairman of the board at CRS.
In a December 16 interview with Catholic News Service, he said that
the focus of much media reporting has been on assessing blame for the
catastrophe or analyzing the response of governments in the region with
little attention paid to the plight of the people uprooted from their
Mansour heads the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, New York, which
includes Maronite Catholics in the District of Columbia and 16 states.
It is one of two Maronite eparchies in the U.S.
The Maronite Catholic Church is a worldwide Eastern Catholic Church
that traces its roots to a fourth-century Syrian monk named Maron.
“I think the Middle East has had a story to tell and unfortunately,
all you hear about is the rebels and the regime in Syria,” said the
bishop, who is succeeding Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City as
chair. “You don’t hear about all the humanitarian work that is being
done, Christians and Muslims alike in tandem working together.”
Mansour critiqued the media for focusing blame and then doing nothing in the way of solutions.
“Pope Francis got it right: The media people, many of them just
antagonize, make the situation worse. They’re not doing what CRS is
doing on the ground. They’re not doing what Caritas (is doing). They’re
not doing what the Catholic Church is doing,” he said.
The Maronite leader has been an outspoken advocate for persecuted
Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East
He has visited Lebanon since the 1980s and Jordan and Egypt more
recently. At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general
assembly in Baltimore in November, he called on his brother bishops to
focus greater attention on the plight of persecuted Christians in the
However, he explained to CNS that he has kept his advocacy for the
rights of persecuted people separate from his role as a CRS board member
since 2012 and promoting a purely humanitarian response to people in
need. Even so, he sees both as equally important.
“I’d like to do the advocacy outside of CRS so that the American
government can play a pivotal role, not be in loggerheads with Russia,
but to work with Russia to resolve the issues … Syria is a man-made
disaster and man can undo it with a bit of effort,” he said.
The U.S. bishops’ overseas development and relief agency’s work
around the world is often carried out in collaboration with members of
the church’s worldwide network of Caritas humanitarian agencies.
Its work often focuses on leveraging its expertise in helping local
agencies develop their capacity to take on the work the Baltimore-based
agency has done.
Mansour cited CRS’s support of Adyan in Lebanon as an example. Adyan,
an Arabic word meaning religions, was formed by a Maronite priest and
Sunni Muslim woman and a team of staffers and volunteers.
Adyan’s work led Lebanon to declare a joint Christian-Muslim holiday,
observed March 25, the feast of the Annunciation. Mansour described the
day as the only one of its kind in the world. It allows Muslims and
Christians, young and old, “to find a common interest in humanitarian,
in cultural and in religious dialogue,” he said.
It’s not only the Middle East where CRS’s work is making a
difference. Mansour wants to make sure Catholics in U.S. parishes who
contribute to the agency understand the positive results of its work.
He cited, for example, the positive results of “impact investing”
that would loan a small sum of money to a man knowledgeable about car
repair so he can obtain the tools necessary to open a business in his
town, or allows a poor family to buy equipment to make cheese from the
milk of goats they own so they can sell the product at local markets.
He also pointed to the Faithful House program that helps married
couples in developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
He said the program helps husbands and wives “understand the mystery
of marriage, the beauty of the fidelity of marriage” and know the
dangers of sexually transmitted diseases while promoting natural family
planning so that they understand “a healthy form of spacing children.”
Mansour noted that CRS also receives funding from the U.S. Agency for
International Development as well as other humanitarian and development
organizations. He stressed that any work CRS carries out falls in line
with Catholic teaching.
He invited the agency’s critics, who have repeatedly accused CRS of
violating church teaching on contraception through its collaborations
with other humanitarian groups, to “go through the door and really
understand what CRS represents.”
“We deal in a very tough neighborhood,” he told CNS. “We work with
1,100 different relationships with different groups, and sometimes we
get guilt by association because we’re buying mosquito nets from someone
that we really disagree with. Or we’re working with USAID that has a
very different objective than we do.
“But we are out there strong with 5,000 employees that maintain a
Catholic identity, that maintain no artificial contraception, no
abortion,” he continued. “We look odd to the rest of the development
agencies, but that doesn’t bother us, doesn’t bother me in the least.”