Sometimes it takes the painful shock of trauma to remind us what we truly believe in.
This is the message of SOS Chrétiens D’Orient, a Catholic aid and charity organisation working widely throughout the Middle East, as well as in Pakistan.
During a recent trip to Lebanon, I met with the inspiring staff and volunteers of Chrétiens D’Orient to learn more about their work.
Working in the Middle East since 2013, Chrétiens D’Orient takes as its mandate the fulfillment of the practical needs of those persecuted for their faith in the most dangerous zones of the world: Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt.
For one of the Heads of the Mission in Lebanon, François-Marie, the work of the organisation in Beirut is about meeting the practical survival needs of communities.
“In Lebanon our priority is the Christians on the peripheries. We are here to provide material needs to preserve their communities in these areas,” Francoise says.
“When I came to Lebanon with SOS I noted two things: the faith of young Lebanese, as well as the activism of many young Catholics: Australian, Belgium and of course French.”
Young people in the organisation are involved in several activities which promote the practical and spiritual needs of local Christians. Hospital visits, food runs, English classes: these are the mainstay of the work of SOS Chrétiens D’Orient.
19-year-old Raphael Üzgen, another young participant in the mission and a political science student from Belgium, was surprised that leaving the nominally Christian culture of Europe for the Middle East is what it took to spark and re-ignite his Catholic faith.
“When I came here in 2017 I wasn’t a practicing Catholic, maybe because of the decreasing importance of Catholicism in the Belgian society,” Raphael said.
“Coming here and seeing people who are so proud of their faith has made me much more Catholic: helped me to practice my faith.”
For all the young people on my trip, seeing the tribulations of Christians in the Middle East was a deeply formative and influential part of their own faith experience, especially for those communities who escaped the destruction of ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.
Marilys Maillot, a 21-year-old French social worker also experienced a spiritual transformation of her own as a result of her unique Lebanese immersion experience.
“I’ve decided to come to Lebanon because I wanted to have a new set of experiences. I did a lot of research and found that SOS provided a beautiful link between the Christians of the West and of the Middle East,” Marilys said.
“I give myself completely to the person standing before me and I have the adaptability to cope with different cultures and characters. You are not here for you but for Chrétiens D’Orient. This experience makes you work.”
SOS Chrétiens D’Orient have a presence in Australia, speaking at Catholic community events across the country. Find out more about their life-changing work in persecuted Christian communities across the world at soschretiensdorient.fr
With thanks to Daniel Nour and Caritas Australia.