by Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C.
photos by Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.
As I look back on my years with the Pontifical Mission, I think of what brought me here, of the time when I worked as a health professional in a hospital sponsored by my community, the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
I led a tidy, comfortable life. I was halfway through a doctoral program and I was directing a successful pastoral care program at the hospital. Then, in just four days, everything turned upside down.
It was 1980 and, in Cambodia, a genocide was taking place. More than a million peasants, intellectuals and artisans men, women and children were being murdered by a regime hostile to its own people. Hundreds of thousands of refugees swarmed Cambodias border with Thailand seeking safety as the world looked the other way.
In response to this tragedy, the leadership of the congregation appealed to the sisters for help; health professionals were needed to care for these refugees, all of whom lived in subhuman conditions.
I lived in a community of 10 sisters; nine answered the appeal. I chose to stay at home. However a gifted and wise regional superior suggested that I think about it. I spent that entire night in chapel thinking. By dawn I realized that what kept me from answering was my own convenience, my comfortable life. Once I faced this, I was free. Four days later, I was on a plane to Thailand.
It was the most difficult period in my life. We drove 20 miles in a pickup truck to the camps. Once there, we worked in an atmosphere that saw a death toll of more than 2,000 individuals a day. To get from point A to point B, I had to step over the dead, most of whom died of starvation and disease. Our living conditions were no better. We lived in a cinder block warehouse with no water. We worked from dawn to dusk. And although the transition from the comforts of home to the hell of the Thai camps was disturbing, the experience changed and redirected my life.
I was then sent to Lebanon for three tours as a representative of Catholic Relief Services which, together with my community, had sponsored my tour in Thailand.
Lebanon was in the midst of its own civil war, a war that witnessed the unlimited capacity of hatred, greed, corruption and the thirst for power. While emergency relief programs for displaced families and the handicapped were implemented, I fell in love with the people and country.
The hope of the young and the courage of the women religious inspired in me a passion for a people who were saddened and burdened by the destruction of their country by their own.
We Americans know the danger and extent of the power of hatred as it was unleashed in Lebanon. It was a very dangerous time. How I survived I do not know; and now that I think of it, I do not know why I took the risk. I know taking such a risk is something you only do once. However I made calculated decisions and took advice from those in the know.
I was protected. There are many incidents I could describe that illustrate this protection: lunching in a quiet restaurant that 30 minutes after I left became the scene of a bloodbath; boarding a ferry to travel from Cyprus to Beirut as I habitually did, only to change my mind and fly into Beirut instead that ferry was bombed that night. It was God who invited me to begin this journey and it was God who sustained and protected me.
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Tags: Lebanon CNEWA Relief Civil War