Healers in the Midst of Killing

In a war afflicting so many people over such a long period, medical services are strained to their limits…

by Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C. and Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.
photos: Pontifical Mission, Beirut

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In Beirut, the routines of life have been shaped by twelve years of warfare. Random violence, political chaos, and personal despair are commonplace. The battle lines are often obscure, and conflicts might suddenly arise where they are least expected – especially within an individual under the stress of imminent death.

By now, Beirut’s population is wary and weary. Each and every day the first goal is to survive. Under the circumstances, there might seem to be little time for compassion or for courageous acts.

The line between cowardice and courage blurs as people do what they must to survive the conflict. Values become victims. Parents willingly sell their children to give them a better chance to survive until adulthood. Militias routinely intimidate the population, which treads the line between courage and cowardice in a desperate balancing act called survival. Usually courage is a matter of distinguishing between what is within one’s control and what is beyond it, and then doing the best with what one can control.

Vital services in Beirut operate only under the worst conditions. In a war afflicting so many people over such a long period, medical services are strained to their limits, even as they suffer damage and deterioration. Courageous individuals, especially among the native Christian community, keep hospitals open while battles literally rage around them. For example, three religious women, each a native Lebanese, serve the victims of that terrible conflict daily with great faith in the mercy and justice of God to lead them and their country to peace.

Sister Pauline Fares operates the 75-bed acute-care facility in the Hadeth sector of greater Beirut. For twelve years she has administered Saint Teresa Hospital, a war-ravaged structure that is in worse shape than most of its patients. It sits so close to the demarcation line between the warring factions that it is savagely and repeatedly bombarded. More than half of the complex cannot be used because it is so heavily damaged and because of its dangerous location.

But there is no cutting back in the amount of care provided there. Twenty-four-hour shifts are frequent, especially when the battles are fierce and the casualties many.

Various armed groups have often occupied Saint Teresa Hospital because of its strategic location. Through it all, Sister Pauline maintained her presence so she could care for the sick and wounded.

No obstacle could keep her from her duties. When an army seized the hospital and physically expelled her entire community, she counterattacked. Alone, she walked back into the hospital and demanded that the troops leave. Stunned by her forcefulness, the troops withdrew, and she reclaimed the hospital.

Sister Pauline has never hesitated to place her own life at risk in the service of others. Twice she has been shot and wounded as a result of her everyday heroism. Still, after running this hospital during the twelve years of war, she does not want to change her responsibilities and move to a quiet place of work. “Saint Teresa is the place for me,” she says. “I can’t imagine being anywhere but with the poor and needy I serve.”

Sister Pauline and her staff show mercy. In turn, her ministry has been shown mercy in an unlikely place and by unlikely people.

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Tags: Lebanon Sisters War Health Care Beirut