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The House That Jack Rebuilt

text and photos by Marilyn Raschka

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Listen carefully. This is the story of Jack, who is rebuilding his house – out of faith in Lebanon’s fragile peace, hope in its future and the helping hand of the Pontifical Mission and other organizations working in the war-weary country.

Jack and his family are not alone. Several hundred families have returned to their homes due to the aid offered them by the Pontifical Mission, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas.

More than 355,000 Lebanese fled their homes during the 15-and-a-half years of sectarian conflict. Peaceful towns became deadly war zones. Homes were bulldozed after being stripped of every frame, faucet and photo. Schools became militia barracks where reading, writing and arithmetic were replaced by M-16s and weapons of every caliber.

The houses of God fared no better. Village churches and mosques were ransacked and desecrated. When the battles ended, nature furthered the damage; religious paintings blistered in the summer heat and peeled in the winter rains.

For the returning Christian community of Jiyyeh, a coastal village south of Beirut, the only place of worship still standing was the chapel in the Maronite Monastery of St. Charbel, Lebanon’s patron saint.

“We repaired the church ourselves,” the parishioners say proudly.

Since the summer of 1991, the first peaceful summer in more than a decade, the chapel became a place for thanksgiving; prayers were offered to God for keeping the scattered villagers safe.

Out of Jiyyeh’s 3,000 pre-war inhabitants, 106 families have returned on a permanent basis. Many families fled to areas of Lebanon far from Jiyyeh, where work and shelter were found. Others were able to get education scholarships for their children at church-run schools located away from the violence of the village. For these folk, Sunday’s journey for liturgy is a pilgrimage.

Afterwards, over coffee at the home of a recent returnee, they assess the situation. The cautious Jiyyites worry about security, but they also want to know about the school – the bottom line for many a potential returnee.

“This village won’t return to life until the school is open again,” said a village elder. The handful of children at Sunday’s divine liturgy reflects the fact that the first Jiyyites to return have been elderly.

But there are other questions that need a positive response before the Jiyyeh of today will be the beehive of activity it was before the war. “Can we make a living? How will we cope without electricity? Is there water to irrigate our vegetable gardens?” they ask. “May ‘abel kil shi,” they add – “water before everything else.”

The Pontifical Mission planted the first seeds of hope in Jiyyeh when the Beirut office financed the repair of power lines, installed backup generators and replaced irrigation systems and water storage tanks for this agricultural community. Meanwhile the villagers cleared the land of war debris.

The Pontifical Mission spent $27,000 on water pumps, $18,000 on irrigation pipes and $3,000 on technical labor. Another $15,000 went for electrical installations and $11,500 bought basic farming tools for the villagers.

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Tags: Lebanon War Village life Funding Homes/housing