The Defense of the Faith Committee, chaired by Philip Ward, invited Ambassador Justin Sterling Simpson, the Order’s ambassador to Palestine, and Michele Bowe, the Order’s minister counselor to Palestine, to make a presentation concerning the “Plight of Christians in the Middle East and the Role of the Order.” It was the last of several made on Friday, September 11, during the Federal Association’s Investiture Weekend.
Ambassador Simpson opened by asking the question at the top of everyone’s mind: “Why is the Order providing services to Muslims in light of the plight of Christians in the Middle East? Why not offer our services exclusively to the Christian population?” Mrs. Bowe read a quote from HE Albrecht Von Boeselager, Grand Chancellor of the Order, delivered at the recent World Humanitarian Symposium in Geneva hosted by the Order. “Faith based action or humanitarian works cannot exclude the Other without further marginalizing the target population. Faith based organizations must lead by example and not undermine impartiality.”
Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe went on to suggest that, to strengthen and support the Christians in the Middle East, the Order must abide by the example of the Good Samaritan; that is, to serve anyone in need. They argued that inclusive service to local populations delivered in concert with local volunteers and employees is the best way to support the local Christian communities, and proposed that we in the Order serve the “Other” because we are Catholic.
Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe noted that the Middle East is a fragile mosaic with each piece being crucial to maintain the delicate balance. The Christian communities are an essential part of this, they observed. For the mosaic to remain intact, they suggested, Christians must remain in the Middle East, and those who have left should be encouraged to return home when the failed states have been restored.
According to Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe, the Order has a unique role to play in the Middle East through its humanitarian work, neutral status and diplomatic relations, giving it the ability to support a climate where Christians can live peacefully in their communities among non-Christian neighbors. They reported that the Order’s voice at the World Humanitarian Summit, to be held in Turkey in 2016 and its sponsoring of the symposium in Geneva, “Religions Together for Humanitarian Action,” places the Order as a significant player among those working to care for refugees and forgotten people.
Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe noted that the Order has a humanitarian and or a diplomatic presence in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The humanitarian efforts are carried out by Malteser International, national associations, diplomatic missions and by Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem. The ambassador and Mrs. Bowe pointed out that the Order, prompted by faith, serves the sick and the poor without regard for religion or ethnicity. They reported that the current work of the Order in the Middle East focuses on refugees as well as internally displaced people living in failed states, helping to create and maintain stable communities.
Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe stated that Syria and Iraq fall into the category of failed States. The work of the Order in those States is focused on food programs and health care, including psychosocial care and education. Today, they reported, 8 million children in the Middle East are not able to attend school due to unsafe conditions, destroyed schools and a shortage of teachers. Mrs. Bowe observed that education is an essential component in providing hope; she quoted Pope Benedict, who said, “Those who live with hope, live differently.” She went on to note that the lack of access to adequate healthcare is currently the highest cause of mortality in Iraq and Syria, and that large numbers of medical professionals have fled to safety, creating a critical shortage of healthcare workers.
In Palestine, according to Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe, the work of the Order focuses on delivering life, peace and hope through the Holy Family Hospital, the second largest employer in the region, where Muslims and Christians work together to provide life-sustaining medical care to women and children around Bethlehem. The hospital provides meaningful employment as the second largest employer in the region. Ambassador Simpson described a dignity loan program which he runs in the region, providing seed money loans to small businesses and self-employed individuals to better the local economy and create good will between the local community and the Order.
Ambassador Simpson reported that the Order’s Lebanese National Association operates 10 socio-medical centers, three mobile medical units, day care centers and homes and centers for the physically or intellectually disabled within Lebanon. Malteser International provides pharmaceuticals and supplies in support of these activities. A number of these works focus on refugees, but the services are always extended to the local population as well. In addition, Malteser International, in collaboration with local churches and dioceses, operates medical clinics in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, providing emergency and hygiene kits and water in Iraq and clothing for children.
Mrs. Bowe noted that Holy Family Hospital, the Lebanon Association and Malteser International have all received funding from the Global Fund for Forgotten People, which serves to strengthen ties within the Order, to promote leadership within the Order and to fund projects of the Order. She reported that their humanitarian works are all operated by the Order and staffed by employees of the Order and a large number of local volunteers in concert with local dioceses and other institutions. The staff and volunteers include members of a number of different faith traditions, all proudly working under the cross of the Order, which is prominently displayed on their uniforms. The success of the works, according to Mrs. Bowe, depends on meaningful collaboration on the local level, with the involvement of as much of the local community as possible.
The important sustainable and strategic work of the Order in the Middle East is creating economic stability in fragile states and meeting the most basic needs of those in failed states. This work strengthens the reputation of the 900 year old Order, which was founded for the purpose of serving the sick and the poor.
According to Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe, the works of the Order in the Middle East support Christians by delivering aid that is universal, collaborative and neutral. They suggested that the mindset which sees humanitarian aid as a handout by rich donors to poor recipients must be changed. Instead, they said, works must be based on finding a common ground based on mutual trust between donors and recipients. They stated that commonalities need to be found among religions and that the Order should continue to support and be a catalyst for dialogue and cooperation among religious leaders.
Ambassador Simpson stressed that the Order will continue to address poverty, promote justice and break down walls of ignorance. Successful programs, he said, should seek inter-religious participation on all levels, including financing. Mrs. Bowe added that the promotion of religious literacy dispels myths and therefore should be included in curriculums. Ambassador Simpson and Mrs. Bowe reported that the Order will continue to promote and defend religious freedom on the local and global levels, and that the Order’s humanitarian programs will continue to involve both women and youth in the hands on work to further break down barriers to understanding and communication.
The ambassador and Mrs. Bowe concluded by suggesting that Members have the right to be proud of the Order’s works, through which it cares for the sick and the poor, promotes peace and reconciliation, strengthens communities, provide inclusive workplaces and provides an environment in which diverse communities can prosper.