For many people in Lebanon, a hot meal is not something to be taken for granted. In the town of Zaleh, the poverty is particularly acute. The town is not far from the Syrian border, and as a result many refugees have ended up here, having left all their possessions behind in Syria. Even among the local Lebanese population, there are many needy people, especially among the elderly and the children whom nobody seems to be caring for.
This was the reason why the Melkite Greek Catholic Church decided to set up the St. John the Merciful Table in 2015. They wanted help people by, among other things, providing a regular hot meal, or “food table.” It is named after the seventh century Saint John the Merciful, who was renowned for his exceptional love for the poor. Wherever he saw need, he worked with all his energies and all his resources to alleviate it. When he finally became Patriarch of Alexandria, he was feeding some 7,900 poor people on a daily basis. He died around the year 619 and is revered as a saint both by Catholics and by Orthodox Christians.
Today, the outreach ministry provides over a thousand people with a hot meal each day, an increase of 400 people compared to the previous year. Many Syrian refugees are also involved, helping in the kitchens, so that they can also have the opportunity to earn a living. There is a dietary assistant from a Catholic hospital in the town who helps to ensure that the food is nutritionally well-balanced and healthy. For the elderly and sick, who cannot get out of their homes, the food is brought to them by volunteers.
It is not merely about food for the body, but also about communicating the love of God and human warmth and affection to those in need. Many are quite alone. The St. John the Merciful table has become a place for them to gather, not only to eat, but also to talk with other people, to share their warmth and a smile, and to lend a sympathetic ear to listen to their concerns. Prayers are said before every meal and a hymn is sung, underlining the fact that this is above all about the care of souls. It is important for everyone to experience this spiritual dimension.
“We all of us feel the love of Jesus, our Savior, in this way. It is a sign of His love for us all, one that helps to heal every wound,” says one of the women helpers.
Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting this project ever since it began. This year we will be giving $954,700 for the coming year.
Will you join us in supporting this work to meet the physical and spiritual needs of Syrian refugees and others in Lebanon?
Aid to the Church in Need commits to invest your funds where they will have the greatest impact for the Church that we serve. Funds donated to Aid to the Church in Need’s projects will be used towards the greatest need in our programs to help keep the Faith alive.