Saint John the Merciful was renowned for his extraordinary love of the poor. Wherever he saw need, he endeavoured with all the means at his disposal to alleviate it. By the time he was finally appointed as Patriarch of Alexandria, he was already feeding 7,900 poor people daily. He died around the year 619 and is revered as a saint both by Catholic and by Orthodox Christians.

Not surprisingly, an aid project has been named after him, run by the Melkite Catholic Church in the Lebanese city of Zahleh, not far from the Syrian border, which aims to imitate his example. Since December 2015 the emergency feeding centre, the Table of Saint John the Merciful has been a place of refuge for all those who cannot afford a hot meal each day. Many refugees from Syria, and also needy Lebanese, street children and children who are not fed properly at home, come to the centre and every day around 600 people are given a free hot meal. But the centre also cares for some 150 elderly frail or handicapped people who cannot get out of their homes. Helpers from the centre bring them the meals at home - and in doing so they not only feed their bodies but also provide solace for their souls, since these often lonely and isolated people can experience their loving care and smiling faces.

(Refugees eating meals at St John the Merciful Table café in Zahle © Aid to the Church in Need)

"Through this programme we all feel the love of Jesus the Redeemer. It is a sign of his love for us all, a love that heals every wound", says one of the helpers. In order to emphasise the spiritual dimension of the programme, every meal begins with a prayer and a hymn. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting this project with $320,000 for the next six months.

The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929 

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