18 July 2018
The video above shows how some religious sisters in Ukraine are doing more with less, and praying for an increase in vocations. (video: Ivan Chernichkin)
In the June 2018 edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz shows how religious sisters in Ukraine are doing more with less and Giving 200 Percent. Here, he offers some additional thoughts.
Doing more with the less is the central theme of the convent story. At the outset, I found the topic for this reporting assignment difficult to wrap my brain around because I had never been exposed to religious sisters beyond cursory encounters at church.
I researched the different orders and the charisms that define them. In Ukraine, some orders are more than 100 years old. They have storied traditions that are rooted in serving both God and vulnerable groups of society. Some are devoted to education, others to health care, and more to well-rounded child development.
In a country of more than 40 million, yet the size of Texas, Ukraine only has about 850 religious sisters serving in different capacities at 21 communities.
They’re clearly not in a position to scale up — and it soon because obvious, over three days of reporting, that they’re overwhelmed.
Sister Natalya Melnyk, who heads the council of superiors of women communities, said the female cohort risks “burnout.”
There’s only so much they can do that is humanly possible.
Their numbers are dwindling so the communities are drawing upon the talents that each sister possesses. Some have two or three degrees of higher learning, including medicine and biological genetics. There are also trained lawyers and psychologists, some of whom have studied abroad in Rome.
While the pool of incoming sisters brings women with richer pedigrees than those who entered convents en masse after the church emerged from underground in 1991, they’re no longer clamoring to join an order.
Various reasons were given for this — and the church is still doing a deep-dive analysis. The main reason, perhaps, is that youth have more choices than in the past. Temporal values like materialism, consumerism, and individualism take precedence over deeper spiritual values — and they aren’t conducive to that lifestyle.
The church is also battling the stereotype that entering a convent is the equivalent of incarceration. It’s simply not attractive to people, so efforts are being taken to change messaging and how people are introduced to the church.
Despite everything, the sisters are optimistic.
“It’s about quality not quantity” now, said Basilian order superior Mother Danyila Vynnyk, quoting a French truism.
To adapt, sisters meet weekly to exchange thoughts on lessons learned — what works and what doesn’t in their communities. This saves time, improves efficiency and avoids duplication of mistakes and waste of human resources.
The church also utilizes outsourcing when possible. Lay people are being used to augment the sister’s work — such as teaching the catechism to children.
And there is well-grounded hope. Aside from the orders that will inevitably die out because they couldn’t sustainably replenish their numbers after the rebuilding phase of the 1990s, other communities could see their numbers swell again, once the new generation brought up in church life grows of age.
Sister Teofania of the Basilian order is one of these. She grew up immersed in church life. Entering a convent seemed like a natural decision to her.
“It will be very interesting to see what will become of this generation,” Sister Nataliya said.
Read more in the current edition of ONE.
18 July 2018
Angella Bourudjian and her children, Christian and Carl, sit in their current home in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut, Lebanon. Read about their efforts to start a new life after fleeing Syria in A Letter from Lebanon in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
18 July 2018
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) and Eritrean President Isaias Afworki open a new embassy in Addis Ababa on Monday. (photo: Vatican Media/AFP)
Eritrean archbishop describes new peace accord as a miracle (Vatican News) ”First of all, I was impressed by this young Ethiopian Prime Minister who accepted the decision of the Border Commission unconditionally. This was key because Eritrea accepted it 16 years ago,” said the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Asmara, Menghesteab Tesfamariam. He was speaking with Vatican News on Wednesday. The Archbishop added, “It is like a miracle after twenty years of ‘no war, no peace’ situation that has held us like hostages in a way. To hear this (Eritrean delegation in Addis Ababa), I think the people of Eritrea and the people in Ethiopia are overjoyed. The news itself was already something great,” he said…
Pro-Assad villages being evacuated in Syria (Vatican News) The villages of al-Foua and Kefraya have remained loyal to President Assad. But now, as a long-time siege by insurgents tightens, its residents are being evacuated. Around 6,000 people will leave the area on 88 buses in a deal brokered by rebels and Iranian-backed forces. Reports suggest 1,800 rebel prisoners being held in Damascus are being released in exchange for the evacuation…
ISIS making a comeback in Iraq (The Washington Post) The Islamic State is creeping back into parts of central Iraq just seven months after the government declared victory in the war against the group, embarking on a wave of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings that have raised fears that a new cycle of insurgency is starting again…
India named the most dangerous place for women (UCANews) After a recent survey found India to be the most dangerous place in the world for women to live, rights activists are calling on the government to take action to make the country a safer place for half of the population. The survey, released by the London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation on 26 June, cited the high risk of sexual violence and slave labor that Indian women face…
Young musicians serve as a ’bridge of dialogue’ in Jerusalem (CNS) Eleven young musicians from Jerusalem and the West Bank had the opportunity to show U.S. audiences that music can be a bridge across cultural divides during a brief tour of the Washington-Baltimore area…
17 July 2018
The Emili Aregak Center provides personalized support and resources for young people with disabilities in and near Gyumri. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the current edition of ONE, Gayane Abrahamyan takes readers on a journey to A Source of Light, the Emili Aregak Center in Armenia, which helps children with disabilities. Here, she reflects on some of the political upheaval facing the country during her visit.
This is Gyumri: the second city of Armenia, with still-visible traces of the earthquake 30 years ago — temporary metal huts, homeless people and around 40 percent living in poverty. It is difficult to go there; the stories are mostly sad, with the main cause of problems being the earthquake itself.
This time, however, the atmosphere was different.
I arrived in Gyumri on 6 May, just ahead of elections that would see the people’s candidate, Nicole Pashinyan, become Prime Minister. This was the first and most explicit victory of the people in the 26-year post-Soviet history of the independent Armenia.
It was a hard struggle for the people. In recent days, there had been massive protests, with more than one thousand people detained by police. The country was facing a time of challenge and change.
Against this backdrop, I found myself heading for one of the brightest spots in Gyumri: the Emili Aregak Center, established by Caritas Armenia, with support from CNEWA, to help care for kids with disabilities.
This day, before the coordinators of the center received me, I toured the building. Pashinyan had been to Gyumri a few days earlier, so everyone was talking about the election and the hopes for a revived Armenia. Shortly after I arrived, a boy slowly walked up to me with a scrutinizing look, and as he accompanied me into the room he asked if I have seen Nicole Pashinyan. Without even waiting for my response, he said, ”I attended the demonstration. I saw ... it was raining, I stood there for four hours.” Michael, a young man with Down syndrome, looked into my eyes and cried. I hugged him.
Nearby, 18-year old Edward, one of the ”old timers” of the center, was sitting by the table. He offered me cookies. He has infantile cerebral palsy. He kept on distracting me, making all efforts to talk in a way understandable to me. He said, “You know, his mom helps him a lot, my mom, my dad also help me a lot, but there are kids whose parents have abandoned them and sent to orphanage, because they are sick. It is difficult for them, but we are lucky.”
His enthusiasm is infectious.
At the center, these young people have a sense of hope, a feeling of independence and possibility.
Those are sentiments, I think, shared these days by many in Armenia.
Read more about her visit to Gyumri in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
And watch a video about the center below.
17 July 2018
A man walks next to a destroyed building in Aleppo, Syria. Carmelite nuns are bringing a message of hope to Syrians. (photo: CNS/Ghith Sy, EPA)
Amid the destruction in war-torn Syria, a community of Discalced Carmelites in Aleppo perseveres in its mission of continuous prayer and help to families in need.
The Carmelite nuns, four of whom are Syrian and two French, are in their quiet demeanor “a message of peace and a spiritual message of hope,” said the provincial of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers in Lebanon, the Rev. Raymond Abdo, who visited the convent 5-7 July.
The nuns’ convent on the outskirts of Aleppo, in an area that has often been a focal point of the fighting, once had a missile land in the yard. In seven years of civil war, the convent has suffered many food, water and electricity shortages, seen its windows shattered and a surrounding wall destroyed.
The sisters in the northern Syrian city are living a “very heroic situation, even if it’s difficult,” Father Abdo told Catholic News Service.
At one point, the nuns were hosting four uprooted Muslim families, who lived in a building adjoining the convent.
The nuns shared their food and the bounty from their vegetable gardens. Three families have since been resettled, and the convent is still supporting a family with 10 children.
Yet, the sisters have not lost their way of contemplative life, a structured routine that begins with silent prayer and includes Mass, working together in silence and more periods of prayer throughout the day and evening, Father Abdo said.
“They give a good example of real Christianity, because they don’t distinguish between Muslims and Christians,” he said.
A sister told Father Abdo how the head of one of the families who was sheltering at the convent approached her and asked, “Why do you help us?” The Muslim man then followed up with his observation, telling the religious, “You help us without asking anything in return. You Christians are very humble.”
“Giving this possibility to the Muslim people and other people to know the heart of Christianity” offers “real hope,” the priest said.
On the road from Homs to Aleppo, Father Abdo passed leveled villages, desolate and barren with “no sign of life anywhere.”
As well as destroying homes, war “destroys people, families, culture, social life, relationships, the economy -- everything,” he said.
Some reconstruction is happening in Aleppo, with new roads being built, Father Abdo said, noting that the city’s residents “are trying to make a normal life.”
While walking outside the convent on the evening before his return to neighboring Lebanon, the priest heard a missile, “whooshing like a big plane overhead, heading in the direction of the Turkish area north of Aleppo.” Bombs could also be heard in the distance.
The sisters and other residents of Aleppo told Father Abdo that such activity is normal.
“Getting used to living like that means the people have suffered so much,” he said. “Still, they have the courage to go on.”
17 July 2018
Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, Archbishop of Addis Ababa, leads a press conference following a meeting of local bishops. He paid tribute to Catholic relations with the Orthodox in Ethiopia. (photo: Vatican Media)
In Syria, civilians killed in airstrike on shelter (AP) On Tuesday, at least 10 civilians were killed when a suspected Russian airstrike hit a school that serves as a shelter in the village of Ain el-Tineh in Quneitra countryside, about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the Israeli frontier, according to a Syrian search and rescue team…
Sisters provide aid, support to refugees in Jordan (Global Sisters Report) In many ways, sisters are uniquely positioned to provide this kind of case-by-case assistance, because they are integrated with the community and have a familiarity with Catholic organizations providing aid. In Zarqa, a suburb of Amman, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena run the Pontifical Mission Mother of Mercy Clinic, which provides prenatal care and vaccines for more than 1,000 people every month…
Ethiopian Catholic Church praises relations with Orthodox (Vatican News) Officially opening the Plenary Assembly meeting in Ethiopia, AMECEA Chairman, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa, paid glowing tribute to relations between the Catholic Church in Ethiopia and the Orthodox Church…
Vatican Media renews desire to collaborate with East African bishops (Vatican News) On Sunday, the new Prefect for the Dicastery for Communications sent a message to the Bishops of AMECEA gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for their 19th Plenary Assembly. ”I could not let this opportunity pass me by”, begins Dr Paolo Ruffini, the new Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication…
Remembering the tsar and his family on the 100th anniversary of their executions (Radio Free Europe) Fresh genetic tests on the bones of Russia’s last tsar and his family have confirmed their authenticity, Russian investigators announced on the eve of the 100th anniversary of their executions. Russia’s Investigative Committee, which looks into serious crimes, announced on 16 July that the tests ordered by the Russian Orthodox Church “confirmed the remains found belonged to the former Emperor Nicholas II, his family members, and members of their entourage…”
How a Ukrainian Church in Rome unites Ukrainians (Vatican News) Santa Sophia Cathedral in Rome is not only a place to worship God, but also a key gathering point for Ukrainian immigrants in Italy. We visited the church to meet some of them…
16 July 2018
Pope Francis greets Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad, Iraq, during a meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 30 September 2016. The patriarch will be one of four cardinals presiding over an October synod on youth. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope’s picks for synod leaders express passion for peripheries (Crux) On Saturday, the Vatican announced Pope Francis’ picks for the four cardinals who’ll preside over an October meeting of bishops focused on youth. All four come from what the pontiff has described the “peripheries” of the world: Myanmar, Iraq, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea…
Eritrea reopens embassy in Ethiopia amid thaw in relations (Al Jazeera) Eritrea has reopened its embassy in Ethiopia in further evidence of a rapid thaw between the two countries that a week ago ended two decades of military stalemate over a border war in which tens of thousands died. In a brief ceremony on Monday, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki jointly raised the Eritrean flag inside a newly refurbished embassy as a military band played Eritrea’s anthem…
With Ethiopia-Eritrea agreement, church hopes for ‘a season of freedom and peace’ (Fides) Prudence is the word circulating in the environments of the Eritrean Catholic Church regarding the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. “As a church,” says the Rev. Mussie Zerai, priest of the Eparchy of Asmara, “we are happy with the agreement, but we await developments and pray that the agreement between President Isayas Afeworki and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed opens a season of lasting peace that restores stability and freedom to the citizens of both countries…”
Can Raqqa, once the capital of ISIS, ever be home again? (New York Times) Eissa Ali’s family is returning home to Raqqa, which was the capital of ISIS territory for more than three years. The family left last year after he was detained and beaten by jihadists for playing cards. Now that the bombs have stopped falling and ISIS is gone, they’re not sure whether they still have a home…
ISIS remains a threat in Iraqi desert, tribal villages (Al Monitor) On the desert road west of the Iraqi city of Beiji, the Popular Mobilization Units (P.M.U.) conducting patrols in the area say freshly planted improvised explosive devices and ISIS sleeper cells still pose significant risks, despite improved security. However, “It’s simply too vast of an area” for outposts, said Ahmed al Debi, head of the P.M.U. Waleed al Kaaba…
Women seek church’s action against sexual violence (UCAN India) Indian Christian Women’s Movement has sought action against continuing sexual violence against women, denouncing the silence against such violence among Christian churches. “Violence seems to have become the new culture in the country,” the movement said in a press release citing rape and killing of 8-year old Asifa Bano in Kashmir and the rape of a 17-year old girl in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh…
Israel in turmoil over bill allowing Jews and Arabs to be segregated (The Guardian Israel is in the throes of political upheaval as the country’s ruling party seeks to pass legislation that could allow for Jewish-only communities. For the past half-decade, politicians have been wrangling over the details of the bill that holds constitution-like status and that Benjamin Netanyahu wants passed this month. Writing in the progressive-leaning Haaretz newspaper, Mordechai Kremnitzer, from the faculty of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the bill would “remove the mask so as to reveal the ugly face of ultranationalist Israel in all its repugnance”…
13 July 2018
Pope Francis uses incense to bless the casket of French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran during his funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican 12 July. Cardinal Tauran, who announced the election of Pope Francis, had a long career as a Vatican diplomat and later worked on interreligious dialogue. He died 5 July at the age of 75 in Hartford, Connecticut. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The Eritrean Catholic Church calls for prayers for peace (Vatican News) A letter to the faithful written by the Council of Catholic Hierarchs of Eritrea calls for prayers and implorations for a just and lasting peace in the region…
Gaza tunnel workers face greater risks, shrinking pay (Al Monitor) Although Hamas’ Ministry of Interior established a buffer zone on the border with Egypt in June 2017 in the framework of joint security coordination between the movement and Egypt, smugglers have continued to operate from Gaza. The tunnels represent a lifeline for food and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege since 2006. Ismail (a pseudonym), who works in a commercial tunnel on the Gazan-Egyptian border, told Al Monitor, “Border tunnels are still needed to get certain materials that Israel does not allow through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the only effective commercial crossing”…
Unrest in Egypt following arrest of Copt (Fides) A young Coptic Egyptian was arrested in the village of Menbal, in the province of Minya, on charges of having shared some videos considered offensive against Prophet Mohammad on social media. The arrest had been organized by local police forces, perhaps with the intention of calming down the tension and to avoid uncontrolled reactions by groups of Islamist mobs present in the area. But the measure was not enough to ensure calm: after the arrest, the houses of Christian families in the village were attacked by gangs…
Egypt’s dwindling Jewish community struggles to maintain its heritage (Al Monitor) Magda Haroun is well aware that responsibility for Egypt’s remaining Jewish heritage and history rests squarely on her shoulders. “I am the last one to close the door and turn off the lights of the synagogue,” she often tells the local press in interviews. But turning off the lights is far from what Haroun, the head of the Jewish community and the president of the oldest Jewish charity association in Egypt, really wants to do. The energetic 66-years-old, who is the youngest member of Egypt’s miniscule Jewish society, has come up with a number of new projects for her association “Drop of Milk” to maintain Jewish heritage in Egypt…
Patriarch calls for lifting of West’s sanctions against Syria (AINA) After the Prayer Meeting in Bari, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, as well as all their Holinesses and Beatitudes, moved back to the Basilica of St. Nicholas, where they held a closed meeting concerning the situations in the Middle East. In his word, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II assured that the church is not with or against governments, but is always with the country and the people. His Holiness considered that actions should be taken towards removing the sanctions that are imposed on Syria, because they are against people who are suffering in their movement, food and medicine, etc…
20 Indian Christians hurt in attack on prayer meeting (Christian Today) Twenty Christians have been injured in an assault on a prayer meeting in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, according to International Christian Concern. Local reports say 35 Hindu radicals stormed a prayer meeting in Raikashipur village as more than 150 Christians met for prayer on 2 July…
11 July 2018
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in back, and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerk embrace 9 July at the peace declaration signing in Asmara, Eritrea. Ethiopian Catholic Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel has commended the two governments for the peace pact. (photo: CNS/Ghideon Musa Aron VISAFRIC handout via Reuters)
Ethiopia’s Catholic Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel commended the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments for signing a peace accord.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed the peace pact in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, on 9 July.
Cardinal Souraphiel told Catholic News Service on 10 July: “This is a historic step taken by the prime minister of Ethiopia within the first 100 days since he took office. The joyous reception of Eritreans to the Ethiopian prime minister and his delegation shows that this has been the prayers of the people. It is very pleasing to the Catholic Church that the prayers of the people of both countries have been answered.”
For decades, the two countries have been at loggerheads on issues that include the border. An estimated 80,000 people are believed to have been killed between 1998-2000 over a fierce border conflict. However, after the two countries signed a U.N.-brokered border agreement in 2000, they failed to implement it.
Cardinal Souraphiel said the “steps taken so far by both governments prove that Africans have the wisdom to solve their problems themselves. The Catholic Church will continue to pray both for Ethiopia and Eritrea.”
On 26 June, speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as Eritrean government officials arrived in the country, Cardinal Souraphiel noted that Catholics had been praying for peace since the conflict started.
“Even though it was not easy, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia and Eritrea continued to meet and exchange notes on the pastoral concerns of the two conflicting countries,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also praised the leaders on the signing of the peace pact.
The reconciliation was “illustrative of a new wind of hope blowing across Africa,” he told reporters in the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, stressing that sanctions imposed on Eritrea might become obsolete after the deal.
11 July 2018
Netsanet prepares a cup of coffee in her humble home in an Ethiopian refugee camp. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the June 2018 edition of ONE, Emeline Wuilbercq takes readers to camps in Ethiopia where the church is helping refugees waiting for a better life. Here, she tells how she met one of the women she profiled.
As journalists, we sometimes think like novelists.
Since one of our goals is to raise awareness, we look for the story that will move our readers, provide them with new information and, above all, share an amazing character with an incredible life story. Often, even if we search, we cannot absolutely control what we find in the field. And yet, it is not uncommon to have surprises. It is when you stop searching that you come upon somebody whose personality, or resilience, is striking. By accident, you can find something other than what you were looking for.
When I was a student, I remember an experienced journalist telling me that this is what we call “serendipity.” In French, we translated it as “sérendipité”, which sounds a bit weird for a word-lover. This word was invented in 1754 by the British politician and writer Horace Walpole, who defines it as “accident and sagacity while in pursuit of something else”. Many accidental scientific discoveries were made by serendipity, such as penicillin. The concept applies perfectly to journalism. In a Le Monde article published in 2012, the journalist says that serendipity is “a matter of chance, of course, but also of sagacity, curiosity, agility, mental availability to stay on the lookout for new and surprising things.” Because you always have to be alert.
That is exactly what I thought when I met Netsanet, the main subject for my story on the Mai-Ani refugee camp. There are about 40,000 Eritrean refugees living in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopia is sheltering over 900,000 of these people on its soil according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. We were about to go 11 miles further to another camp, Adi-Harush, when veteran photographer Petterik Wiggers came to me. He has been working in Ethiopia for 20 years and knows a great subject when he meets one.
He explained to me that while I was interviewing another woman whose story was really interesting, he sat down in a small café set up by an Eritrean refugee to have a coffee. (He is consciously addicted to caffeine.) He met her with the help of a social worker from the Jesuit Refugee Service (J.R.S.) who speaks her language, Tigrinya. He quickly discovered that her story was compelling. He had no clue he would come across such a woman, but sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways!
We both decided to go back in Netsanet’s house and we had another round of strong coffee. While talking with her, we discovered all the challenges she has been through in her life: the loss of her two husbands, the escape to Ethiopia, the life in the camp… it was all remarkable and inspiring.
If Petterik had not decided to have a cup of coffee before leaving the camp, we would have never met this amazing woman you will discover in ONE. Check out our story and see for yourself what serendipity can do!