15 April 2019
Father Sebastian meets with two survivors of the storm, Joy Kannatt and his son.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman)
In the March 2018 edition of ONE, writer Anubha George describes in vivid detail what happened in Kerala last summer When the Rains Came. Below, she offers some additional impressions:
How do you even begin to take in the devastation that a natural disaster causes? What do you say to someone who has lost family, friends and pets? How do you forget the tears of people who tell you life will never be the same again? I have no answers and perhaps I never will.
Last summer, the southern Indian state of Kerala was affected by severe flooding. At least 400 people died. More than a million people lost their homes and were displaced in relentless monsoon rains. Kerala hasn’t endured anything like it in over a century.
All of us in Kerala were glued to our television sets in that week of mid-August 2018. We saw pictures of landslides that blocked the roads in the hilly areas of Kerala. We watched people crying out for help as the rivers swelled and the water made its way into their homes. We saw the rescue and relief operation that saved lives. We all came together as a community, irrespective of religion or class. We cooked for each other and prayed together.
But none of that prepared me for what I saw when we visited Idukki, a place overwhelmed by landslides caused by excessive rain and flooding. Idukki is beautiful and picturesque. Photographs do not do it justice. The tall green trees right to the top of the highest hills make your heart sing.
But it was the same tall trees that fell on houses in the early hours of a mid-August morning, just before daybreak. The only way I can describe it is this: look up at the sky. Now imagine the sky falling down on you. No matter what you see on television or the videos you watch on social media, that is what it is in a nutshell: it is the sky falling down on you.
But what was heartwarming was the effort — especially of the church — to help those in need. The Rev. Sebastian Kochupurackal, one of the friendliest, kindest, most generous people I have ever met, took us around. He heads the High Range Development Society (HRDS), the social arm of Idukki diocese. He knew every single person by their name. He held hands and consoled. He was ever hopeful and cheery.
We went up the hills to meet parishioners. The stories had one common theme: Thank God, I’m alive and my family is safe. Father Sebastian said in times of natural calamity, we take stock of things. That nothing is permanent. Things can change in the blink of an eye. But we are also supremely grateful for the gift of life.
We spent time with people who had lost everything they owned. In a house down the hill, we found a picture of Jesus in the rubble. The lady who lived there picked it up. It was a miracle that the picture was there, she said. All else had been washed away in the rain and the landslide that followed. The church, she knows, will help her. She cried.
But she was not weeping in sorrow. Those were tears of hope that everything would be alright.
You can read more about the flooding in When the Rains Came.
Also, CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, shares his own personal account of the storm in the video below.
15 April 2019
Tags: India Kerala
Palestinians and tourists carry palm branches while walking the traditional path that Jesus took on his last entry into Jerusalem during the Palm Sunday Procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem on 14 April 2019. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
15 April 2019
The video above shows how Aleppo is slowly coming back to life after years of war. But challenges continue. Just yesterday, rocket attacks on the city killed at least 11 people.
(video: France 24/YouTube)
Rocket attacks kill at least 11 in Aleppo (Al Jazeera) The death toll from rockets fired in the government-held northern city of Aleppo in Syria has risen to at least 11 people, state-run news agency Sana reported on Monday. According to an unnamed police source quoted by Sana, “terrorist groups,” the term used for armed groups in the nearby rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, launched the attack on Sunday night…
Thousands of pilgrims mark Palm Sunday in Jerusalem (Haaretz) Thousands of Christian pilgrims took part in Palm Sunday celebrations in Jerusalem at the start of the Holy Week. Worshipers carried palm fronds and olive branches and marched from the top of the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem. Israeli police say an estimated 15,000 people took part in the procession…
Report predicts long period of one-party dominance in India (UCANews.com) A report prepared for the United States Congress has stated that India’s unfolding national elections could give rise to a long period of dominance by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. ”Perhaps more crucially, the election pits an unabashedly Hindu nationalist prime minister and ruling party against an array of more secular-minded parties, some focused on the interests of India’s large lower-caste and Muslim minorities,” said the report…
Israeli firefighters battling forest fire in Ethiopia (AfricaNews.com) Israeli firefighters are the latest addition to a growing list of experts in Ethiopia to help authorities deal with a rampaging forest fire that has hit the Semien National Park in the northern Amhara region. Fire have been raging in parts of the historic national park for the past few months but it wasn’t until last week that external intervention was sought for to combat the crisis…
12 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Jerusalem
Pope Francis kisses the feet of South Sudan President Salva Kiir on 11 April 2019, at the conclusion of a two-day retreat at the Vatican for African nation’s political leaders. The pope begged the leaders to give peace a chance. At right is Vice President Riek Machar.
(photo: CNS/Vatican Media via Reuters)
At the end of a highly unusual spiritual retreat for the political leaders of warring factions, Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, begging them to give peace a chance and to be worthy “fathers of the nation.”
“As a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let’s go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid,” he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting.
“You have begun a process, may it end well,” he said. “There will be disagreements among you, but may they take place ‘in the office’ while, in front of your people, you hold hands; in this way, you will be transformed from simple citizens to fathers of the nation.”
“The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will,” he said in his formal remarks on 11 April, closing the two-day retreat in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.
The retreat participants included South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and four of the nation’s five designated vice presidents: Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior. Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in September, the vice presidents were to take office together on 12 May, sharing power and ending the armed conflict between clans and among communities.
The retreat was the idea of Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who attended the final part of the gathering. He and Pope Francis have been supporting the peace efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches and, the pope said again on 11 April, they hope to visit South Sudan together when there is peace.
Pope Francis told the politicians and members of the Council of Churches that “peace” was the first word Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection.
“Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue,” he told them. “Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people.”
When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, the people were filled with hope, the pope said. Too many of them have died or been forced from their homes or face starvation because of five years of civil war.
After “so much death, hunger, hurt and tears,” the pope said, the retreat participants “have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our father, who desires to grant them justice and peace.”
“Peace is possible,” the pope told the leaders. They must tap into “a spirit that is noble, upright, strong and courageous to build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness.”
As leaders of a people, he said, those who govern will have to stand before God and give an account of their actions, especially what they did or didn’t do for the poor and the marginalized.
Pope Francis asked the leaders to linger a moment in the mood of the retreat and sense that “we stand before the gaze of the Lord, who is able to see the truth in us and to lead us fully to that truth.”
The leaders, he said, should recognize how God loves them, wants to forgive them and calls them to build a country at peace.
Jesus, he said, calls all believers to repentance. “We may well have made mistakes, some rather small, others much greater,” but Jesus always is ready to forgive those who repent and return to serving their people.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “Jesus is also gazing, here and now, upon each one of us. He looks at us with love, he asks something, he forgives something, and he gives us a mission. He has put great trust in us by choosing us to be his co-workers in the creation of a more just world.”
Pope Francis expressed his hope that “hostilities will finally cease -- please, may they cease -- that the armistice will be respected, and that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted.”
Closing his prepared remarks with a prayer, he asked God “to touch with the power of the Spirit the depths of every human heart, so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony.”
“By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying solely on your mercy, we may find our way back to you,” he prayed.
12 April 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Africa Interfaith
People walk near damaged vehicles after flooding in Shiraz, Iran. Pope Francis has sent a donation to assist tens of thousands of Iranians who lost their homes and businesses in waves of severe flooding that began in mid-March. (photo: CNS photo/Tasnim News Agency via Reuters)
Pope sends aid to flood victims in Iran (CNS) Pope Francis has sent a large donation to assist tens of thousands of Iranians who lost their homes and businesses in waves of severe flooding that began in mid-March. The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said Pope Francis was sending 100,000 euros (US$113,000), which will be distributed with the help of the Vatican nunciature in Tehran…
What to look for in India’s election (The Washington Post) India’s national elections kicked off on 11 April — 900 million voters in the largest election in history are eligible to vote in polls that span the next six weeks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the current coalition government, appears the likely winner, according to the polls, though several outcomes remain possible. BJP will have to duplicate its highly efficient geographic concentration of votes in northern India, or succeed in their eastward push.
Caritas aims to ease India’s hunger pangs (UCANews.com) A Lent campaign spearheaded by Caritas India is fighting chronic malnutrition in the country. The Catholic charity launched its nationwide campaign for this year’s Lent, a seven-week period culminating in Easter Sunday on 21 April, with the theme “Nutrition our right — Unite for a healthy India.” ”It is an effort of solidarity during the Lenten season that the Church reaches out to those on the fringes,” especially children of the socially poor Dalit, tribal and marginalized people, said Father Jolly Puthenpura, assistant executive director of Caritas India…
Ethiopian farmers struggle to make a living in warming highlands (Reuters) At an elevation of 4,000 meters (13,120 ft), the Choke Mountain range has a tropical alpine ecosystem and is home to more than 150,000 people living in six districts. Farmers and herders know their land and water sources are under pressure but have no other options for survival apart from growing crops and breeding animals. They worry the government will close off the areas they now use in an attempt to restore the local environment…
Refugees in Jordan are buying groceries with eyescans (EuroNews) Across Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, technology is helping the United Nations cut costs and combat corruption. Biometric iris scanners positioned at supermarket checkout counters allow refugees to purchase food without exchanging cash…
11 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Iran
One of the most revered Desert Mothers was St. Mary of Egypt. She is depicted in this painting from the 16th century.
(image: Wikimedia/by Jacopo Tintoretto/Scuola Grande di San Rocco)
For more than 90 years, Catholic Near East Welfare Association has worked to be a beacon of hope — beginning in the Near East, then spreading to Africa, Central Europe and India. Through the generosity and commitment of its donors, CNEWA has brought help and hope to countless Christians and non-Christians in the world who otherwise would have had neither hope nor future.
Ninety years is a long time and the world has changed a great deal in that time. There have been two world wars, countries and even empires have come and gone; ideologies have sprung up, flourished and been replaced by new ideologies.
And yet so often things seem depressingly the same. The poor and innocent remain victims of war and oppression. The geography and the actors may change but it seems that the script remains relatively constant: war, refugees, famine, and migration. For nearly a century, CNEWA has struggled to deal with these almost intractable issues.
Charitable organizations such as CNEWA, whose work is dependent of the generosity of donors, often speak of “donor fatigue.” Donor fatigue is a very real thing. Even the most committed and generous donors can be excused if they wonder if their generosity is making a difference. The problems of the world can be overwhelming. Do their gifts make the world a better, safer, more just place? The questions are real and they are valid.
In thinking about these questions, I found some answers in an unexpected place: the desert.
As many know, CNEWA works with the Eastern churches--both Catholic and Orthodox. These churches date back to the time of the apostles and have rich traditions which are often unknown to Christians in the West. For example, Christians in the West are familiar with monasticism but almost exclusively in its western (Benedictine) form. They are unaware of a much older monastic tradition that existed centuries before St. Benedict in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East.
Holy people went into the desert to live a life of prayer and penance as hermits. They often attracted followers and disciples and wrote treatises on the spiritual life. A body of literature exists consisting of the writings of these “Desert Fathers.” More recently and very happily, research has uncovered a tradition of the “Desert Mothers” as well — women who lived as hermits, had disciples and left behind “sayings” and writings.
In their aphorisms and writings, the Desert Fathers and Mothers spoke extensively of the spiritual life — the things which promoted it and things which damaged it. They wrote of virtues and vices and were the predecessors of the great medieval theologians. Many of the Desert Fathers and Mothers contributed to the development of the notion of the ”seven deadly sins”: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, anger and envy.
However, these men and women also wrote about what they called acedia. For the Desert Fathers and Mothers acedia was the most frightening vice of all. Acedia was the root of all vice and the opposite of all virtues. The word acedia means “not to care.” It is the state in which nothing matters. It lacks the violence of anger, the obnoxiousness of pride and envy, the prurience of lust. Nor does it evoke the guilt those vices do. Acedia, in fact, evokes nothing but indifference.
Acedia is the deep feeling that one can no longer make a difference. There is neither joy in doing good, nor guilt at doing nothing. But as time has gone on, one almost never hears of acedia any more. It is often weakly translated as “sloth.” That is, I suspect, a loss.
Faced with a world of overwhelming—and seemingly insoluble—problems, it is understandable that we get tempted to shut down. It is human to think, “I just cannot afford to care.”
It is precisely here that CNEWA takes up the ancient challenge of those holy Desert Mothers and Fathers. CNEWA reminds us that caring, hoping and believing—sometimes against the odds—matters.
At bottom, this is our call as Christians.
Believing that we can and do make a real difference is at the center of what it means to be followers of Jesus — and, by extension, distant descendents of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
11 April 2019
Pope Francis greets a child as he visits the Parish of St. Julius in Rome on Sunday. (photo:CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
11 April 2019
Tags: Pope Francis
Voters lined up at the polls on Thursday as India began the first phase of its polling process.
(video: Hindustan Times/YouTube)
Polls open in India (CBS News) Voting began Thursday in India, the world’s biggest democracy, to pick the next central government. The world’s second most populous nation is a key economic and security ally of the U.S., and the outcome of the elections will have a major impact on stability in the region, and possibly on New Delhi’s ties with Washington…
Russia, Turkey, Iran call for Syrian territorial integrity (Haaretz) Lawmakers from Russia, Iran and Turkey are calling for Syria’s territorial integrity to be preserved as remarks from Israel and the United States have renewed long-standing land disputes and after U.S. President Donald Trump had recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights…
Kerala floods to be featured in World Reconstruction Conference in Geneva (The Hindu) The devastating 2018 floods and the rebuilding measures launched by Kerala in the grim aftermath will feature in the fourth World Reconstruction Conference (WRC) to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, next month…
Retired pope publishes reflection on abuse crisis (CNS) Retired Pope Benedict XVI, acknowledging his role in helping the Catholic Church come to terms with the clerical sexual abuse crisis beginning in the 1980s, wrote an article outlining his thoughts about what must be done now…
10 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Pope Benedict XVI Kerala
Children from Tbilisi and Gardabali attend dance classes at the Assyro-Chaldean parish complex. Learn more about life in Tbilisi in A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE magazine.(photo: Zviad Rostiashvili)
10 April 2019
Israel’s Prime Miniater Benjamin Netanyahu appears headed to a record fifth term after yesterday's election. (video: CBS News/YouTube)
Netanyahu on cusp of victory (CNN) Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be on the cusp of securing a record fifth term as Israeli Prime Minister Wednesday after a dramatic finish to a closely fought election race. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party appeared neck-and-neck with the centrist Blue and White party led by his former chief of staff Benny Gantz. With Israeli media reporting more than 97 percent of the vote counted, both sides were projected to win 35 seats each…
Bomb kills eight in Syrian city of Raqqa (Reuters) A bomb attack in the Syrian city of Raqqa killed at least eight people on Tuesday, including four fighters of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a security source in northern Syria said. The blast also killed four civilians and wounded three members of the Kurdish-led internal security forces known as the Asayish, the source said…
Syrian refugees in Egypt struggle to live amid economic hardship (Reuters) Tough economic reforms and rising costs have hit refugees and migrants in Egypt particularly hard, aid groups say. More than 77 percent of Syrian families in Egypt were in debt in 2017, up from 73 percent the year before, according to unpublished data seen by Reuters from a UNHCR survey of more than 100,000 Syrians. Nearly 93 percent of families were unable to repay the loans, up from 81 percent in 2016, the year Egypt devalued its currency as part of an IMF loan deal...
Indian Catholics complain to papal nuncio, accuse bishop of selling land (UCANews.com) A group of Catholics in a southern Indian diocese have accused their bishop and a priest of selling off prime church property, causing massive financial loss, but the bishop dismissed the claim as an attempt to tarnish him. Bishop Anthony Swamy Thomasappa of Chikmagalur and his former vicar general, the Rev. Shantha Raj, teamed up to take ownership of two plots of land worth 180 million rupees (US$2.4 million) at a cheaper value, lay leaders told media on 6 April...
Tags: Syria India Egypt Israel Indian Bishops