14 January 2016
Sisters watch over some of the students playing basketball at the Ashabhaven School. Jijoman Mathai, center, was chosen to compete in the Special Olympics. (photo: Jose Jacob)
In the new edition of ONE, writer Jose Kavi visits a school for children with special needs in India — and comes away with some memorable impressions of the children and the exceptional women who care for them:
I would never forget my visit to Ashabhavan school in Nedumkandam, a remote village in Kerala, in southwestern India.
The car stopped in front of an L-shaped building and Jose Jacob, the photographer, and I got down to ask someone directions to the principal’s room. We had hardly spoken when we saw a nun in habit and veil rushing out of a room. She jumped over some rose plants on the side of a corridor and rushed to our car, opened its rear door and pulled out a little boy from inside.
Nobody had seen the boy getting into the car — not even the driver who was still at the wheel fiddling with his cellphone. The whole incident — the boy slipping inside the car and “the sister act” — happened in split seconds.
As we stood bewildered, the nun, barely five feet tall, came to us still holding the boy’s hand. “Hello! Good morning. I am Sister Elsa, the principal,” she said with a smile. Seeing our puzzled look, she pointed to the boy and said, “Oh, he is Shiyas Shamanas. He suffers from autism.”
We had telephoned her before coming, so she knew the purpose of our visit. “Come let us go to my room,” she said as she led to the corridor. This time she took the stairs.
The 49-year-old sister was still holding Shiyas’ hand as she took her seat behind a glass-topped table with a few neatly arranged books in a sparsely furnished room. The boy then saw Jose Jacob’s camera and freed his hand and rushed to him. Sister got up and dragged him back. This act continued several times during our hour-long interview.
Sister Elsa, the principal, said the school strives to teach the children self-reliance.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
The principal explained the boy was brought to boarding school only a day earlier and it would take some time to subdue his hyperactivity. “Until then, he needs special attention. He may even slip out of our compound,” she said.
As we were completing the interview, Sister Sneha Moorkkenthothathil, one of the four Sacred Heart sisters working in the school, came and took charge of Shiyas. Like other staff, she came to the school with a degree in teaching differently abled children.
During our visits to the school over a period of three days, we met half a dozen children who had to be attended by staff members individually.
“They need constant attention,” said Sister Sneha, whose first name means love.
Love for the weak and differently abled was evident everywhere in Ashahavan (Home of Hope) as the staff, including sisters, served meals for the children, arranged them for the school assembly and oversaw classes and games.
Mood swings are common among the children. “Oh, I have received many hits and punches,” Sister Sneha said. “But they are so loving. They notice even a slight change on our face and get worried. They are so innocent, unlike the normal people,” she added.
Over three days, we had also become close to those children. As we left the place, we promised to visit them again.
As we drove back to Kochi, some five hours west, Jose Jacob and I agreed: Ashabhavan would not be remembered as just another reporting assignment.
Read more about “Kerala’s House of Hope” in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. And if you’d like to continue making schools like this thrive in India, visit this giving page.
14 January 2016
A refugee drinks tea in front of his tent in the refugee camp in the coastal town of Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk, France on 10 January. (photo: CNS/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)
Care for refugees and displaced persons has been a consistent theme of Pope Francis, and CNS’s Cindy Wooden has some background:
“We are called to serve Christ the crucified through every marginalized person,” Pope Francis said in the new book, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”
“We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge,” the pope continued. “That is where we find our God, that is where we touch our Lord.”
The U.N. Refugee Agency reported last June that at the end of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict and violence reached the highest number ever recorded; it had grown to “a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.” The U.N. estimated the number had surpassed 60 million by the end of 2015.
The chief cause of the increase was the conflict in Syria, a conflict that is ongoing and continues to send people fleeing.
In 2015, the U.N. reported, 244 million people, or 3.3 percent of the world’s population, lived outside their country of origin.
The plight of migrants and refugees has been at the heart of Pope Francis’ concern as pope. Soon after his election in 2013, he went to the Italian island of Lampedusa to pray for migrants who had drowned attempting to reach Europe and to meet those who made it safely and those who have welcomed them.
Meeting 11 January with ambassadors representing their nations at the Vatican, the pope made his concern for migrants and migration the key focus of his speech. While acknowledging the social and political challenges that come with welcoming migrants, Pope Francis insisted on the human and religious obligation to care for those forced to flee in search of safety or a dignified life.
The pope’s concern for refugees is not just talk.
In September, the Vatican’s St. Anne parish welcomed a family of four from Damascus, Syria, providing an apartment, food and other assistance because under Italian law, asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months they are in the country. The parish of St. Peter’s Basilica is hosting Eritrean refugees. A woman, whose husband is missing, gave birth to her fifth child shortly after arriving in Rome. She, the newborn and two of her other children are living in a Vatican apartment; she hopes soon to embrace her other two children, who are now in a refugee camp in awaiting the completion of family reunification procedures. In the meantime, the woman is hosting another Eritrean woman and her child in the apartment.
14 January 2016
Every year thousands of Orthodox Christian pilgrims arrive at the holy mount of Grabarka, some walking many hundreds of kilometers. The pilgrims gather at Grabarka Hill to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on 19 August. The hill and church are the holiest location for Poland’s 1 percent Orthodox Christians. (photo: Guy Corbishley/Getty Images)
Though Poles and Russians stem from the same Slavic roots, the two peoples developed radically different — and at times polar opposite — orientations. Not unlike the saga of the Polish nation, the chronicles of the Orthodox Church in Poland reveal the struggles of a faith community squeezed between the Latin West and the Russian East.
World War I changed the map of Europe. The Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian empires collapsed, and from the carnage emerged nation states whose peoples longed for self-determination: Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Poland was created by the victorious Allies as a bulwark to a Russia embroiled in revolution and civil war. Its leaders attempted to emulate the ethnically diverse Polish-Lithuanian state that had once dominated Central Europe until its dismemberment by Austria, Prussia and Russia in the late 18th century.
Resurrected Poland absorbed huge tracts of land and included millions of ethnic Belarussians, Czechs, Germans, Jews, Roma, Russians, Rusyns, Slovaks and Ukrainians — a third of the new nation’s 30 million people. Up to five million of these new Polish citizens professed Orthodox Christianity, a faith long identified with Poland’s neighbor and foe, Russia.
By 1938, and not without its share of controversy, the Orthodox patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow had the independence of a newly organized Orthodox Church of Poland. The state, too, recognized the church.
Wary of the rise of Hitler and the growing power of Stalin, Poland’s government grew increasingly insecure and nationalistic, suspecting the loyalties of Poland’s Orthodox citizens. Despite the protestations of respected church leaders such as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Lviv, Archbishop Andrei Sheptytsky, local governments shuttered Orthodox and Greek Catholic sanctuaries, turned some over to Latin Catholic authorities and razed others.
Hitler’s pact with Stalin in the autumn of 1939, which again erased Poland from the map, suspended these acts of hostility, as large numbers of Orthodox Christians were reintegrated with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Click here to read more.
14 January 2016
In the video above, officials describe efforts to bring humanitarian relief to the starving city of Madaya in Syria. (video: Rome Reports)
Aid begins arriving in besieged Syrian city of Madaya (CNN) A second aid convoy is on the way to the besieged Syrian city of Madaya, where numerous people are reportedly starving, according to a U.N. source in the convoy. The new convoy is made up of about 50 trucks carrying wheat flour, medicine, blankets and winter clothes, the source said early Thursday. The source said the convoy hopes to reach Madaya shortly...
Dramatic conditions of Iraqi and Syrian children (L’Osservatore Romano) Women and children are the primary victims of the horrors that accompany the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, which are mostly the work of the so-called Islamic State. British daily newspaper, Daily Mail, reports the testimony of several young people who have escaped the Jihadist group in northern Iraq. These witnesses stated that they were trained — brain-washed — to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers...
Watchdog group: 2015 “worst year” for Christian persecution (RNS) With North Korea leading the way and Islamic extremism rapidly expanding, 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution,” according to a group tracking this issue. Iraq is in second place on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. It’s the first of 35 countries on the list where Islamic extremism “has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing,” said the report, released Wednesday...
Update on refugee families being housed at Vatican parishes (Vatican Radio) Two refugee families are now being hosted by the two parishes of the Vatican, in response to the 6 September 2015, Angelus appeal of Pope Francis for every parish in Europe to welcome a family of refugees...
Meeting street children is like meeting Christ (Fides) Meeting, visiting, assisting street children means encountering Christ: this is what a group of young Catholics in Nagpur, a city in central India experienced when they went in search of street children. Pushpa Singh, one of the young people involved, told Fides: “At Epiphany, the Wise Men make their way to the Child Jesus. For us it was the same experience. We saw the Child Jesus in the poor, marginalized, abandoned children”...
Closed Catholic church in Pennsylvania reopens as Russian Orthodox (Wilkes Barre Times Leader) After being vacant for more than three years, the former St. Rocco’s Roman Catholic Church on the corner of Tompkins and West Oak streets has reopened its doors as St. Irene Russian Orthodox Outside Church of Russia. The church plans to open more doors in the community by purchasing homes in the Greater Pittston area for parishioners in need...
13 January 2016
Hundreds gather for one of the Masses at Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Members of our CNEWA development team visited there this past weekend to talk about our work in the Middle East. (photo: CNEWA)
“We welcome Deacon Greg Kandra from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association this weekend. As we hear about the situation of Catholics in the Near and Middle East, we are reminded of how blessed we are to live in a country that places such importance on religious liberty. As we stand in the shadow of the Epiphany and the visit of the three kings, we recognize the Christian qualities of hospitality and diversity. These foreigners were some of the first people to recognize the Messiah and they continue to teach us much about our faith.” —Father Bob Stagg, From the Pastor’s Desk,
10 January 2016
This past weekend, our CNEWA development team celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with the people at the Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
For those unfamiliar, the church is located in the Archdiocese of Newark, about 20 miles northwest of Wall Street. Despite being so close to Newark and Manhattan, the church is situated in one of the most beautifully wooded and serene locations imaginable. Its proximity makes this a popular parish among a very diverse demographic.
Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, has a thriving and diverse parish community. (photo: CNEWA)
The Rev. Bob Stagg, the pastor, and his parish social justice ministry group, led by Kay Furlani, welcomed us. The parish is already active in visits and aid to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other locations. Members have also visited the Holy Land. With so much happening in the world, the parish felt a weekend to address the plight of Christians in the Middle East would enhance the already strong faith and social justice awareness of this community.
CNEWA’s multimedia editor, Deacon Greg Kandra, center, was welcomed to the parish by the Rev. Bob Stagg, pastor (left) and the Rev. Ed Cuba (right). (photo: CNEWA)
Deacon Greg preached at all six Masses over the weekend, sharing stories that resonated with the parish. His homily helped bring attention to the many dire situations in the Middle East that both Christians and Muslims are struggling with right now.
Deacon Greg preached at six Masses over two days at the parish. (photo: CNEWA)
He described, in particular, the challenges facing sisters serving the people of Iraq, and told the story of how Sister Maria Hanna and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena had to flee their convent when ISIS swept through the country in the summer of 2014. (You can read more about their remarkable and courageous story in the pages of ONE.)
For my part, I was there as a member of CNEWA’s development team to meet parishioners, pass out information about our work, and answer questions about how people can support our mission, particularly on behalf of Christians in the Middle East.
Deacon Greg met with parishioners after all the Masses. (photo: CNEWA)
There is still much more to learn and discuss. Abigail Metzger was one of the many dedicated parishioners we met in Upper Saddle River. She is coordinating a follow-up discussion session for the parish later this month that will include her own impressions from a recent trip to Bethlehem. You can visit the parish website or drop Abigail a line for additional details: email@example.com.
Kay Furlani from the parish’s peace and social justice ministry, center, coordinated the visit of Deacon Greg and CNEWA’s Chris Kossowski. (photo: CNEWA)
We had a wonderful visit and both Kay Furlani and Father Bob made us feel like part of the parish family. We’re grateful for their generosity of spirit, their hospitality and their tremendous commitment to helping the people of the Middle East.
If you’d like CNEWA to visit your parish or church group, please email our Development Director Norma Intriago. We look forward to seeing you sometime soon!
13 January 2016
The Rev. Joaqim Unfal is the sole monk residing at Mar Evgin Monastery in Tur Abdin, Turkey. Learn more about Syriac Christians returning to their homeland in Coming Home in the
Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
13 January 2016
Syrian children are rescued from the wreckage after Russian airstrike hit a school at Zibdiyye neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria. (photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)
U.N. relief official calls for immediate end to blockades in Syria (The New York Times) The head of the United Nations’ relief efforts for Syria pleaded with all warring parties on Tuesday to lift their sieges on key towns and let aid agencies deliver food and medical care to people stuck behind front lines. “The immediate thing to be done is to lift sieges everywhere,” the humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, told reporters by phone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, where he is based...
Eight children, teacher killed in Russian airstrike in Syria (Reuters) Eight children and their teacher were killed by a Russian airstrike that hit a school in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo on Monday, according to a leading human rights monitor. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 20 people were also injured in the strike, all of whom were teachers and students at a school in the town of Anjara, located around nine miles north of the city of Aleppo. The death toll is expected to rise as the search for survivors in the rubble of the school building continues, Al Jazeera reports...
U.S.-led coalition destroys ISIS cash storehouse in Iraq (USA TODAY) Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition blew up a warehouse in Iraq where the Islamic State had stored millions of dollars in cash, the U.S. military disclosed Tuesday. Coalition aircraft targeted a “cash distribution center” near Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which is under control of the extremist group, the U.S military said in a daily report on details of airstrikes...
Pope prays for victims in Turkey (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Wednesday remembered the victims of Tuesday’s suicide bomb attack in Istanbul which left ten people dead...
Archbishop advocates for Christian schools in Jordan (Fides) In the historical life of the Churches in the Middle East, there has always been a valuable role carried out by Christian schools especially in the present scenario ravaged by sectarian conflict. This was strongly advocated by Archbishop Maroun Lahham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, during his intervention at the conference for the training of Catholic school head masters being held in Amman...
Dialogue between Vishnus and Christians in India (Fides) In India there is need to bear witness to the power of prayer combined with action to build a community of peace and harmony: this is the result of the recent session of dialogue between Christians and Vishnus, which was attended by the Office for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism in the Bishops’ Conference of India...
12 January 2016
Most Orthodox Christians in Estonia fall under the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarch. Here in 2003, then Patriarch Alexei II prayed at the grave of his parents in Tallin, Estonia.
(photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Tucked in a remote corner of northern Europe on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, lie the republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These nation states possess distinct cultures, languages and peoples, yet they have shared a common history and fate. Squeezed between larger and more powerful peoples — Danes and Germans to the west, Swedes to the north, Poles to the south and Russians to the east — theirs is a history of domination and subjugation. Each neighboring power has struggled to capture their hearts, minds, souls and wealth.
The Baltic tribes — Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians — were the last European peoples to embrace Christianity. At the end of the 12th century, Pope Celestine III called for a campaign of conversion. These “Northern Crusades,” conducted by military orders allied with the Catholic kings of Denmark and Sweden, succeeded in converting the Baltic peoples by the 14th century.
Christianity, however, was not unknown among them. was not unknown among them. The Slavs of Kievan Rus’, especially those in the nearby city of Novgorod, had established mission churches throughout the Baltic region since they had embraced Christianity in its Byzantine form in the tenth century. The Kievan Rus’ — whose descendants today include Belarussians, Carpatho-Rusyns, Russians and Ukrainians — maintained close trading partnerships with the various Baltic tribes, whose amber, flax, honey and timber were particularly valued. Some Baltic tribal leaders even adopted the Byzantine religion of the Rus’, erected churches and ordered their peoples to be baptized and instructed in the faith.
Estonia’s Orthodox community is divided along ethnic lines. Soon after Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, a dispute developed within the church between ethnic Estonians and ethnic Slavs, mostly Russians. A minority of believers, ethnic Estonians, sought to reestablish an autonomous church under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. The majority wished to maintain their relationship with the patriarchate of Moscow.
Eventually, the two sides agreed on a resolution that allowed individual parishes to decide which jurisdiction to follow. Consequently, there are two Orthodox churches of Estonia.
The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, is led by Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia and includes some 20,000 members in 60 parishes.
The Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Cornelius of Tallinn and All Estonia, encompasses more than 150,000 members in 31 parishes.
Click here to read more.
12 January 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Estonia
We were surprised and humbled to receive word this week that the quarterly magazine The American Benedictine Review — edited by the Rev. Terrence Kardong, O.S.B., from Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota — recently published a glowing tribute to our flagship magazine, ONE.
It reads, in part:
ONE is not just attractive, it is extremely meaty. In it you find fascinating articles about the Christian churches all over the East, and just not the Near East. Anybody interested in the various Eastern Catholic Churches will find a wealth of information here. Some of these churches, like the Copts of Egypt, are relatively numerous and well-known. But ONE also runs reports on the many tiny and obscure Christian groups.
After reading this periodical faithfully for the past 10 years, I have to say that it is probably my favorite newsletter in the world. The photography is brilliant, the writing is first-rate and the tone is totally admirable. Rarely have I come across an article that I consider unbalanced or biased or poorly done.
But that is not the end of the story. If you follow my recommendation and start reading ONE, do not expect much comfort. The pages of ONE are full of suffering. If this magazine did not show us the face of this suffering, it would not be doing its job.
We’re proud to be doing our job — and we’re grateful for these warm words, Father Terrence! Thank you!
If you haven’t discovered ONE yet, check out our latest edition online. And to subscribe, visit this link.
12 January 2016
People pray during a Mass on 11 January concelebrated by bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa for Iraqi Christian refugees at Our Lady of Peace Center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman. (photo: Dale Gavlak)
Bishops visiting the Holy Land this week prayed yesterday with and for Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
With crises in Syria and Iraq deepening, Catholic bishops on a solidarity visit with the “forgotten” Christians of the Middle East are urging stepped-up peace efforts to resolve conflicts tearing apart the troubled region.
Highlighting the ongoing plight of Iraqi Christian refugees who face another winter of displacement, 18 months after fleeing persecution by Islamic State militants, is also their top concern.
“They want a future which is full of peace,” Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England, said of the Iraqi Christians who attended a packed, solemn Mass at Our Lady of Peace Center on the hilly, tree-lined outskirts of the Jordanian capital.
“These people are of tremendous faith, and that’s where they find their identity. What we are trying to say to them is that you are not forgotten,” Bishop Lang told Catholic News Service.
Bishop Lang has been leading 12 bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America on the third and final leg of a pilgrimage to encourage Christians in the Holy Land. Known as the Holy Land Coordination, the annual event was set up at the invitation of the Holy See at the end of the last century to offer support to local Christian communities of the Holy Land.
The bishops earlier traveled to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to encourage a Palestinian Christian population increasingly dwindling in the land of Jesus’ birth.
But the bishops told Catholic News Service that it also was important to hear from Iraqi Christians and other refugees, so the wider Christian community can effectively help them.
“It’s important that we remind our governments and the general population of the situation of Iraqi Christians,” Bishop Lang said of the some 8,000 Iraqi Christians currently sheltering in neighboring Jordan.
They fled their ancient homeland of more than 14 centuries after Islamic State militants told them to convert to Islam, be killed or leave. Tens of thousands are internally displaced in northern Iraq.
“So one of the responsibilities and obligations that we have is to keep reminding people of the stress and distress of the Iraqi refugees,” Bishop Lang said.
One Iraqi Christian, identified only as Bashar, said after the Mass, “My family and I sadly feel that we can never go back to our home in Mosul.” A mechanical engineer, the man had once owned his own telecom company in Iraq’s second-biggest city, which is currently in the hands of Islamic State.
“The military didn’t protect us, and our Muslim neighbors betrayed us, even robbing us of our personal possessions. So we believe that the only future for us is somewhere in the West,” said the man, who now shelters with his family of four at the center’s compound because he has lost his savings.
Read the full report.