3 March 2014
Msgr. John E. Kozar visits with a patient at the hospital run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Jal el Dib, Lebanon. (photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
During this pastoral visit to Lebanon, Msgr. John Kozar and I have met many graceful people — graceful in the truest sense of the word.
On Friday, we traveled to the Armenian village of Anjar, which lies in the Bekaa Valley some 34 miles from the walls of the Syrian capital of Damascus and just miles to the Syrian frontier. The visit to Anjar entailed a drive along the international highway connecting Beirut to Damascus. Stunning scenery competed with smog and car exhaust. Climbing, twisting and turning gave way to a descent into the Bekaa and a mass of humanity shopping, planting, driving, walking.
Anjar was a welcome relief. A drive lined with palms and young geraniums revealed a well-planned town designed by the French military for Armenian refugees in 1939.
“It feels like Palm Springs!” I told the laughing mayor. But Palm Springs it is not.
Anjar is overwhelmed with Syrian refugees — Armenian Syrians and non-Armenians alike.
Evidently, the neighboring village of Majdel Anjar is a hotbed of Sunni extremists. Reportedly including immediate family members of one participant in the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
CNEWA, through its Beirut office of the Pontifical Mission, has deep roots in Anjar, having provided support to its Catholic school and boarding house for orphaned boys founded by Cardinal Gregory Peter Agagianian (1895-1971), former Armenian Catholic patriarch and prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. Today, CNEWA partners with the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Cooperation, a lay group that provides a host of services — especially health care — to the Armenian Community throughout Lebanon, Syria and Armenia.
I felt as if the little oasis, with its clinics, its schools, its churches, its restaurants and its palm trees, was as fragile as the tender leaves sprouting from the fruit trees in its fields.
Just as we were leaving, the pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Armenian Catholic parish, Mekhitarist Father Mesrob Topalian, grabbed my arm and said: “Don’t forget us, Michael, and pray for us — especially for the children.”
As I left, another visitor took my place: the 75-year-old sister who runs the parish school, a resident of Anjar who arrived as a penniless refugee from Turkey at 4 years of age.
I looked back as they waved and offered blessings in French as the bells of the newly dedicated church tolled.
“Life goes on,” I thought, “until passion and ideology and fear and hate appear on the doorstep.”
Our drive back to Beirut was rather quiet.
On Saturday, our team, led by Msgr. Kozar, visited the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross at their hospital in Jal el Dib. Led by Mother Marie Makhlouf, these are tough women doing some of the most thankless work throughout the Middle East.
In this image from 2010, Mother Marie Makhlouf greets a young man in one of centers operated by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Jal El Dib, Lebanon. (photo: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
They care for the poorest of the poor: children and adults who are profoundly physically and mentally handicapped, those with mental illnesses, substance abusers and the abandoned.
And they do it with tenderness and compassion. You know it when you see it and when you hear it.
As the sisters took us through their facility that clings to a cliff high above Beirut, beds shook loudly, voices screeched, patients applauded raucously and scores sought their attention.
Things quieted down only when one sister pulled out her rosary, and the elderly and broken men struggling to cope with life and its troubles joined her in praying this familiar Catholic devotion — in Arabic.
Having visited the sisters before, I knew that they have a hard time finding the resources to feed and clothe the 1,000 or so forgotten souls entrusted to them.
But as I pondered this, half listening to the hospital’s rehabilitation therapist, Msgr. Kozar was busy creating commotion from one room to the next. Hugging, laughing, blessing and taking portraits of the patients, he connected with almost every one we visited, focusing on the individuals entrusted to these good sisters and their staff, and the desire of each patient to communicate. The joyful atmosphere roused me from my thoughts.
“Somehow they do it,” I said to myself, and then I thought about Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, especially its final and bloodiest stage in spring 1990, when Christian militia shelled Christian militia and an embargo prevented even bread from getting into the enclave. I asked one sister, “how did you do feed your patients in 1990, when bread did not exist?”
She looked at me over her glasses, and said, “I don’t know how we did it, and I pray we never come to that again.”
And with that she lovingly patted the head of an abandoned boy with autism and cradled him to her side.
Ah, to be this graceful and loving in the face of real adversity and real enemies.
Finally, on Sunday, before spending a lovely afternoon at the home of our regional director, Michel Constantin, his wife Lynn and three children, Peter, Sasha and Mark, we joined Msgr. Kozar in celebrating the Eucharist with the Filipino migrant community in the old church of the Maronite parish of Mar Elias, the largest Catholic parish in the Middle East.
No one knows the true number of Filipinos — almost all of whom are women — living and working throughout the Middle East. “With few job opportunities in the Philippines and families to support, these women come to the Middle East,” we reported in ONE magazine in 2011, “where jobs in the ‘care-giving industry’ are plentiful. Motivated by the promise of comparatively high earnings, most of which they intend on sending home to their families, they often accept without complaint long hours, little personal time or freedom and substandard living accommodations.”
Reporter Nicholas Seeley had also spoken with a local pastor:
“I understood that the first task was to give people a place where they could be at home,” said Jesuit Father Kevin O’Connell, who pastors the large Filipino community in Amman, Jordan. “For these people, just the ongoing, regular liturgy — with Filipino music, with people reading, with them being able to participate in whatever way they want — gives a strand of consistency and continuity. It’s their home. It’s their place. In most cases, there’s no place else they can gather.”
Very much at ease with the Filipino congregation, who spilled outside the doors of the lovely stone church, Msgr. Kozar addressed them directly throughout the liturgy, reminding the women that God hears the prayers of the poor and that “we who are poor always have our God-given dignity.” And he praised them for being a model to the rest of the world in their compassionate response in caring for one another after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the islands last November and killed more than 6,200 people.
Michel and I heard many a sniffle. The Filipinos, as they left Mass, asked Msgr. Kozar to come back next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that!
After the final blessing, as Msgr. Kozar greeted each and every worshiper personally, Michel and I chatted with a young German man, who, with a number of his friends, has committed ten months between high school and college to volunteer with the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross and their hospital in Jal el Dib. Clearly moved by the singing and participation in the liturgy, and the homily directed to the migrant workers, he said that when he returns to Bonn, he will look back on “all of this as if it were a dream.”
I asked him if he was worried that the dream would vanish. He looked at me, showed me the chaplet of St. Charbel he now wears on his right wrist, and said, “I’m now half Lebanese … anything could happen.”
3 March 2014
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War Beirut Maronite
An icon of Mary and the Christ child is seen as members of the Crimean self-defense unit stand guard outside the local government headquarters in Simferopol, Ukraine, on 2 March. (photo: CNS/David Mdzinarishvili, Reuters)
3 March 2014
Tags: Ukraine Russia Crimea
An Orthodox priest prays next to armed servicemen near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in Ukraine’s Crimean region on 1 March. The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said Ukrainians must be prepared “to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state.” (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
Pope prays for Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis asked for prayers for Ukraine on Sunday, which he said was living through a delicate situation. The Holy Father expressed the hope that all parts of the country “will endeavour to overcome misunderstandings and build together the future of the nation.” The Pope also appealed to the international community “to support any initiative for dialogue and harmony.” He made the call following the recitation of the Angelus in St Peter’s Square...
Russia: US threats over Ukraine “unacceptable” (Voice of Russia) The Russian Foreign Ministry has described US Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats to Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine as unacceptable. “We deem the threats against Russia unacceptable, conveyed in a series of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s public statements in connection with the latest developments in Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement...
World leaders condemn Russian invasion of Crimea (Sydney Morning Herald) The leaders of the world’s top industrialised powers have turned on fellow G8 member Russia, condemning its “clear” violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty after the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. In a pointed statement referring to themselves as the G7 — rather than the G8 — the leaders said Russia’s actions were incompatible with the Group of Eight Nations, which Moscow joined in 1997, and said they would not take part in preparatory talks for June’s G8 summit in Sochi...
Ukrainian Catholic leader: “We must be ready to sacrifice our lives” (Catholic World News) As Russian military forces intervened in the Ukraine’s Crimean region, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said that “we must stand up for our country” and “be ready, if necessary, to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state.” “The entire world community is on the side of Ukraine, as Russia is the aggressor,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, according to a report from the Religious Information Service of Ukraine. “During the last three months, the Church, especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was with its people. And it will continue to remain with its people. If, God forbid, we will have to stand together on the battlefield with our soldiers, with our army, the Ukrainian Church, especially the UGCC, is ready to provide pastoral support...”
Catholic church in Gaza attacked (Associated Press) A Palestinian rights group says assailants have attacked a Catholic church in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says an explosive detonated in the church’s yard. The group said an “abusive slogan” was written on the church wall. No further damage or injuries were reported. Hamas police spokesman Ayoub abu Shaar said Thursday an investigation was opened into the attack, which occurred Wednesday...
28 February 2014
Two Nirmala Dasi sisters visit a slum neighborhood in Thrissur. (photo: Jose Jacob)
Jose Jacob is a photographer based in India. He’s covered several assignments for ONE, and wanted to share with our readers how that work has affected him.
I live in a country where we Christians are considered a minority. I still remember in my childhood, when a TV series on the life of Jesus Christ suddenly stopped telecasting. Weeks later reports emerged that it was feared that the series would cause communal disharmony and so was being discontinued.
When I was working on my master’s degree, I had friends who were victims of the Kandhamal riots, one of the most inhuman attacks against Christians in the eastern state of Orissa. They still live in constant fear. I was again shocked by the attacks against the churches in Mangalore, which happened in the southern state of Karnataka. Investigations asked only a few questions, and received fewer answers. I found our lives very vulnerable, crushed under such communal clashes.
I took up the assignments from ONE magazine as any other that came my way, never knowing that it would change my life forever. These assignments took me to places where I saw and experienced a different side of life. I met people who had nothing to look forward to, nothing to live for — and yet I saw they were totally content. I met parents who cried during our interviews when they explained their hardships. I visited several institutions managed by Nirmala Dasi Sisters, and was humbled by the selfless services of the sisters there.
They told me their patients lived long for one simple reason: they smiled at them and took care of them as their own. The patients felt loved. Visiting the slum convent and listening to the sisters who lived there was a great experience. I have never seen so many smiling faces before, feeling completely safe in God’s hands.
St. Thomas Church in Palayur is a leading pilgrimage site for Christians in India.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
But I never really discovered my rich Christian heritage until my journey to Palayur’s St. Thomas Church. The interview with Mr. Menachery was a true eye-opener; there was so much richness to the history — and we were a part of it! The journey revealed so much about our culture. I now feel real proud to be an Indian Christian.
All of these were possible only through CNEWA, an organization so dedicated in preserving Christian values and faith across the world. The work done by the organization not only helps the needy, but also transforms their lives forever. I was really happy to document CNEWA’s services in this part of the world, and feel proud to be a part of CNEWA’s great vision.
I hope that the light of compassion this organization carries continues to spread and nurture true Christian values among all people.
28 February 2014
Tags: India CNEWA Sisters Indian Christians Thomas Christians
Perla Akiki receives Communion from her father, Father Wissam Akiki, after he was ordained to the priesthood on 27 February at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. Father Akiki is the first married man to be ordained a priest for the U.S. Maronite Catholic Church.
(photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)
28 February 2014
Pope Francis meets with 45 important interfaith leaders from Argentina who have just returned from the Holy Land. (photo: Vatican Radio/L’Osservatore Romano)
Ukraine’s ex-President makes first public appearance (BBC) Ukraine’s ex-President Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted last week, telling a news conference in Russia he would fight for his country. He said he was “not overthrown’, but was compelled to leave Ukraine after threats to his life. Those who drove him from power were “young neo-fascist thugs”, he said. He said current tensions in Crimea were “understandable” but stated his desire for Ukraine to remain united...
Christians fleeing Syria to return to Turkey (Reuters) When Louis Bandak fled the violence in Syria, he sought refuge in the country his grandfather was forced to abandon exactly 90 years ago this week. Bandak, his wife and two daughters are part of a small but growing trickle of Christians arriving in Turkey after three years of civil war in Syria killed more than 140,000 people. “Although I had never been here before, it does not feel strange. This too is my homeland,” says Bandak, sitting in warm winter sun outside the 5th Century Mor Abrohom Monastery in Midyat, 30 miles north of the border. While most Christian refugees are in Lebanon or Jordan, countries with which they share linguistic or cultural ties, several thousand have come to Turkey. For many it is a reversal of their ancestors’ flight around a century ago, when World War One and the subsequent building of the post-Ottoman Turkish state made Turkey a hostile land for millions of Christians...
Pope meets with interfaith group on its return from Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has met with 45 important interfaith leaders from Argentina who have just returned from the Holy Land, which the Pontiff himself is due to visit in May. Thursday’s meeting in the Santa Marta guesthouse included 15 Jews, 15 Muslims and 15 Catholics. Their trip covered many of the stops which the Holy Father is expected to visit during his brief pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The group met leading political and religious authorities and visited the holy sites of the three monotheistic religions...
Syriac community receives deed for ancient monastery land in Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) The lands of the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery located in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin have been returned to the Syriac community, completing an important step in the slow-running restoration of the group’s property...
Study shows 74% of children in Kerala addicted to tobacco (International Business Times) Kerala, India’s most literate state with more than 93.91 percent literacy rate, is also home for largest number of alcoholics, cancer patients and children addicted to tobacco. A study by National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) revealed this startling facts. The study said that 74 percent of Kerala’s children between the age group 5-18 consume tobacco. As part of the study, a total of 119 children were covered examining their pattern, profile and substance use, reported American Bazaar...
27 February 2014
Good Shepherd Sister Hannane Youssef greets CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar at the clinic she runs in Beirut. (photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
Note: CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, and Michael La Civita, chief communications officer, are on a pastoral visit to Lebanon, focusing on the works of the local churches caring for displaced Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese families.
To most of Lebanon’s visitors, Beirut sprawls along the Mediterranean coast and climbs the steep mountain range that gives this country of 4.5 million people its name. What most do not know is that Beirut is a collection of municipalities and districts with distinct personalities and histories inhabited by families who hail from villages long lost to development. One such neighborhood is Jdeideh in the eastern district of Metn, an industrial area almost entirely populated by Christians. Churches and roadside shrines — often dedicated to the Maronite monk St. Charbel or the Prophet Elijah, better known here as Mar Elias — are as common as colorful vegetable stands. This is the Christian East Beirut of the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
Yet in the middle of Christian Jdeideh rises a Shiite Muslim neighborhood. Ramshackle structures of cinderblock, concrete and tin climb the hill of Rouweissat Jdeidet, which is capped with a snow-white mosque. Long the home of Shiite Muslims, the neighborhood is densely populated with young families, roosters and feral cats. At the base of the hill, the Good Shepherd Sisters run a dispensary that treats some 100 people a day. Founded more than 15 years ago by a Lebanese ascetic known throughout Lebanon as Pere Nour, the dispensary draws the poorest of the poor from the local community and, increasingly, Iraqi and Syrian refugee families. Most of those seeking assistance are Muslim.
Good Shepherd Sister Hannane Youssef was happy to welcome back Msgr. John Kozar, who first visited the clinic during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon in September 2012. “So much has changed since you were last here!” she said. Indeed, the facility had expanded to include more room for gynecological and psychological care, pediatrics, and eye, ear, nose and throat care. But the facility is not a fancy structure — it does not even meet the requirements necessary for accreditation by the Lebanese Ministry of Health.
“This is built with containers, prefabricated materials I myself designed and ordered,” she said.
The modest facility, which is spic-and-span and well lighted, hosts some of the finest medical professionals in Lebanon — more than 35 doctors and health care professionals — who offer their services and talents weekly to the sisters in their care for the poor. In addition to providing treatment, the sisters commission focus groups, who work street by street in the area to determine best the health needs of the community, especially the women.
“We believe the poor deserve the best,” Sister Hannane continued, and “Providence blesses us with these volunteers and support and prayers from our friends.” Moved by the generous spirit of the sisters and their team, Msgr. Kozar pointed out that the CNEWA family was privileged to support the sisters and their work.
“The spirit hasn’t changed,” Msgr. Kozar added. “This is the church of the Middle East at its best!”
27 February 2014
Abba Kidane Mariam Arega talks on his cell phone in a minibus taxi in Addis Ababa.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
In 2010, we paid a visit to Ethiopia and looked at the unusual way of life of some monks in Addis Ababa:
Though hardly the lap of luxury, the monks at this urban religious house enjoy comforts unthinkable in the far more ascetic rural monasteries for which Ethiopian Orthodoxy has long been known.
No one bears witness better to this contrast than Abba Kidane Mariam Arega, who has just arrived in the capital from the rural Georgis of Gasicha Monastery in Wollo. He is on his way to visit old friends at the Ziquala Monastery, a day’s journey from Addis Ababa.
Before dawn the next day, Abba Kidane sets out for Mount Ziquala, an extinct volcano whose peak is home to the monastery. For the next two hours, he drives along the dusty highway that cuts through the golden plains of Ethiopia’s Rift Valley.
Little by little, the sun’s morning rays illuminate the landscape. Nearing Mount Ziquala, the two-mile-high peak casts a wide shadow on the valley. As the sun climbs above the mount, its shadow gradually draws back as though a stage curtain, revealing an ageless vignette — peasants with donkeys tending their fields.
Arriving at the base of the mountain, Abba Kidane pulls into Wanbere Mariam, a small farming village whose outward appearances have not changed in centuries. Only pop music pulsating from an unidentifiable source situates it in the new millennium.
The drive may be over, but the journey is certainly not. The summit of the mountain may only be reached by hiking three hours on a winding trail. Despite the steep, rocky terrain, the monk displays no physical strain, even as his flowing black cassock absorbs the sun’s now blistering rays. The trail’s switchbacks steepen as they climb the mountain; the thick shrubs give way to forest.
Finally, the trail levels out and opens onto a swath of terraced fields. Sweeping panoramic views of the countryside are visible in almost every direction. A weathered sign welcomes visitors to the Ziquala Monastery, where some 230 monks and 120 nuns make their home.
Read more in Relevant or Relic from the November 2010 issue of ONE.
27 February 2014
Flowers and rosaries are seen at the site in Kiev where people have been killed in recent clashes protesting against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. Yanukovich, ousted after bloody street protests, is wanted for mass murder. (photo: CNS/David Mdzinarishvili, Reuters)
Islamic group imposes rules on Christians in Syria under penalty of death (BBC) A jihadist group in Syria has demanded that Christians in the northern city of Raqqa pay a levy in gold and accept curbs on their faith, or face death. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) said it would give Christian residents “protection” if they agreed to the list of conditions. The announcement came in a statement posted online...
Tensions mount in Crimea (The Washington Post) With unrest growing in the Crimea over Ukraine’s political transformation, a group of armed men seized the local parliament and the regional government headquarters in Simferopol early Thursday morning, barricaded themselves inside both buildings and raised Russian flags, news services reported. They were reported to be wearing plain uniforms without designating marks. The Interfax news agency quoted a local authority as saying the men were from a Crimean self-defense group...
Ukrainians hope their nation has a new beginning (The Catholic Register) As Toronto’s Ukrainians woke up to news that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was on the run in eastern Ukraine after parliament had voted him out of office and that national elections are scheduled for 25 May, they gathered to pray. At Dormition of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church all three Divine Liturgies on 23 February included special, added prayers for the future of Ukraine.It caps more than a month of prayers for their homeland at the giant Mississauga parish. “We’re all Ukrainians. We do want to show our respect and solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” said Vlodko, a cantor at the church who declined to give his last name. “And in prayer, that’s the best solidarity we can show...”
Maronites to ordain first married man to priesthood in United States (The St. Louis Review) Pope Francis has granted permission for a married deacon to be ordained to the priesthood for the Maronite Catholic Church for the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon. Deacon Wissam Akiki will be ordained 27 February at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. He is married to Manal Kassab and they have a daughter, Perla. He is the first married man to be ordained for the priesthood for the U.S. Maronite Catholic Church. The Maronite Church is Eastern rite and is among 22 Catholic Churches that are in union with each other and under the authority of the pope in Rome. The spiritual heritage of the Maronite Church is traced to a fourth-century hermit, St. Maron...
26 February 2014
Pope Francis blesses a child dressed as the pontiff as he arrives to lead his general
audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 26 February.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)