1 July 2013
Pope Francis greets Orthodox Metropolitan John of Pergamon after praying with him at the tomb of St. Peter at the conclusion of Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. The pope presented woolen palliums to 34 archbishops during the liturgy. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Over the weekend, Pope Francis used the occasion of the pallium Mass to speak of the unifying role of bishops:
Every bishop is called to be “a servant of communion,” working tirelessly to overcome divisions so that differences become a treasure and not a source of conflict, Pope Francis said.
The Christian community should be “like a great mosaic in which every small piece joins with others as part of God’s one great plan,” the pope said on 29 June as he celebrated the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul and bestowed the pallium on 34 archbishops from 19 countries.
The pallium is a woolen band that symbolizes an archbishop’s unity with the pope and his authority and responsibility to care for the flock the pope entrusted to him. Archbishops wear the pallium around their shoulders over their liturgical vestments when celebrating the liturgy in their regions. A pope also wears one, although his is marked with red crosses, while an archbishop’s has black crosses.
Read more at the Catholic News Service link.
1 July 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Catholic Christian Unity Orthodox
In this video, Jamal Elshayyal reports protesters in Egypt have stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in a show of anger at the president and his allies. (video: Al Jazeera)
By the millions, Egyptians seek Morsi’s ouster (New York Times) Millions of Egyptians streamed into the streets of cities across the country on Sunday to demand the ouster of their first elected head of state, President Mohamed Morsi, in an outpouring of anger at the political dominance of his Islamist backers in the Muslim Brotherhood. The scale of the demonstrations, coming just one year after crowds in Tahrir Square cheered Mr. Morsi’s inauguration, appeared to exceed even the massive street protests in the heady final days of the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011…
Christians join protests in Egypt (Vatican Radio) In Egypt, protesters stormed the Cairo headquarters of President Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group Monday morning, a day after the largest protests the nation has seen since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak two years ago.
Demonstrators are calling on the President to step down, and for new elections to be held. Many Christians have joined the protests, saying discrimination and violence against minority faiths have increased since Morsi took office. “Most of the Christians do not want the president,” says Father Rafic Greiche, the spokesman for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Egypt. “We have to be clear about this.” The full interview with Father Greiche can be found here…
Egypt ministers resign amid unrest (Al Jazeera) Five Egyptian ministers have tendered their resignations from the president’s cabinet, a senior official has said, as protests against the president’s rule filled the streets of cities throughout the country. Earlier on Monday, the state news agency, MENA, said the ministers were considering resigning in sympathy with the protesters who were calling for the resignation of Morsi…
Military offensive on refugee camps in northern Syria (Fides) The refugee camp in Bab al Salam was the subject to an air raid by the Syrian Air Force where seven people were seriously injured, including a child. The raid took place on the night of 25-26 June, the second air attack suffered by the refugee camp in recent weeks. Mirta Neretti, a volunteer, says: “Our contacts in the camp fear that this is the beginning of an escalation … to force refugees to flee,” thereby freeing the land for further military excursions. “The 17,000 refugees in the camp, [including] 5,000 children, are completely helpless and exposed to all sorts of violence…”
Syria neighbors block thousands from fleeing (Daily Star Lebanon) Syria’s neighbors have closed or tightened restrictions at several border crossings, leaving tens of thousands of people stranded within Syria’s dangerous frontier regions, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. According to the statement, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey have all restricted the flow of people trying to flee a conflict which has killed 100,000 people and, according to the United Nations, has already driven 1.7 million more to take sanctuary outside Syria. Only Lebanon, which has limited control over its own borders and is now hosting over half a million refugees, had remained open to refugees, the New York-based rights group said…
28 June 2013
Tags: Egypt Refugees Syrian Civil War Refugee Camps Egypt's Christians
This baby girl was found in a garbage can. Now she's loved and cared for by the sisters of the Holy Family Children's Home. (photo: CNEWA)
The CNEWA staffers visiting the Holy Land just sent us this photograph from the Holy Family Children’s Home, also known as the Creche, in Bethlehem. The child was rescued from the trash and given a new life at the home.
Msgr. John Kozar visited the Creche two years ago and described his experience:
We proceeded to a peaceful home for unwanted babies and expectant mothers rejected by families. It’s called the Creche of Bethlehem. What a fitting name. The director of the facility is named Sister Sophie and she is something special. This sister is the embodiment of the protector of little babies and the unwanted. She loves each and every one of the 91 childen cared for at the Creche.
She took us to a room with little ones ranging in age from a few days old to about nine months. One of the babies was left at a big garbage dump, another at Sister Sophie’s doorstep. Some children were dropped off for various reasons. There is no legal system for adoption in Palestine and Muslim tradition does not allow for it, so this is a big challenge. But Sister Sophie, her staff and her many volunteers still present loving smiles to all who visit.
There are many ways to help children like these. Visiting our Giving Center to learn how you can make a difference in the lives of these little ones.
28 June 2013
Tags: CNEWA Children Holy Land Bethlehem Holy Land Christians
In this 2005 photo, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians process to Lalibela to visit its subterranean complex of 11 rock-hewn churches, considered one of the holiest sites in the world. Every Christmas and Temqat — the Ethiopian commemoration of the baptism of Christ — as many as 50,000 pilgrims throng the small town, some traveling hundreds of miles on foot from distant parts of Ethiopia and beyond to attend the celebrations. (photo: Leah Niederstadt)
Rock churches of Lalibela, the Jerusalem of Ethiopia (CNN) Lalibela, a small town in northern Ethiopia, is home to 11 spectacular churches carved both inside and out from a single rock some 900 years ago. The chiseled creations have turned this mountain town into a place of pride and pilgrimage for worshipers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, attracting 80,000 to 100,000 visitors every year. Even though Lalibela sits in a remote region of Ethiopia, the faithful will walk for days, even weeks, to get here, many of them traversing the rugged mountains barefoot. Ethiopia is home to one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, dating back to the early fourth century. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church used to be a part of Egypt’s Coptic Church, but established its own patriarch in 1959. Today, nearly two thirds of the East African country’s population is Christian, with most belonging to the Orthodox Church…
Pope meets Orthodox delegation from Ecumenical Patriarchate (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is in Rome to attend celebrations for Saturday’s feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Traditionally, as spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sends a delegation to Rome each 29 June, while a Catholic delegation travels to Istanbul each 30 November to mark the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Orthodox world. In his meeting with the Orthodox representatives, Pope Francis spoke of important progress in the official dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, which has already produced many joint documents. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue is currently studying the key question of primacy and collegiality in the church of the first century, one of the main obstacles on the road to unity and reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches…
Polish and Ukrainian bishops sign appeal for reconciliation (Polskie Radio) Polish and Ukrainian church leaders signed an appeal for reconciliation in Warsaw on Friday, marking the 70th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres, which took place in a Nazi-occupied region that had been divided between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to the Second World War. Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the Polish Roman Catholic Episcopate, and Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, were the chief signatories of the document. The declaration calls on Poles and Ukrainians to “open minds and hearts to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation…”
Shelling claims lives in the Old City of Damascus (Fides) According to the Melkite Patriarchate in Damascus, whose headquarters is situated a few hundred meters from the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate, the fatal explosions on 26 June in the Old City were not a suicide attack but the launch of two mortar shells. The area affected is a few meters from the Greek Orthodox cathedral in Maryamiyya and also from the Shiite Al Ishane charitable building. But the dynamics of the episode suggests that it was not a targeted attack…
27 June 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Ecumenism Lalibela
With direction from the sisters, women at Queen’s Garments have a chance to better their lives. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Can a needle and thread change a life? We saw evidence of that a few years ago in India:
Inside a large house in the wooded hills of Kottayam, a district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Sangeetha Pushpam crouched over a sewing machine, stitching fabric. She is 19, and has been working for four years to help support her family, which her father had abandoned.
After dropping out of school at 15, Sangeetha was hired by a cashew factory. She was getting paid practically nothing, however, and the factory conditions were taking their toll on her health. She suffered chest pains. Sangeetha wanted to move on and enrolled in a tailoring course. She did not have enough money to complete it, however, and she dropped out.
Fortunately, Sangeetha was invited to Kottayam to join Queen’s Garments, a sewing shop run by the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, a religious community for women of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Founded in 1866, the community includes 6,000 sisters who run charities, schools and hospitals throughout India and abroad.
In a converted novitiate, Sangeetha works with 20 other young women from poor, often broken, families.
“Our mission is to promote plain living, high thinking and selfless service to eradicate poverty and suffering,” said Sister Suma Rose, who started Queen’s Garments in May 2004.
There is a special need for helping women in India, Sister Suma said. They are “undervalued, underrecognized, underrepresented and marginalized in society.”
Read more about Queens Garments in the September 2006 issue of ONE.
27 June 2013
Tags: India Sisters Education Poor/Poverty Indian Catholics
Although Christians make up only 2 percent of the population in Iraq, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees reports that they make up 40 percent of the 1.6 million Iraqis in search of asylum abroad. Of those who remain in the country, many are internally displaced. This video includes interviews with Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis and Redemptorist Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil discussing the struggles Iraqi Christians face and the pastoral pressure created by their migration. (video: CRTN and Aid to the Church in Need)
Strengthening young Iraqis’ Christian identity (Aid to the Church in Need) Since the war in 2003 Iraq has lost more than half of its previously 900,000 Christians. More than 1,000 Christians were killed in bloody attacks and hundreds of thousands fled abroad. Nevertheless, Christian life goes on in Mesopotamia. German Father Jens Petzold even founded a monastery here last year, at the invitation of Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael. Since February 2012, a Syrian Catholic community has been building a monastery in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many Christians from Baghdad and the south of Iraq have fled from the terror attacks in Baghdad to the autonomous Kurdish regions…
Delegation from Ecumenical Patriarchate to visit Rome (VIS) The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity issued a press release today stating that a delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I will visit Rome from 27-29 June 2013 as part of the traditional exchange of delegations for their feasts of patron saints — 29 June in Rome for the celebration of the Apostles Peter and Paul and 30 November in Istanbul for the celebration of St. Andrew the Apostle…
Religious minorities in danger in Syria (AINA) In Syria’s conflict, now characterized as overtly sectarian, every religious and ethnic group has experienced catastrophic loss and pain. Reportedly over the past two years of war, over 93,000 combatants and civilians, of diverse religious identities, have been killed, 1.5 million have become refugees, and 4.5 million more have been internally displaced. Though no religious community has been spared suffering, Syria’s ancient Christian minority has cause to believe that they confront an “existential threat,” according to a finding of the U.N. Human Right Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, last December. And this group, in contrast to Syria’s Alawites, Shiites and Sunnis, has no defender…
Suicide blast near major Damascus church kills at least 4 (Washington Post) A suicide attacker blew himself up near one of the main churches in the Syrian capital Thursday, killing at least four people, according to state-run TV news. The blast struck in the vicinity of the Greek Orthodox Virgin Mary Church in the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Bab Sharqi in central Damascus. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Damascus, which has been hit by a wave of suicide attacks that have killed and wounded scores of people…
Two thousand villages flooded; Indian friars and nuns assist (Fides) The flash floodings in Uttarkand are “a national tragedy that affects many of our people,” said a statement by the Religious Conference in India, which combines orders and religious congregations. “As religious Indians, along with all the church, we are deeply moved and we respond with prayer and with all possible actions to support the victims.” The devastating floods have wholly or partially affected over 2,000 villages in the districts of Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Rudraprayag. More than 100 people in the village of Guptkashi and nearby villages have died, while at least 2,000 are missing. The area affected by the floods is situated in the Diocese of Bijnor, where Bishop John Vadakel, with assistance from Caritas India, has initiated a coordinated effort for humanitarian aid…
26 June 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenism Indian Catholics Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
CNEWA’s magazine ONE took home a record-shattering 22 prizes — including First Place for General Excellence — at the 2013 Catholic Press Association awards held at the Catholic Media Conference in Denver on Friday.
It’s the second time in two years that ONE has set the record for the number of awards won by a single magazine.
The prizes cut across all categories, including electronic media, analysis, design, feature writing and blogs. Summing up the magazine’s achievement for general excellence, the judges wrote:
The design, photography, and writing place ONE among the very best of this year’s Catholic magazines, regardless of category. The design of each spread contributes to the meaning conveyed in graceful writing and powerful images. Various graphic devices unify the spreads from color text blocks through screened background photos to special fonts. Above all, perhaps, ONE provides a global view of the human family with an emphasis on the Near East.
The judges this year were journalism professors at Spring Hill College and Marquette University.
A complete list of ONE’s awards follows:
General Excellence (Mission Magazines)
Best Personality Profile
Salvaging Dignity by Sarah Topol, Dana Smillie
Best Feature Article (Mission Magazines)
Praying Behind Barbed Wire by Joost van Egmond
Best Electronic Newsletter
“Discover ONE Online” by Staff
Individual Excellence (Editor)
Kerala’s Spice Coast; The High Stakes of Leaving; Salvaging Dignity
by Christopher Boland
Best Essay (Mission Magazines)
Middle East Christians and the Arab Awakening by Elias Mallon
Best Multiple Picture Package (Feature)
A Romanian Renaissance by Andreea Câmpeanu
Best Online/Multi-Media Presentation of Visuals
Interview with Journalist Joost van Egmond by Erin Edwards
Best Freestanding Online/Multimedia Presentation of Video
CNEWA Annual Report 2011 by Staff
Best Essay (Mission Magazines)
Jewish and Non-Jewish Identities in Israel by Ron Kronish
Best Single Photo (Color)
A Bridge to Modern Life (Nun and Bedouin Child) by Tanya Habjouqa
Best Photo Story Originating with a Magazine or Newsletter
The Colors of Easter by Marvin Anderson
Best Multiple Picture Package (Feature)
Salvaging Dignity by Sarah Topol, Dana Smillie
Best In-Depth Writing
Salvaging Dignity by Sarah Topol, Dana Smillie
Best Feature Article (Mission Magazines)
Making the Grade by Peter Lemieux
Best Online/Multi-Media Presentation of Visuals
Images from Slovakia by Erin Edwards
Best Online Blog (Group or Association)
ONE-TO-ONE by Staff
Best Magazine or Newsletter Website
One Magazine by Staff
Best Web and Print Combination Package
Profiles: The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
by Michael J. L. La Civita, Erin Edwards
Individual Excellence (Photographer/Artist)
A Romanian Renaissance; The Colors of Easter; Kerala’s Spice Coast;
A Fruitful Trade by Daria Erdosy
Best In-Depth Writing
India’s Christian Untouchables by Peter Lemieux
Individual Excellence (Writer)
Religious Minorities in the Middle East;
Middle East Christians and the Arab Awakening;
Keep Alive the Flame of Divine Love (Subsection: “Why It Matters”)
by Elias D. Mallon
Congratulations to all the winners — and thank you to all our readers!
You can view a complete list of all winners, in all categories, at the Catholic Press Association site. And, of course, you can always visit ONE online at our website, where you can read the current issue or browse our archives.
26 June 2013
Tags: CNEWA ONE magazine
Sister Katharina helps a young friend at Maison du Sacre Coeur, a home for children with severe physical and mental challenges. (photo: CNEWA)
As we noted yesterday, CNEWA staffers are visiting the Holy Land this week, along with members of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, to see first-hand some of the places and projects supported by CNEWA’s generous donors.
One of those places is Maison du Sacre Coeur, which our magazine profiled several years ago:
“We try to give good care to the children,” explains Sister Katharina Fuch, D.C. “We try to assure good health and good food. We try to make life as agreeable for them as we can. We try to find what each child likes — music, play, laughter, television, radio, video. We want these children to feel good.”
The children are some 60 severely mentally and physically handicapped boys and girls, aged from newborn to 16 years. The place is the Maison du Sacre Coeur — the House of the Sacred Heart — in the Israeli port city of Haifa. The care-givers are Sister Katharina, three other sisters, a number of local specialists and other staff.
Sister Katharina is the Austrian-born superior of the House of the Sacred Heart, established by the Daughters of Charity, the religious community founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul.
In addition to caring for the resident children, the sisters also maintain a day-care center with 240 children, assuring working mothers that their children are well cared for during the workday.
Sister Katharina outlines all these activities as we sit in her neat office. Administrative responsibilities, keeping track of the staff and all the activities, are in efficient hands.
But it is when we go down to see the children that she really comes alive. It is with them that Sister Katharina feels most at home. As we walk between the cots she greets each child in turn, stroking their heads lovingly and talking to them affectionately. As she walks past, some grab at her hands, wanting to feel her touch.
Read more in Heart to Heart in Haifa from the December 1997 issue of the magazine.
26 June 2013
Tags: Children Holy Land Jerusalem Health Care Holy Land Christians
In this 2010 photo, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, greets Ahmad Mohamed al Tayeb, president of Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, as they arrive for a press conference in Washington. (photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)
Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee holds meeting in Rome (VIS) The Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee held its 19th meeting in Rome on 18-19 June 2013. The assembly was presided over jointly by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Dr. Hamid bin Ahmad al Rifaie, president of the International Islamic Forum for Dialogue. After listening to the papers presented by Catholic and Muslim scholars and exchanging views about the theme of the rise of secularism in society, the participants agreed that Christianity and Islam affirm the inseparability and complementarity between the material and the spiritual domains and that our responsibility as believers is to reconcile these dimensions of life…
Report describes grim prospects for Christians in Syria (AINA) A new report on Syria’s Christians has been published by Open Doors International. The report is titled Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians and it paints a grim picture for the future of Christians in Syria. This report contextualizes, analyzes and interprets current developments in Syria, with a particular emphasis on the position of its Christian population, in light of this population’s distinct vulnerabilities. In Aleppo particularly, and now in Homs, it is clear there has been disproportionate suffering of Christians and that they are particularly at risk from the war…
Patriarch Kirill urges creation of new fund for Christians in Syria (Fides) An amazing collection of money in all the churches of the Patriarchate of Moscow will be allocated to the Syrian people. The initiative was launched yesterday, Tuesday, 25 June, by the Patriarch Kirill with a statement released by the Synodal Department for information of the Patriarchate in Moscow. “In that biblical land, where Christians and Muslims have lived side by side,” stressed the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, “the relics are now desecrated, churches violated, Christians are forced to abandon their homes, they are often persecuted and tortured and killed”…
Syria death toll tops 100,000, activists say (Haaretz) More than 100,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria’s conflict over two years ago, an activist group said Wednesday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been tracking the death toll in the conflict through a network of activists in Syria, released its death toll at a time when hopes for a negotiated settlement to end the civil war fade. It said a total of 100,191 had died over the 27 months of the conflict. Of those, 36,661 are civilians, the group said…
Patriarch Irinej attends spiritual music festival commemorating Edict of Milan (inSerbia) Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej said late Tuesday that spiritual music festival dubbed “Musical Edict” in Nis is a contribution to marking 17 centuries of the proclamation of the Edict of Milan. Participation of choirs from different parts of the world proves that Nis, the birthplace of Constantine the Great, has become a metropolis that had an important role in the past, but also has one in the present. Speaking about marking 1700 years of the proclamation of the Edict of Milan, Patriarch Irinej said that, according to plan, there are different events organized in various important historical towns in Serbia, across all dioceses…
25 June 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Patriarchs Patriarch Kirill Catholic-Muslim relations Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets with Pope Francis at the 86th annual ROACO (Assembly of Aid Agencies for the Eastern Churches) in Rome.
I am just back from a week of meetings in Rome and I want to share with you some of the highlights and even the excitement that surrounded them.
Carl Hétu (our national director in Canada) and I were part of a group of funding agencies called to Rome by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, for an annual meeting to discuss how we might more effectively respond to the pressing needs of Eastern Catholics suffering greatly in areas served by CNEWA. We are the only agency in this consortium (called ROACO) that is pontifical and completely dedicated to assisting the Eastern Catholic churches in some very troubled parts of the world.
But before I get into some of the compelling content of our sessions, let me tell where I was living while in Rome. Carl and I were hosted at the Domus Santae Martae, a Vatican residence that just happens to be the home of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Imagine the surprise of “running into the Holy Father” at various intervals in the lobby, coming out of the elevator, coming down the stairs. And imagine the sheer excitement of realizing that the figure in white entering the dining room for breakfast was none other than Pope Francis. Yes, we were actually guests at the Holy Father’s new residence and what an honor it was. Although there is discreet security surrounding him at all times, he carries himself in a very relaxed way and freely gives waves and many, many smiles as he comes and goes.
Now for the various sessions:
As we so vividly are reminded each day in the news, the situation is Syria is abominable: everyone is suffering and many thousands are dying. Violence, hatred, vengeance — the realities of war — are confronted on every side.
The suffering of the Christians in Syria was dramatically and poignantly shared with us by a team of presenters. The apostolic nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, described what was happening in the country as a reign of terror and fear. He said that threats of vengeance were directed especially at Christians, as they have generally neither taken up arms in the resistance nor openly sided with the regime. He claimed the “Arab Spring” had been stolen from the people.
A brave Franciscan parish priest joined us to give some brutal descriptions of how the war pits everyone against the other. Former neighbors and friends are now sworn enemies, people (even young teenagers) are captured and tortured and forced to “confess” and give names of their friends. Many have been executed. His particular town has been overrun by both sides on several occasions and so everyone is an enemy. Despite the threats directed personally to him by resistance fighters, radical Islamists and military sympathizers, he does not flinch in his determination to bring a small ray of hope to all: people of every faith and of no faith.
We were blessed with the testimony of a religious sister working in Damascus (a Daughter of Charity) who works mainly with abandoned women and children, but who always keeps the door open for all, at every time of day and night, never knowing if the people knocking at the door are friend or foe. With a deep faith and trust in God she and the other sisters strive to bring the Syrian people a brief respite from the cruel reality of war that surrounds everyone. Sister also highlighted how emotionally draining it is to have countless children wandering aimlessly looking for their parents or a mother and wife looking for her husband who has gone off to war or been taken prisoner.
The crisis in Syria was also described by a brave Jesuit priest who works with refugees in various areas of Syria. The war is not limited to a few areas of conflict, as more than one million homes have been destroyed and many millions have been displaced. Christians have largely stayed in Syria, not fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, but “hunkering down” with family and friends, sometimes with huge numbers crowded into bombed out and filthy dwellings with 40-50 people crowded together. But in his humble way he brings them the sacraments and the hope of Christ, and maybe a sack of rice.
The new Coptic Catholic patriarch of Egypt, His Beatitude Ibrahim Isaac, joined us for an extended presentation and discussion about the trauma for the church in Egypt. He commented that what was supposed to be an “Arab Spring” had turned into an “autumn.” Islamic fundamentalism has spread much fear for Christians. There is a strong movement from the villages (where Christians have previously felt more secure) to towns and cities. Slowly, Christians are losing their identity as they delicately tread the difficult waters of “fitting in” with the new order.
His Beatitude Ibrahim Isaac, Coptic Catholic patriarch of Egypt, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. (photo: CNEWA)
The patriarch is a very ebullient and a cheerful man and exudes confidence in the help of God. He is not naïve, though, about the where his nation and where the church might be going. But he stresses the positives: 170 Catholic schools whose doors are opened to all, clinics and hospitals who serve in the name of our Lord, orphanages who give comfort to lost or separated children. The church maintains her presence and gives hope to many, regardless of their religious group or political preferences. By the way, CNEWA is blessed to offer support to many of these programs. The patriarch privately asked me to thank you for your abiding support and especially your prayers of solidarity.
He highlighted the need to support basic human rights, the rights of women, the need to educate the young to become political leaders who can defend the rights of all and the importance of ecumenical outreach to the Coptic Orthodox Church, our big brother in Egypt. I told the Patriarch I was planning to visit him and his dear people next February and he was most enthusiastic to assist me in executing this pastoral visit.
For those of us involved in helping the church in Iraq, we know how underreported the suffering is there and the consequent flight of two thirds of its Christian community. Patriarch Louis Raphael, who was recently elected to govern the Chaldean Church (which represents about 80 percent of the Catholics of this country), gave some dramatic testimony of the suffering and plight of the Iraqi people. Although this is a country blessed with many resources and the ability to contribute to the wellbeing of the entire Middle East, conditions resulting from religious and political persecution have wreaked havoc and violence on the vast majority of Christians in this country.
Can you imagine when two-thirds of your family has fled because of violence or the lack of a future filled with peace? This is his reality. Some have wrongly described him as pessimistic or fatalistic, but his approach is that of a realist. And while he places hope and confidence in Almighty God, he places great importance on unity: in his own church, with other churches, and national unity above political unity.
I think he surprised some of our group (after all, we represent funding agencies) when he said very openly that he did not join us in Rome to ask for money or for support for important projects, but rather to seek solidarity in prayer and to invite us to engage our governments in the dialogue for a lasting peace in his country, for basic human rights and freedoms.
He is a very practical man and realizes that he also needs to shore up the organization of this important and historic church with better administration and coordination and communication. We all pledged to do our best at being advocates for this suffering church.
Another feature of this annual gathering is to receive a report from some of the religious leaders in the Holy Land, namely the apostolic nuncio to Israel and the apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and the custos of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M.
National director of CNEWA Canada, Carl Hétu, and Custos of the Holy Land Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M. (photo: CNEWA)
The nuncio stressed how the church has placed priorities on housing for young Christian families, education (especially higher education), and the heightened need for jobs. He also highlighted how the church seeks to preserve the rights of Christians in Palestine to build a positive society and to be productive citizens.
The custos (who administers the holy sites entrusted to the Franciscans) referred to the challenging equilibrium in preserving the “stones of memory” (the historical sites where salvation history is recorded) and serving the spiritual needs of the “living stones” (those witnesses to Christ now living in these holy places). The landscape in both dimensions is very complex and the costs are always greater than can be accommodated. As you can appreciate if you have been blessed to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we must make every effort to cherish all these stones.
As a fitting conclusion to these days of emotionally charged content and what some would describe as depressing, we were graciously received in an audience by Pope Francis. After his words of thankfulness to all for the generosity of our donors, the Holy Father gave us some uplifting words about the suffering of the church in Syria, Egypt and Iraq and encouraged us never to lose hope and reminded us that charity must always accompany faith.
In a strong personal plea, he urged us not to give up on Syria and to keep the Syrian people in our hearts and prayers. And he gave us the formula of how a Catholic best responds in all circumstances: to be “rooted in faith, nourished in prayer, especially in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of faith and charity.” ?
The pope then appealed to the powerful and the weak, appealing to world leaders and organizations to seek an end to all pain and violence and discrimination. And to those suffering, the message was loud and clear: “Never lose hope.”
After the ROACO meetings I continued on for two days, attending the meetings of the Board of Regents of Bethlehem University. CNEWA is one of the founders of this great success story in Palestine. As the only Catholic institute of higher learning in Palestine, it serves as a beacon for the rights of all Palestinians and how the Catholic Church seeks to inspire the young people of Palestine to become productive citizens and to contribute to the good of all.
Proudly the university is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary this October. It is also in the midst of a significant expansion program that will position it for even better service to the community in the future. The university, which is run by the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools, has a very close working partnership with the Franciscans entrusted with the care of the holy sites in the Holy Land, the Papal nuncio and the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.
It was indeed an eventful week for me and I hope you have assimilated some of the emotional content, the challenges that confront us, the honor entrusted to CNEWA by our Holy Father to respond to the needs of the Eastern Catholic churches in these areas of conflict — and the sheer delight of being so close to our Holy Father.
God bless Pope Francis and God bless all of you for your prayerful support and generous gifts.
For more on Msgr. Kozar’s trip to Rome, and his thoughts on the struggles of people in the Middle East, check out this report from Catholic News Agency, along with this audio interview with Vatican Radio.
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Rome Eastern Catholic Churches