3 July 2013
Our pilgrims gather at the Jordan River. (photo: CNEWA)
On 29 June, the C.W.L. and CNEWA pilgrimage group headed to the Jordan River, where according to Scripture John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water “in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:28)
Since our pilgrimage took us only to Israel and Palestine, we stayed on the west bank of the river, across from the Jordanian park Pope John Paul II had inaugurated in the year 2000. As with most of the Holy Sites we visited, the Israeli site marking Jesus’ baptism has its own history. Unlike most, it is an Israeli National Park and is not cared for by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land or the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic patriarchates.
The site has been open for only two years. Since the conclusion of the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, the entire border has been a military zone with fences, mines and soldiers.
Thankfully, we were privileged to drive to the site — well below sea level — under a scorching sun without any problems. Father Geoffrey Kerslake led us in prayer as we renewed our baptismal vows, and afterward invited us to take a dip in the river. It was an emotional experience as we then headed for the desert, the same desert where Jesus retreated for 40 days.
3 July 2013
Tags: Palestine Israel Holy Land Jordan Pilgrimage/pilgrims
A little boy plays at the Infant Welfare Center. (photo: CNEWA)
Velma’s Dream brought together women from all over Canada to support the tremendous efforts of women in the Holy Land — efforts like the Infant Welfare Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel.
The Infant Welfare Center helps children with learning disabilities throughout Jerusalem. Unfortunately, many families are unaware of the special needs of their children, and attempt to integrate them in local schools. The Infant Welfare Center founded a school for remedial education to address these needs.
In addition to helping local children, the center runs classes and lectures for mothers. They offer courses in parenting, nutrition, mental health and even yoga!
The women and men behind the Infant Welfare Center welcomed the Catholic Women’s League, and brought them face to face with the children and mothers they help. What a joyous experience it was for the C.W.L. women!
3 July 2013
Tags: Children Holy Land Education Jerusalem Disabilities
Students relax on the grounds of Bethlehem University. (photo: Steve Sabella)
Yesterday, I was privileged to meet with an unusual group of “ambassadors” at the United Nations Church Center. These “ambassadors” consisted of eight students and (very recent) graduates of Bethlehem University in Palestine. (CNEWA was one of Bethlehem University’s cofounders and Msgr. John Kozar, president of CNEWA, serves on the university’s International Board of Regents.) The young Palestinians — male and female, Christian and Muslim — were working mostly in the field of business and economics. They came from different parts of Palestine. Two of them were from Hebron/Khalil, a town that has seen a great deal of conflict between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. These were students who had to overcome incredible obstacles to study and graduate. Nevertheless, their enthusiasm and energy were palpable.
While in New York, the contingent was meeting with a variety of ambassadors and United Nations agencies. Sponsored by, among others, Caritas Internationalis, CNEWA and Catholic Charities, they also met with members of the U.N. Israel/Palestine Working Group, whose members include not only Catholics but also Lutherans, Presbyterians and Mennonites. They also visited Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.
After several days of meetings in New York, the group will break up and individual members will spend the summer in different places around the United States, including Washington, D.C., Seattle and Tucson. They’ll have a chance to experience life in the United States — and give folks in the United States a chance to meet firsthand some Palestinians. Almost all of the students spoke of an “image” that Americans have of Palestinians that does not correspond to the reality. They expressed the desire that their stay in the United States would help Americans to realize that Palestinians are not terrorists or radical extremists.
Seeing their idealism and their youth certainly made me believe that these “ambassadors” can make a real difference in helping Americans better understand Palestinians. And, once they return to their homeland, perhaps they may help Palestinians better understand Americans.
3 July 2013
Tags: Palestine United States United Nations Palestinians Bethlehem University
Father Geoffrey Kerslake from the Ottawa diocese concelebrates Mass with Father Elias Odeh, parish priest in Reineh. (photo: CNEWA)
On our journey to the Holy Land, we wanted to meet the “living stones,” the Christians ministering to people in this land. On Sunday, 23 June, we went to Mass in the Latin parish of Reineh, a small village beside Nazareth in Israel. That turned out to be a special day for several reasons. First, it was Pentecost Sunday (since Easter in this part of the world follows the Julian, rather than Gregorian, calendar). Also, the parish priest, Rev. Elias Odeh, was marking the 43rd anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. But it was another detail that may be most memorable: many in our party had a chance for the first time to attend a Roman Catholic Mass celebrated in Arabic.
For many in North America, this may be stunning news. ‘Aren’t Arabs all Muslims?’ some might ask. How is it possible that Arabs are also Catholics? Let’s not forget that Christianity was present in the Holy Land some 600 years before Muhammad, and many Arabs had converted long before. Today, even though they are in small numbers, these Arab Christians are proud of their heritage and their faith.
Rev. Geoffrey Kerslake, who accompanied us on the pilgrimage, concelebrated Mass with Father Odeh. Afterward, our group was invited to join the parishioners for coffee and cake in a warm and friendly setting. We were surprised to see how many spoke English very well!
[Editor’s note: we interviewed Father Odeh as part of our coverage of the Year for Priests. Check out what he had to say here.]
Members of CNEWA and the Catholic Women’s League of Canada take to the pews in a Latin Catholic church in Reineh. (photo: CNEWA)
3 July 2013
Tags: CNEWA Israel Holy Land Holy Land Christians CNEWA Canada
Sister Lovely Kattumattam enjoys a laugh with a resident at Ashraya Old Age Home outside Mumbai, India — the land first evangelized by the apostle St. Thomas. We profiled her work among the poor in ‘Slumdog’ Sisters. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In his homily this morning for the feast of St. Thomas, Pope Francis spoke of how we — like Thomas — can discover the wounds of Christ daily, among our suffering brothers and sisters:
“In the history of the church there have been some mistakes made on the path towards God. Some have believed that the Living God, the God of Christians can be found on the path of meditation, indeed that we can reach higher through meditation. That’s dangerous! How many are lost on that path, never to return. Yes perhaps they arrive at knowledge of God, but not of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. They do not arrive at that. It is the path of the Gnostics, no? They are good, they work, but it is not the right path. It’s very complicated and does not lead to a safe harbor.
“Others,” the pope said, “thought that to arrive at God we must mortify ourselves, we have to be austere and have chosen the path of penance: only penance and fasting. Not even these arrive at the Living God, Jesus Christ. They are the pelagians, who believe that they can arrive by their own efforts.” But Jesus tells us that the path to encountering him is to find his wounds.
“We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to our body — the body — the soul too, but — I stress — the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he’s in jail because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards him, but through these his wounds. ‘Oh, great! Let’s set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things to help.’ That’s important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.”
Read the rest here.
3 July 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Poor/Poverty Thomas Christians Saints Christian
In this 2011 photo, a Swiss Guard stands at attention as Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the beatification Mass for the late Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Catholic Press Photo)
John Paul set for sainthood after second miracle approved (ANSA) A second miracle by Pope John Paul II was approved Tuesday by a plenary meeting of cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, ANSA sources said. The decision means that John Paul may be canonized by the end of this year, the sources said. The next step is for Pope Francis to give the final signature…
Egyptian Army delivers ultimatum; will Copts play a bigger role in what follows? (Fides) In Egypt, the army has delivered an ultimatum: President Morsi must work to resolve the country’s political crisis within 48 hours, or he will be removed from office. After the president responded with a speech on Tuesday evening, reiterating his firm intention to remain in power until the end of his term, “the people are … waiting to see” what the army will do, says Coptic Catholic Bishop of Minya Botros Fahim Awad Hanna. Bishop Hanna adds that, among the discussions and proposals over what will follow, “there are those who hope of some form of involvement also on behalf of the University of Al Azhar and representatives of the Coptic Church as forces capable of contributing to a balanced solution to the crisis…”
Catholic leaders decry arming Syrian rebels (National Catholic Register) Church leaders warned that more blood, martyrs and the end of the church in Syria is the price Syria will pay if the United States decides to go ahead with plans to arm the rebel forces. “We’re seeing what looks like an extermination of Christianity,” says Bishop Nicholas Samra, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the United States. Bishop Samra said that Syria’s five Melkite bishops delivered a “bleak report” about the church in Syria to him and other Melkite bishops gathered at their June annual meeting with Patriarch Gregory III in Lebanon. “Our patriarch and all of our bishops are just calling for an end to all of the fighting,” Bishop Samra said. “We want to see what can be done by working relationships and by sitting down and talking, rather than shooting…”
Maronite bishops urge armed groups to lay down their weapons (Naharnet) The Maronite Bishops Council condemned on Wednesday the spread of illegal arms in Lebanon, saying that it will only create chaos in the country. “All armed groups must lay down their weapons in favor of official security forces,” they concluded. The bishops made their remarks after their monthly meeting headed by Patriarch Bechara Peter. “Political groups cannot rely on arms to achieve their goals, but they should do so through democratic means…”
2 July 2013
Tags: Melkite Greek Catholic Church Pope John Paul II Saints Maronite Coptic Church
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada’s Brenda Killick, right, speaks with a midwife and a nurse from Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour, Palestine. (photo: CNEWA)
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada partnered with CNEWA Canada to support two projects in the Holy Land. Last week 12 members had the opportunity to see the fruits of their generous and hard work. A few sat down with Bradley H. Kerr to reflect on the experience.
What is the Catholic Women’s League of Canada?
Velma Harasen, former national president: It’s a national organization of Christian women from across Canada. We have just under 100,000 women. Our motto is “For God and Canada.” We do work in parishes, community service, leadership development, spiritual development and social justice.
The theme during my two years as national president was Faith and Justice, and we looked for an international project we could all rally around. We thought: “The Holy Land is the center of our faith. We see the injustice there. Why don’t we find a project that supports Holy Land Christians, particularly women?” That’s when we started working with CNEWA Canada.
Janet McLean, former provincial president for Quebec: Carl Hétu from CNEWA presented eight options to our national executive and provincial presidents. I was involved with that discussion. It’s funny how we all picked the Infant Welfare Center as our first choice. It was unanimous. We were all drawn to the idea of helping women and their children.
The Infant Welfare Center is a Christian daycare in the Old City of Jerusalem. What did you accomplish for them?
Velma: The center is primarily a daycare, but our particular project was to assist young women aged 12-15 who are on the verge of dropping out of school in order to work in restaurants and hotels during the tourist season. When the season is over, the girls lose their jobs but don’t go back to school. The project we supported was to prevent dropping out and to try to get those who do, back into school.
Once you picked a project, what did you do?
Barbara McDonald: We took it to the grassroots — the provinces, dioceses and parishes. We explained the initiative, and brought some visuals. Then the ladies had a lot of bake sales and other fundraisers. The donations were very, very generous.
Velma: During my time as president, I had the privilege of going to every province to speak about it. It was amazing how generous people were. This was my dream, and it came true.
Now you’ve seen the Center. What did you think?
Barb: I was impressed by the director. She thinks about today and tomorrow. She’s creative. … She’s got energy.
Janet: They coordinate with the girls’ families and their schools. They get the mothers of the girls involved. That’s encouraging. Teenagers are the same all over the world — if it’s easer to earn money than go to school, they’ll take the easy way out. But three girls have gone back to school and are doing really well. It’s nice to know we were able to help them.
Angela Pomeroy: What a loving group of staff. There’s a lot happening in the Holy Land that we have difficulty making sense of. What Christians have to deal with — it would crush many people. But through it all, the Infant Welfare Center maintains the Christian values of love, dignity and hope.
You quickly met your fundraising goal and picked a second project with the Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour, Palestine. Can you tell us about it?
Velma: The hospital looks after new mothers and babies. The staff explained that vitamin deficiency is a common problem they see. We raised money to provide vitamin supplements.
Barb: The program also involves education and prevention.
Janet: They showed us pamphlets they distribute to mothers about how to stay healthy. I thought, “This is good. It’s the little things like this that don’t get the funding. But sometimes they are more important than the big things.”
What did you think of the hospital?
Velma: I was quite overwhelmed with the things they are accomplishing in very sparse conditions.
Barb: By our norms, the building is small.
Velma: The labor and delivery room had two cots. I asked the nurses, “What do you do when you have two women in labor at the same time?” They said, “Oh, we can handle three! We manage!”
Angela: When you look at us as mothers and what we had in delivering our children, it’s luxurious compared to what people cope with in Palestine. But they make it beautiful and loving with such little resources.
Barb: What struck me is that as much as it is a Christian hospital, they accept anyone and everyone who needs services. And it you can’t pay, if you don’t have money, fine. The staff maneuvers the finances so they can cover many free deliveries.
I was impressed that the hospital is a cooperative.
Brenda Killick: The members work collaboratively as a community of like-minded citizens to improve the health of women and children.
Barb: They are doing things for themselves, for their community, for those in need. It’s not that the hospital asks for handouts — yes, they do need help and we provided it — but families pay money to be a part of the cooperative. By our standards it’s not a high amount. … And when they use the hospital, the members pay a lower fee than nonmembers.
How are you going to take this experience back to your parishes in Canada?
Barb: I think those of us who came on this pilgrimage will be messengers. We will try to enlighten, encourage, incite and educate.
Janet: I would like to see the Catholic Women’s League stay involved. This trip has reinforced for me how important it is to support the Christians of the Holy Land.
Angela: I’m an educated woman. I think I know a little bit about some things. But I knew nothing about the Christians in the Holy Land and how they are living. I can’t wait to develop a presentation for my parish. There are things we can all do to help Holy Land Christians, and the most important is prayer.
Former C.W.L. President Velma Harasen meets with Infant Welfare Center Director Tania Awwad in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNEWA)
2 July 2013
Tags: Holy Land Catholic Canada CNEWA Canada Women
A choir rehearses at Moscow’s Church of Three Prelates. With the decline of Soviet-era suppression, Orthodox Christianity saw a rapid and enthusiastic revival in Russia. You can read all about it in Orthodoxy Renewed, from the March 2010 issue of ONE. (photo: Julia Vishnevets)
2 July 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Russia Russian Orthodox Church Prayers/Hymns/Saints
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II speaks at the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church in June 2013. (photo: The official site Pope Tawadros II)
Pope Tawadros II praises Egyptian protesters (Ahram Online) Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II expressed his support on Tuesday for the nationwide anti-government protests and the campaign calling on President Mohamed Morsi to step down. “It is wonderful to see the Egyptian people taking back their stolen revolution in a peaceful way,” he said in a statement via Twitter…
Syrian refugees set up home in Iraq’s Domiz camp – in pictures (The Guardian) More than 160,000 Syrian refugees are seeking safety in Iraq, most of them in the Kurdish region. Domiz refugee camp, the only Iraqi camp for Syrian refugees, is severely overcrowded and about 90,000 refugees are scattered around nearby towns. With the number of people leaving Syria showing few signs of diminishing, securing food, water and adequate sanitation is an ever-increasing problem…
Georgia’s mighty Orthodox Church (BBC) The Orthodox Church remains the most trusted institution in Georgia. In a February survey carried out by the Caucasus Resource Research Center, 95 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of its work. Beka Mindiashvili, a former theologian who is now head of the Tolerance Center at the public defender’s office, attributes such high confidence in the church to the 80-year-old patriarch, Ilia II. “He possesses all the right attributes. He is charismatic, he speaks slowly and each word is regarded saintly, holy,” Mr Mindiashvili says. “He is a person for everybody. To a simple person, he speaks simply; to a politician, he speaks politically; to an intellectual, he speaks of Umberto Eco and of classical music.” There were only about 50 priests when Ilia II became patriarch in 1977. Today there are approximately 1,700… [Check out ONE’s profile of the Orthodox Church of Georgia]
Suspect arrested in connection with vandalism of West Bank monastery (Jerusalem Post) An ultra-Orthodox man was arrested Sunday for a September “price-tag” attack on a 19th-century Christian monastery in the West Bank, allegedly carried out in solidarity with other nationalistic Jewish settlers, police said Monday. Graffiti left on the Latrun Monastery by the suspect referred to Migron, an unauthorized settler outpost evacuated by the Israeli government last year. The words “Jesus is a monkey” were also painted in Hebrew on a wall, and the monastery’s doors then set ablaze. The crime was promptly condemned in September by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the perpetrators had threatened freedom of religion and must be punished…
Maronite patriarch praises Lebanese army (Naharnet) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter voiced on Tuesday his “complete support” for the army in its efforts to preserve Lebanon’s unity and peace. He called on the Lebanese people “regardless of their political or sectarian affiliations to support this national institution.” The patriarch further stressed: “The army helps unite the people and acts as a guarantor of peace for the nation … against the repercussions of the regional crises and internal developments.” Patriarch Bechara Peter’s remarks came amid a growing controversy over extending the tenure of Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji in light of the recent clashes in the southern city of Sidon, where 18 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in clashes with armed supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al Asir on 22-23 June…
1 July 2013
Tags: Violence against Christians Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Refugee Camps Georgian Orthodox Church Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
I had the privilege to meet with Sister Marta from the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute for the deaf here in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, deafness is a common problem facing the Palestinian community. The incidence of deafness is approximately 3 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 15 percent in certain villages — a much higher percentage compared with other regions of the world.
CNEWA has sponsored the Ephpheta Institute since its founding over 40 years ago, helping the sisters, teachers and staff provide a quality education for deaf and hearing-impaired children throughout the Palestinian community. Sister Marta spent the afternoon showing us around the school and speaking about the challenges faced by these children. I could go on about the amazing work of these Sisters and the special life of the children they serve, but Sister Marta puts it better — listen to her talk about the importance of building trust and self-confidence in these children:
You can read more about the good work of Ephpheta here. And visit this page to learn how you can help children with challenges.
Tags: Children Holy Land Education Bethlehem Disabilities