17 May 2016
The Rev. Roy Mathew Vadakkel initiated several construction projects to help the poor in India. In the photo above, he visits one of the projects CNEWA funded, which supplied harvesting tanks for rainwater. (photo: CNEWA)
Four years ago, we interviewed a remarkable Syro-Malabar priest in India who was working tirelessly to care for the poor and the outcast. The Rev. Roy Mathew Vadakkel had launched several construction projects, including one that has built harvesting tanks for rainwater.
Our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, wrote: “He makes it a point to see that nobody is deserted in the streets or at homes nearby. He feeds and looks after them by collecting help from local residents. Father Vadakkel gets help from everyone, and gives help to everyone, regardless of religion and caste.”
In his interview with us, Father Vadakkel said:
My mother, who died when she was just 46, was a very pious lady, and her great wish was that I should become a priest. She sent me to church every day for Mass. She taught me prayers and showed me by her own actions how to live for the poor and the needy. So I always had the urge to become a priest and to help the poor.
While I was in the major seminary, I used to visit prisoners, beggars, the sick and other forsaken people.
As for his work today:
I want simply to be a source of “hope to the hopeless.” There should not be any person with no one to look after them. I hope to do the most good for the greatest number of people by supporting them — by deeds more than words. Thus each life is to be dignified. As a priest, I have no other option but to dedicate my whole life in service to the poor. As it is said in the Bible, “Wash each other’s feet ... do good ... and be merciful.”
17 May 2016
Five-year-old Battoul al Hassan stands outside her family’s temporary home in Jounieh, Lebanon. Many refugees fleeing the Syrian war are seeking a safe haven in Lebanon. Read more about them in Crossing the Border in the Spring 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
17 May 2016
Pope Francis talks with Guillaume Goubert and Sébastien Maillard, journalists with the French daily newspaper La Croix, during an exclusive interview at the Vatican on 9 May.
(photo: L’Osservatore Romano/La Croix)
In new interview, Pope Francis speaks of immigration, Islam, other issues (L’Osservatore Romano) Migration, Islam, the laity, France, missionaries, the abuse crisis, the possibility of reintegration of the Lefebvrists into the Church, and the family: these were the main themes which Pope Francis addressed on 9 May in an interview he gave to the French daily “la Croix”...
World powers gather to resume Syria peace talks (Al Jazeera) Senior diplomats from the West and the Middle East are meeting in the Austrian capital Vienna in an effort to salvage efforts to halt Syria’s civil war. John Kerry, US secretary of state, and Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, will chair the meeting on Tuesday. At the gathering, the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG) will renew its call for a national cessation of hostilities and immediate humanitarian access to besieged communities...
Russians building army base at Syria’s Palmyra site (Stars and Stripes) The Russian military is constructing a new army base in the central Syrian town of Palmyra, within the protected zone that holds the archaeological site listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site without asking for permission from relevant authorities, an American heritage organization and a top Syrian archaeologist said Tuesday...
Ancient church frescoes in Turkey damaged during conversion to mosque (Fides) The ancient Byzantine church of Aghia Sophia in Trabzon, converted into a mosque in 2013, was severely damaged due to the work carried out for its transformation into a Muslim place of worship. This was reported by local sources consulted by Agenzia Fides. Heavy renovation led, among other things, to the destruction of frescoes and the total coverage of mosaics...
Online petition launched to try and stop sanctions against Syrians (Fides) A digital online petition has been launched at change.org, aimed “at MPs and the mayors in every Country’ to ask for “the iniquity of sanctions on Syria to be made known to the citizens of the European Union and become, finally, the subject of a serious debate and consequent resolutions”. This is the initiative launched by a number of bishops, religious and consecrated Catholics belonging to different Churches sui iuris, to ask the European Union to put an end to sanctions still in place against Syria...
After fleeing Ethiopia, some return home to a changed country (The Washington Post) The first time Abezash Tamerat returned to her native Ethiopia, she walked out of the airport terminal’s sliding doors only to turn around and walk right back in, briefly overwhelmed by the press of beggars and taxi drivers clamoring outside. Tamerat had left Ethiopia as a child and grown up in foster care in Georgia. Now she was going back as a 20-year-old to rediscover the far-off, unfamiliar place that had shaped her identity...
16 May 2016
Children in Aiga cherish the biscuits they receive as part of a food program supported by CNEWA in Ethiopia. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Watching hungry schoolchildren in Ethiopia carefully put away one of the two biscuits they received at a food program, Msgr. John Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, found the act touching.
He realized they were taking the second biscuit home to share with younger siblings or their mothers.
Alarming levels of hunger, caused by the worst drought in about half a century, has left about 10 percent of all Ethiopians — some 10 million in all — in need of food aid, Msgr. Kozar said in an 11 May telephone interview from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
When the rains have come, as they did in April as part of the El Niño weather phenomenon that drove the drought, flash flooding has resulted. The most recent floods left at least 50 people dead and nearly 120,000 displaced.
“People in this mountainous, very rural country face enormous challenges,” said Msgr. Kozar, who was on a six-day visit to the country in the Horn of Africa.
Cattle, sheep and other animals essential to people’s livelihoods have been lost in the landslides from the torrential rains, he said.
“It will be many months before there is any yield from newly planted crops,” Msgr. Kozar said. “Three weeks of rain is not going to end this drought or stop its far-reaching and devastating consequences.”
More than 83 percent of Ethiopians live in rural areas, where most rely on rain-fed agriculture.
“The food needs here are critical,” particularly for infants and pregnant and breast-feeding women, he said.
In this parish school, teachers described children who often faint from hunger. CNEWA is supporting a food program here that provides basic nutrition to help the children make it through the day. (photo: John E. Kozar)
On a visit to a “humble parish school with no lighting” in Aiga, where CNEWA runs one of its school food programs, Msgr. Kozar heard from teachers who told him that children often faint from hunger when they arrive for the day’s lessons.
“It’s common for children to walk a one- to three-hour journey on very steep mountainous terrain to get to school and then make the same journey home again,” he said.
About 500 people attended a 9 May funeral in a village church that required a four- to seven-hour walk from remote areas for most of mourners, Msgr. Kozar said.
“And that was just one-way,” he said, recalling that he saw the corpse being carried on the shoulders of men who were walking a long distance along “paths with a terrifying drop.”
Hundreds attended a funeral in a distant village. Many walked hours to get there — a humbling example of the devotion of the Ethiopian people. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The “devotion of the people I have met here, young and old, is incredible,” Msgr. Kozar said.
“The mountainous trails are very dangerous, but still, people come regularly to Mass,” he added. “The Christian tradition is very significant to the lives of the people of Ethiopia.”
About 1 percent of Ethiopia’s population is Catholic, yet the church is the second-largest provider of health and education services, after the government.
CNEWA provides humanitarian aid through the local church, Msgr. Kozar said.
With very few level areas on which to grow crops, Ethiopians plant “potatoes, corn, barley, whatever they can” in terraces on the slopes of mountains.
Ethiopians plant whatever crops they can on the slopes of mountains. (photo: John E. Kozar)
“I am amazed at what people here do with the little they have,” he said, noting that he visited a Catholic agricultural college where subsistence farmers were taught how to improve farming methods and advised on which crops provide good nutrition.
Catholic Relief Services complements the work of CNEWA. Kim Pozniak, CRS communications officer, described the landscape as “apocalyptic, with very little vegetation except dried-out scrub and bushes with thorns the length of my forearm” after an April visit to parts of Ethiopia hardest hit by the drought.
“I saw donkeys that had fallen down dead while their owners were taking them to get water” to carry back home, Pozniak said in a 13 May telephone interview.
Animals are Ethiopians’ “most valuable asset,” Pozniak said, and the drought has forced many families to sell any livestock they have out of desperation to feed their families.
CRS is distributing monthly food rations to 2.8 million Ethiopians, as well as running long-term education and aid and development programs in the country, she said.
In many cases, “we make simple interventions that have a huge impact,” she explained, adding that the agency has introduced savings and loans groups and trained people in water storage so it is available when crops are planted.
16 May 2016
In this image from 2002, men relax at a café in Bourj Hammoud, a suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. For a glimpse at Armenians in the heart of Lebanon, and how residents are trying to preserve their history and identity, read Little Armenia from the July-August 2002 edition of our magazine.
(photo: Armineh Johannes)
16 May 2016
In this photo from 29 April, a set of dishes somehow survived a rocket attack on a house in Agdam, Azerbaijan. The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan were scheduled to meet Monday for peace talks in Vienna. (photo: Resul Rehimov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan meet for peace talks (Vatican Radio) Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev were expected to meet in Vienna later Monday to discuss a fragile cease-fire in Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region following the worst violence there in decades...
Report: Syrian refugees selling organs to survive (Newsweek) The illegal trade in human organs has become widespread in Syria and neighboring countries, medical officials and victims say, with cross-border networks exploiting thousands of desperate Syrians. These networks purchase transplantable organs such as kidneys and corneas from Syrians and ship them to neighboring countries, where they disappear into the murky world of the international organ trade, they say. There are also allegations that organs have been stolen from prisoners...
Pope’s visit to Armenian genocide memorial could strain relations with Turkey (RNS) Pope Francis will visit the Armenian Genocide memorial complex during a three-day visit to the country in June, a move that may strain the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Turkey. The pope will travel to the Tsitsernakaberd site in southern Armenia on 25 June, spending an hour at the memorial, the Vatican announced on Friday (13 May). The complex commemorates up to 1.5 million Armenians killed between 1915 and 1923 under the Ottoman Empire...
Multipurpose center under construction in Jordan (Fides) At the initiative of the parish “The Visitation of Our Lady,” construction work of a multipurpose center has started in Anjara, Jordan. The project will serve the parish’s long-awaited purposes and needs. The project, which is located a few miles south of Ajloun, will meet the growing demand for more living space, especially for the children. The children are currently staying in the religious community’s house as there isn’t proper accommodation for them to reside in...
Mine-clearing unlocks holy ground at Jesus’ baptism site in Jordan (The Wall Street Journal) Israel cleared a part of the baptismal site in 2011 and it has since become a popular attraction for visiting Christian pilgrims. Now Israeli and Palestinian officials have agreed to allow U.S. and U.K.-based demining group HALO Trust to clear the rest of the site — about 136 acres. HALO and Israeli defense officials estimate the area is littered with more than 3,000 antipersonnel and antitank mines and an unknown number of improvised explosive devices. The plan is to clear all the mines within two years...
Drought, floods hit Ethiopia’s economy (Voice of America) Floods in Ethiopia, which come on the heels of the worst drought in 50 years, have already claimed the lives of dozens of people and displaced thousands more. The economic toll will also be particularly severe because three-quarters of Ethiopia’s population lives off the land...
Gaza farmers dodge bullets to harvest crops (Al Monitor) Angst seems to be the name of the game for Palestinian farmers within the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel, which measures 300 meters (328 yards) inside the Gaza border. Farmers fear what they say is constant shooting from Israeli forces openly defying a truce agreement signed in August 2014 between the Palestinian resistance and Israel in a bid to end the 2014 war on Gaza...
Vatican publishes pope’s message for World Mission Day 2016 (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has released a Message for World Mission Sunday 2016, which takes place each year on the third Sunday of October...
13 May 2016
In this image from last summer, displaced Iraqis celebrate the liturgy in a tent church in Kasnazan, in northern Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
We’re pleased to invite you to take part in a special evening in New York City devoted to raising awareness — and funds — to support Iraqi Christians.
The guest speaker for this event is the Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., External Affairs Officer for CNEWA and former Vatican representative to the World Council of Churches. He will talk about the struggles and challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.
Suggested donation: $60 per person, $20 per student.
Click on this link to RSVP.
Want more information? Contact Philip Eubanks (800) 442-6392, Ext 519, or drop him an email at peubanks@CNEWA.org.
Join us as we raise funds to provide food, shelter, medicine and other essentials to families trapped in the chaos of Syria, Iraq and beyond.
13 May 2016
Father Jorge Faraj distributes blessed bread following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
(photo: Carina Wint)
There’s a thriving group of Middle Eastern Christians in Honduras, and we paid a visit a few years ago:
There are as many as 220,000 Arab-Hondurans. While they represent only 3 percent of the total population of 7.3 million people, they have had an outsized influence on the nation. They are most visible in business and only slightly less so in politics. Centro Social’s president, Juan Canahuati, a textile magnate with numerous other entrepreneurial activities, is considered the country’s top businessman. Coffee exporter and former Industry and Commerce Minister Oscar Kafati’s ancestors immigrated to Honduras in the late 19th century from Beit Jala, a Christian town adjacent to Bethlehem. Former President Carlos Flores Facusse’s mother came from Bethlehem.
Arab immigration to Latin America is not unique to Honduras nor are such success stories. To take just two prominent examples: former Argentine President Carlos Ménem (1989-1999) traces his roots to Syria; Mexico’s telecommunications titan, Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s third richest man, is of Lebanese descent.
Nearly all Arab-Hondurans claim Christian Palestinian origins, making the Arab-Honduran experience unique. Proportionally, there are more people of Palestinian descent in Honduras than any other Latin American country.
...Today, the country’s only Orthodox parish, the Iglesia Ortodoxa de Antioquena San Juan Bautista in San Pedro Sula, serves more than 200 families. It is pastored by Father Jorge Faraj, a married priest whose grandparents came to Honduras from Beit Sahour, another Christian town near Bethlehem.
Father Jorge estimated that about 45 percent of Arab-Hondurans remain Orthodox, including a small number of Hondurans from Lebanon. “But I’m the only Orthodox priest, so it is difficult for me to serve the entire country,” he said.
While most Arab-Hondurans live in San Pedro Sula, there are also large numbers in Tegucigalpa and other cities. “These cities don’t have their own Orthodox parishes, and I can visit them only so often,” said the priest. “So, these people tend to attend Catholic churches. But then, they’ll come to San Pedro Sula for a visit, and they’ll always come to an Orthodox service here.”
Read more about being Middle Eastern, Central American Style in the September 2006 edition of ONE.
13 May 2016
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia today, Commissioner of Ethiopia National Disaster Risk Management, Mitiku Kassa, left, and USAID Acting Assistant Administrator, Thomas H. Staal, right, hold a joint press conference to discuss increased aid for the drought-stricken country.
(photo: Moohammed Abdu Abdulbaqi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
U.S. Donates 128 million for Ethiopian drought relief (Bloomberg) The U.S. Agency for International Development said it will donate almost $128 million to support more than 10 million Ethiopians suffering from the country’s worst drought in half a century. The funds will pay for food, water, malnutrition treatment, mobile health teams and seeds, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Thomas Staal told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Friday...
Vatican releases pope’s itinerary for Armenia visit (Vatican Radio) The official programme for Pope Francis’ 3-day visit to Armenia from 24th to 26th June was released on Friday...
Iraqi Christian refugees forced to sign document supporting independence of Kurdistan (Fides) A fair number of Christian Assyrians, Chaldean and Syrian displaced, who took refuge in the city of Dohuk after their villages were conquered by the jihadists of ISIS, were forced to sign a petition in recent days in support of the proclamation of an independent Kurdish State in Iraqi Kurdistan. This was reported by local sources, consulted by Agenzia Fides. Ainkawa.com site also publishes a facsimile of the signature collection form, with a space to register the identity card and mobile phone number...
“Garden of Mercy” inaugurated in Jordan (Fides) A company dedicated to “sustainable” agriculture, with 600 olive trees planted on an area of 10 thousand square meters, which employs 15 workers, chosen among the Iraqi refugees but also among the unemployed Jordanians: this is the “garden of mercy,” humanitarian project inaugurated yesterday, Thursday, 12 May in Amman, at the Centre “Our Lady of Peace,” in the presence of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins, and of Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, Apostolic Nunzio in Jordan and Iraq...
Gaza hosts human rights film festival (The Jerusalem Post) While the Cannes Film Festival rolled out the red carpet in France, another red carpet was laid among the rubble of Gaza City. Thursday marked the beginning of the Karama-Gaza Human Rights film festival, the first film festival of its kind to focus on human rights across the world...
12 May 2016
Sister Sophie Boueri, D.C., with one of her young friends at the Creche in Bethlehem.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Sister Sophie Boueri, D.C., spent much of her life caring for the tiniest and most helpless: young orphans who found love and care at the Creche, a home for unwanted children in Bethlehem. In 2011, CNEWA’s Msgr. John Kozar caught up with this spirited sister and, like everyone who meets her, was in awe:
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.
But at an age when most people are trying to take it easy, 83-year-old Sister Sophie then took on one more tough job in a tough corner of the world. After nurturing young orphans in the West Bank for decades, she turned her attention to another group of orphans: abandoned elderly women in her native Lebanon. Her order, the Daughters of Charity, has a worldwide charism to help the poor and the marginalized.
She spoke with us last year about her new mission:
ONE: Tell me about your work in Lebanon.
Sister Sophie: We have 40 elderly women who live in our home. Some are sisters and others are women who have no families or who have been abandoned by their families. We have one doctor and ten staff members. I am the only sister. All the women are Christians, and we accept all rites — Maronite, Orthodox, Latin. We ask only that they be Christian because we take them to Mass every day.
ONE: What kinds of activities do you provide for your residents?
SS: I take them to daily Mass and to receive the sacraments. I walk with them and I am present with them all the time. Once a patient gets better and they can move, I take them on little field trips to places such as the Marian shrine in Harissa or St. Sharbel Monastery.
ONE: What keeps you strong enough to help the elderly when you are elderly yourself?
SS: Only him! I promised Jesus a long time ago I would help all people. This is a promise I cannot break. All my life I have seen the poor and I cannot see them without helping them. Do you see how poor they are? And Sister Sophie also is very poor.
To support heroic people such as Sister Sophie, serving the poor in Lebanon, visit this giving page.