Current Issue
Winter, 2016
Volume 42, Number 4
23 January 2017
James Jeffrey

Students studying to become catechists offering a blessing to their instructors at the end of the course. (photo: James Jeffrey)

Journalist James Jeffrey reports on efforts to grow the faith in Ethiopia for the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. Here, he shares some meals with catechists —and shares some further thoughts with us.

At the end of a day full of evangelical fervor, I found myself reflecting on how a simple dinner, that act of breaking bread with others, could be nourishing physically but also mentally and spiritually — plus particularly useful for a journalist with his notebook at hand.

My first night in the balmy lakeside town of Bahir Dar, just before the start of the weekend university chaplaincy program on the role of evangelicalism in modern Catholicism, coincided with the conclusion of a preceding course, similarly instructing missionaries, religious sisters and laypersons.

Joining them for dinner, as I sat eating from my plate of injera — Ethiopia’s indigenous spongy pancake-shaped grey bread — topped with rice, beetroot, potato and other fresh vegetables, it was hard to imagine the somewhat diminutive-looking religious sisters who sat around me were, in fact, evangelizers.

But I was soon reminded of what inner strength can lie beneath the surface.

“It took me about two years to learn Amharic,” said Sister Veronica, a soft-spoken Kenyan missionary sister with a ready smile, working in the Benishangul-Gunzu region near the Sudanese border, a remote and hard to reach place all but invisible from contemporary Ethiopia.

“We get to go home once every three years.”

“More important than what I miss is what I find,” said the Rev. Goaquim Silva, a Portuguese missionary priest based in Ethiopia for six years.

I began to understand why many people find missionaries unsettling figures — they have a disconcertingly humbling effect on oneself.

Dinner for each of the following two nights occurred at the table of Abune Lesanu-Christos Matheos, Bishop of the Bahir Dar-Dessie eparchy, along with those running the university chaplaincy program, and other various guests invited by the bishop.

Conversation flowed, covering topics from the dilemmas of evangelical worship to the remarkable history of Christianity in Ethiopia to global collisions between the major faiths of the modern world.

My main problem during all this was trying to eat my delicious meal of injera — eaten with one’s hand — and scribble in my notebook while following the thought-provoking conversation.

“People often just want to sing, there’s no reflection or critical thinking,” said Nancy Greenhaw, an American Catholic instructing on the program.

There was a chorus of agreements and nods from around the table.

“Easy, fast, immediate — that’s what they want,” said Serah Alumansi, a Kenyan Catholic also helping on the program. “They don’t want to be challenged.”

The bishop paused in lifting his injera clasped between fingers to his mouth.

“The negative side of the evangelical movement is that it can become a ghetto and closed in,” he said. “But you can’t do that with the Holy Spirit, it moves how it wants.”

During one meal, sitting on my right was Magdela Wolnik, a Polish journalist producing a documentary about Ethiopia for the international organization Aid to the Church in Need. Like me, she barely said a word, content to listen to the words of those who know more, and benefit from them.

Those around me had recourse to speak of another — who, in all likelihood, knows more than they do.

“Pope Francis has said that it’s a sick church that does not evangelize, it sickens from the stale air,” someone noted. “Following such a new course, it may run into accidents — but he’d prefer a church of accidents than a sick church.”

I’m not sure who said that; by this stage I was really struggling with my injera, pencil and notepad. But the point hit home.

Read more in Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant in the Winter edition of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia

23 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Villagers in Izbet Chokor, Egypt, greet one another along the road that runs through the hamlet, which both Christians and Muslims have made their home. Learn how they are Finding Common Ground in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

23 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Government officials take part in the first session of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on 23 January 2017. (photo: Aliia Raimbekova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Syria’s warring sides kick off talks in Astana (Al Jazeera) A delegation of Syrian rebels attending a new round of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital will not hold direct talks with representatives of the government, according to opposition sources. The meetings in Astana, organised by Russia and Turkey, are aimed at strengthening a shaky ceasefire that has largely held despite incidents of violence across Syria...

U.S.-backed forces brace for ISIS’ last stand in Iraq (CBS News) CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports that in some neighborhoods of eastern Mosul, there is a sense that things are returning to normal. Iraqi forces have managed to liberate the eastern half of the city right up to the Tigris River, which divides it roughly in half...

U.N.: Syrian child refugees struggle to get an education (Reuters) Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are struggling to get an education and many are being pushed into work or early marriage instead, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Monday. Around 187,000 youngsters — roughly half the school-age Syrian children in the country — are not going to classes, the agency said, as it launched a documentary on their situation...

Pope Francis calls for continued prayer for Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Following the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis noted that we are currently in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has for its theme this year “Reconciliation — The Love of Christ Compels Us...”

Russian Orthodox phone goes on sale for $25,000 (RT) Why would you pay $25k for a phone that isn’t even a smartphone? Well, why wouldn’t you, if it was covered in gold leaf, had 18-carat gold buttons, and most importantly, had an Orthodox cross engraved on it? Moscow-based mobile phone company Gresso created 988 (the year Christianity was adopted in Russia) of the phones, ranging from $6,300 to $25,000, depending on how blinged-out the model is. There is a version with diamond encrusted buttons, for example...

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Russian Orthodox ISIS

20 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy attend the liturgy at Fasilides Bath during the annual Timkat Epiphany celebration on 19 January 2017 in Gondar, Ethiopia. Timkat is the Ethiopian Orthodox festival which celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. During the festival, Tabots — or models of the Ark of the Covenant — are taken from churches around Gondar and paraded through the streets to Fasilides Bath. (photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

20 January 2017
Greg Kandra

In this image from last May, people visit the ancient historical site of Syria’s ravaged Palmyra following its recapture by regime forces from ISIS. Syria’s antiquities chief said today that ISIS militants have destroyed part of the ancient theater in the city and ruined other parts of the historic site. (photo: AFP/Louai Beshara/Getty Images)

Syria confirms ISIS has destroyed ancient ruins in Palmyra (BBC) Militants from ISIS have destroyed part of the Roman Theater in the ancient city of Palmyra. Syria’s antiquities chief said the tetrapylon — a group of four pillared structures which were mainly modern replicas — has also been ruined. The jihadists recaptured the UNESCO-listed archaeological site in December from government troops...

‘I went to Aleppo to study; I left in a convoy of refugees’ (The New York Times) One summer day I joined a group of young women in an upscale neighborhood of western Aleppo. We walked through a market carrying banners critical of the regime. A few minutes later, pro-Assad militiamen arrived in several cars and began circling us. We ran. A girl and I who sought refuge in a house in an alley were arrested...

Russian Orthodox believers take icy plunge on Epiphany (Reuters) Hundreds of thousands of Russian Orthodox believers took a plunge into sub-zero waters across Europe on Thursday to wash off their sins as part of Epiphany feast day celebrations. The annual 19 January commemoration of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River saw more than 150,000 people dip into several ice holes across Moscow, Tass news agency said...

Lebanon prime minister calls for billions in foreign aid to help refugees (Reuters) Lebanon’s prime minister called on Thursday for “adequate and substantial” foreign investments worth nearly $10 billion to address the Syrian refugee crisis and upgrade the country’s crumbling infrastructure. At least 1 million people fleeing neighboring Syria’s war have poured into Lebanon since the conflict began in 2011, making up a quarter of the small country’s population and seriously straining its public services...

Priest from Diocese of Orange to head USCCB ecumenical office (CNS) The Rev. Alfred Baca, a priest of the Diocese of Orange, California, has been named the new executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Father Baca, pastor of St. Columban Parish in Garden Grove, California, since 2015, will assume his new post 1 July...

Tags: Syria Ecumenism Russian Orthodox ISIS

19 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Msgr. Richard Lopez helped raise awareness about the plight of Syrian Christians among high school students in Atlanta. (photo: Michael Alexander)

One of CNEWA’s dedicated supporters is a priest in Atlanta, Georgia, Msgr. Richard Lopez. We first met him in 2014, when he was teaching theology at an Atlanta high school and helping raise awareness about the plight of Christians in the Middle East:

Students at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, were stunned to hear about the plight of their brothers and sisters in the thick of the Arab Spring during a presentation given by Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).

“I honestly had no idea what was going on,” St. Pius X senior Abby Barnett, 17, says. “Once we had the presentation, though, we started talking more about it in class. It was really eye-opening.”

News of church burnings, homeless children and abducted church officials concerned the school.

So they decided to do something about it.

St. Pius X’s student-led, anti-genocide group, STAND, enlisted the help of students at Marist School in Atlanta to host an ice skate-a-thon for Syrian students in need.

Nearly 50 students enjoyed the Marietta Ice Center last November, and raised about $400 to donate to CNEWA for Syrian children. The money raised helped about 10 Syrian children receive backpacks, shoes, coats and other school supplies.

...Msgr. Richard Lopez, professor of theology at St. Pius X High School, says he is proud of his students for representing the “essence of our religion — to help those in need.”

“Adolescents will embrace a cause,” Msgr. Lopez says. “Give them a reason to stand up against evil, they will.”

Since then, Msgr. Lopez has retired, but he continues to support the work of CNEWA in whatever ways he can. We asked him what motivates him. He responded in an email that was both poignant and powerful:

I guess the first reason for my motivation would be that anything that happens to the Body of Christ happens to us. It remains a mystery to me how Christians in the West who live in such comfortable security should not be outraged about the abuse of other Christians in the Middle East. That outrage should lead to active charity and active political involvement. I think the fact that over the years I had Iraqi, Syrian and Egyptian Christian students and often heard first hand accounts of their relatives suffering motivated me to do something for those being persecuted.

I believe as Christians we have to honor the pain, the suffering, and the death of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East by active involvement in their recovery and restoration. They are literally the “roots” of our religion. Their shrines, their churches, their monasteries, indeed in some cases their language, belong to the earliest days of our faith. How can we stand by and let that glorious patrimony be destroyed? They have endured and kept the faith under periodic persecution and discrimination for 1400 years and kept that faith under pressures we have been spared. God have mercy on us if we do nothing to save and honor them.

We remain grateful to people such as Msgr. Lopez who continue to spread the word about our work — especially among the young — and who remember our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are so often forgotten.

Tags: Syria

19 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Children welcome a visitor in the village of Garora, on the outskirts of Dehli. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visited India recently. See more of his images and read his impressions here.
(photo: John E. Kozar)

19 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Members of the Saint Elias Cathedral committee inspect the damage inside east Aleppo’s crumbling church, in the Old City, on 21 December 2016. The apostolic nuncio in Syria will be visiting Aleppo this week. (photo: Youssef Karwashan/AFP/Getty Images)

Cardinal to visit Aleppo (Fides) Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, is expected to arrive in Aleppo in the early afternoon today, Thursday, 19 January, for a visit full of commitments and meetings that will continue until next Monday...

Syria’s Assad hopes for ‘reconciliation’ (Reuters) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he believed peace talks in Kazakhstan would lead to local “reconciliation” deals with rebels, a sign of his confidence in a process launched by his Russian allies after the opposition’s defeat in Aleppo...

Will Gaza’s electricity crisis escalate tension? (Al Monitor) The fear barrier surrounding the Hamas regime has broken. For the first time, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets 12 January over the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. The protesters were not afraid of Hamas’ security forces and were willing to confront them. Ever since Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip in a military coup almost a decade ago, many residents in the Strip have suffered from extreme poverty. As far as many of them are concerned, they no longer have anything to lose...

Young people engage in ecumenism in Toronto (Catholic Register) Younger generations, who have not seen a time before the ecumenism movement, are taking up the torch with great enthusiasm. One more indication of that is this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, where the Student Christian Movement (SCM) joins the Archdiocese of Toronto’s celebrations for the first time...

Ethiopians celebrate Epiphany (Andolu Agency) Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Christians gather in open spaces and around fountains Thursday in celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ...

Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank

18 January 2017
Jose Kavi

Sister Sumitha Puthenchakkalackal, from the Sisters of the Destitute, visits some of the people she serves in one ofthe poorest corners of India. (photo: John Mathew)

Writer Jose Kavi chronicles the inspiring work of the Sisters of the Destitute in the Winter edition of ONE. Here, he describes one surprising aspect of the people they serve: their joy.

The visit to Nat Gali (Dancers’ Lane) last fall was like a scene out of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The hamlet is part of Deendayalpuri, a resettlement enclave with more than 8,000 families, just 10 miles east of the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. What strike a visitor first are children and flies swarming the place.

A child slept peacefully on a stringed cot outside a hut that sits the edge of a narrow lane with sewage water running on the sides. Flies buzzing around did not bother the baby, nor did the sniffing dogs. His mother was busy ticking lice with a group of women at one end of the lane while its father chatted with a bunch of men at the other end.

Some other women in tattered saris and heads covered cooked on an earthen oven using dried cowdung cakes as fodder outside their tiny huts. Men played cards or watched games on cellphones in street corners.

It presented a perfect picture of the life that India’s poor are destined to live.

Despite its proximity to the national capital, no vestige of city life has touched the people, who eke out a living from a plethora of activities: dancing at weddings and other functions, begging at places of worship and prostitution.

The enclave burst into shouts as soon as John Mathew, the photographer, Joshy Mon, a friend, and I entered the enclave with Sister Sumitha Puthenchakkalackal, a member of the Sisters of Destitute congregation. The nuns have been working in the area for more than 15 years.

As soon as John Mathew took out his camera, children crowded around him and took over the direction. They insisted he take pictures of their friends and siblings. They needed no prompting to pose for photographs. They also insisted previewing the photos and approving them.

Puddles of stagnant water on the tiny lanes and open drains that run along the lane gave out a foul smell. But hardly anyone seemed to bother about it. Filth and squalor have become part of their lives.

Laughter of children and shouts of elders filled the air and elders and youngsters greeted us with folded hands.

There were hardly any gloomy faces in those lanes.

How do people find happiness in such dreary existence? I asked myself. They seem to fit very well with the beatific life that Jesus preached: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

They have no social security, no healthcare schemes. But they lead what appears to be a perfect, blissful life. God has protected them so far — and they are certain he will continue to protect them and their children in future.

Maybe they are, indeed, “Slumdog Millionaires” — with priceless riches we can’t see.

Read more and discover why ‘My Great Hope is the Sisters’ in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.

18 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Georgian children study English at a Caritas youth center in Tbilisi. Read about one woman’s commitment to her people in A Letter from Georgia in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: Antonio di Vico)

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