11 April 2019
One of the most revered Desert Mothers was St. Mary of Egypt. She is depicted in this painting from the 16th century.
(image: Wikimedia/by Jacopo Tintoretto/Scuola Grande di San Rocco)
For more than 90 years, Catholic Near East Welfare Association has worked to be a beacon of hope — beginning in the Near East, then spreading to Africa, Central Europe and India. Through the generosity and commitment of its donors, CNEWA has brought help and hope to countless Christians and non-Christians in the world who otherwise would have had neither hope nor future.
Ninety years is a long time and the world has changed a great deal in that time. There have been two world wars, countries and even empires have come and gone; ideologies have sprung up, flourished and been replaced by new ideologies.
And yet so often things seem depressingly the same. The poor and innocent remain victims of war and oppression. The geography and the actors may change but it seems that the script remains relatively constant: war, refugees, famine, and migration. For nearly a century, CNEWA has struggled to deal with these almost intractable issues.
Charitable organizations such as CNEWA, whose work is dependent of the generosity of donors, often speak of “donor fatigue.” Donor fatigue is a very real thing. Even the most committed and generous donors can be excused if they wonder if their generosity is making a difference. The problems of the world can be overwhelming. Do their gifts make the world a better, safer, more just place? The questions are real and they are valid.
In thinking about these questions, I found some answers in an unexpected place: the desert.
As many know, CNEWA works with the Eastern churches--both Catholic and Orthodox. These churches date back to the time of the apostles and have rich traditions which are often unknown to Christians in the West. For example, Christians in the West are familiar with monasticism but almost exclusively in its western (Benedictine) form. They are unaware of a much older monastic tradition that existed centuries before St. Benedict in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East.
Holy people went into the desert to live a life of prayer and penance as hermits. They often attracted followers and disciples and wrote treatises on the spiritual life. A body of literature exists consisting of the writings of these “Desert Fathers.” More recently and very happily, research has uncovered a tradition of the “Desert Mothers” as well — women who lived as hermits, had disciples and left behind “sayings” and writings.
In their aphorisms and writings, the Desert Fathers and Mothers spoke extensively of the spiritual life — the things which promoted it and things which damaged it. They wrote of virtues and vices and were the predecessors of the great medieval theologians. Many of the Desert Fathers and Mothers contributed to the development of the notion of the ”seven deadly sins”: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, anger and envy.
However, these men and women also wrote about what they called acedia. For the Desert Fathers and Mothers acedia was the most frightening vice of all. Acedia was the root of all vice and the opposite of all virtues. The word acedia means “not to care.” It is the state in which nothing matters. It lacks the violence of anger, the obnoxiousness of pride and envy, the prurience of lust. Nor does it evoke the guilt those vices do. Acedia, in fact, evokes nothing but indifference.
Acedia is the deep feeling that one can no longer make a difference. There is neither joy in doing good, nor guilt at doing nothing. But as time has gone on, one almost never hears of acedia any more. It is often weakly translated as “sloth.” That is, I suspect, a loss.
Faced with a world of overwhelming—and seemingly insoluble—problems, it is understandable that we get tempted to shut down. It is human to think, “I just cannot afford to care.”
It is precisely here that CNEWA takes up the ancient challenge of those holy Desert Mothers and Fathers. CNEWA reminds us that caring, hoping and believing—sometimes against the odds—matters.
At bottom, this is our call as Christians.
Believing that we can and do make a real difference is at the center of what it means to be followers of Jesus — and, by extension, distant descendents of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
11 April 2019
Pope Francis greets a child as he visits the Parish of St. Julius in Rome on Sunday. (photo:CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
11 April 2019
Tags: Pope Francis
Voters lined up at the polls on Thursday as India began the first phase of its polling process.
(video: Hindustan Times/YouTube)
Polls open in India (CBS News) Voting began Thursday in India, the world’s biggest democracy, to pick the next central government. The world’s second most populous nation is a key economic and security ally of the U.S., and the outcome of the elections will have a major impact on stability in the region, and possibly on New Delhi’s ties with Washington…
Russia, Turkey, Iran call for Syrian territorial integrity (Haaretz) Lawmakers from Russia, Iran and Turkey are calling for Syria’s territorial integrity to be preserved as remarks from Israel and the United States have renewed long-standing land disputes and after U.S. President Donald Trump had recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights…
Kerala floods to be featured in World Reconstruction Conference in Geneva (The Hindu) The devastating 2018 floods and the rebuilding measures launched by Kerala in the grim aftermath will feature in the fourth World Reconstruction Conference (WRC) to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, next month…
Retired pope publishes reflection on abuse crisis (CNS) Retired Pope Benedict XVI, acknowledging his role in helping the Catholic Church come to terms with the clerical sexual abuse crisis beginning in the 1980s, wrote an article outlining his thoughts about what must be done now…
10 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Pope Benedict XVI Kerala
Children from Tbilisi and Gardabali attend dance classes at the Assyro-Chaldean parish complex. Learn more about life in Tbilisi in A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE magazine.(photo: Zviad Rostiashvili)
10 April 2019
Israel’s Prime Miniater Benjamin Netanyahu appears headed to a record fifth term after yesterday's election. (video: CBS News/YouTube)
Netanyahu on cusp of victory (CNN) Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be on the cusp of securing a record fifth term as Israeli Prime Minister Wednesday after a dramatic finish to a closely fought election race. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party appeared neck-and-neck with the centrist Blue and White party led by his former chief of staff Benny Gantz. With Israeli media reporting more than 97 percent of the vote counted, both sides were projected to win 35 seats each…
Bomb kills eight in Syrian city of Raqqa (Reuters) A bomb attack in the Syrian city of Raqqa killed at least eight people on Tuesday, including four fighters of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a security source in northern Syria said. The blast also killed four civilians and wounded three members of the Kurdish-led internal security forces known as the Asayish, the source said…
Syrian refugees in Egypt struggle to live amid economic hardship (Reuters) Tough economic reforms and rising costs have hit refugees and migrants in Egypt particularly hard, aid groups say. More than 77 percent of Syrian families in Egypt were in debt in 2017, up from 73 percent the year before, according to unpublished data seen by Reuters from a UNHCR survey of more than 100,000 Syrians. Nearly 93 percent of families were unable to repay the loans, up from 81 percent in 2016, the year Egypt devalued its currency as part of an IMF loan deal...
Indian Catholics complain to papal nuncio, accuse bishop of selling land (UCANews.com) A group of Catholics in a southern Indian diocese have accused their bishop and a priest of selling off prime church property, causing massive financial loss, but the bishop dismissed the claim as an attempt to tarnish him. Bishop Anthony Swamy Thomasappa of Chikmagalur and his former vicar general, the Rev. Shantha Raj, teamed up to take ownership of two plots of land worth 180 million rupees (US$2.4 million) at a cheaper value, lay leaders told media on 6 April...
9 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Egypt Israel Indian Bishops
St. Vincent de Paul’s work varies, and includes addressing needs as obvious as medical care and as nuanced as safe places to play. (photo: CNEWA)
In the new edition of ONE magazine, Joseph Ahmar Dakno, the head of the Aleppo section of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, describes some of his organization’s efforts to help the embattled people of Syria — including children:
Four years ago, 6-year-old Roula was living in a small room, alone. Her parents, shell shocked, had locked her away to protect her from the constant barrage of shelling and stray gunfire. Alone, her fears intensified and she became a terrorized prisoner.
Having lost everything, her parents failed to enroll her in school. Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul learned of Roula and the situation of her parents and sought to intervene. They visited her parents twice a month and saw the extent of their own trauma. Little by little, they offered counsel and help, finally getting them the treatment they needed. The society also promised to cover the expenses for Roula’s schooling, including providing her with school supplies and clothes.
Today, Roula is living a healthy, normal life, grateful for the opportunities offered to her by the society. So many other children in Syria have never received the support and assistance they needed. Some still cannot read or write, and many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. Their future is far less promising.
The sad reality is that there are many cases like Roula’s, but it is difficult to screen and reach them, especially those who are still living in dangerous areas. Changing a child’s future — especially by providing education and a secure home life — is critical to help build a better society and give hope.
Read the whole story here.
9 April 2019
A destroyed statue of St. Theresa stands in the compound of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent in Tamil Nadu after it was attacked by a mob on 26 March. (photo: UCANews.com)
Police protect Indian convent following mob attacks (UCANews.com) Police are protecting a Catholic convent and a school two weeks after mobs attacked and injured several people, including four nuns, in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state. Indian bishops on 6 April appealed to political leaders in New Delhi and Tamil Nadu “to deal sternly” with criminals who attacked the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and its Little Flower Higher Secondary School in Chinnasalem town on 25-26 March…
Russia, Turkey reach deal for joint patrols in Syria (Al Jazeera) Russia and Turkey are ready to start joint patrols to secure the last rebel stronghold in Syria. The deal for Idlib province was announced in Moscow during a visit by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan…
Netanyahu rallies the right ahead of election (The Guardian) Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Israeli voters his rightwing party, Likud, is in danger of losing its decade-long run in power, in a last-ditch effort to get supporters out to vote on the eve of elections on Tuesday…
Ukraine: the forgotten war (Al Jazeera) The tension between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, which declared independence in 2014 with military support from Moscow, shows no sign of abating. Despite the Minsk ceasefire agreement, conflict continues to affect everyday life; the hiss of bullets flying overhead and the crack of far-off sniper fire are familiar sounds…
The paradox of India’s most religiously diverse state (The Ground Truth Project/WGBH) Residents of Kochi, a coastal city in the southwestern state of Kerala, call it paradise. From its leftist government to its laid-back vibe, blue-chip schools, spas and wellness centers, the city is home to some 700,000 people with another 1.6 million in the greater metropolitan area. But like Kerala, which bills itself as “God’s Own Country,” Kochi is a place of paradox…
Gaza zoo animals relocated to Jordan (BBC) More than 40 animals have been moved out of “terrible conditions” in a Gaza Strip zoo to a reserve in Jordan, a welfare group has announced. Four Paws say the 47 animals, including lions, monkeys, peacocks and porcupines, have been taken from Rafah Zoo near the border with Egypt...
8 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank
A photo shows the father of Mousa Kamar, Youssef Kamar, right front, carrying the large wooden cross during the Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Kamar family)
For four decades, Mousa Kamar has taken his place at the head of the heavy wooden cross used during the Franciscan Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa.
Kamar, 55, can be seen every year at the front left of the cross, the same position where his father used to carry the cross. His grandfather also helped carry the front of the cross. The scores of old black-and-white pictures, color photographs and magazine photos Kamar has collected and uploaded onto his Facebook page attest to the long-held family tradition.
“We do this not only because it is the tradition, but because we are religious and we truly believe in it,” said Kamar, looking over some of the photographs scattered on a coffee table as he sat in his mother’s living room in Jerusalem’s Old City, near the ninth station of the cross. This is the home where he grew up and where his paternal grandmother was born.
It takes about 20 men to carry the 3-meter (3.3-yard) cross on Good Friday, and traditionally each position on the cross was taken by a representative of a different family. Kamar is the only one who has continued with the tradition. As the older generation died off, the younger members of the other families did not continue with the tradition, he said.
The cross, though still large and heavy, is smaller than the one used generations ago, he said.
Even in the pushing and shoving of the procession, which sees local Catholics and pilgrims packing the cobblestone streets of the Old City as they make their way along the Via Dolorosa, Kamar said he is able to find a space within himself where he can reflect on the significance of the moment and on the life of Jesus.
“When I am carrying the cross I remember Jesus, how he died for us and how he walked all this way by himself,” said Kamar. “We are 20 people carrying it, and he carried it by himself. Especially as we stop at each station and it is mentioned where he fell (or other detail), it makes me feel like I am following the footsteps of Jesus.”
Kamar’s parents had run a family grocery store near the eighth station of the cross, and Graciella Matulleh Kamar, today 83, recalled the pride she felt as she would stand in the doorway of their shop on Good Friday and watch as her husband carried the cross during the procession. Her husband, Kamar’s father, was killed during the 1967 war in which Israel took over control of Jerusalem from the Jordanians.
“After he was killed, I couldn’t watch the procession anymore. It was too painful,” she said.
Only when Kamar, at age 15, stepped in to fill his father’s place was she able to once again watch the procession, she said.
Kamar was 5 when his father was killed.
“Especially on Good Fridays, my mother would tell me about how my father carried the cross and that one day I would carry it, too,” he said. “The first time I carried it I couldn’t sleep the night before, I was so excited about carrying the cross and filling that space my father had had.”
Several years ago, Kamar’s oldest son, Youssef, 20, also joined the group of men carrying the cross, but during the procession, he steps aside to let others take their turn. More recently, Kamar’s youngest son, Ramez, 15, began taking part in the carrying of the cross. One of the pictures shows a 13-year-old Ramez at the end of the cross, his head barely peeping over the top of the cross among the crowd of men surrounding it. With his dark curly hair and full cheeks he looks just like his father did in earlier pictures.
“It was very exciting to be able to carry the cross,” said Youssef Kamar. “In the future maybe I and my (future) sons will continue the family tradition. Although this is a tradition, it also helps me feel closer to Jesus and what he went through before being crucified.
“It is also a burden and an honor to do this,” he added. “Since I was young, I heard stories about this family tradition and, since my father, and his father and his grandfather have done this, I think it is important to keep the tradition and to keep our religion alive.”
In preparation for the procession, Mousa Kamar spends Holy Week in prayer, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre every day after work and participating in the liturgical ceremonies, including the traditional veneration of the pillar of Jesus’ flagellation, the washing of the feet pilgrimage to the Cenacle, and holy hour on Holy Thursday at Gethsemane.
He said he uses the time to meditate and pray for Christian unity and a strengthening of Christian religious identity, which he feels is being lost.
“All week I am praying, preparing to carry the cross, linking how Jesus suffered for us to the Palestinian situation. He fought for us, sacrificed himself for us but, unfortunately, we are losing our Christianity. I always pray for that, that people will return to the foundations of Christianity,” he said noting that Christians in the Middle East are living a difficult reality with close to 50 percent of the Christian population having emigrated.
“We love Jesus and we feel we are a part of Jesus. Every corner, every stone in Jerusalem is directly about Jesus.”
8 April 2019
Meetings are taking place to discuss the fate of displaced Syrians trapped in a remote camp. The U.S. is urging Russia and Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to the camp. (video: Al Jazeera/YouTube)
U.S. urges Russia, Syria to facilitate aid to remote camp (AP) The U.S. military says it is not preventing Syrians from leaving a remote displacement camp near an American base in Syria and is urging Russia and Damascus to help facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid…
Report: Trump plan would grant Jordanian citizenship to Palestinian refugees (The Jerusalem Post) President Donald Trump will push for Jordan to grant citizenship to one million Palestinian refugees as part of his “Deal of the Century,” according to the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar. Trump will also ask Egypt to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees. Granting Palestinians refugees citizenship status from other countries may be a way for Trump to avoid establishing a Palestinian state. The report hints that a confederation of three states may be an option, where there would be a joint government between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority for specific and limited purposes…
Indian Christians look to Supreme Court for religious freedom (UCANews.com) Christian leaders and activists in India are pinning hopes on the Supreme Court to set aside guidelines made by a state court on individuals changing religion. India’s top court on 5 April postponed hearing a petition of Christian leaders that challenged the guidelines of Rajasthan high court, saying the directions violate religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution. The court postponed the hearing after the federal government said it needed more time to offer a response to the petition…
Some Russian Orthodox rebel against the digital revolution (AsiaNews) Since 3 April, the Russians have seen their pension card replaced by a personalized PIN number, needed to access electronic services. A part of the Orthodox faithful has rebelled against this measure, which in their opinion expresses the imminent advent of the apocalyptic times. The new law introduces the new rules for the use of state services, which provides a personalized PIN to access public administration. This is a simplification of procedures, part of the “digital revolution” announced by Putin after last year’s election for his fourth presidential term. The most observant Orthodox, who for some time have been protesting against the use of “satanic figures,” such as the tax code, speak of the imposition of the “electronic lager”…
Coffee award ’Cup of Excellence’ to be held in Ethiopia for the first time (Global Coffee Report) The Cup of Excellence (COE) will be held in Ethiopia for the first time in March 2020. The event is made possible through an ongoing partnership between the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, the Ethiopia Coffee and Tea Authority, United States Agency for International Development, and Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain (FTFE-VCA). ”The competition finally came home, where the best natural coffee is produced,” says producer Zenabu Alem. “I look forward to entering my coffee in the competition…”
5 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Jordan Russian Orthodox
In this image from the March 2019 edition of ONE, altar servers enjoy a moment of prayer and contemplation at Mar Shemmon Bar Sabbae Church in Tbilisi, Georgia. (photo: Zvia Rostiashvili)