17 January 2012
Youth from all religious communities participate in an urban dance workshop in Beirut.
(photo: Spencer Osberg)
In the July 2010 issue of ONE, Spencer Osberg photographed and wrote about life for youth living in Beirut, Lebanon:
Mr. [Muhammad] Ayoub belongs to a declining but active group of Lebanese youth committed to remaining in and improving their country. He and two friends founded Nahnoo as college students, organizing small outreach projects that brought together youth from Beirut’s disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“Even with the divisions, you have the same problems; you share the same goals and dreams. So why don’t you work together?” he says about the organization’s mission.
Today, Nahnoo coordinates some 60 volunteers, who tutor and mentor youth across the city. It also holds workshops for young people, aimed at teaching them the importance of tolerance and how to express themselves and solve their problems without violence. The workshops often include activities involving critical thinking, which, Mr. Ayoub says, help youngsters to better understand the complexity of the situations they encounter and that people may have different perspectives.
For more, read Lebanon’s Urban Youth.
11 January 2012
Tags: Lebanon Children Beirut
Archbishop Elias Chacour welcomes members of the Holy Land Coordination program.
(photo: Marcin Mazur/CCN)
Yesterday, the bishops participating in the Holy Land Coordination program visited the Israeli city of Haifa, where Israeli Christians, Jews and Muslims live side by side. We experienced a city that seems to revel in its complexity, where leaders, teachers, parents and children of all faiths and ethnic groups decided to go beyond the traditional speeches about achieving peace. They agreed to learn, teach, live and play together.
Yet even here, the temptation exists to associate a particular religion to a behavior or attitude. This temptation to label is very dangerous; it inflames doubts and suspicions in a region plagued with conflict and violence, and reinforces the idea that religion is part of the Middle East’s problem.
We came here to see for ourselves how religion heals the injustices of failed political policies. We met with our good friend, Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee, who, while visiting Ottawa last October, mentioned the success of his school in the Israeli village of Ibilin. There, Christian, Druze, Jewish and Muslim students attend the same school.
We had the occasion to meet teachers and religious leaders of a number of faiths present in Haifa, all of whom reminded us that much is needed to instill the necessity of coexistence and mutual respect with tomorrow’s leaders. All agreed that education was the key to peace and that a proper space is needed where all faiths can be together as one while respecting the other’s differences. Interestingly enough, this was the theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s message of peace this past 1 January. It left us with something to think about.
Indeed, two days before I left for Jerusalem, the only mosque in my home town of Gatineau in Quebec was vandalized for the second time in two weeks. Even though Muslims represent less than .5 percent of our population, a minority of people fears their presence.
Yes, we must help parts of the world like the Middle East, but are we not falling into the same trap of intolerance and labeling here in North America? If I am reaching out to Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Middle East, should I not do the same in my home town?
Catholic, Druze, Jewish and Muslim leaders met in Haifa, Israel, to discuss coexistence. Archbishops Patrick Kelly of Liverpool and Richard Smith of Edmonton are among the bishops participating in this Holy Land Coordination program. (photo: Marcin Mazur/CCN)
5 January 2012
Tags: Holy Land Unity Interreligious Middle East Peace Process Discrimination
In this photo from 2003, Sister Nahla tends to a patient at the Al Jamh-Al Zahrawi Hospital in Mosul, Iraq, where she has been working since May. (photo: Philip Toscano-Heighton)
Today, the Washington Post reported that a suicide bomber targeting Shiites killed at least 72 people in Baghdad — the highest one-day death toll since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December. This bombing is one in a series of recent attacks resulting in many causalities. In the midst of so much turmoil and suffering, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena have been a safety net for Iraqis affected by war for many years. In the January 2004 issue of the magazine, Jill Carroll wrote about their work with the wounded and sick:
Others, like Sister Nahla Francis, work outside the convent. Sister Nahla started working as a nurse six months ago at the nearby Al Jamh-Al Zahrawi Hospital in Mosul. She monitors life-support machines, feeds patients and changes bed linens. Many patients are recovering from gunshot wounds and other life-threatening injuries.
She is the only sister in the hospital and often has to explain to Muslim patients what a sister is.
“I saw a lot of different cases here. One patient came who had lost her legs and her family,” said Sister Nahla, who has been a member of the community for six years. “She told me, ‘I want to die because I have nothing to live for.’”
In such cases, “I can only pray for the patient,” said Sister Nahla.
Equally trying was the death of many children brought to the hospital during the war, she said. “The community gave me spiritual support and encouragement to continue my work here.”
Since that report, Sister Nahla has left Iraq; she now works at the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, which is also supported by CNEWA.
Meantime, the author of the story, Jill Carroll, came to know all-too-well the nightmare of Iraq. In 2006, she was kidnapped by Sunni Muslim insurgents and spent nearly three months in captivity before finally being released. You can read more about her story in The Christian Science Monitor.
For more, read In the Shadow of War. To learn how you can help support the sisters and hospitals in Iraq, visit our website.
4 January 2012
Tags: Iraq War Health Care Dominican Sisters
Sister Lucy Maule of the Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem, holds four-year-old Abdil-Karim Yosef Allush. This photo was featured on the cover of the Jan/Feb 1996 issue of the magazine.
(photo: Miriam Sushman)
In this photo from our archives, Miriam Sushman documented the work of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy at Ephpheta Institute, a school for hearing-impaired children in Bethlehem that CNEWA has supported for many years. George Martin wrote about his experience at the school for our magazine back in 1996:
Ephpheta was founded at the Pope’s request after his visit to the Holy Land in 1964. Supported almost entirely by CNEWA-PMP, Ephpheta admits children on the basis of need, not their parents’ ability to pay.
Ephpheta is run by the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, a largely Italian community dedicated to spreading the love of Christ through fostering human and Christian development. Although engaged in many types of educational and social work, the sisters have specialized in educating the deaf.
How does one go about teaching a child born deaf to speak? It is a slow and exceedingly painstaking process. The more I witnessed it, the more I marveled.
For more, read The Miracle of Ephpheta. To learn how you can help support the children of Ephpheta Institute today, visit our website.
30 December 2011
Tags: Children Palestine Bethlehem Disabilities
A woman prays in a church in Deir Azra, a Christian village in Upper Egypt. This is an unpublished photo from the September 2011 story Spotlight: Coptic Women. (photo: Holly Pickett)
2011 was a year of change throughout the world. Many countries in the Middle East underwent political upheavals — the repercussions of which will surely unfold for years to come. The people and churches we serve in the region — from Iraq to Egypt to Syria — were undoubtedly affected. Through it all, and with your generosity, CNEWA has assisted Christians throughout the Middle East.
This year has been one of change for our agency, too. In September, we welcomed a new president, Msgr. John E. Kozar.
With your continued support, CNEWA will remain a lifeline to those in need in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe in 2012! May your New Year be a blessed and prosperous one!
28 December 2011
Tags: Egypt Africa Coptic Christians Coptic Church
Msgr. John Kozar (left) meets President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas (center) at a reception hosted by the Franciscans in Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
Christmas Eve in the Holy Land began with a visit to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Msgr. William Shomali, the patriarch’s auxiliary bishop, hosted a brief reception, which included Father Guido, several chancery officials and myself.
During the reception, Patriarch Fouad politely warned me: “There will be many more such receptions today, so pace yourself on Arabic coffee and sweets.” It was good advice, as I had already experienced the remarkable hospitality of the Holy Land’s residents over the past three weeks. Everyone serves coffee or liqueur with chocolates or cookies.
Patriarch Fouad then treated us (about eight in total) to a lovely lunch, during which we engaged in pleasant conversation. Afterward, we headed to a reception hall, where the patriarch greeted about 150 parishioners and a huge contingent from the press corps. On behalf of all present, the parish elder formally greeted Patriarch Fouad. I had the honor of standing beside the patriarch, personally greeting each member of the delegation.
After this event, it was time to get the “procession” in order for Bethlehem. Procession, here, means about 50 cars in Jerusalem and another 100 cars, chauffeuring local dignitaries and elders, which joined the cortege along the route to Bethlehem. I had the privilege to ride in the second car, immediately behind the one driving Patriarch Fouad.
Military and police vehicles escorted the procession, which departed from Jerusalem’s Old City. The traffic in Jerusalem was blocked at all intersections, allowing us to crawl toward the city’s limits. I say “crawl” because there were so many cars in the motorcade that it moved very slowly.
On the way to Bethlehem, we made several stops, where Patriarch Fouad greeted elders and parishioners. Again, I was honored to greet them alongside the patriarch.
Once inside the city of Bethlehem, more cars joined the procession. As we arrived in the city’s center, we had to stop many times to allow the thousands of boy and girl scouts with colorful flags and band instruments to enter and lead the procession.
Bethlehem’s streets were jammed with people — Christians and Muslims alike — who came out to watch the procession and celebrate Christmas. Local authorities estimated that more than 100,000 people came to Bethlehem for the holiday.
The mood among the crowd was very warm and welcoming. People smiled and waved at us as we passed them in our cars; some asked for our blessings. The patriarch was a popular attraction and he often opened his window to invite people to come closer for a photo or a warm handshake.
The crowd was very mixed: Bethlehem residents and pilgrims from all over the world; elderly and hordes of young people; shoppers and merchants. One sight that caught my eye: Four young men in their twenties, locals I presume, sat in front of a little cafe, smoking a hookah pipe. As our motorcade passed, two of them made a reverent Sign of the Cross with the pipe’s mouthpieces.
We finally arrived in Manger Square at about 3 p.m. (about one and a half hours late), where tens of thousands of people and hundreds of members of the media gathered. Everyone surged to greet the patriarch and his entourage. The police and clergy in charge did their best to open a small lane for us to enter the Basilica of the Nativity.
Inside the basilica, leaders from the other local Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as members of the Muslim community greeted the patriarch.
I must tell you: the local hierarchy had me all dressed up as an honorary canon of the patriarchate. I had on my monsignor’s cassock and sash, over which I was asked to put on a very finely woven surplice with red sleeves and much lace. As the coup de grace, I wore a rabbit fur shoulder cape and an accompanying purple sash and hood. Never having worn such an outfit, I needed Msgr. Shomali’s help to vest properly.
About an hour later, we participated in a ritual, which included a brief visit to the grottos underneath the main basilica. I cautiously hunched over to enter the steep, low-ceilinged entry of the crypt and visit its four ancient altars and the altar in the new church overseen by the Franciscans.
This was a very special moment for me. I was so overwhelmed by this visit to these most holy altars and spaces that, when I returned to New York, I retraced my steps with the help of some guidebooks to appreciate more fully their significance.
However, I was most touched by the famous “star,” which is embedded in the stone to designate the place where Jesus was born. How does one describe that moment? Not with words, to be sure. And the stone niche, where Jesus was laid in a manger? For a believer, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Later, Bethlehem’s Franciscan community hosted a reception and dinner. Many dignitaries attended the event, including President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas, to whom the patriarch personally introduced me. Patriarch Fouad also introduced me to Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. It was a very warm and welcoming gathering, typical of events hosted by the Franciscans.
Midnight Mass actually began at 11 p.m. with matins, the traditional early morning prayer of the church. The celebration continued with the Solemn Eucharistic Liturgy, led by the patriarch and concelebrated by seven other bishops — Latin and Eastern — along with several hundred priests. Most of the priests were foreigners, who had traveled to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas as a part of a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.
The liturgy was beautiful and the basilica was packed. Television crews from all over the world filmed the Mass. The Palestinian Authority televised it live, to feeds around the world, which I believe was a first.
I am very happy to tell you that Father Guido and I remembered all of you in our Mass intentions, especially those who sent their intentions to our office beforehand. Thanks to Bernadette Wallace, my administrative assistant, we received and brought with us all of these names and intentions.
The Mass ended about 2:15 a.m. and we retired to the adjacent Franciscan monastery for a few winks of sleep.
Early Christmas morning, Father Guido and I visited the place of our Lord’s birth, which was a very special, silent moment for me to reflect on the significance of where I was standing.
Soon after, we attended a morning Mass in Arabic — celebrated by Patriarch Fouad — along with local parishioner and many pilgrims. Again, numerous members of the media were present and the basilica was filled to capacity. People even stood outside in the rain. The Mass in Arabic was most glorious and the music, most energetic.
Afterward, I had the opportunity to meet and greet the many pilgrims and foreign workers in Bethlehem, who gathered at this cherished site to celebrate their own special Christmas. Many Sri Lankans, Indians and Filipinos asked me to have their photos taken with yours truly — in my monsignor’s cassock and red sash. They were all so happy, and delighted to know that I have visited all of their countries in my previous work with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
My visit to Bethlehem ended around noon and we returned to Jerusalem for the remainder of the day.
Shortly after midnight, Tony Za’rour, our Jerusalem office’s driver and general services associate, drove Father Guido and me to the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. We said our goodbyes and caught our flight back to New York.
Rather than add additional comments about the grandeur, splendor and overwhelming excitement of this series of pastoral visits and pilgrimages, I will let my previous reports to you say it better, each as they unraveled in rapid succession.
I am grateful to CNEWA’s Communications Department, for reviewing and editing my posts, videos and photographs and helping me share my adventures with all of you.
Thank you for joining me on my journey to the Holy Land. The CNEWA-Pontifical Mission family is truly ONE. God bless all of you and God bless the poor of the Middle East and Holy Land whom we serve.
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem conducts a blessing as he arrives at the Basilica of the Nativity for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in Bethlehem. Msgr. Kozar stands directly behind Patriarch Fouad. (Photo: CNS/Reuters)
23 December 2011
Tags: Jerusalem Holy Land Ecumenism Pilgrimage/pilgrims Msgr. John E. Kozar
Msgr. Kozar visits the Holy Family Children’s Home, also known as the Creche of Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
Our first visit today took us to the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Pope Benedict visited this camp in 2009 and gave a famous speech in front of the entrance to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people who have suffered so much in the two intifadas, which devastated much of this holy city.
Upon entering the camp we were greeted by the director of the Al-Rowwad Center, which offers young people a special creative environment to learn drama, photography, art and other areas of study that encourage them to express what the center calls a “beautiful resistance.” The resistance is not violent in any way but creatively allows the young to learn together how they can express their feelings in a constructive way. They are very proud of having dance and drama troupes that have performed in a number of countries, including the U.S.
As a somewhat serious photographer, I was really impressed with their exposition prints adorning the walls. I was also impressed that they literally take their performing skills “on the road,” in the form of a mobile stage for their performing arts programs. They even use the offensively high and sterile wall put up by the Israeli government as a “screen” for showing movies.
We had a walk through the camp and our host pointed out in many places the remnant of bullet holes fired from the military and we could even still see in the street the marks of the tank treads, a reminder of the full occupation by the Israeli military.
From this community-based center, 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.
CNEWA has offered some help here in the past, but the main source of support comes from the Knights of Malta. God bless them.
From Bethlehem, we traveled north of Jerusalem to a rather barren and hilly area about a half-hour out of the city. There we visited an all-Christian village named Taybeh. There are three Christian churches here — Latin Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox. To arrive here is to arrive in an oasis of peace, beauty and tranquility. The pastor of the Melkite parish was our host and first took us on a tour of his parish facilities, which included some improvements provided by or assisted by CNEWA. CNEWA is now helping to repair a fallen ceiling. The pastor, Father Jack, expressed many times over his profound thanks to all of you for your kindness.
A real surprise in the visit was entering the excavated ruins of one of the oldest Byzantine churches in all of Palestine, which dates to the fifth century. The view from this hilltop was magnificent, allowing us to see all the way to Amman, Jordan. This was actually part of the ancient town of Ephraim mentioned in the bible.
After our tour, we had lunch with a group of young people from the town who openly and honestly engaged us in a dialogue. They shared with us their frustrations, their dreams, their disappointments and their hopes. I responded that, first and foremost, they had to challenge themselves in their faith and I offered that we cannot give them money to accomplish their dreams but we can offer other forms of assistance such as technical help. But faith is the starting point. I admired them for their honesty, and I think that we gave them a broader view of ways to develop themselves as individuals and as a small Christian community.
The final event of the day was a Mass with the staff of our office here in Jerusalem and their family members. Mass was followed by a delectable meal prepared by Tony Za’rour, who is a very accomplished chef. It was delightful to meet the family members and to see how well they related with each other, especially with the many children of Pontifical Mission staff. The staff gave me a beautiful Jerusalem cross pin, which I will proudly wear on my suit jacket.
Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine and Israel, has done a tremendous job of hosting us. There is a huge amount of planning and execution that went into all these arrangements. He and his staff have truly been a family to me and I am most grateful.
Tomorrow, Father Guido and I will begin our day with an early morning Mass at the site of the Mount of Calvary, and then we will visit the Papal Nuncio. After that, I will have time for a personal mini-pilgrimage with Father Guido. Finally, our day will end with a video conference call with the entire staff in New York, so as to include them in a personal way with my pastoral visit to Palestine.
You will all be remembered tomorrow morning at Mass at the site of the death of Our Lord.
23 December 2011
Tags: Palestine Msgr. John E. Kozar Bethlehem Separation Barrier Palestinian Refugees
Family members look down on the streets of Hamdaniya from their balcony.
(photo: Safin Hamed)
It is said that “history is written by the victors.” What is surprising is how much “editing” the victors often have to do. People who are interested in Eastern Christianity in general and the plight of Iraqi Christians in particular are familiar with the town of Qaraqosh on the Plains of Nineveh in northern Iraq. Qaraqosh is a town of less than 50,000 which has been Christian for a good fifteen hundred years. It is also known as Baghdeda, a name which goes back into truly ancient history. Some scholars believe that Baghdeda existed during the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Indeed Baghdeda may have been the scene of one of the last battles before Neo-Assyrian Empire fell to the Chaldeans from Babylon in 610 BC.
Since the beginning of the most recent Gulf War (2003-2011), Christians from all over Iraq have fled north to Qaraqosh or left Iraq entirely. I heard one person recently question if “all the Christians in Iraq live in Qaraqosh.” Problems arise, however, when the curious wish to find Qaraqosh or Baghdeda. Neither can be found on most modern maps.
The mystery is easily solved, however. One of the common characteristics of authoritarian regimes is to seek legitimacy by rewriting history. These regimes tend to seek legitimacy by connecting themselves with a real or imagined “glorious past.” Saddam Hussein, for example, portrayed himself in one parade as the new Sargon of Akkad, the great Mesopotamian conqueror three thousand years before Christ! When history does not fit the prevailing ideology of a regime, that history is simply rewritten.
Baghdeda or Qaraqosh was an extremely ancient town with roots stretching back 4,000 years. The inhabitants consider themselves Assyrians, the descendants of the great Neo-Assyrian Empire. Whether that is literally true or not, they do not consider themselves ethnically the same as the dominant Arab culture. People in the area speak Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, which was once the main language of the region. In addition, the town’s population has been overwhelmingly Christian since before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Qaraqosh and its inhabitants did not fit the Ba’athist (the political party of Saddam Hussein) portrait of Iraq—a homogeneous, Arab, Muslim country. In an attempt to “Arabize” Iraq in the 1970’s the Ba’athist government changed the name of Baghdeda/Qaraqosh to Hamdaniya. The name refers to the Banu Hamdan, an Arab, Shi’ite Muslim tribe that was politically dominant in the present day northern Iraq and Syria in the 10th century.
While Baghdeda/Qaraqosh may no longer be easily found on contemporary maps, it nonetheless remains there as an increasingly important stronghold of indigenous and ancient Christianity in Iraq, where the Christian presence has been drastically reduced since the American invasion in 2003.
To read more about Christians in Iraq today, see A New Genesis for Nineveh in the November 2011 issue of ONE.
22 December 2011
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians
Msgr. Kozar tours the Ephpheta Institute, a school for children with hearing and speech impairments. (photo: CNEWA)
Our day began with an early morning Mass and then we headed to Bethlehem. This was an exciting drive for me, to know I was about to enter Bethlehem, the place of Our Lord’s birth and only three days away from celebrating Christmas there.
Along the way, our host Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine and Israel, showed me some of the demarcation lines between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, how settlements keep encroaching on Palestinian land and little by little the size of the territory earmarked for Palestinian people diminishes. There are walls of concrete that keep Palestinians locked inside one boundary and excluded from entering other boundaries.
We arrived in Bethlehem and went straightway to the Ephpheta Institute, a school for the hearing and speech impaired. We were warmly greeted by Sister Carmela de Marco, the superior, along with some other sisters and lay staff. After a chat about the program there and the type of instruction used with the children, we enjoyed a coffee together before beginning our full tour.
Of course, the highlight was being with the children, all 125 of them. The very youngest receive wonderful one-on-one training and speech therapy, rendered in a most loving way. After a few years of such intense instruction and training, the children are ready to begin primary school education. It was so edifying to see the progression of the children as they learned first to repeat sounds, then words, then to speak in sentences. The biggest surprise was the upper level kids who were actually bi-lingual, speaking in Arabic and English. I was so proud of each and every one of them.
Some of the older kids were doing some work on their computers and were excited to tell us about their studies and their dreams. One 10th grade girl very openly said to us: “I would like to come to America.” Another young man said to me: “Can I have the website address so that we can read your blog?” They were excited to hear about the blog and that I would be writing about them in this report.
From the Ephpheta Institute, we proceeded to the Pontifical Mission Library, located adjacent to Bethlehem University. He we were welcomed by a group of young married women, who were participating in a regularly scheduled personal and family enrichment session. This was really an impressive group. They offered to share with us the challenges of being a mother, a Palestinian and a Christian. Every one one of them affirmed how important the library has been in their lives. Under the very tranquil and hope-filled direction of administrator Ms. Monnitte Velasco and her great staff, these women were being enriched with instructions in cooking, in family values, self-development through reading, music instruction and many more programs. Father Guido and I felt very uplifted by the testimonials given by each one of them and have a very strong appreciation of the library.
As with our library project in Amman, Jordan, I will add that calling it a “library” doesn’t do it justice. It serves so many needs, it is more like a community center and resource for people of every age, including little children. After a lovely lunch prepared by Monnitte and the other young ladies — and after filling our plates several times! — we departed and walked next door to Bethlehem University.
Sami worked here for 24 years, in administration, so this visit was a sort of “homecoming” for him and a welcome to Bethlehem University for me. CNEWA was instrumental in the founding of this University, and has maintained membership on the Board of Directors, so my visit was all the more special.
Two De La Salle Brothers — Vice Chancellor Brother Peter Bray and Director of Development Brother Jack Curran — were our hosts and led us first on a tour of the facility. It is a beautiful campus with the original building renovated from its origins as a high school. There have been plenty of new buildings in recent times and another major building project is near completion. We even had an opportunity to engage some of the students. They seemed very happy and are thankful for the opportunity, as Palestinians, to seek higher education for a chance to have a better future for themselves and their families.
Our hosts made mention that the highest point in all of Bethlehem is the statue of Christ atop the original building on campus. How fitting that Jesus, in the town of his birth, would be the most dominant figure looking over the city and into Palestine and Israel.
On another note, the brothers also showed us some bullet holes in their home, left there as a reminder of the Israeli-Palestinian violence that erupted in the fall of 2000.
Everywhere, we hear that education is the key to the future of the Palestinians and higher learning is no exception. This university stands as one of only two Catholic universities in all of Palestine. And 70% of the student body is female, which is also a good sign of how this university can make a big difference in the future of Palestine.
From the university, we proceeded to visit the Catholic Action Sports Center. This project is housed on a large campus with everything from a gym (the largest and best in all of Palestine) to an outdoor swimming pool, weight training and fitness machine room, meeting and training rooms, outdoor picnic areas, large hall, etc. The Franciscan Custody owns the property and has a great partnership with CNEWA/Pontifical Mission in sponsoring basketball classes and league play.
We watched as a group of girls had a session with a very skilled trainer. It is an impressive center and is the only such facility in all of Bethlehem. Another great outreach of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission, thanks to all of you in your generosity!
The final visit was to Sami’s house for a superb dinner prepared by his dear wife. The very specials guests included His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali (whom we had met on our first day in Jerusalem), and Father Emil Salayta, Director of the Ecclesiastical Court. The meal was exquisite and the company superb. The Patriarch was very comfortable and shared with us some important insights into how the Church functions in an environment filled with many complications, conflicts and restrictions. Bishop Shomali also asked many questions about CNEWA/Pontifical Mission and it afforded me an opportunity to present a broader view of the many services we to offer, not just financial grants, but also with technical support and counsel.
Our stomachs were full and the hour was getting late, and I still had to write this note to all of you, so we departed. I had also realized that we would be leaving early the next morning for our first trip of the day, to Aida Refugee Camp.
So goodbye for now and God bless all of you. The Patriarch sends his best regards along with a blessing.
20 December 2011
Tags: Msgr. John E. Kozar Bethlehem Bethlehem University
Msgr. Kozar visits Archbishop Mar Swerios Murad, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.
After an early morning Mass with Father Guido in a small chapel at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, we walked through the New Gate of the walled Old City and visited with Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad of the Syriac Orthodox Church. After he warmly received us, I extended to him my congratulations on his recent celebration of his 25th anniversary as a priest. He laughed when I said, “I heard you had quite a party,” and shared with me that Sami El-Yousef, our regional director in Jerusalem, had attended this event, too.
He was a most engaging host and we enjoyed our exchanges. He also expressed his thanks to CNEWA for the seed monies we had provided for various projects of his community. I especially enjoyed our tour of his complex. He invited us to view with him ongoing excavations under his church and chancery. It was a real treat, as we began our tour in the church and then he unlocked for us a room that according to Syriac Orthodox tradition is the Cenacle Room in which Jesus gathered with his Apostles and mother Mary for the Last Supper. There was a real holiness to this space. Then he led us to another area just discovered and very much in need of excavation that has some precious antiquities. What most impressed me was that he personally took us into this work area and very proudly explained his master plan for all of this restoration and development work.
We then proceeded to our appointment with the senior church leader in Jerusalem, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III. The patriarchate is rather newly renovated and is a visual gem upon entry, with a magnificent staircase and beautiful receiving rooms. We were escorted into a medium size room that had about 60 chairs neatly arranged.
His Beatitude entered and greeted us warmly and immediately offered congratulations to me as the new president of CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. He introduced us to his secretary and, as is the custom in the Holy Land, he summoned his attendants who offered wine for a toast, then coffee or tea and chocolates. We had what turned out to be a rather lengthy and most cordial visit, which lasted over an hour. The patriarch made light of some things and enjoyed some laughs with all of us. We even exchanged some convivial banter about the Catholic/Orthodox differences. I left in friendship, accepting his invitation to return for another visit when next in Jerusalem.
We returned to the Pontifical Mission office for a special visit with Dr. Bernard Sabella, who represents the Near East Council of Churches. We partner with this organizing committee in supporting three health care clinics in Gaza.
This gentleman, who Pope Benedict XVI invited to participate in last year’s special assembly for the Middle East of the synod of bishops, is a storehouse of knowledge and experience. He is no lightweight nationally and even internationally, as he is a real champion for the cause of Palestinian refugees. Among many insights and shared experiences, he offered thanks to all of you for your support and highlighted Sami’s professionalism, organizational skills and his leadership in the greater Jerusalem community.
We followed up this visit with a lunch with Mr. Tony Khasham, Chair of the Coordinating Committee of the many Catholic agencies involved in working with the Palestinians. He, too, is a most interesting and experienced reference. A professional tour operator, president of the local St Vincent de Paul Society of Jerusalem (which by the way was founded in the mid-1800’s) and chair of this coordinating body, he is most knowledgeable in the history of Christian outreach to the Palestinians, what has worked and what has failed. His words were very affirming to me, in terms of the challenges for CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission as we continue to address the needs before us. And, as with so many people in Jerusalem involved in helping the Palestinian people, he had high praise for the work of Sami and his entire staff.
From this luncheon we traveled out about 20 minutes to visit one of the high visibility projects in which CNEWA and its Pontifical Mission serves as administrator, a housing program that will eventually house 80 Palestinian families. This is not about giving away free housing. Rather, it is a well-thought-out program sponsored by the Latin Patriarchate to offer seed money and loans to Palestinian families who have been approved as good candidates to purchase these housing units, which will be theirs upon completion of payment of their loans.
I was privileged to meet with a group of these soon-to-be homeowners. Even though construction is still in progress and there is no road yet, they are very excited about the dream of having their own “home.” They are most grateful to CNEWA for administering the program and giving them a real future, and one for their children. Rodolf Saadeh from our local office has given his heart and soul to this program as administrator and we are proud of him and the people trust him and love him.
I had the privilege of blessing the buildings. Their joy in seeing their future being built before their eyes could not be contained. A number of their children were there, playing on the piles of dirt, wood scraps and stones, but for them it was their new backyard and future picnic area. This is an exciting project and hopefully will serve as a model for other churches and agencies to imitate.
The final event of the day was a delectable dinner at the Notre Dame restaurant in the company of three specials guests: Archbishop Youssef Jules el-Zereyi, Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal vicar; Bishop Boutros Malki, Syriac Catholic patriarchal vicar; and Father Pietro Felet, S.C.J., the secretary of the Assembly of Latin Bishops of Arabia. What a delightful trio. Father Guido, Sami and I really enjoyed our company, had a delightful meal and even better conversation. It sounds trite, but I truly felt as if I had known all three for quite some time, as their gentle manner and refreshing spirit of honesty and humility were very uplifting to the three of us. We came together as strangers and parted company as extended family.
Tomorrow we head to Bethlehem for some pastoral visits and end our day with a dinner at Sami’s home. That should be a wonderful family experience, and Sami has also invited some special guests to join us. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.
May God bless all of you. You are in our prayers and the prayers of the poor.
Msgr. Kozar takes in the sights along the streets of the Old City in Jerusalem. (photo:CNEWA)
Tags: Jerusalem Msgr. John E. Kozar Syriac Orthodox Church