16 December 2011
An Iraqi mother holds her child near her home in Syria. (photo: Spencer Osberg)
Yesterday, the U.S. marked the end of a 9-year war in Iraq. Though the combat has ended and the troops are gone, the remnants of the war still remain. The countless number of Iraq’s citizens who have died, lost family members or been displaced in different countries around the world has changed a people and country forever — and left some unfinished business.
In the November 2008 issue of ONE we featured a story on Iraqis who found refuge in Syria, yet were still experiencing hardships:
If a refugee makes it out of Iraq, he or she usually leaves behind the war’s immediate perils. But, for a surprising number of refugees, the conflict’s dangers follow them to their new homes. In Damascus, many Iraqis report receiving messages and calls on their Syrian cell phones threatening torture or death should they return to Iraq. One woman even reported she found the same threatening letter from the same militia group slipped under her door in Damascus that she found while living in Baghdad.
When discussing the war and their own troubles, refugees often evoke an unidentified ominous “they.” While “they” may refer to the Mahdi Army or Al Qaeda, the war’s better known belligerents, they may also refer to any one of a number of loosely organized groups or individuals who threaten, kidnap, extort, torture and kill, usually in a fog of anonymity.
Though Syrian authorities maintain tight security in and around Iraqi neighborhoods — likely a major reason why sectarian violence has not erupted among Iraqis living in Damascus — the influence of Iraqi militias remains palpable in some areas of the city. From high on the tenements’ walls lining the streets of Saida Zainab, posters of Mahdi Army leader, Muqtada al Sadr, and his father, Muhammad Sadeq al Sadr, loom down on passersby. The Mahdi Army also operates an affiliate office in the neighborhood.
For more see, On the Road to Damascus. To learn more about how you can join CNEWA and the churches of the Middle East in supporting the people of Iraq, visit our Canadian website which includes facts, figures and ways you can help.
15 December 2011
Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Iraqi Christians Damascus
Tourists visit St. George’s Orthodox Church with its mosaic map of Palestine.
(photo: Youssef Alan)
Today marks the last full day of our pastoral visit to Jordan, as tomorrow in the mid-morning we will conclude with a final visit with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, who work with Iraqi refugee families, some of whom we will meet.
We arrived in Amman last night, exhausted from our travels through Petra. This morning, after a good night’s rest, we departed for Our Lady of Peace Center, which is located about 30 minutes outside the city of Amman in an agricultural area that shows signs of some development in the future, according to Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq.
We were warmly greeted by the founder of this facility, Bishop Selim Sayegh, Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan and the spiritual and moral personality associated with this facility. Our Lady of Peace offers many programs for mentally and physically handicapped youths. Since the center opened in 2004, it has become the anchor facility for a host of satellite programs and other mini-institutions.
The bishop escorted us inside to meet Sister Adriana Biollo, the director of the center and the obvious driving force that makes everything happen. Of course, we had the usual Arabic coffee ritual, as every Jordanian would typically offer to visitors.
Then it was on to the hall for a special Christmas show performed by a group of very special children. They presented a number of musical songs sung with great enthusiasm and some delightful dances, complete with big smiles and even a few winks for yours truly. I was able to get some wonderful candid photos of the kids, just enjoying themselves as they entertained.
And a big highlight for them and for us was a visit from Santa Claus. The kids went wild when he came into the room, especially when the sisters approached with some big boxes of gifts. Each child came forward and received a gift. The children loved the attention, gifts and Santa, but they really loved Bishop Selim. In fact, the love that Bishop Selim Sayegh has for these special children cannot be contained. He smiles from ear to ear in their presence and many freely run to him to receive a big hug from him. This center has been a dream of his and now, as he approaches retirement after having served more than 30 years as vicar, he can enjoy the fruits of his labors, as reflected in the smiles of these precious little ones.
Next stop was a special visit to Mt. Nebo. I have to tell you, this was an emotional experience, not just because of the panoramic view of the Jordan Valley below, but just the overwhelming reality that I was for the first time sharing a glimpse of the Promised Land as shown to Moses. This is the real deal, this is my faith being excited, live and in person. Welcome to the Promised Land!
I spent some precious moments just taking it all in and trying to capture the fullness of this mini-recollection. The church on the mountaintop is being renovated, so we viewed some archeological remnants of the original discoveries of this Byzantine treasure. I was delighted to see a plaque in front of an olive tree planted by Pope John Paul. Here again, it reminded me of how holy is this ground. Wow.
On to Madaba, a charming city that has a very dynamic yet ancient feel to it: Byzantine mosaics and ruins surround you, including the famous church of St. George, which houses the oldest map of the Holy Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem. Refounded by a priest in the 19th century, Madaba has a large Christian community, which is rare in the Hashemite Kingdom, with a vibrant spirit of brotherhood amongst all the churches and Muslims.
A leading figure in much was our host Archimandrite Innokentios, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem who heads the school system in Jordan for the Orthodox Church. His affable personality has obviously motivated many people to support his numerous efforts to educate the young. As he says eloquently, the future of the Christians in Jordan — and in the Middle East — is through good education.
The archimandrite also showed us a lovely center that can house about 100 pilgrims, many of whom come to the area to see Mt. Nebo and to study the mosaics that lie throughout modern Madaba, including that famous map.
The pastor of the parish of St. George and his wife invited us for a wonderful lunch in their home. Bountiful does not quite describe the display of food on the table. They were the most attentive hosts and as I was tutored by Ra’ed, a host will not take “no” for an answer very easily. In this part of the world, you must decline requests for more food about three times to stop the flow of food.
Both Father Guido and I learned so much from the archimandrite, who is very learned in church and civil law, in the culture of Jordan and the political and religious realities of life in this country.
We closed the day by visiting our staff in New York (about 55 employees) through the wonder of Internet and video conferencing. For Father Guido, Ra’ed and me, we were excited to share with our family in New York some of the joys and uplifting experiences of our time with our family in Jordan.
So tomorrow we will move on the third and final part of our pastoral visit, as we enter into Palestine and Israel, where we will meet our host and regional director, Sami El-Yousef.
By the way, please know that as I had my best private moment on top of Mt. Nebo, I remembered all the CNEWA family in a brief prayer. You were with me when I saw the Promised Land.
13 December 2011
Tags: Middle East Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar Amman
Hermina Tharwat, 12, studies for winter exams at Santa Lucia, a home for the blind
in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)
Today is the feast day of Saint Lucy, the patron saint of the blind. In the May 2010 issue of ONE we profiled a home for the blind in Egypt named after the saint:
The Santa Lucia Home — named in honor of the patron saint of the blind — was built with funds from CNEWA’s donors and houses ten girls and eight boys from ages 8 to 18. The children do not attend school next door, which is not equipped to teach the blind. Rather, they are enrolled in public programs in other areas of the city. The boys attend El Nour School in Alexandria’s Muharram Bey neighborhood, while the girls attend a similar school in the Zizina area.
Sister Souad and her colleague, Sister Hoda Chaker Assal, rouse the children every morning for breakfast, baths and a 7:45 date with the school bus.
“Here we wake them and prepare them for school, we feed them and do their laundry and we tuck them in at night and make sure they get a good rest,” says Sister Souad. “It is just like at home.”
For more from this story see, Blind to LImitations.
9 December 2011
Tags: Egypt Children Africa Disabilities
A villager samples clean water from the new filtration system in Lebanon.
(photo: Marilyn Raschka)
“Water is the stuff of life,” Msgr. John Kozar wrote on this blog a few days ago. Traveling through Lebanon on his first visit as CNEWA’s president, Msgr. Kozar is observing firsthand how this modest-sized agency of the Holy See is reclaiming land, restoring families and reviving parishes simply by bringing the basics like water to a forlorn community.
Since the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-90), CNEWA’s Beirut staff has worked tirelessly to resettle displaced families, revive abandoned villages and restore what has made Lebanon unique: A diverse mosaic, a home to all people, Christian, Druze, Sunni and Shi’ite. “Lebanon is more than a country,” Pope John Paul II said during his visit in 1997. “Lebanon is a message.”
In 2000, in the pages of our November issue of the magazine, writer Marilyn Raschka wrote about two neighboring villages in the Chouf region, just south of Beirut. Dmit is home to the Druze, a religious community that developed from Shi’ite Islam. Serjbal is a Christian farming community.
Historically, the two villages got on well, “feast days and funerals find villagers heading in each other’s directions for a respectful courtesy call,” writes Ms. Raschka. “But it’s water that will bring these two communities closer together, now that their pipe dreams have come true.”
Creating reservoirs, excavating trenches and laying irrigation pipe isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t even sound appropriate for an agency of the Holy See, but in Lebanon it reinforces what the Holy Father believes is that nation’s unique calling: to serve as a model of coexistence and love.
7 December 2011
Tags: Lebanon Beirut Water
An altar server stands near a statue of the Virgin Mary in greater Stockholm’s
Syriac Catholic church. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
According to the Latin calendar, tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Roman Catholics celebrate 8 December as the day that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother free from original sin. Many churches in CNEWA's world, meantime, observe the feast on the following day. You can find out more by visiting the online Catholic Encyclopedia.
6 December 2011
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Syriac Catholic Church Sweden
Msgr. Kozar is greeted by a girl at the inauguration of Saint Moura multi-purpose hall, a CNEWA-supported project in Kobayat, Lebanon.
Msgr. John E. Kozar is the president of CNEWA.
Here is a report on a wonderful day of activities, centering on the longtime agricultural assistance given by CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, to the Catholic community in Kobayat, a village in the northeastern part of the country.
After a full night of sleep, we headed out for a three-hour trip to the northeastern part of the country. As we traveled along Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast, our host, Issam Bishara, took us on a mini pilgrimage to an ancient shrine carved out of the rock.
Dedicated to Our Lady of the Light, the shrine is the fulfillment of a promise made in the fourth century to a pagan captain, whose ship was caught in the troubled seas. One of his sailors told him to pray to the Virgin Mary and she would intercede to God that he and all his shipmates might be saved.
And so it happened ... his prayers were answered, he embraced the Christian faith and built a shrine to Mary to honor the great gift bestowed on him.
We left our car in the parking lot of a more modern monastery and began walking to the shrine down a path carved into the rocky surface of this mountaintop. We arrived at a heavenly site: Far in the distance stood Lebanon’s snow-capped mountains, below us a beautiful sea with clarity and a blue to feast the eyes, and best of all a magnificent little chapel literally carved into the stone like a cave. We paused and prayed. In just a few minutes, we had made a mini retreat. [You can read more about this shrine in an article profiled in our magazine in 2000.]
On to Kobayat. Our first stop here was the olive processing mill that was running at full tilt, even though the olive season has just about ended. We were warmly greeted by the president of the cooperative association that oversees the pooled efforts of hundreds of farmers as well as by friends and coworkers.
As the machinery hummed along, our hosts took us on a simple tour. They demonstrated how bags of olives brought in from outlying farms were sent through a series of machines and ended up a high quality olive oil. Needless to say, we had to each try a sample of the work.
What touched me the most about this operation and all the workers involved was their pride and appreciation to CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission for the abiding confidence placed in them and in their hard work. And, as Maronite Catholics, they expressed their gratitude that work such as this helped keep their faith-filled community alive.
Msgr. Kozar visits a local market in Kobayat, Lebanon.
Our next stop was an impressive market center. This multipurpose center, built with the assistance of CNEWA, gives area farmers a well-situated venue to sell their produce, to store it in a clean and refrigerated environment, and a meeting area where agricultural and business professionals offer the farmers classes and presentations on new techniques of farming and management and marketing for their products. It was a special treat to witness customers coming in from the highway and buying local produce, and what a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables! Fresh has taken on new meaning — eat your hearts out supermarkets back home.
After visiting, we went to the parish church in the village of Martmoura, which is dedicated to an early Christian martyr named Moura. There, the parish priest and his parish committee warmly greeted us and escorted us into church to concelebrate with him the Divine Liturgy. For me, it was a special honor to concelebrate the Maronite eucharistic liturgy, or Qorbono in ancient Syriac, which was conducted in French, with some elements in Arabic and Syriac.
Now this is important: Perhaps the most impressive moment of the day during this pastoral visit with my farming friends was how important it was that we gather at the altar. The Eucharist was the focal point of their lives, and defines who they are as Maronite Catholics.
The underlying support of CNEWA all these many years has preserved this Catholic Christian farming community in the heart of the Middle East. Without the seed monies shared with them, and the abiding moral and technical support given to them, many would have fled, abandoning all that they knew in order to remain good farmers and good Christians.
They are grateful that we — and by this I mean our CNEWA family worldwide — have helped them to maintain their ancient Christian community.
After the liturgy we had a brief tour and a formal opening of a newly constructed parish multipurpose hall. Wouldn’t you know that the ladies had some delicious sweets ready for us and we toasted this “grand opening” and happy occasion with our glasses in hand.
But our hosts had one more treat for us: A never-ending meal with too many courses and plates to count. The food was superb, but the company was the best. Now that I have family in Kobayat, I promised to return. And, dear friends don’t forget, they are also part of your family.
Tomorrow, we travel East for another rural visit and more families to meet.
Below is a short video with a few highlights from our day.
5 December 2011
Tags: Lebanon CNEWA Middle East Msgr. John E. Kozar
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, meets with Ignatius Joseph III, Syriac Catholic
patriarch of Antioch.
Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s president, began his pastoral visit to the Holy Land today. His first stop: Lebanon. He met with Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Joseph III, who assured Msgr. Kozar of his continued prayers and support as he begins his first journey to the Holy Land. Late today, Msgr. Kozar e-mailed us his first impressions of his trip:
What a wonderful first day in Lebanon — hard to believe this is my first visit to this part of the world. I say this because everyone thus far has made me feel so much at home and as part of the Lebanese church.
I think Father Guido Gockel, Issam Bishara and I set a Guinness Record by visiting four patriarchs in one day.
We began by meeting the Syriac Catholic patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Joseph III, who had spent many years in our region as a bishop in New Jersey. He warmly welcomed us and showed us some very poignant reminders of the ugly civil war that had gutted this small nation. This was evidenced by the remnants of shelled buildings standing in the shadows of newly constructed buildings. He told us how as a young priest he would run between the chancery and the cathedral, hoping not to be shot by snipers armed and ready to kill.
He also sends special greetings to all his many friends in the greater New York area.
On to a visit with the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX, who invited about a dozen chancery officials, clerical and lay, to share with us their roles in the administration of the Armenian Catholic Church. It was a good time for sharing and for me personally to continue to get a fuller picture of the political and religious realities in Lebanon.
On our next stop we visited with some religious women who represented congregations that are especially active in collaborating with CNEWA: These are the women on the “front lines” in offering help to the poor. The discussions were very open and frank, and I especially appreciated how they portrayed the significant and very frustrating challenges in giving service to the poor. The government does not have any public child care institutions and relies on the Catholic Church to fulfill this need, promising to reimburse it for her service. But there is no reimbursement. The need for assistance is most compelling, and this also applies to clinics and hospitals and services to special needs groups.
Our visit with Aram I, the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia, was very warm. He is a graduate of Fordham University in New York and speaks glowingly of his time in New York. Father Guido and I each received copies of his recently authored books and he promised to visit us next October when he comes to the United States.
The crowning jewel of the day was a dinner with the Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Bechara Peter Rai. Before being greeted by His Beatitude, I was interviewed by members of the press. Afterward, we were taken to the chapel to greet the patriarch. There, we had a big surprise: With him was a line of special ecclesial dignitaries that included the patriarch emeritus, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir; the bishop of Beirut; the patriarchal vicar general, Archbishop Paul Sayah, a good friend from the recent visit of the patriarch to New York and five other bishops.
We were all warmly escorted to the dining room to join the patriarch in a lovely dinner. The mood was totally upbeat and the patriarch was in rare form. After dinner, we retired to the formal receiving room for tea. The patriarch noted that in the very chair in which I was sitting he sat when he was called in to be told that he had been elected patriarch of the Maronite Church. Cardinal Sfeir was also in good humor and I made a point of brushing off his comment that he is now old and invited him to come to New York, where he would feel young again.
Considering Father Guido and I only arrived at 2:30 this morning, we certainly had a full day, and a very happy one. I already feel at home in Lebanon.
Tomorrow, I want you to join us as we go on a long trip to the countryside to meet some special farmers who are part of our CNEWA family.
*Editor’s Note: Msgr. Kozar is in the Holy Land as part of his first pastoral visit to the region as president of CNEWA. Traveling with him is CNEWA’s vice president for the Middle East, Father Guido Gockel.
In Lebanon, he is joined by CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon and Syria, Issam Bishara. They will be joined by Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq, while in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In Israel and Palestine, the team will be joined by our regional director there, Sami El-Yousef.
Also today, he met with the Pontifical Mission staff in Beirut, and with a number of sisters, lay people and religious who are carrying out CNEWA’s work. Below is a brief audio clip from the meeting in which he shared his enthusiasm and excitement:
29 November 2011
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Msgr. John E. Kozar
Nasrin Abdul-Ahad Aziz, 53, and her husband Tali Mati Nasser, left, have lost several family members as a result of ethnic and sectarian violence in Iraq. They now reside in Hamdaniya, Iraq. (photo: Safin Hamed)
Iraqi Christians are now calling the Kurdish-controlled northern region of Iraq home, as we report in the November issue of ONE:
“I saw injustice in Mosul. I want to start a new life here,” says Salam Talia, a 23-year-old Iraqi Christian. The young man sits on a sofa between his middle-aged parents in their newly built apartment in Hamdaniya, a historically Christian town about 20 miles southeast of the city of Mosul. On one of the living room walls hangs a large image of Jesus surrounded by photos of family members killed in the war and the sectarian violence that has ravaged the nation for the past eight years.
Despite the trauma they suffered in their native Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city and capital of the Nineveh Governorate, the Talia family considers itself fortunate and even expresses a measure of happiness with their new lives in Hamdaniya. They no longer fear practicing their faith and attend church regularly. They have made friends and are settling into their new home.
For more from this story, see A New Genesis in Nineveh by Namo Abdulla.
28 November 2011
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians
Five-year-old Alexi, a member of the mostly Filipino Sacred Heart Latin Catholic parish in Amman, Jordan, loves to dance. (photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
In the current issue of ONE we feature a story on the Filipino migrant community in Jordan and the work of those who offer its members support and comfort:
A congenial 67-year-old Jesuit priest from Boston, who wears slacks and sandals under his vestments, Father O’Connell, looks and acts the part of a wise, friendly grandfather.
He helps the choir and he holds the lease on a house where the choir rehearses and other church groups gather. Father O’Connell also oversees the Sacred Heart youth basketball team and helped a group of youngsters from the church secure a space in the Jesuit Fathers’ center where they can breakdance.
Most important, Father O’Connell spends much of his energy responding to the spiritual, emotional and material needs of his predominantly Filipino congregation and other Filipino migrants in the country.
“I understood that the first task was to give people a place where they could be at home,” says Father O’Connell. “For these people, just the ongoing, regular liturgy — with Filipino music, with people reading, with them being able to participate in whatever way they want — gives a strand of consistency and continuity. It’s their home. It’s their place. In most cases, there’s no place else they can gather.”
For more from this story, see Far From Home by Nicholas Seeley.
23 November 2011
Tags: Middle East Jordan Cultural Identity Emigration Teresian Association
Earlier this week, our own Father Guido Gockel, Vice President for the Middle East and Europe, appeared on “Catholic Matters,” a program on the Guadalupe Radio Network, to talk about the prospects of peace in the Holy Land — a subject he discussed at length during a recent talk in Washington.
The audio of his interview appears below.
Tags: CNEWA Holy Land