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10 May 2016
François Moniz, left, takes a break with his wife, Edith, during a 2014 rally in Ottawa to show support for Iraq’s persecuted Christians. (photo: CNEWA)
One year ago today, CNEWA lost a beloved member of our family, François Moniz. We asked CNEWA’s national director in Canada, Carl Hétu, to reflect on this unsung hero.
François Moniz isn’t known to most people outside of the CNEWA family. He was CNEWA Canada’s first office administrator from December 2004 until his death on 10 May 2015.
Back in 2004, François had a full time job in the private sector in administration. But he was out on sick leave, fighting a vicious cancer. After several treatments during the winter and spring of 2004, he was told that nothing had worked and his days were numbered. Knowing this, I brought him back some oil from the tomb of Saint Sharbel in Lebanon. Sharbel was a 19th century monk who was canonized in the 1960’s. Many miracles have been attributed to him.
A couple of months later, after using the oil and with many prayers, François learned some amazing news: the tumor was gone. The doctors were shocked. A real miracle! Before he went back to his job, I asked François if he could give me a hand with his free time in laying out the plan to start CNEWA Canada. I had known him for over 25 years, and I knew I could take advantage of his administrative expertise.
As we sat discussing how to proceed, it became obvious that he was the perfect person to join me in this new challenge. So I offered him the job and I remember his words that day: “I’ve never worked for the church, but I guess I owe one to God.” He turned out to be a superb fit.
The years passed by and CNEWA Canada grew. François was an important part of that growth, and we shared many exciting hours of planning, debating, and evaluating. But then, his cancer reappeared in 2013. This time, we knew that the chances of survival were slim; he needed an operation to remove the tumors. Yet, six months after the surgery, in July 2014, he was back on the job. “You’re back too early,” I told him. He replied, “Not early enough.” He couldn’t stand to be away.
In October of that year, the cancer returned in full force. But even then, François came to the office. He missed some days, but remained very committed. I would say to him, “Stay home, we can manage.” And he would reply, “Carl it’s not from home that I can make a difference.”
Finally, in February 2015, he told me that he would be leaving his job. Heartbroken and sad, we hugged each other, both of us knowing he would never come back. I visited him in the hospital during his final days, and he told me, “You know, working for CNEWA was God’s plan, not mine. And I am privileged that he allowed me to help so many people all over the world.”
François cared. To the end, he was committed to CNEWA’s mission.
He did such a good job that I believe God needed François for other purposes. God called him home on 10 May 2015, Mother’s Day. He was 56.
François left behind his wife, Edith, two children and three brothers.
Thank you, François, for your honesty, objectivity, professionalism and, above all, your friendship.
11 January 2016
An Israeli soldier stops a group of bishops from visiting land owned by Palestinian farmers in the Cremisan Valley, not far from Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
Note: Last summer, we reported on the controversy surrounding the building of a separation wall in the Cremisan Valley. Yesterday, a group of bishops visiting the region attempted to visit the area. Carl Hétu, National Director CNEWA Canada, is accompanying Bishop Lionel Gendron of St-Jean Longoueil, Québec, vice president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops — and he describes below what happened.
On our way to visit the Christian community of Beit Jala on Sunday, property owners invited the Holy Land Coordination bishops delegation to visit their land. As the bishops were about to enter the first property, an Israeli jeep came to block access. The delegation was told that they couldn’t go further.
“This isn’t Israel property,” the bishops replied. “These farmers are inviting us to visit their land.”
The response from the soldier in the jeep was short: “You can’t go further.”
The bishops prayed and then left to join the parishioners for Mass nearby.
The bishops had come to show their solidarity with the 55 local Christians families who are about to lose their land and their livelihoods. The farmers harvest olives, apricots, nuts, figs and much more. This will be a substantial loss of revenue for them and another loss of high quality land for agriculture.
Last April, the farmers were rejoicing over an Israel court ruling which had rejected the building of the wall. But in a surprising and unusual decision, the court reversed its judgment in July and ruled in favor of starting the wall. Since August, the Israel Army has been uprooting ancient olive trees, some hundreds of years old, and preparing the land for construction.
As the bishops left the area to celebrate Mass with the Beit Jala local parish, they could hear the echoes of earth-moving machinery echoing through the valley.
You can read more about the troubled history of the Cremisan Valley here. And there’s more about the bishops’ visit to the region here.
8 January 2016
Syrian refugees arrive in December at a hotel in Mississauga, Ontario. They were greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. But the refugees are arriving with no sign of peace in the region, which could mean many more of them will need help in 2016. (photo: CNS/Mark Blinch, Reuters)
Editor’s note: the following appeared this week in a column in Canada’s Catholic Register.
During recent travels in Beirut I met Kamal and his family, Syrian-Armenian Christian refugees. They told a harrowing tale.
“In March 2014, a rebel group came to our town of Kassab and told all of us to convert to Islam or leave,” he said. “We all left in the middle of the night in a panic.”
There are more than 12,000 Syrian-Armenian Christians currently living in Lebanon who share a similar story, forced to flee in fear under dark skies. These are urban refugees who share a common experience: as minority Christians, they have suffered persecution for their faith. As such, families such as Kamal’s should be given priority under government-sponsored programs that are bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the coming months.
For his children’s sake, Kamal desperately hopes to be able to take his young family to Canada or Europe, but anywhere that is safe will do.
As Canada begins to receive 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees and as many as 10,000 who are privately sponsored, there is no peace in sight in the Middle East. The self-described Islamic State appears to be as strong as it was a year ago despite heavy bombing by several Western states, including Canada. But the reality is that defeating ISIS will only matter if there is a genuine political will to build lasting peace in Iraq and Syria.
It is good policy as well as a wonderful humanitarian gesture for Canada to welcome Syrian refugees, but the lack of peace and increasing political unrest means there will be even more refugees and more Christians knocking on the doors of the international community in 2016 and beyond.
Read the complete column here.
27 October 2015
Migrants from Syria walk along a road in the village of Miratovac, Serbia.
(photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)
A month after endorsing CNEWA’s campaign to aid refugees, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has issued a powerful pastoral letter on the subject entitled “I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me.”
Citing both biblical teaching and the recent words of Pope Francis, the bishops state:
The immense and unprecedented refugee crisis today is heart-breaking, moving us to tears and urging us to act. As leaders of the Catholic Church in Canada, we believe that discussion is not enough; this is a time for urgent action. Every single day, desperate people try to cross a vast ocean of indifference. These people are called refugees. They are often treated simply as a problem or a concern, but to us they are our brothers and sisters, fellow human beings who need our help right now.
Among other things, the bishops urge the faithful to provide moral and spiritual support to those in refugee camps; call on the federal government to expand the acceptance of refugees in Canada; and support vital aid organizations — including, most notably, CNEWA.
This is a strong and powerful statement on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters around the world. It cries out for attention. Please read the entire document and share it. And if you can, prayerfully consider supporting us in our mission — one that can help carry out our call as Christians and truly help the stranger so in need of being welcomed.
If you live in Canada, please visit this page to learn how you can help. Outside of Canada, please check out this giving page.
And thank you!
18 September 2015
Migrant children look through a fence as they wait permission to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia on 15 September. (photo: CNS/Georgi Licovski, EPA)
The statement below was issued by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in response to the initiative announced yesterday to aid Syrian refugees:
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has endorsed a joint fundraising campaign aimed at involving all the Church in Canada in order to assist Syrian refugees seeking shelter and protection in the Middle East and parts of Europe. The joint campaign, already being supported by Bishops across the country, involves the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Canada, and CNEWA Canada.
The three Canadian Catholic aid and development agencies will collaborate in their fundraising for Syrian refugees, so as to respond as effectively as possible to the complex and overwhelming Syrian emergency. Donations can be made to any or all three of the organizations. Each will continue working with its respective partners in the Middle East, using its own unique approaches and networks. The Holy See, as well as Bishops in Canada and the Middle East, have expressed appreciation on how the activities of the three agencies are mutually complementary in responding to different but equally important priorities.
Development and Peace will work to expand its ongoing efforts to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries in the Middle East, and also expand its reach through the Caritas international family to come to the aid of the thousands of migrants who have fled across the Mediterranean Sea and are now seeking shelter. ACN and CNEWA will continue to support all refugees affected by this war and will also give special attention to Christian refugees and displaced persons, hoping to ensure a continued Christian presence in the Middle East.
The three agencies will later send reports to Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada on the total funds received for Syrian refugees as a result of the new campaign. The Government of Canada announced on September 12 it has established the Syria Emergency Relief Fund. Every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities in response to the impact of the conflict in Syria will be matched by the government, for up to $100 million, effective immediately and until December 31, 2015.
At a special meeting held during the 2015 Plenary Assembly, the Conference’s Permanent Council stated it rejoices at the news some Canadian dioceses and eparchies have already launched or will soon launch their own projects in aid of Syrian refugees. The Permanent Council, which is the CCCB administrative board, encourages those dioceses and eparchies to support the joint campaign. All other dioceses and eparchies in Canada are invited to organize their own parish collections for the joint campaign from now until Sunday, November 15, 2015, inclusive. Each diocese is free to decide how it will distribute the funds among the three national agencies.While the Government of Canada will match funds raised for Syrian refugees by all registered Canadian charities, only a few of these, including Development and Peace, are designated by the government as eligible to apply for its assistance in their work on behalf of Syrian refugees.
The total funds raised by Development and Peace, or other designated Canadian agencies, will not be a factor in the amount of government funding that can be requested for Syrian refugee projects.
Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, and CNEWA Canada have been actively fundraising for refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries for some years. This spring, Development and Peace, in its earlier 2013 campaign with the Bishops of Canada, had raised more than $13 million for Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees. This also included matching funds from the Government of Canada. Recently, Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation which fundraises in a number of countries, including Canada, reported its previous efforts had raised $10.3 million in emergency aid for Syrian refugees. CNEWA is a papal agency that fundraises in Canada and the United States and works closely with Eastern Catholic Churches and Orthodox Churches in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. In 2014, CNEWA (Canada and USA) sent US $4,441,665 to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon and displaced persons in Syria.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Syrian conflict has resulted in the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. After five years of conflict, some four million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries in the Middle East as well as in parts of Europe. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced and homeless within their own country. Calling again on the world and the Church to help these “millions of people ... in a distressing state of urgent need,” Pope Francis has described the conflicts in Iraq and Syria “one of the most overwhelming human tragedies of recent decades.”
To contribute to this effort, please visit this giving page.
15 June 2015
Pope Francis speaks to the annual gathering of Catholic aid agencies in the Vatican on
Monday, 15 June. (photo: CNEWA)
This week CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar and Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA Canada, are participating in the annual gathering of the ROACO, a meeting called by the Holy See’s Congregation of the Eastern Churches. Over 24 Catholic agencies are in Rome for his meeting, which is being chaired this year by Msgr. Kozar. Our first day started with an audience with Pope Francis, who blessed our upcoming deliberations and made some important remarks on the many crises affecting the Middle East.
“The lands of the Middle East,” he said, “marred by years of conflict, are also marked by the footprints of those who seek refuge and soaked with the blood of many men and women, including numerous Christians persecuted for their faith.”
Recalling the recent trip to Iraq by a delegation of the ROACO (including Msgr. Kozar) last May — during which they met with displaced persons from the Nineveh Plain and with small groups from Syria — the pope affirmed, “in those eyes that asked for help and pleaded for peace and to return home there was Jesus himself who looked at you, asking for that charity that makes us Christians. Every form of assistance, so as not to fall into the trap of uncompromising efficiency or mere aid that does not promote persons or peoples, must always be reborn from this blessing of the Lord who reaches us when we have the courage to look at the situations and the brothers before us.”
Nevertheless, “the world seems to have become aware of the tragedy of recent months, and has opened its eyes, taking account of the millennial presence of Christians in the Middle East. Initiatives for raising awareness and offering aid to them to to others unjustly affected by violence have flourished. However, further efforts must be made to eliminate what would appear to be tacit agreements by which the lives of thousands and thousands of families — women, men, children, elderly — in the balance of interests appear to weigh less than petroleum and weapons, and while peace and justice is proclaimed, it is accepted that the traffickers of death act in those lands. I therefore encourage you, as you carry out your service of Christian charity, to condemn all that tramples human dignity.”
He concluded by thanking all the agencies for their good work in the region.
You can read more about the pope’s remarks here. And to learn how you can contribute to our work supporting Middle East Christians, visit this page.
18 May 2015
François Moniz and Carl Hétu took part in a pro-Iraqi Christian rally in September 2014 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (photo: CNEWA)
With sadness, I want to inform you of the passing of François Moniz, my colleague and dear friend, who died on 10 May at the age of 56 after a courageous battle with cancer. François was a founding staff member of CNEWA Canada, and acted as Office Manager. He was instrumental in the creation of our office in Ottawa, and truly helped to make a difference in the world.
François showed unconditional support for the mission of CNEWA. We will remember him for his kindness, generosity and friendly smile.
We give thanks to God for the blessing that François was in our lives. He will be truly missed by our staff in the Ottawa office, by his friends and most especially by his family — his wife Edith and two children.
I invite you to pray for the repose of the soul and for his family. May François rest in peace.
20 January 2015
Bishops visit the Cremisan Valley in the Holy Land.
(photo: Catholic Bishop’s Conference England and Wales)
Our journey in the Holy Land took the bishops to the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, which is part of the Bethlehem district. This valley has been contested over the last few years. The Israeli government says for security reasons it intends to build a separation wall through the region. But such a wall would have a significant impact not only on the local residents, but also on two religious communities of Salesians who live, work and minister there.
The Society of St. Yves — a center for human rights of the Latin patriarchate based in Jerusalem — claims the wall is really a way to secure Christian-owned land in the Palestinian West Bank to allow Israel to build 800 new housing units that would be part of the Gilo settlement right beside the valley.
According to the Israeli government, a wall will be necessary to protect the Israeli settlements in the area. One can argue that with the recent high tensions between Israel and Palestine, that security is becoming increasingly important. Israeli settlements, such as Gilo, however, are not recognized by the international community.
On 4 September 2014, the Israeli Ministry of Defense presented to the Supreme Court two proposed alternatives, which showed that the actual wall route could be changed to better serve all parties. It would allow the Salesian Sisters and the Salesian Brothers to remain on the Palestinian side of the wall.
The Society of St. Yves is suggesting that, if there is going to be a wall, it may not impact the 50 Christian families that own property in the valley, or disrupt the harvesting of olives, fruits, nuts and much more. Also, it would secure the Salesian Sisters’ elementary school of 450 children, who can’t live in what would become a military zone if the wall is built on the original proposed route. Furthermore, it would allow the Salesian Brothers to continue producing their famous wine and other produce from the land — an industry that creates many jobs for Palestinians and attracts pilgrims.
The court is now exploring all possibilities and should give its verdict soon. It would be devastating for the Salesians — and the Christian community in general — if the Israeli court ignores the proposed alternatives of the Israeli Ministry of defense, and permits the wall to be constructed as originally planned.
As a Christian man told us, this land was owned for several generations by his family; his livelihood would be destroyed, since he receives much revenue from it. His children already told him that if the wall is built, they would have no choice but to leave the Holy Land for good.
As the Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal told us, “Actually, there shouldn’t be any walls at all.” Palestinians and Israelis need to have a common place where both peoples can talk, meet, trade and build peace for the generations to come.
In the meantime, the bishops will continue to raise this issue in their respective countries and they invite anyone interested in peace to do the same by writing letters to their government and their Israeli Embassy.
16 January 2015
Bishops from around the world pray for peace in the town Sderot on the border with Gaza.
(photo: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
Carl Hétu is national director of CNEWA Canada. He accompanied Canadian Bishop Lionel Gendron and 15 other bishops from around the world in a recent visit to the Holy Land.
Not too many people are familiar with Sderot, an Israeli town right beside Gaza — just over a mile away. The bishops visited the city since its population was subjected to most of the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza during the 51-day war last summer.
At first glance, this beautiful town of 24,000 is modern, well-kept, and clean — it looks like a typical town in the Western world. But many people since 2008 have moved out; many others just can’t, because they have no other choices.
You can’t see any significant damage; the town was cleaned up quickly and any destruction was minimal compared to what happened just a short distance away in Gaza. But what is most serious is the damage you can’t see. Many people here suffer from post-traumatic stress.
Apparently, there are no other towns in the world that have has as many bomb shelters.
One resident shared with us, “Actually, my wife and I never had enough time to take shelter, so like many others, we hoped the rockets wouldn’t fall on our house. And even if we made it to safety, the problem remains. When rockets are coming your way, it will leave you in shock.”
Shaking his head, he continued, “But it wasn’t like this before. We had good rapport with the people of Gaza and them with us. They worked here; we bought their produce and used their facilities at their beaches. Now we can’t even talk, yet alone meet. Everything is blocked with this wall. We are living in two distinct worlds. It shouldn’t be like this. I don’t know how this happened.”
After leaving Sderot, we were left to think: this war has left people deeply injured and they believe the worst is yet to come. There has to be a way to find peace.
As Pope Francis called on us to do during his trip to the Holy Land last May, we shouldn’t forget to ask God to give us the courage to leave our comfort zones and seek new ways to find peace.
We should never think of war as an alternative. It only makes things worse, especially for innocent families.
15 January 2015
Bishops from around the world visited a housing project in Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
Carl Hétu is CNEWA’s national director in Canada. He accompanied Canadian Bishop Lionel Gendron and 15 other bishops from around the world in a recent Holy Land visit. Carl shares his impressions of Gaza after a visit earlier this week.
The bishops participating in the Episcopal Conferences of Coordination in Solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land make it a point to visit Gaza each year to show solidarity with the local Christian community. There are only about 2,000 Christians in Gaza, out of a total population of 1.8 million. This year, after 51 days of war between Hamas and Israel, Christians felt the effects of war the most. We were eager to meet with them — but we almost didn’t make it.
Even though all papers were submitted to the Israeli government over a month ago, we had to wait more than seven hours at the checkpoint until 3:25 pm when we were finally allowed entry. The checkpoint at Erez Crossing closes at 3:30 pm.
The bishops used their time constructively. While waiting, they prayed together for peace. At midday, they decided to start moving to make a point that they wouldn’t leave until they would be allowed in. So we moved to the first military checkpoint and crossed to the customs desk. The military asked us to return to the bus and wait there, which we did.
Morning Prayer at Erez Crossing as bishops wait for permission to enter Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
After a long day, we eventually went through the crossing, walking the fenced road.
For me, this was my first time entering Gaza. It reminded me of my first experience facing third-world poverty in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru. But there was one exception: the level of destruction of hospitals, schools, homes and infrastructure (including the water and electrical systems) was overwhelming.
More than 110,000 people lost their homes. Even now, months later, most people have electricity only a few hours a day.
We visited Holy Family Church and the parish school, which is a part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In our discussions there, we didn’t go into deep political analysis of why the war happened, or look at placing blame. Instead, we focused our time on the suffering of innocent victims, especially children and the elderly. The situation now is much worse for families who were already poor and living in harsh conditions.
The school has become a sanctuary from daily life. In school, children can play, learn and hope for a better future — but after school, children and teachers go back to reality. And these days, it is cold and there isn’t any heat. Tragically, three babies died of hypothermia this past weekend. And at night, as I experienced for myself, it is totally dark.
The teachers told us that this past war was the most painful one they have ever experienced. Non-stop explosions over 51 days have shaken them deeply. The material loss is one thing, but there is also the lingering psychological suffering — post-traumatic stress disorders. One teacher, overwhelmed, couldn’t continue the conversation.
One 17-year-old shared with us: “Thank you for your humanitarian help. At least we have food, but my family needs our dignity back. My dream of a better life cannot grow with the wall keeping me prisoner in Gaza.”
And here, with 75 percent unemployment, his future looks grim indeed.
Please remember these good people in your prayers. If you want to give to Gaza, please visit our donation page here.