25 April 2019
A young woman holds candles during a vigil in Lahore, Pakistan, on 23 April 2019, in solidarity with the victims of Sri Lanka's Easter suicide bomb attacks. (photo: CNS/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)
At Mass a few weeks ago, I heard an unusual noise coming from the entrance of the church. Without thinking, I turned and found myself fearing the worst. An attack? After Mass I asked others if they felt the same way and, to my surprise, some did. How many of us are experiencing this type of fear in our places of worship? For most Canadians, the answer is not at all; the risk of this happening is still very slim, after all.
But it may not feel that way. This past Easter Sunday, the killings of innocent Catholics while celebrating Mass in Sri Lanka would certainly reinforce this fear. We could add to this the stabbing of a priest while celebrating Mass at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal; just before that, the killing of innocent Muslims in a New Zealand mosque; and last year, the killing of innocent Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The list, regrettably, goes on.
Are these despicable acts of terror and inhumanity starting to have their effect on our sense of safety?
As we just celebrated the great feast of Easter — not just with chocolate bunnies but with the same spiritual vibrancy that millions of Christians still feel today — let’s remember that there is another way to fight this looming fear.
I’m refering to the Christians of countries such as Egypt who, over the past 10 years or so, have experienced the worst at the hands of well-armed and organized extremist groups that are determined to target minorities on specific feasts and in sacred spaces. Easter and Christmas, for example, are moments of particular worry for thousands of Christians in that country.
A few years ago, I traveled to Egypt and experienced how this drama plays out. One night, in a rural town, I joined a local Coptic Catholic community to celebrate Epiphany. To my surprise, I saw a small battalion of well-armed men coming to the church. They’re here to protect us, I was told. Somehow this didn’t reassure me.
I was in shock to hear that this happens all over Egypt: armed men come to Mass to protect the faithful. “How do you do it?,” I asked, referring to the heavy burden and fear on their shoulders. Their answer was very simple. “There is a level of fear, sure, but we’ve been practicing our faith, here, for more than 2000 years,” I was told. “We’ve lived through much worse and we have a mission given to us by Jesus.”
And there it is. Our journey is to follow Christ, wherever that may lead us. We shouldn’t be afraid when we are led towards people who are different from us; but, rather, we should follow the example of Middle East Christians and persevere in encountering others through dialogue, service and love, no matter what. Each day, these Christians offer inspiring works in the areas of healthcare, education and service to the handicapped, elderly, poor and so many more, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
All are welcome. They know by experience that God’s compassion and mercy are the keys to fighting fear, building lasting relationships and, ultimately, bringing a lasting peace.
The terrorists can attack them, and yes, there will be broken families, pain, and horror, as in Sri Lanka this past Easter weekend. However, our Egyptian brothers and sisters can be witnesses that the faith will remain and love will prevail through forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion. It isn’t easy to do — but what an example to follow.
These values are the basis of CNEWA’s mission and this is why we have been working with Eastern Christians in the Middle East, India, northeastern Africa and Eastern Europe since 1926. They are the ones who started it all with great sacrifices and pain — but also with an amazing and deep commitment to Jesus.
So yes: in my parish earlier this month, for a short moment, I was distracted. But ultimately, I will keep my focus on the love of Jesus, which will help me to counter fear and to live in peace — no matter what.
21 March 2019
Tags: Egypt CNEWA Canada
The Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, archbishop emeritus of Ottawa, seated, visits the office of CNEWA Canada, in Ottawa. (photo: CNEWA)
Today we had a special visitor in our Ottawa office: The Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, archbishop emeritus of Ottawa.
In 2003, he accepted the invitation of the Holy See’s Congregation of the Eastern Churches and helped establish CNEWA in Canada. He was the first chair of CNEWA Canada until his retirement in 2007. At 87 years old, he is still very active, with a keen sense of humor. The CNEWA staff had a great time meeting him.
You are in our prayers Archbishop Gervais! May God give you many good and healthy years ahead.
3 August 2018
Tags: CNEWA Canada
An Iraqi father and his children are shown at the Saint Anthony Community Health Centre in Lebanon, supported by CNEWA. (photo: Carl Hétu)
CNEWA Canada has just launched a campaign to help Middle East Christians, and national director Carl Hétu this week offered some thoughts on the current situation on the blog for the Archdiocese of Toronto. An excerpt is below.
What is the current situation for Christians in the Middle East?
Daily life for Christians in the Middle East has been difficult. Things took a turn for the worse in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., Great Britain and their allies. Iraq spiraled into internal tribal conflict and anarchy. Christians were stuck in the middle — often being victims of threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination. As a result, approximately 1.2 million Christians were forced to leave the country since 2003. Some 250,000 Christians remain in Iraq today. The unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict has also caused economic and political hardships. Only 55,000 and 1,100 Christians remain in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. In Syria, the civil war has practically destroyed the country. Christians have certainly not been spared from the violence. The Christian population has gone down to 1 million from 2 million since 2011. More are fleeing. In Egypt, attacks on Christians are common. We believe that some 400,000 have left the country in the last seven years. Christians live in greater security in Jordan and Israel; but there has been a recent rise in internal tensions.
How does your most recent trip to Lebanon in April compare to your last visit to the region?
The Lebanese people seem anxious, tired and increasingly frustrated. The population of Lebanon is 4 million. There are more than 1.3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, plus 500,000 Palestinian refugees, in the country. The impact on the local economy and social services is overwhelming. Local aid organizations are exhausted and lacking in resources to support refugees but also there is an increasing number of Lebanese people who are getting poorer, losing their jobs and in need of support. It’s a very alarming and potentially volatile situation.
Visit this link to learn more — and to discover what’s being done and how you can help.
14 May 2018
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians CNEWA Canada Persecution
Carl Hetu, national director of CNEWA Canada, meets with Ethiopian Catholic Bishop Lesanu-Christos Matheos of Bahir Dar-Dessie. (photo: CNEWA)
Today I had the pleasure of meeting with Ethiopian Catholic Bishop Lesanu-Christos Matheos.
Three years ago he was named the bishop of the Eparchy (Diocese) of Bahir Dar-Dessie, in Ethiopia. It is a new and developing Eparchy that is equivalent in size to Italy.
He was also given, by the Ethiopian Bishops Conference, the responsibility of caring for all Ethiopian Catholics living outside the country. It was for this purpose that he was in Canada and why I had the opportunity to meet with him.
We were happy to meet, as CNEWA has been supporting several of Bishop Matheos’ ministries over the years. A couple of years ago we helped him build a modest church in an isolated part of his Eparchy for the Gumuz tribal people. We also helped in providing Catechesis ministry to this same tribe. He joyfully shared that, last year alone, more than 800 people were baptized through the works of these ministries.
CNEWA has also been supporting his youth ministry initiatives, particularly those on university campuses. This is a ministry that is very important to him, so after our meeting I dropped him off at the headquarters of Catholic Christian Outreach — a university student movement dedicated to evangelization, with a wealth of experience and written materials from which he hopes to draw ideas.
Thank you to CNEWA’s donors who have supported our important work in Ethiopia over the years. If you would like to make a donation towards our Ethiopian program please click here.
For more information on Bishop Matheos Mission with the Gumuz you can visit this blog post.
To support CNEWA’s Ethiopian program please click here.
10 May 2016
Tags: CNEWA Canada Ethiopian Catholic Church
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.