5 March 2012
In this image from 2006, a sister and children play at Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Complex in Gyumri. (photo: by Armineh Johannes.)
In a country ravaged by wars and earthquakes, the nuns at the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Complex have learned to keep their eyes on the ball — and even have some fun. One of those is Sister Arousiag Sajonian, who has done some remarkable work in a troubled corner of Armenia. She spoke with us about it during a recent visit to New York City. You can read part of that conversation in the January 2012 issue of ONE. (You can learn more about the work of the sisters here and here.)
Meantime, you can see more of the interview with Sister Arousiag in the video below.
29 February 2012
Archbishop Raphael Minassian; Rev. Guido Gockel, M.H.M., vice president for the Middle East and Europe; and Gabriel Delmonaco, vice president for development, meet at CNEWA's New York offices. (photo: Greg Kandra)
This afternoon, Archbishop Raphael Minassian, Armenian ordinary for Eastern Europe, stopped by to visit us at CNEWA.
Born in Beirut in 1946, the archbishop was ordained in 1973 and has extensive experience in the media. He was the editor of the magazine Avetaber-Verelk and founded an Armenian television company in 2005.
29 February 2012
Tags: CNEWA Armenia Eastern Europe Armenian Catholic Church
The Syro-Malabar Church in Palayur, Kerala, features the largest statue of St. Thomas in the world, and depicts the boat landing where he arrived in India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Msgr. John Kozar, president of CNEWA, is beginning a pastoral visit to India “in the footsteps of St. Thomas.” He’ll be filing reports for this blog, along with pictures and video, over the next several days — introducing us to the many sisters, religious and lay people doing some remarkable work in that corner of the world.
It’s a corner regular readers of our magazine know well. Two years ago, writer Sean Sprague took a similar journey and described it in the pages of ONE:
“St. Thomas definitely landed on this very spot,” says Philomena Pappachan, caretaker of a chapel that marks where the doubting apostle arrived in southern India in the year A.D. 52. Located a few feet from the cemented banks of the Periyar River, the chapel is dwarfed by a grove of palm trees and a 30-foot cutout of the saint, who is depicted with a staff and an open book on which “my Lord and my God” is printed in English.
No archaeological evidence exists to substantiate or refute her claim. Yet for nearly two millennia, countless numbers of Christians and Hindus have believed “the holy man” journeyed through Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and finally India, where Thomas died a martyr’s death in the year 72.
Based on oral tradition, the fathers of the church — notably Clement of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome and Gregory of Tours — all write of his travels, deeds and faith.
In works such as the “Ramban Song,” an ancient lyrical poem, Indians remember Thomas’ miracles and the places where he preached, baptized and founded seven churches. Today, these shrines are major pilgrimage sites for Thomas’ spiritual heirs.
Read more in In the Footsteps of St. Thomas from the March 2010 issue of ONE.
And be sure to check One-to-One in the days ahead for updates from Msgr. Kozar.
28 February 2012
Tags: India Indian Christians Msgr. John E. Kozar Thomas Christians
In Syria, a group of men in the Christian village of Al Meshtayeh socialize over a board game. (photo: Sean Sprague)
As the conflict in Syria intensifies, Pope Benedict XVI has called on all involved to begin a process of dialogue, recently describing the situation there as “increasingly worrisome.”
Last week, a Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, the Holy See’s delegate to the Arab League, attended an international summit in Tunisia seeking to resolve the crisis.
Last year, writer Sean Sprague reported on Syria’s Christian Valley in the pages of ONE magazine:
Syria is a cradle of Christianity. The word Christian was first coined in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch — which has been a part of Turkey since the borders were redrawn in 1939. The apostles Peter and Paul settled there, nurturing a church that eventually emerged as the center of Christian thought in the eastern Mediterranean. Antiochene theologians, from both the Greek– and Syriac–speaking communities, played leading roles in the Christological controversies that eventually divided the early church, differences that are now understood as cultural and linguistic.
Even as masses of Arab Muslim troops invaded and conquered the Middle East in the seventh century, eventually receiving the majority of its population into Islam, Syrian Christians persevered, living peaceably with their Muslim neighbors.
Today, Christians make up about a tenth of Syria’s 22 million people. Half of these two million souls belong to the Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Antioch, the preeminent Christian institution in the country. As many as 500,000 people belong to the Syriac Orthodox Church, and another 125,000 belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Catholics number around 400,000 people and belong primarily to the Armenian and Melkite Greek Catholic churches.
The vast majority of the population of Wadi al Nasarah are Christian, 98 percent of whom belong to the Orthodox Church. The rest attend Melkite or Roman Catholic churches.
For this and more, read the January 2011 issue of ONE.
27 February 2012
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Syriac Orthodox Church Antiochene church
Until eighth grade, an equal number of boys and girls attend the Catholic school in Meki, Ethiopia. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Ethiopia is struggling to give both boys and girls equal opportunities for education — an issue journalist Peter Lemieux explored in the pages of ONE in 2009:
If growing up in Ethiopia these days were a race, these children would appear to be off to a good start. But a closer look reveals an unfair contest, one that favors the boys.
While Meki Catholic School makes every effort to maintain gender balance — an equal number of boys and girls make up its primary grades — the number of girls enrolled in the school’s secondary classes drops sharply. For the girls fortunate enough to remain in school, the harsh reality of Ethiopia’s tradition of gender disparity hits harder than a stiff headwind in a 50-yard dash.
Against a metal fence enclosing the school grounds, Messeret Yohannes, an 18-year-old senior, discusses the future with her girlfriends. All expect to go to college. And all hope to become professionals either in accounting, banking, education or medicine. Given the school’s outstanding achievements, high aspirations such as theirs are certainly realistic. From among the graduating class, 94 percent are expected to attend college, compared to 30 to 35 percent nationally.
“I want to be a lawyer or maybe go into business,” says Messeret, whose voice grows bolder and more confident as the boys move out of eavesdropping distance.
As with other students at the school, most of these girls hail from families who make their living from subsistence farming and small trade. When asked to explain why women make up less than 20 percent of their senior class, the girls begin talking all at once. Cutting through the chatter, Messeret takes the lead and speaks for the group. “That’s the economic part of it,” she asserts.
“The drop-off happens throughout the country at the high school level, not just at our school,” adds the school’s popular headmaster, Brother Betre Fisseha, F.S.C.
“It’s the legacy of the Ethiopian social and cultural tradition. Girls are burdened with a big part of the families’ work, especially in rural areas. If their parents need help fetching water, herding animals or taking care of younger siblings, the girls go home. This obstructs the continuity of their education, particularly following elementary school.”
Read more in An Uphill Battle.
7 February 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Education Africa Women (rights/issues) Catholic education
Sister Mariam Almiron of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word spins a small child around following Sunday Mass at the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza. There are only about 3,000 Christians in Gaza, of which a little more than 200 are Catholic.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
As a small minority in many countries of the Middle East, Christians often face great challenges. Last summer Sami El-Yousef, regional director of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission for Palestine and Israel, paid a visit to Gaza to see how the Christian community there is faring:
Life in Gaza is not easy. While the government there tolerates Christian institutions and the Christian presence, it is clear that adopting a more conservative Islamic way of life does conflict at times with the more open society these Christian institutions and individuals are accustomed to.
There is an uneasy balance that seems to be maintained and holding thus far. It is certainly not easy for a teenage girl who follows a literary Tawjihi stream and finishes tenth grade and has no option but to complete her high school education in the public school system and finds herself being veiled to go to school. Neither it is easy for college-age females who are locked up in Gaza due to the blockade and want to get a college education and have no choice other than the Gazan universities and again must be veiled to go to classes. This also applies to men and women, boys and girls engaged in joint sports activities at the local YMCA who feel that they are under the watchful eye of a conservative class that does not approve of gender integrated activities.
There are other trivial matters that affect Christians, too, such as the Muslim ban on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. These may be little inconveniences and some of them actually may be good for you, but these are additional restrictions Christians have to deal with on top of the pressures and restrictions of the occupation and the blockade. There are no easy answers, but one needs to be aware of the difficulties of daily life in Gaza, especially to the Christian community, and to appreciate the need to strengthen the Christian institutions and the Christian presence. There are many possibilities for assistance, and we hope to be able to fundraise and implement some of the projects in the near future.
After all, Christian institutions promote Christian values of worship, love, respect, honesty, humility, hope, forgiveness, compassion, integrity and self discipline among others. Gaza can only be a better place if these values are ingrained in society, and what better way to do this other than to strengthen the Christian institutions and empower them to continue to provide their services to all Palestinians alike with these values in mind.
You can read much more here. And visit our website to learn how you can join CNEWA and support Christians in the Middle East.
1 February 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Gaza Strip/West Bank
Elderly Roma men sit and chat together in the main square in the town of Hodasz, 240 miles east of Budapest, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi/VII Network)
In 2008, we visited a village in Hungary with an unusual blend of cultures:
Hodász is different,“ said Father Tibor Egri, a Greek Catholic priest in this village of some 3,500 people in northeastern Hungary.
What makes Hodász exceptional is not its assorted parishes — Greek and Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant — or its mixed population of ethnic Hungarians and Roma, commonly called Gypsies. Rather, it is how these distinct groups have forged a cohesive community.
“People here get along easily,” Father Egri continued. “Many Hungarians associate the Roma with criminal activities. And the media reinforce the stereotypes and feed the prejudices.
“Roma here,” he added, “tend to be more ‘Hungarian,’ which makes it easier.“
With up to 800,000 Roma now living in the country — between 5 and 10 percent of the overall population — Hungary typifies the Romany experience as a disenfranchised minority and yet offers hope for greater Romany social and political inclusion.
For generations, Hungary’s Roma have endured institutionalized discrimination in education, housing and employment. Societal prejudices run deep as well; hate crimes against Roma remain relatively common. But this central European nation’s Roma enjoy better legal protection and greater representation in government than most Romany populations in other European nations of the former Communist bloc.
Roma, who now make up nearly half the village population, have lived in Hodász at least since 1820, when local authorities recorded the first Romany baptism.
As in the rest of Europe, Roma now constitute the fastest-growing ethnic group in Hungary; one out of every five or six newborns is Roma. In Hodász, however, all villagers tend to have small families, which usually include no more than two children.
Read more in the story Our Town.
31 January 2012
Tags: Hungary Central Europe
In this image from 2005, a recovering alcoholic attends a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Kerala with his daughter. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
From India today comes word that Catholic leaders are considering taking a hard line against drinking, to battle a worsening problem:
Church leaders in Kerala today declared war on liquor consumption, maintaining that alcohol abuse is the root-cause behind many broken families in the southern Indian state.
The Church is planning to list drinking as a cardinal sin that should be confessed, said Father T. James Antony, secretary of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council’s (K.C.B.C.) Temperance Commission.
The commission is drafting a proposal in this regard for the council which should be finalized by June, he said.
People in Kerala are said to be the biggest drinkers in India, drinking three times the national average.
A recent study by the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre revealed that alcohol dependency is even spreading among children aged 10-15.
“Alcoholism is a social menace which is destabilizing families and claiming thousands of lives every year,” Father Antony said.
We reported on Kerala's problem of addiction and the people struggling to recover in 2005:
Each year, the state consumes 2.2 gallons of liquor per capita, about three times the national rate, according to India’s Outlook magazine.
“In Kerala, people tend to start drinking once they are 18 years old, which is the legal age for being able to purchase liquor,” said Father Titus Kattuparambil, a Syro-Malabar priest of the Eparchy of Irinjalakuda and assistant director of Navachaithanya.
“Among the bad cases, you’ll see people who earn about three dollars a day, and they’ll blow two dollars of that on alcohol.”
Both national and local governments have acknowledged the problem of alcoholism, and alcohol advertising is illegal. Kerala’s state government also funds several detoxification centers at public hospitals. But at the same time, Father Titus pointed out, the government in Kerala – as in other Indian states – draws revenue from liquor taxes and therefore has a fiscal disincentive to curb alcohol consumption.
For more, continue reading One Day At a Time in Kerala. For further information on the K.C.B.C. Temperance Council, click here.
31 January 2012
Tags: India Kerala Indian Bishops Alcoholism Substance Abuse
Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, wearing the cape of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, prays the rosary on steps of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo: Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photographer/NY Daily News)
Just days before he is scheduled to become a cardinal in Rome, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. From the New York Daily News:
Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s swing through Israel took him Monday to one of the most sacred sites in Christianity, the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.
New York’s Catholic leader, a cardinal-designate, bowed his head in prayer and held rosary beads at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Dolan and his entourage also worshiped at Gethsemane Garden Center, where Jesus prayed the night before he was nailed to the cross...
...Dolan, who is in the Holy Land ahead of his trip to Rome to be made cardinal, also visited the Western Wall, one of the holiest spots in Judaism. He’ll be back at the church Tuesday for Mass before heading to Bethlehem.
“One benefit of being the Archbishop of New York is that you become friends with the Jewish community — they have been exceptionally good to us,” he said.
Catholic News Service caught up with him at one stop:
“Just to be here ... at a pivotal moment in your life, a time of transition, (that) you would turn to the Lord in prayer and reflection, this is good,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center during a brief meeting with a group of Catholic journalists from the United States also visiting Israel.
In the picture shown above, the Cardinal-designate, who also serves as the chairman of CNEWA, is wearing the distinctive cape of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. We profiled the order and its colorful history in our magazine in 1995:
At the end of the 11th century Pope Urban II, who had proclaimed and enforced the “Truce of God” and the “Peace of God” to limit warfare in Europe, turned his attention to the Holy Land. The Seljuk Turks, who by this time had conquered most of the Middle East, harassed the Christians traveling there as pilgrims. Dismayed by these actions, the Pope proclaimed a crusade to regain access and control of the holy places. In 1099, Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Brabant (which is located in modern Belgium), leading a mixed force of noblemen, knights and peasants, conquered Jerusalem.
In an effort to secure the safety of the Holy Sepulchre, the shrine marking the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Godfrey established a religious order of knights to protect the holy places and provide security for pilgrims. In 1113, Pope Pascal II approved the rules and constitutions of the order, which had adopted the Rule of St. Augustine.
Following the collapse of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1189, the knights were exiled to Europe. In exile, their standards of chivalry were directed toward charitable works: some served in hospitals while others cared for the poor and society’s outcasts. As a recognized religious order it survived until the end of the 15th century.
In 1847, Pope Pius IX restored the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, after a hiatus of some 400 years, and he reactivated the order with a mandate to practice “the virtue of charity [by] supporting and aiding the church and the Catholic Religion in the Holy Land.”
The order continues its invaluable work to this day. You can read more here. And Msgr. Robert Stern offered his own perspective on the order in 1996 here.
30 January 2012
Tags: CNEWA Jerusalem Holy Land Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
Sister Cincy Joseph, MSJ, a Medical Sister of St. Joseph, visits with Daisy Choorakattu, a cancer patient in the pain and palliative care center at St. George’s Hospital. Daisy and her family have been forced to sell their home to pay for her treatment, a last resort option for Kerala’s poor. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Countless cancer patients around the world seek solace and intercession from a special patron, the seventh-century abbess St. Aldegonde (sometimes called Aldegunais), whose feast is 30 January. Aldegonde herself reportedly died from cancer at the age of 54.
Today, those battling this disease find a more earthly kind of help from modern-day religious, like the Medical Sisters of St. Joseph working in Kerala. These sisters work to provide care and comfort, often under difficult circumstances. We told their story in the September 2011 issue of ONE:
With limited resources, the sisters do what they can. These days, the hospital mostly cares for terminally ill cancer patients.
Sister Cincy enters one such patient’s room. She walks to the bed and takes the woman’s hand, checking her vitals. The woman, Daisy John, hardly notices. She is in her final hours. Around the bed stand Mr. John, the couple’s son and extended family members. The room is itself spartan: no sophisticated medical equipment, just an assortment of basic medical supplies. Sister Cincy visits with the family briefly and then exits the room.
“After their treatment elsewhere — chemotherapy and radiation — they suffer a great deal of pain,” Sister Cincy explains. “We give them free accommodations and medication. We try to help relieve their suffering.”
You can read more at this link. And visit this page to learn some of the ways you can help support the work of the church in India.
Tags: India Sisters Poor/Poverty