Current Issue
December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
11 January 2017
Greg Kandra

In this image from 8 January, a member of Free Syrian Army plays with a dog as the FSA members advance to al-Bab district of Aleppo during the ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ in Syria.
(photo: Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Lebanese president, a Maronite Christian, mends fences with Saudi Arabia (Fides) The President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, began his first trip in the Arabian Peninsula with the intent of mending relations with Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday 10 January, the meeting which took place in Ryiad between President Aoun and Saudi King Salman, according to many analysts, could open a new page in the relations between the two countries, contributing to the stabilization of the Middle Eastern area...

Report: Assad dropped 13,000 barrel bombs on Syria (The Independent) A UK-based Syrian war watchdog has published data tallying the number of violent incidents targeting civilians carried out by all parties in the bloody conflict for last year. The report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) found that Syrian regime helicopters dropped 12,958 barrel bombs in 2016 in total. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 653 civilians, SNHR found, including 166 children and 86 women. Most were dropped on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, followed by Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, Daraa and Homs...

Commander: Mosul could be liberated in three months (AP) A top Iraqi commander told The Associated Press that the operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group could be complete in three months or less. “It’s possible” that Mosul will be liberated in in that time frame, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday evening. However, he warned it is difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation will take because it is not a conventional fight...

Catholic-Muslim dialogue opens to support Islamic American communities (CNS) An emerging Catholic dialogue with Muslims aims to show public support for Islamic American communities. The dialogue stems from concerns expressed by U.S. bishops in the wake of “a serious uptick in violence against American Muslims ... to make sure that they are sensitive to what is going on in the (Muslim) communities,” said Anthony Cirelli, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops...

Study: Christians in India increasingly under attack (The Guardian) The persecution of Christians in India has risen over the past year, pushing it up a league table of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity, according to a monitoring organization. The world’s second most populous country has risen to No 15 on the 2017 World Watch List, up from 31 four years ago. The list, compiled by Open Doors, is headed by North Korea for the 16th year in a row...

Vatican migration office announces first media campaign (Vatican Radio) The Migration and Refugee Section of the new Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development has announced it is launching its first media campaign. Although the Dicastery is run by Cardinal Peter Turkson — who had been serving as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace — the Migration and Refugee Section is being led for the time being by Pope Francis himself, to show his particular concern during the ongoing refugee crisis...

Tags: Syria India Iraq Muslim ISIS

10 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Sister Souad Nohra, the director of the Santa Lucia Home in Egypt, teaches blind children “there is nothing they can’t do.” (photo: Holly Pickett)

One of the more inspiring projects CNEWA supports is the Santa Lucia Home, a boarding facility for blind children run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Alexandria, Egypt. The director is Sister Souad Nohra, who never tires of teaching the children the art of the possible:

In Egypt, children with special needs have many disadvantages. Yet at Santa Lucia, the nurturing environment and commitment to higher learning provides some balance. Named for the fourth-century saint and patron of the blind, St. Lucy — who, according to tradition, was blinded before her martyrdom — the home encourages children to rise above their limitations. They are taught that nothing is beyond their reach, and the children are expected to shine.

“We teach them independence,” says Sister Souad Nohra, the director of the home.

At the home, children who once might have spent their lives in the shadows — helpless or hopeless — are receiving an incalculable gift. Darkness is giving way to light.

The center cares for 5 girls and 11 boys between the ages of 4 and 18. Most students come from poor farming villages in Upper Egypt or the outskirts of Alexandria. The sisters provide for every need — from clothes and books to food and extracurricular activities, such as sports and music. They also organize field trips to the beach.

Upstairs in the center’s immaculately clean dormitory, the children have their own numbered cupboards. The children are expected to dress themselves. At meal times, students procure their own cups and silverware from dining room drawers, and then clean up after themselves.

“They have to know they can do these things by themselves. They are very proud; they don’t have to depend on anyone,” says Sister Souad.

And many of the children do indeed learn to live independently:

Sister Souad says they begin preparing children for the task from day one.

“We tell them, ‘One day, you will leave here and go to university with all kinds of people around.’ Since they are prepared, the transition is normal. We encourage them to take recorders to class, then listen again at home. They study normally.”

One of their students recently received a scholarship to study in the United States.

“I hope other blind children learn that going away from their family is not that difficult; it can be much better for their future,” Abanoub says.

“We teach them there is nothing they can’t do,” Sister Souad says proudly. “They are normal children. The only difference is they cannot see, but that doesn’t mean they can’t live a normal life.”

Sister Souad and the other sisters at the home are heroically making the impossible possible — giving hope to those who so often feel like outcasts, helping to bring light to those born in darkness.

Tags: Egypt Sisters

10 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Christian Iraqi refugee children play together in the home of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Amman, Jordan. Read more about how these religious sisters are Welcoming the Stranger in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)

Tags: Iraq Refugees Jordan Sisters ISIS

10 January 2017
Greg Kandra

A displaced Iraqi girl who fled the violence in the ISIS stronghold of Mosul holds a balloon at the Khazer refugee camp for displaced people near Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Iraqi forces have renewed their effort to seize Mosul.
(photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Civilian toll mounts in Mosul (Reuters) Iraqi forces pushed Islamic State fighters back further in Mosul on Tuesday in a renewed effort to seize the northern city and deal a decisive blow to the militant group, though progress was slower in some districts, the army said...

Health workers stretched thin in Syria (Al Jazeera) Health workers in a besieged rebel-held suburb of Damascus have said daily attacks by Syrian troops are stretching them to the limit, and many fear the fall of Aleppo has emboldened the government of President Bashar al-Assad to step up its offensive...

Lebanon’s new president visits Saudi Arabia (AP) Lebanon’s newly elected president met Tuesday with the Saudi king during his first visit to the kingdom, a meeting that could melt the ice between the two countries after relations became strained over divisions on Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah...

Israelis to build another wall along Gaza border (Middle East Monitor) Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has approved a budget of NIS3.34 billion ($870 million) to build a wall along the border with the Gaza Strip, Ynet News reported on Monday. The project is said to be one of the biggest and most expensive ever undertaken...

Indian archbishop denounces acquittal of nun’s alleged rapists (Vatican Radio) The acquittal of the alleged rapists of a Catholic nun in India’s Chhattisgarh state “is a grave injustice, not only for our consecrated, but also for all women who have suffered a similar trauma,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai...

Tags: India Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank ISIS

9 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Russians mark Christmas in Sochi, Russia. The Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas
on 7 January, according to the Julian calendar.
(photo: Alexander Ryumin/TASS via Getty Images)

9 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis makes his speech during an audience with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See for the traditional exchange of new year’s greetings at the Vatican 9 January. The pope said that religions are “called to promote peace” and appealed to “all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”
(photo: CNS/Alberto Pizzoli, pool)

Christian neighborhood in Mosul freed (Fides) On Sunday 8 January, the Iraqi regular army regained control of al Sukkar, an area in eastern Mosul once inhabited mostly by Christian families. This is what local sources reported to online magazine The area comprises at least 700 homes belonging to Christian owners, some of whom had been occupied by foreign militants of ISIS...

Syria truce under stain (Reuters) A Syrian truce brokered by Russia and Turkey was under growing strain on Monday as rebels vowed to respond to government violations and President Bashar al-Assad said the army would retake an important rebel-held area near Damascus...

Egyptian president announces plans to build country’s largest church (Fides) It will be the largest Coptic Church of Egypt, it will be inaugurated by 2018 in the new capital which is being built outside Cairo, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi will be among its direct sponsors...

Pope to diplomats: Break bad habits of war, injustice (CNS) At the start of a new year, Pope Francis laid out a laundry list of suggested resolutions for religious and political leaders for making a joint commitment toward building peace. No conflict exists that is “a habit impossible to break,” the pope said, but he underlined that kicking such a habit requires greater efforts to rectify social injustice, protect religious freedom, jump-start peace talks, end the arms trade and cooperate in responding to climate change and the immigration and refugee crises...

Marking Christmas, Patriarch Kirill urges Christians to spend less time in ‘virtual reality’ (TASS) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in his speech on Christmas Eve urged Christians to be more tolerant and forgiving, leave “virtual reality” for the real world and help those in need. “Let’s not be judgmental of each other’s weaknesses, more tolerant and kinder, give each other more joy and love. Let’s leave the virtual reality space for the real world, opening our hearts to people that really need attention and care,” the Patriarch said...

Ethiopians celebrate Christmas (Andalou Agency) Ethiopian Christians on Saturday celebrated Christmas in a festive and joyous atmosphere. Burgeoning star-rated hotels and malls that dotted the main streets of the capital city, Addis Ababa displayed colorful Christmas trees and lights. All Christian denominations in Ethiopia — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Seventh-Day Adventist — celebrate Christmas on 7 January, although elsewhere only Orthodox Christians mark Christmas on this day as opposed to the widely recognized 25 December...

6 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C., has been a fixture at Bethlehem University for more than
40 years. (photo: Bethlehem University)

One of the most familiar fixtures at Bethlehem University for several decades has been Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C. Affectionately known as “Brother Joe,” he has been a member of the CNEWA family for a long time. For several years, in the 1980’s, he served as the director of our regional office in Jerusalem.

He’s also a rarity: a CNEWA hero who has actually been around longer than CNEWA.

The university’s magazine saluted him shortly after his 90th birthday, in October of 2015, and told some of his story:

Brother Joe was born in Queens, New York, in 1925 where he grew up during the depression. With two siblings, his parents had three children to attend to in those difficult economic times. Brother Joe attended an elementary school run by Dominican Sisters, the parochial school of the Brooklyn diocese of Elmhurst, Queens. The diocese offered scholarships for students to its secondary school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, which was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. “I always wanted to be a priest,” Brother Joe says. “But at school I became interested in joining the Brothers. At 15 years old, Brother Joe left home to go to a training school for boys interested in joining the Brothers. “We were encouraged to focus on the vocation, and at that time it was common to leave home for that purpose” Brother Joe explains. He graduated in 1943 and went to Novitiate for one year’s training in the Brotherhood, after which he enrolled in Catholic University in Washington D.C. His class was sent to various schools after three years, before completing their Bachelor’s degrees, since there was a shortage of teachers during World War II.

When Brother Joe came to Bethlehem University in 1975, he was ready for a new challenge.

That new challenge was to serve as the university’s second president, a position he held for seven years. Forty-two years after he arrived in Bethlehem, he is still active at the school, continuing to help shape young lives.

We got in touch with him recently, and he offered a few thoughts on CNEWA (better known in the Middle East as Pontifical Mission):

The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission made a lasting impression on me to this very day, which is difficult to explain.

I had spent all my life working in the classroom with young men — wonderful work, but rather narrow in scope, between walls with regular hoursand specific topics but in a sense confining. That was life in the “Ivory Tower.”

The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission is quite different from teaching and being cooped up in the classroom all day. The classroom and labs are quite immobile and inside, with rare opportunities to be outside. But there is a world outside the classroom. I saw and felt this reality with the work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission.

One example — and perhaps the most outstanding for me — was visiting several handicapped children, living in a recently established center converted from a school to a home for mentally disabled children (with the help of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission — that was why I was there).

I had never worked with handicapped children. I was scared stiff the first time I visited the home. But seeing the children of all ages (including babies) made me want to cry, but gave me the strength to continue my regular monthly visits. I remember the first time one of my superiors from the United States came to see my work and I brought him to the center and how nervous he was about seeing these unfortunate children. Despite my attempts to prepare him, he had to excuse himself early in the visit.

Another highlight of my work was regular visits to the libraries sponsored by CNEWA/Pontifical Mission in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I was surprised the libraries were so well-used and the librarians were so popular. I always enjoyed these visits to the libraries, which were so helpful for education. I am pleased to say that in my supervisory position I was able to support constructing a public library in one corner of the university, having its own entrance outside the walls for the children and public, so it was accessible when the university was closed.

Even when the country was still adjusting to the results of the Six-Day War, which limited our work to the local scenes and Gaza, where we supported a school for the blind, I was rewarded by the great help we were able to give — such as loans, verbal support, personal visits and so on.

Today the most important work is the same as at my time: helping others. That means helping them earn a living, helping with medical needs or housing, especially when their house was destroyed or residents evicted. It also means helping, especially, the children, who often go hungry.

My philosophy is ‘helping others’ — be they students, the poor, anyone in need.

That philosophy lies at the heart of CNEWA’s mission, as well. We’re proud to have shared in that work with Brother Joe and the dedicated people at Bethlehem University. Ad multos annos!

Tags: Palestine Bethlehem Bethlehem University

6 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Children gather to recite morning prayers at a school run by the Sisters of the Destitute in India. To learn more, read ‘My Great Hope Is the Sisters’ in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: John Mathew)

6 January 2017
Greg Kandra

In this image from last month, people flee the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, Iraq. Thousands who are seeking safety are finding shelter in the homes of strangers, sometimes inside Mosul.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)

Russia ‘scaling down’ military presence in Syria (Al Jazeera) Russia’s military says it has begun scaling down its deployment to Syria with its sole aircraft carrier the first to quit the conflict zone. President Vladimir Putin ordered the reduction of forces in Syria on 29 December as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces, which has since dampened down the fighting...

The displaced of Mosul find shelter in the homes of strangers (AFP) The first stop for the thousands of civilians forced to flee their homes in Mosul is often inside their own city, sometimes in the homes of complete strangers...

Egypt’s Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas, mourn bombing victims (The Los Angeles Times) Emad Tawil on Thursday returned to the church where he survived a bombing that killed his wife and daughter last month, determined to celebrate Christmas even as he mourned. St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo is the mother church for Egyptian Copts, who celebrate Christmas on 7 January, based on the ancient Julian calendar. “Every time they bomb a church or attack us, they increase our faith,” said Tawil, 53...

Bishop says Turkish Catholics fearful, but government supportive (CNS) A church leader in Turkey said Catholics are fearful about attending church after recent terrorist attacks, but insisted local Christians can count on government protection. “Although we can move around freely, people are understandably afraid of coming to Mass and there’s been a drop in participation,” said Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul...

Young Lebanon refugees rap about their plight (The Daily Star) Calling themselves “The Homsies,” a group of Syrian teenagers in north Lebanon’s Akkar are using their musical talents to send a message of peace — and at the same time to help improve the lives of refugees. “If there is one thing everyone does, it’s listen to music. So this is a powerful tool to convey a message,” Qotiba, a 14-year-old from near the Syrian city of Homs, told The Daily Star. His song, “Al-Qusair — Spring of Freedom,” is a powerful and poetic expression of his longing for his hometown. “Syria is being destroyed and everyone should know that this is happening and that we want peace,” he said...

4 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Kindergarteners sit for a lesson at the St. Paul Service Center in the village of Izbet Chokor in Egypt. This hamlet is home to both Christians and Muslims, who have lived together peacefully for decades. Learn more about how they are Finding Common Ground in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

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