12 October 2017
Pope Francis celebrated Mass on 12 October to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Editor’s note: Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, which CNEWA is proud to be a part of. Pope Francis marked the event with a Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major — you can watch part of his homily above — and spoke powerfully about the subject of Christian persecution.
Carol Glatz of CNS filed this report:
No matter how much suffering Christians face in the world, God never forgets those who trust in and serve him, Pope Francis told leaders of Eastern Catholic churches.
The courage to “knock at the door” of God’s heart and “the courage of faith (are) needed when you pray — to have faith that the Lord is listening,” the pope told patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, priests and lay members of the Eastern churches during his homily in Rome’s St. Mary Major.
The special Mass of thanksgiving on 12 October marked the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, an office that supports the Eastern Catholic churches, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, which offers advanced degrees in Eastern Christian liturgy. During the morning Mass, the Sistine Chapel choir sang with a choir of Eastern seminarians studying in Rome, and an Eastern priest chanted the day's Gospel reading in Arabic.
In his homily, the pope recalled the congregation was founded during the tumultuous time of World War I and that, today, another kind of world war continued to rage with “so many of our Christian brothers and sisters of the Eastern churches experiencing tragic persecutions and an ever-more disturbing diaspora.”
The 23 Eastern Catholic churches include the Chaldean, Syriac Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Melkite and Maronite churches as well as the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest of all the Eastern churches. Their presence in the East and Middle East has been threatened by decades of crises, oppression and war.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass during the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches on 12 Octoberat St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. (photo: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis said the difficult situations they face beg many questions, most of all, “Why?”
How many times do they hear from the lay faithful or experience the feeling that “We see the wicked, those with no scruples, look out only for themselves, crushing others, and it seems that everything goes so well for them, they get whatever they want, and they only think about savoring life,” the pope said.
Like in the day’s first reading from the prophet Malachi, the people wonder why evildoers prosper. But God tells them he listens “attentively” and has noted all those who fear the Lord and trust in him no matter what, the pope said.
“God does not forget his children, his memory is for the righteous, for those who suffer, who are oppressed and ask, ‘Why?’ and yet they do not stop trusting in the Lord,” the pope said.
“How many times the Virgin Mary, on her journey, asked herself, ‘Why?’ But in her heart, which reflected on everything, God’s grace made her faith and hope shine,” he said.
What is needed is the courage to “knock on God’s heart” and pray. “When you pray, you need the courage of faith,” the “courage to knock at the door” and the faith that God is listening, he said.
Like the Gospel says, “Ask and you will receive,” God will always give his greatest gift: his Spirit, he said.
Before the Mass, Pope Francis visited the nearby Pontifical Oriental Institute and greeted the members of the Congregation for Eastern Churches as well as the patriarchs and major archbishops the congregation supports.
Pope Francis shovels dirt under a tree during a visit to the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome on 12 October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
With students gathered in the garden, the pope blessed a cypress tree, and then he met with guests and the Jesuits who run the educational institute.
The pope gave them a written message asking them to reflect on ways the school can continue to fulfill its mission given that the dictatorships of the past have often left behind fertile terrain for the spread of global terrorism.
“No one can close their eyes” to the current situation of persecution against Christians and their forced exodus from their homelands, he said. Many now find themselves settled in Western nations where Latin-rite parishes and dioceses are the norm.
He invited the pontifical institute, which helps members of the Eastern churches strengthen their faith before the many challenges they face, to prayerfully listen to “what the Lord wants in this precise moment.”
It may be, “for example, encouraging future priests to instill in their Eastern faithful, wherever they find themselves, a deep love for their traditions and the rite they belong to; and at the same time, to sensitize bishops of dioceses of the Latin rite to take on the task” of offering adequate spiritual and human assistance to these families and individuals.
3 October 2017
Sami El-Yousef served for eight years as CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. In September, he became Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate. (photo: Don Duncan)
CNEWA’s former regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, has taken the reins as the Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate —the first lay person to hold the position.
An interview with him was just posted on the patriarchate’s website:
What do you hope that this change will bring to our diocese?
It was a great honor to be asked to be the first lay administrator to assume the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate. Though there has been a trend within the universal church to turn over such responsibilities to lay leadership, on our local scene which is overburdened with history and tradition this constitutes a major and historic change. It is my hope and dream that this change will bear fruit and the emerging partnership and shared responsibility between the religious and lay leadership will lead the Latin Patriarchate to new highs and position it ideally to serve our local community. Thus, teamwork will be key in the coming period as no one can succeed alone without the collective efforts of all our committed staff and collaborators.
Throughout your professional career, you assumed many positions within the institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, could you talk to us about your background and work experiences?
By way of a personal introduction, I am a native of the Old City of Jerusalem and have worked for most of my professional career for the institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. After completing my university education in the United States, I returned to Palestine in 1980 and started working at Bethlehem University in various positions over two periods for a total of 24 years. There I assumed a number of responsibilities including teaching assistant; lecturer; dean of faculty of business administration; assistant vice president for academic affairs; and finally, the first lay person to assume the duties of vice president for finances and planning from 2000-2009. Feeling the heavy burden of administration and routine work, I moved to a new line of work as I joined the CNEWA — Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP) office team in Jerusalem in 2009 as the second lay regional director for Palestine and Israel. There I was exposed to humanitarian and development work and was involved in institutional support to tens of mostly Christian institutions providing quality services to marginalized communities in the sectors of education, health, and social services.
How will you incorporate your work experiences in your new duties as Chief Executive Officer at LPJ?
After eight years at CNEWA — PMP, I again felt that now is a time of change for me personally as I’m called to tackle the challenges and opportunities at the Latin Patriarchate given the nature of the services it offers. At LPJ, I will combine my administrative and financial management experience acquired at Bethlehem University along with the humanitarian and development experience of CNEWA — PMP. Not only is the Latin Patriarchate the local church with a diocese covering four countries in the Holy Land, but its services are rich through its many institutions of service in a number of sectors, most notably in the area of education through a network of 45 schools in Jordan, Israel and Palestine. In addition, we should not underestimate the humanitarian, medical, scholarship and pastoral support provided to thousands on an annual basis nor the centers that provide quality services ranging from senior citizens in Taybeh to severely disabled children in Amman to mention just a few.
Read more at the link.
20 September 2017
We’re pleased to announce that the September edition of our award-winning magazine ONE is now available online.
This edition focuses on the Middle East — with stories of perseverance and faith that reveal the impact CNEWA’s donors are having on that troubled corner of our world.
Among the many stories in this issue:
- Raed Rafei takes readers to Iraq, where Christians are facing Hard Choices as they return home in the wake of ISIS.
- Dale Gavlak introduces us to Jordan’s Christian Shepherds, and their efforts to preserve a vanishing way of life.
- And Diane Handal meets members of a family in Palestine who are overcoming tragedy with Love as a Healing Balm.
Plus: news, profiles, videos and photographs that help bring our world to you with passion and power. It all begins right here.
Meantime, take a moment to watch the video below, as CNEWA’s president Msgr. John Kozar gives us a preview of the magazine.
14 September 2017
Sister Aurelia, 86-years-old, shares a comforting moment with Mother Superior, Sister Bonifatia.
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John Kozar and CNEWA Canada’s national director Carl Hétu are on a pastoral visit to Ukraine. Among the places they visited: a crumbling house where elderly religious sisters are living. Mr. Hétu sent us this image and wrote:
We visited three elderly sisters living in awful conditions. No running water, small shack, too hot in summer and too cold in winter. Terrible. Here you are with sisters that lived underground [during the Soviet era] and risked their lives to preserve Christ’s teaching and they live like this. The Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate understand this and are trying to renovate an old building. But there is a long way to go and it is very expensive, and most likely not equipped for people with no or little mobility.
To read more about the church in Ukraine, and the challenges Catholics are facing there, check out these stories from our magazine:
Out From Underground
7 August 2017
In this image from last summer, Dominican Sister St. Elene kisses a 4-year-old headed to a church-run preschool in a camp for displaced Christians in Erbil. The sisters and some families have recently begun to return to Christian towns that have been liberated. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
Editor’s note: Our partners in Iraq, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, sent the following letter to their friends around the world on Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It offers an update on recent developments in Iraq.
Dear brothers, sisters and friends,
It has been three years since we were displaced and you have been accompanying us through your prayers. During these years, we cried, screamed, wondered, questioned God and our faith and also laughed and found moments of hope, love and gratefulness to our Lord, the church and all individuals who supported us in so many different ways. On 6 August 2014, we entered a tunnel that we did not know when we would get out of it. In fact, some days we thought we would never see the light. Three years ago, we left our homes at night to the unknown. We started a journey of displacement, exile and questioning. But, to speak the truth, despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books. We hoped even when we knew that it was our neighbors who betrayed us and did us harm even before ISIS did.
That was the case until the fall of 2016, when Iraqi forces started the military operations to liberate the Plain of Nineveh. God showered us with His graces as our towns were liberated one after the other; ISIS was defeated and the Plain of Nineveh seems to have been liberated.
When we first visited our Christian towns, we were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was painful to see all that overwhelming destruction. We immediately realized that it was not the military forces or smart weapons that caused all that damage, but hate. Hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply wounded. Only God knows how much love we need to heal these deep wounds.
Walking sluggishly in our Christian towns, we wandered remembering the word of God to prophet Ezekiel, “to endure the days of turmoil. ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” and we found ourselves answering him “‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’” (Ezekiel 37:3) Inspired by the stories and experiences of Biblical characters, we believe that God is able to raise us again in a new way.
Today we see the marvelous work of God. There are some signs of hope. The rebuilding process, although slow, has started and some families have returned to their homes. In Batnaia, a town that was 90 percent destroyed, a process of cleaning has started. To Telskuf and Qaraqosh, Christian towns, some families have returned and there are families returning every week. There are over 600 families today in Telskuf and 450 in Qaraqush. Telskuf was much less destroyed than Qaraqosh. Although in Qaraqosh the amount of destruction is estimated to be 30 percent, rebuilding is not easy and the NGOs that have offered to help with rebuilding are not enough compared to the destruction. There are 7,000 homes in Qaraqosh and 2,400 of them are completely burned and another 4,400 are partly burned and destroyed. There are 116 houses completely destroyed. The hope is to repair as many houses as possible before the beginning of the school year in September but, of course, there is a problem with the funding. So far, only the church and some NGOs are doing the rebuilding.
Our sisters are back to Telskuf and we hope to find a place by the beginning of the year and will start a kindergarten. Soon also we will return to Qaraqosh. Since our convent in Qaraqosh is partially destroyed, we repaired a family home for us to live in until we move back to our convent. Also, the orphanage was totally burned but we found a place for the sisters and girls to move to in Qaraqosh.
As you probably already have heard, Mosul has been liberated, but the amount of destruction is overwhelming in every field. It will take years to be fixed, but there is nothing impossible with God. Of course, it is not easy to decide whether to go back to Mosul or not. Some people still try to understand what the will of God is — if ISIS is defeated that does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality. However, we as community decided to return with our people; and pray and hope all people will have the courage to go back to their hometowns and be able to start from the beginning again. God is with us and will not leave us.
We thank you for all the support you have shown us. Please pray for us as we start this new phase of our lives. Know of our gratitude and prayers for you.
Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena Erbil-Iraq
‘God Wants Me Here’: Christians Keep Hope Alive in Iraq
Grace: Meet the Sisters Bringing Hope to Displaced Iraqis
Remembrance: Iraq, Two Years After the Exodus
2 August 2017
CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar was honored yesterday by his alma mater, Saint Meinrad College in Indiana. (photo: courtesy Saint Meinrad College)
We are delighted to share this news, from Saint Meinrad College in Indiana:
Rev. Msgr. John Kozar, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, PA, was honored on 1 August with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, at the annual Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion. He graduated from Saint Meinrad College in 1967.
The award, given by the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association, was begun in 1990 to honor alumni who exemplify the Gospel values and have provided exemplary service in their lives or professions. The association’s board of directors reviews nominations for the award annually and makes the recommendations.
Msgr. Kozar is president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. On behalf of the Holy Father, Msgr. Kozar oversees the Catholic Church’s aid to Christians in the Near East and Middle East — about 16 countries.
He attended Saint Meinrad High School and College, graduating in 1967 and continuing his seminary studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1971.
Then-Father Kozar spent the early years of his priesthood as an associate pastor at various parishes in the Pittsburgh Diocese. In 1978, he was named the development coordinator for the diocese’s mission office, making yearly pastoral visits to the diocese’s mission in Chimbote, Peru.
He also worked from 1987 to 2001 as pilgrimage director for the diocese, from 1995 to 1997 as vicar for clergy, from 1995 to 2001 as diocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, and from 1997 to 2001 as director of the Diocesan Jubilee Office — while simultaneously serving as pastor of several parishes.
Then in 2001, he was named national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Responsibilities for the national offices of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of Saint Peter Apostle, the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious, and the Holy Childhood Association were added later that year.
Since 2011, Msgr. Kozar has been leading Catholic Near East Welfare Association, where he oversees the organization’s mission to support the Eastern Catholic churches, provide humanitarian assistance, promote Christian unity and interreligious understanding and collaboration, educate people about the churches of the East, and offer pastoral support to seminaries and religious orders.
He becomes the 26th Saint Meinrad alumnus to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Congratulations, Msgr. Kozar!
26 July 2017
In this image from April, people from Mosul, Iraq, raise a wooden cross near St. Georges Monastery. (photo: CNS/Omar Alhayali, EPA)
CNEWA Canada’s national director, Carl Hétu published some thoughts recently on the future for Christians in Iraq, after the defeat of ISIS:
The reign of the Islamic State (Daesh) has come to an end in Iraq and it is losing ground in neighboring Syria. Iraqis, with an international coalition supporting them, have finally succeeded in uniting against a common enemy that has caused so much suffering, in particular to Iraq's Christian and Yazidi communities.
What happens now in Iraq? There seems to be no reconciliation in sight between the Shi’ite-led government and Sunnis who led the country under Saddam Hussein. Further north, the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan have clearly expressed their intention for more autonomy — even separation from Baghdad if they have to. The Iraqi central government has already indicated its opposition to such an idea — threatening force to repress any such movement.
Minority groups would be the biggest losers if a new civil war breaks out. Christians have found themselves unprotected and mistreated (threats, kidnappings, torture, assassinations) over the past 14 years in Iraq. While there were some 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003, barely 250,000 remain today — half of whom were forcibly displaced by Daesh in 2014. The vast majority are displaced, living in Iraqi Kurdistan. In three years, some 40,000 have left for Jordan and Lebanon and for the promise of passage to Australia, Europe or Canada.
Iraq’s Christians were once recognized for nurturing excellent relations with other ethnic and religious groups within the country. Entrepreneurially driven, they have been important contributors to the country’s socio-economic development, creating jobs, and establishing effective social services and health-care institutions that provide assistance to the most disadvantaged, regardless of religion. For those who remain, a majority do not see a return to Mosul or the Nineveh Plains as a solution for fear of political and economic instability. Thus, without its Christians, Iraq now faces an enormous brain drain and shortage of qualified labor.
Should armed conflict erupt, the Christian presence in Iraq would suffer yet another blow. Peace, which to some eyes seems within reach, is the only way to save what remains of this ancient community. If members of the international coalition were to invest the same energy and resources as used in their mission to help neutralize Daesh, the country could finally achieve the stability that it desperately needs.
Read more at the Huffington Post.
24 July 2017
In the video above, Iraq’s Patriarch Louis Sako visits Mosul on 20 July.
(video: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
Patriarch Louis Sako, the head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, visited Mosul last week, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was there. Check out the video above — which also features CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar — to see what the patriarch had to say.
The visit came days after the city was liberated. Earlier this month, Patriarch Sako released a statement on the status of Christians in Iraq, with a plea for Christians to embrace their homeland and their heritage:
“Now is the right time to adhere effectually to the land of their parents and grandparents, their identity, history and heritage,” Patriarch Sako wrote. “The fact that we are the indigenous people of this country and its ancient civilizations, and that our history is traced back to the oldest Christian Church in the world, should be kept in our mind always.”
The patriarch called this a “historic moment and a test for Christians” to renew their commitment and confirm their presence in Iraq. He also urged the faithful to claim compensation for their losses from the Iraqi Central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, as well as the international community.
After celebrating the liberation of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, the patriarch said there’s still “a long way to go” before IS is “completely eradicated from the region.“
10 July 2017
These Iraqis in a refugee camp in Erbil are among the many thousands who have been displaced in recent years. A new interactive report by CNEWA gives what amounts to a definitive snapshot of Christianity in the region. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The migration of Christians in the Middle East over the last several years — owing to the war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and ongoing political upheaval in the region — has had a profound impact on the region. The cultures and countries that are the very cradle of Christianity are seeing the faith disbursed and displaced. But hard and reliable statistics on this movement of peoples have been elusive — until now.
Drawing on diverse statistics and resources, CNEWA has compiled what amounts to a definitive snapshot of Christianity in the region today.
It is available as a multimedia presentation at this link.
We encourage you to visit the site and see for yourself how recent events have affected parts of CNEWA’s world — and, indeed, will continue to affect all of us who care about our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
28 June 2017
The Rev. Gregory Gilbert celebrates the liturgy at Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Darlington, Maryland. (photo: Facebook)
From The Baltimore Sun:
Growing up a Southern Baptist in eastern Tennessee, Brent Gilbert says, he never realized there were other ways to worship.
He figured everyone knew the best church music was contemporary.
He was sure there was a 45-minute pastor’s sermon at the heart of every Sunday service.
And didn’t all Christians agree that religious art, symbols and rituals were relics of a less desirable past?
Then he encountered the ancient faith that would change his life.
In the formal liturgy, rituals and language of the Greek Orthodox Church, he found a worship tradition so enriched by its direct link to lives of Christ’s original followers that it turns faith into an “all-encompassing phenomenon.”
Gilbert is neither ethnically nor culturally Greek — his forebears came to America from the British Isles. But after discernment and years of study, he’s now the Rev. Gregory Gilbert, the presiding priest of Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Darlington — and a prominent example of the gradual but insistent wave of conversion that is turning a tradition long rooted in ethnic heritage into a more varied and, some say, more American movement.
Almost half the nearly 1 million Orthodox Christians in the United States today are converts, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America reported in 2015. The majority of these married into the church. But a growing number are joining simply out of an affinity for the faith.
“We can still say that it’s not the majority of the laity — at this stage, most have been raised in the church — but there’s a lot of them,” says the Very Rev. Archpriest Andrew Damick, pastor of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pa., and the author of several books on Orthodox Christianity. “Conversion has already had a pretty big impact.”
Continue reading at the link. You’ll also find a gallery of photos and a video.