13 March 2017
Late last week, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar received a note from Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, along with a letter he’d written describing the situation his church in Syria is facing this Lent.
His note — written on the back of a postcard (shown above) depicting St. Paul and quoting from his letter to the Corinthians — said:
“Dear Msgr. John...Damascus church is going into Lent, time to find the peace way. Please pray for us. Thank you for all that CNEWA is doing to help.”
Please remember the men, women and children of Syria in your prayers as they continue living their own long Lent.
The text of the accompanying letter, translated from the original French, paints a grim and painful picture:
An Apocalyptic Scene
In six years of war, the face of Syria has changed quite a lot.
It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonized buildings, burned down houses, ghost neighborhoods and towns destroyed to the ground. More than 12 million Syrians, 50 percent of the population, are lacking a roof.
They form the largest mass of refugees since the Second World War. Several million have left the country in search of more merciful skies. Many are waiting for mercy in camps of misery, some of have attempting to leave and others are in line at embassies — nomads in search of a welcoming land. How can they leave this Syria of torments?
A Shattered Family
The family — which fortifies church and nation and has saved the country in the past — is heavily shaken. Seldom is a complete family found. Violence has scattered this basic cell of society. Some family members are in graves, others in exile, in prison or on the battle field. This painful situation is the cause of depression and anxiety and forces those few left without support to beg.
Young fiancées, separated by this exodus, the immigration of their partner or military mobilization, cannot marry. Crisis surrounds them. A hope for their future has crumbled. How is it possible to follow a course without a family or with a broken family?
A Sacrificed Childhood
The children are the most fragile. They have paid a great price for this merciless violence. According to UNESCO, more than three million Syrian children haven’t attended school because they have to prioritize their physical wellbeing. Those that have been to school witness the demise of the quality of teaching due to fewer faculty and students in remaining schools. Academic failure is imposed by these overwhelming circumstances.
The centers of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks. How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?
Parishes have seen the number of parishioners diminish and pastoral activities reduced considerably. The priests are deprived of the means to provide human and spiritual support. The Church of Damascus has witnessed the departure of one third of their clergy (27 priests). This is a hard blow weakening the place and role of the Christian minority already in decline.
The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.
How do we fix this alarming hemorrhage?
Can we imagine a Church without priests?
Between Pain and Freedom
The Syrian people are no longer looking for liberty. Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy. These darken nights and reduce any social life.
The search for lost brothers, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.
Finding a little room for shelter in a country in ruins has become an impossible dream for families and even more for young couples.
Fighting for liberty or searching for bread, what course should one take?
This little Syrian population lives this reality with pain visible in silent looks and streams of tears.
This bitter Lent of 2017 offers us time in the desert to take a good look at our commitment to the Church in the midst of faithful who are in distress, to lead the way towards Christ resurrected. Christ, light of the world, who knows the hearts of men and women says: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus
7 March 2017
Msgr. Kozar made a pastoral visit to Ethiopia in April of 2016 and met some of the Daughters of St. Anne at a clinic they run. (photo: CNEWA)
This morning, we received the following email from Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director in Ethiopia:
This morning we received the tragic news of the car accident involving the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Anne. Eight of the sisters were driving to Hawassa to attend the funeral of a relative of Sister Tinsae Tirkaso, administrator of Asella Boys’ Orphanage.
Near Meki, 133 km (83 miles) south of Addis Ababa, a truck overtook their vehicle and four of the sisters died on the spot, including Sister Weinshet Gebru, Provincial Superior in charge of a formation house partnering with CNEWA; Sister Motu Baba, former administrator of Guder Girls’ Orphanage from September 2009 to May 2016; and Sister Hanna Bekute, Directress of Guder Catholic School from September 2012 to October 2014. The other four sisters survived; three are in critical condition.
The sisters of the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Anne are a jewel of the church, engaged in pastoral and human formation initiatives. They run schools, health facilities, cutting and sewing schools, vocational training centers, orphanages, and a school for the visually impaired. They partnered with CNEWA for a formation house in Addis Ababa, and also serve the Guder Catholic School, Guder Girls’ Orphanage, Asella Boys’ Orphanage, St. Raphael School for the Blind, and Bodit Catholic School.
In December 2016, the Daughters of St. Anne celebrated the 150-year anniversary of the founding of their religious congregation. On the occasion of the celebration, Sister Weinshet had said “this celebration is an occasion where the sisters can reflect on their service and thank God for the time He has given them.” Sister also asked all those who joined the celebration to pray for the Daughters of St. Anne so that God may bless them with the grace to keep on serving the people.
God in “the time He has given them” called them back for eternal rest. Taking the words of Sister Weinshet, let us pray that “God may bless them with the grace to keep on serving the people” through the survivors. Let us also join them with prayer for the consolation of this grieving community. May their souls rest in peace!
Learning of this news this morning, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar said, “The news of the traffic death of four sisters in Ethiopia, the Daughters of St. Anne, touches our hearts and souls very deeply. Having met the superior and many of the sisters in previous pastoral visits, I know the church of Ethiopia has lost some very devoted servants. For over 150 years, this congregation has served selflessly in Ethiopia and Eritrea. To their community and the entire church of Ethiopia and its people, we offer our collective prayers and support. May God welcome these servants into his heavenly kingdom.”
16 February 2017
Host Derrick Fage, left, interviews CNEWA’s Carl Hétu on “Breakfast Television Montreal.”
(photo: from Breakfast Television Montreal)
CNEWA Canada’s national director, Carl Hétu, appeared on the popular Canadian program “Breakfast Television Montreal” earlier this week. He discussed some of the crises facing the world and sparking violence, particularly in the Middle East.
“Our world is going through a big transition right now,” he said. “Our world is facing great instability...when you don’t live in dignity, that’s part of the problem...you look for people to accuse.”
What can be done? “The world needs an infusion of love,” he explained. Check out the complete interview at this link.
13 February 2017
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Persecution
Students walk around during recess breaks at the Shashemene School. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
This morning, we received an email our regional director in Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, with some welcome news about an institution CNEWA has long supported, the Shashemene School for the Blind.
He included a report from Sister Ashrita, one of three Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary of the Angels who run at the school. As she put it in the first paragraph of her report, “With the support of people of goodwill, we strive to share with the poor the love that God has for all giving our children a sense of hope and belonging.”
Among the highlights she mentioned:
During the past year, we had enrolled 96 students in the Residential School. (46 girls and 50 boys) from Grade 1 to Grade 6. In addition we had about 50 students in high school and college level who received support. The newcomers included some exceptional cases. Two girls whose mental capacity was very low had to be trained with all the basic day-to-day activities. Slowly they are trying to do things on their own. We have a new store keeper, and for the coming year we will have an academic director and other new staff.
After several trips to Addis Ababa, we managed to get some Braille text books in English and Civics. One can imagine how delighted the children were to run their fingers though the pages of their new books.
...Woletebihan Wolde, the boys’ child care taker, retired after 35 years of dedicated services. As a token of our appreciation for her services the administration and the staff gave her a loving farewell. Thank you and God bless you, Woletebirhan!
...We look with joy to those who completed their studies and are ready to take up a job. There are four with diplomas from teacher training colleges and six with degrees from Addis Ababa and Awassa University. Meanwhile there are new entries into institutions of higher learning, giving us fresh hope. These will take four or five years before they can take up a career. The Government is accepting and employing the blind, when they are qualified, respecting their rights and giving them equal opportunities. It is amazing to see how the blind make their way through life. “I can do all things in Him, who strengthens me.” These words of St. Paul can very well be applied to them.
To learn more about the school and its wonderful work, visit this link. And to discover how you can support the school’s mission, visit this giving page.
13 February 2017
In this image from December, Jordanian mourners carry the coffin of Ibrahim Bashbsha during his funeral in Karak. He was one of 14 people, including a Canadian tourist, killed in an attack by terrorists linked to ISIS. (photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
CNEWA’s national director in Canada, Carl Hétu, last week published a reflection in the Canadian edition of Huffington Post. The topic: violence and the quest for peace in the Middle East.
On a daily basis, the news is saturated with reports of violence around the world.
Although it wasn’t covered widely in Canadian media, in recent months, a
Canadian tourist, along with 13 Jordanians, was killed by terrorists in Karak, Jordan. According to reports, the terrorists’ real plan was to attack the local Catholic Church on Christmas Day.
As Canadian National Director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, I visited Jordan in January. There, I joined a small group of Catholics and Muslims deeply shaken by this event to pray where the Canadian tourist was killed. The question on everyone's mind was: Why? Why did six young men from the Karak region decide to join the Islamic State and attack their own families, friends and neighbours? This is a first in Jordan, the most peaceful country in the Middle East.
On other trips I took this past year to the region, I also met Muslims and Christians from Gaza, Syria and Iraq who have experienced the worst atrocities imaginable. They, too, ask: why?
Back in Canada, the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City was a rude awakening, as the violence we see unfolding far away is now too close for comfort. Ironically, these victims came to Canada to escape violence and to live in security and freedom.
On January 30, I joined 300 Muslims and Christians who gathered at the Gatineau mosque. At the invitation of Archbishop Paul-André Durocher Catholics and Muslims started talking to each other — embracing, shaking hands and some even hugging — to find human beings that needed one another in this time of crisis. Once again, people asked why.
The reasons are multiple and complex, but at the root of it all, our world has changed in the last 30 years and we face many unresolved issues.
Read the rest.
8 February 2017
Late last month, we received an email and some video clips from Ethiopia that showed, in a wonderful and uplifting way, how donors are making a difference in the lives of those we serve.
The email explained that a generous family of donors had made it possible for the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home to host a Christmas party for dozens of the children and some former residents.
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri, the head of the home, wrote to the donors:
The celebration was led by Father and Mother Christmas...the program started by a blessing by the parish priest and a welcome speech. The children started with their program, of Christmas drama, cultural dancing and songs. They also enjoyed all the delicious goodies. Afterwards, gifts were given and everyone went to rest, thanking God for the day.
We have no words to thank you for your generosity. Every small donation counts. With the money you donated to our organization, we bought different items, which helped to buy all sorts of presents for the children, which made them happy.
Wow! It was so nice to see the children full of happiness and joy and their love and enjoyment. This is an unforgettable day.
Check out the video below, from the Christmas party — a joyful testament to the generosity of our donors, who make what we do possible. Thank you!
2 February 2017
In this image from 2015, displaced Iraqis celebrate the liturgy in a tent church in Kasnazan, in northern Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
There has been a lot of discussion lately about Christian refugees in the Middle East — and a lot of misinformation has been appearing online and in the media. CNEWA’s communications director Michael J.L. La Civita sets the record straight today at the website Aleteia. He notes:
This piece is offered to help dispel some of the erroneous information currently feeding confusion and partisanship where there should be none. Especially with portions of the electorate that self-identify as Christian or Catholic, it is vitally important to understand the realities about refugees and immigrants, beyond the unhelpful partisan narratives that are making assistance to both problematic and politicized...
...Much has been written regarding Middle East Christian refugees, their status, and whether or not they and other religious minorities should be offered refuge in the United States before other groups, such as Sunni Muslim refugees, whose numbers are far greater.
Here are a few points to consider:
- Of the 120,000 Christians pushed out of the Nineveh Plain into Iraqi Kurdistan (Irbil and Dohuk) in 2014 by ISIS, some 80,000 remain.
- Those living in Iraqi Kurdistan are legally identified as internally displaced peoples, and all are receiving some form of assistance from the UN, as well as from church organizations, such as CNEWA.
- Many have fled to Jordan — the king offered hospitality and expedited visas, but he asked the churches to care for the primary needs of the community. Parishes did just that, temporarily housing the refugees and providing for their basic needs.
- Others have returned to Baghdad, where they continue to draw pensions and salaries if once employed by the state.
- In 2016, 955 Iraqi Christian families, including 1,187 children, left Jordan for resettlement. Many went to Australia.
There is much more, including details about Syrian refugees, at the Aleteia website.
1 February 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East ISIS
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomed Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil to CNEWA’s New York offices last October. A visit planned for this week had to be postponed because of the new executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. (photo: CNEWA)
U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, issued last Friday, is hitting close to home.
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has been forced to postpone a visit to the United States that was scheduled to begin this week.
Catholic New York explains:
President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” issued 27 January, includes a ban of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, including Iraq. The others are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also bars Syrian refugees from entering and suspends refugee admissions for 120 days.
“The door is closed for now for him to come to this country,” said Msgr. Kozar in a phone interview with CNY 31 January.
Along with Archbishop Warda, a priest from the diocese and a layman who serves there were banned from traveling to the United States. The trip was scheduled to include visits to Washington, D.C., and New York. The archbishop was originally invited by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J...
...“We could possibly lose the moment to express the solidarity of Cardinal Dolan and the entire CNEWA family,” Msgr. Kozar said. “It directly affects us as a helping agency.” CNEWA is a papal agency that has served the poor throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe since 1926.
Msgr. Kozar said he has already been in touch with CNEWA directors in the Middle East. Regarding the future, the executive order could gravely damage the agency’s ability to continue its mission.
“I’m planning a visit to Iraq in March to continue to demonstrate the solidarity we have and to show them we haven’t abandoned them and assure them that they are not forgotten. But I don’t know — will I be permitted to enter that country? As we have stopped the flow from these listed nations, some of them are doing the same in kind,” Msgr. Kozar said.
Asked how Catholics should respond, Msgr. Kozar said, “Our Holy Father is an eloquent spokesman of what our position is: Everyone is created in God’s image. It doesn’t matter at all about color or creed, or religion or what part of the world they are from. We love all. That’s in our Scriptures. That is from Christ Himself. That is the Church at its best.
“We want all people to be treated with basic human dignity that we hold comes from God himself and that comes from being part of his holy family,” he said.
Read more at Catholic New York.
1 February 2017
The Rev. Michael Kerestes dips a candle in holy water during the blessing service. With him are the Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets, left, and the Rev. Gary Mensinger.
(photo: Sean McKeag/Times Leader)
The short video below was posted Sunday afternoon in the Times Leader, a newspaper for Northeastern Pennsylvania that covers the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.
As the paper reported:
From the end of the Nesbitt Boat Launch, the Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets tossed a large cross sculpted from ice into the Susquehanna River on Sunday.
As he threw both the cross and a bucket of holy water into the river, Prodanets prayed, “In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” He was invoking the name of the Holy Trinity during a service commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The ceremony mirrors prayers and actions done during the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Theophany.
About two dozen Byzantine Catholic faithful joined Prodanets and two other priests and a deacon at the Annual Susquehanna River Blessing.
The Byzantine Catholic churches have been offering the service for more than 10 years, according to the Very Rev. Gary Mensinger. The churches used to hold the service on the Pierce Street bridge, but it has since moved to the boat launch.
Mensinger, who splits his time as pastor of both St. Michael’s in Pittston and St. Nicholas Parish in Swoyersville, said another purpose of the 30-minute service is to thank God for the vitality the river holds in the Wyoming Valley and to ask for protection from floods in the upcoming year.
Read more. And watch the video below:
10 January 2017
The Apostleship of Prayer has released an inspiring new video to accompany Pope Francis’s prayer intention for the month of January.
As Vatican Radio describes it:
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for January is for Christians serving the challenges facing humanity, in which he asks that full ecclesial communion be restored in order to serve the challenges facing humanity.
Check out the video below.
Tags: Pope Francis Christianity Christian Unity Interfaith