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.
27 December 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Christianity Christian Unity Interfaith
Santa delivered a wonderful gift last week: the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
You can check it out online here, and read the digital edition, with the complete graphics and layouts of our print version, right here.
Among the remarkable people you’ll meet in this edition: the loving and generous Franciscan Sisters of Mary, caring for refugees in Jordan; the gifted lay catechists of Ethiopia; and the extraordinarily selfless Sisters of the Destitute in India, who spend their lives living side by side with the poorest of the poor.
All this, plus the acclaimed writing and photographs which have made ONE among the most honored publications in Catholic media.
From all of us at CNEWA, to all of our loyal and generous readers: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for being a part of our world — and supporting others who are a part of it, too.
27 December 2016
A disabled child greets a visitor at an informal education center in Dehli, India. To meet more of these remarkable children and learn about them, read Msgr. John E. Kozar’s account in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE, now available online. (photo: John E. Kozar)
13 December 2016
Syro-Malankara Bishop Jacob Barnabas Aerath and Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, pose with village children during a visit to northeast India in late November. (photo: John E. Kozar)
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar recently completed a pastoral visit to northern India, and it’s attracted some attention in the Catholic press.
From Catholic News Service:
In remote northeastern India, where Christianity is largely unknown, members of two Eastern Catholic churches are taking people on a journey of faith simply by living with them.
Priests, nuns and laypeople are living in mud-and-dung huts among tribal Indians, “reaching the unreached,” said Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which supports Eastern churches in India and other areas.
Msgr. Kozar spoke to Catholic News Service after returning from a recent trip to northeastern India. He described remote areas of jungle, forest, rolling hills and tea estates, where it is not unusual for people to have family members trampled to death by elephants.
Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholics are “doing some wonderful evangelization work there” in a delicate situation, he said.
Msgr. Kozar asked not to specify the towns he visited. Although the Indian government says it accepts all religions, hardline Hindu nationalists have attacked Christians when they thought they were trying to convert people.
India’s most-Catholic state is Kerala, but Msgr. Kozar said the Eastern Catholics he visited are “breaking the Kerala model of building, building, building ... it’s living with the people; letting them come to know Jesus” by getting to know the missionaries who live with them.
“The sisters and the priests — the greatest witness that happens is they live” in the same conditions as the tribal people, inviting them “to get to know them, to get to know how they pray.”
He said there is no presumption that anything will happen, but there is an attitude of “we’re here, showing who we are.”
In these situations, people “draw closer to Jesus,” he told CNS. They are learning stories about the faith.
“This plays out in such a wholesome, beautiful way. ... You’re taking people who had no affiliation ... (but) they have this yearning to relate to a higher power,” he said, noting that some people who live with these missionaries are now preparing for baptism.
Ethnic Mishing children are seen in northeast India, where members of two Eastern Catholic churches are taking people on a journey of faith simply by living with them.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
The tribal languages are initially a barrier, Msgr. Kozar said. “There aren’t even textbooks to learn these languages.”
He noted that at one stop on his 20 November-2 December visit, he spoke in English, and translations included Bengali, Malayalam and the local language.
Religious are making portions of the Bible available in local languages and are beginning to train catechists, he said. This is especially challenging because many villages have no school, or people can only attend school for about five years, so they would not even have a middle-school education.
Despite all these obstacles, the missionaries are “trying to bring good news of Jesus where he has never been known.”
The churches “have to resist the temptation to build institutions,” he said. “This is about giving witness by living with the people.”
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church traces its roots to St. Thomas the Apostle. The Syro-Malankara Church was formerly a faction of the Jacobite Church, an Orthodox group in India, but reunited with the Holy See in 1930. Both are among 22 Eastern Catholic churches that originated in Eastern Europe, Asia or Africa. India also has a Latin-rite Catholic Church.
The trip was rich in personal encounters, as Catholic News Agency noted:
Msgr. Kozar recalled that in several of the villages they visited, “we were very warmly” embraced and frequently welcomed with dances and songs, “signs of great love and respect.”
“In some instances I was probably the first person with white skin to ever visit them,” he said, noting that the terrain in the remote tribal areas they visited is rough enough that people are still at risk of attacks by wild animals.
As an example, Msgr. Kozar said that during their trip one woman was mauled to death by a wild tiger, while a man was trampled by a herd of elephants that “poured out of a tea estate and trampled a poor three-wheeled jitney driver.”
“This is a very common occurrence,” Kozar said, noting that he met several people who had lost loved ones in similar incidents. The landscape, he added, “varies from jungle, to forest, to rolling tea estates to plains cultivating rice in paddies.”
He pointed to the “impressive” catechetical work that lay people, both indigenous and from the Syro-Malankara Church, do in the tribal areas.
Since it’s still early on in their formation, courses deal largely with basic concepts of God, Jesus and Mary, teaching the people simple prayers and bible passages, as well as the concept of what it means to pray.
“The people are responding wonderfully and welcomed us with religious singing and even did a religious enactment of the Prodigal Son in their tribal language,” Kozar said, explaining that they are likely on a two-year program to be baptized.
He stressed that there’s no hurry, and it could even take up to a year of more after their baptism before the people are fully introduced to the Eucharist. In this sense, he said the Syro-Malankara Church “is doing the evangelization in a most responsible way and I think in a durable way.”
At one event 575 tribal people came together to participate in a religious ceremony and cornerstone laying for a new Church, he said, noting that they came from different villages and tribes in the area, some of whom traveled 7 hours by truck or jitney (a small bus), or walked several miles on foot simply to welcome the delegation and be present for the event.
During the celebration, “many tribes shared their cultures with each other by dressing in their native handmade woven skirts and performed their ritual dances, perhaps for the first time shared with other tribes.”
“This was in itself probably an historic event for them,” he said, noting that “it was the Church which brought them together.”
Read more at CNA’s website.
Sisters and tribal women walk in a small village in northeast India. (photo: John E. Kozar)
13 December 2016
Tags: India Catholic Indian Catholics Evangelization
Knox Thames, special adviser for religious minorities at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., gives the keynote address on 5 December at Villanova University’s conference on Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East.
(photo: Catholic Philly/Villanova University)
A recent gathering at Villanova University looked at the ongoing crisis in the Middle East — and found some compelling conclusions:
Consensus about the Middle East and its long-simmering tensions might seem hard to come by, but a dozen international scholars, government officials and leaders of nongovernmental organizations found a few points of agreement during a meeting at Villanova University.
The ancient Christian community in the Middle East is in danger of extinction, along with other religious minorities. The violent conflicts and social unrest in many countries of the region have been inflamed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The prospects for peace and stability are bleak in the short term, and likely will not be resolved significantly for a generation at least.
That was the grim picture painted for 160 participants of the 5-6 December international conference examining the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East in the context of the current political, social and security struggles of the region.
Organized by Augustinian Father Kail Ellis of the university, the conference drew top diplomats, scholars from Lebanon and the United States, and policy advisers, along with leaders of NGOs such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Vatican-approved agency based in New York.
An official with the U.S. State Department, Knox Thames, said in his keynote address to open the conference that protecting religious freedom was “not only important because it’s a human right but because it also gives rise to peace, security and development. It is instrumentally important in forging a better world.”
He was followed by speakers who acknowledged the rich cultural and intellectual contributions to society by Christians in the region from the time of the early church up to the present.
They also acknowledged that a diaspora of Christians from the region is in full swing. Driven by persecution, discrimination and war in Iraq and Syria, many Christians are fleeing, despite pleas from religious leaders to remain in their homelands.
Statistics from CNEWA show that while Christian communities have been a minority for a long time, their share of the population has declined dramatically in recent years. In 2015 Christians accounted for only between 1 percent and 6 percent of the population in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Jordan. Their numbers had been between 10 percent and 20 percent of the population 30 years ago.
Read more at this link.
CNEWA’s Sami El-Yousef, regional director for Palestine and Israel, helped provide additional context in his speech at the conference, concluding:
Christian contributions in education, health care, and social advancement are huge in comparison to the size of the Christian presence and constitute a disproportionate contribution to the building of the various societies. This institutional presence is the pride of the Christian witness as services are provided to all segments of society with no distinction to religion, ethnic group, gender or nationality. Further, Christian institutions constitute the backbone of the Christian presence in the various countries where they are present. Generation upon generation has been able to carry this tradition and keep these institutions open and thriving. However, with the changing face of the Middle East at large and the Holy Land in particular, will we be able to maintain the tradition, and keep this Christian witness alive? Will the living stones remain or will they emigrate leaving a Holy Land consisting of Churches and monument Holy sites manned by a few religious men and women. This is the challenge for all of us as we move forward.
You can read the full speech here.
4 November 2016
For the last several months, the Vatican has produced monthly videos tied to the themes of the pope’s monthly prayer intentions. They are produced by The Apostleship of Prayer, which describes itself as “the pope’s worldwide prayer network.”
For the month of November, Pope Francis has the following intention:
“That the countries which take in a great number of displaced persons and refugees may find support for their efforts which show solidarity.”
That intention is dramatized in the brief video below, with additional comments from the pope. Take a look.
26 October 2016
Displaced Iraqi Christians take part in celebrations on 18 October 2016 in Erbil, to mark the liberation of Qaraqosh, which had been Iraq’s largest Christian town before it was overrun by ISIS in August 2014. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
As Iraqi soldiers intensify their offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS, we are getting scattered reports from local clergy, describing scenes of great fear — but also tremendous hope.
The following is part of an email sent by Bishop Yousif Mirkius, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah. He described what happened last Thursday night, 20 October, when jihadists from ISIS, trying to escape security forces, sought shelter in local residences in Kirkuk, including the Dominican sisters’ convent and houses rented by the bishop to house immigrant students. The students, he writes, are
from all faiths: Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and Mandaeans, numbering about 500 in all. As he explains, 71 students were in the area that night when ISIS burst in. They were under the responsibility of Mr. Imad Matti, who described what happened:
The young girls realized the jihadists were invading at 3 in the morning on Friday. These terrorists had climbed the walls of the houses and reached the garden shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The students took photos of them and noticed that they were not only armed but also equipped with explosive belts around their waists. The security forces were aware of the seriousness of the situation and these girls had to remain 24 hours without electricity — trembling, in total fear. At that moment, heavy fighting took place. The terrorists would not surrender. So a plan was adopted to make everything possible to save the 14 students in the first house. The security forces succeeded in saving them despite their continuous gunfire during the whole operation.
At 2 a.m., we proceeded to rescue the seven students in the second house. It was the riskiest operation, as four terrorists were inside the house eating and drinking while the students were hidden under their beds. These terrorists must have been blinded by the Lord, because at no time did they find them. I therefore took the risk to ask them to come out of their hiding place, to run toward the wall at the back of the house. Nine of the emergency forces demonstrated exceptional courage and bravery. They were more than ready to give their lives to save these girls. It was dark and despite intense firing, the seven students were rescued.
As for the third group of students, the rescue operation took place at 5 a.m. on Saturday thanks to the “Suat” forces from Suleimaniyah. There were 30 students in that house. I must admit that I admired their courage and determination as the girls remained calm and followed very precisely all the orders and instructions that were given to them during these operations.
After this intervention, the four terrorists blew themselves up in the students’ house.
The seven students had remained under their beds 18 hours without moving and without letting their presence be detected. They were transferred to Erbil, where they are recovering and reassuring their families.
We do hope they will continue their studies with even more motivation than ever, with the help of the Chaldean diocese who has committed to finance their studies despite all the difficulties and challenges we are facing.
Bishop Yousif concluded: “We thank God for this grace and miracles. We also pray for all the martyrs, the wounded and victims as well as for all those who suffered damage and losses.”
Also this week, we received this jubilant, poetic communication from Basilios Georges Casmoussa, patriarchal auxiliary and Syriac Catholic archbishop emeritus of Mosul. He described the great joy surrounding the liberation of Qaraqosh, a Christian stronghold in the Nineveh Plain that had been emptied of Christians after the invasion of ISIS in 2014:
So, Qaraqosh is liberated!
Cry of joy, peace and hope for its children and all its friends over the world!
Message of thanksgiving to God. …
Message of gratitude to the courageous fighters of the Iraqi army, who came from all regions of Iraq, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis … together.
Who, at the dawn of 22 of Oct 2016, penetrated, with their Iraqi flag, the deserted city. …
The image of this valiant soldier, child of Qaraqosh, moved by the emotion, when he put his foot on the ground of his silent city, after a so long an absence, how he sprinkled his head and face by its dust, as a sweet balsam. …
Or, this other, with his weapon on his shoulder, kissing the entrance door of his childhood church. …
Or, this group of officers and soldiers, standing in front of the central altar, broken by Daesh [ISIS], and praying to the Virgin Mary “Shlama ellakh Maryam” in his maternal language, the soureth, an Aramaic idiom coming from the time of Christ. …
Or this young priest ringing the bell of the church of Bartella, another Christian city liberated in the Plain of Nineveh, yesterday. …
These views shall remain forever in the collective memory.
My message is a message of gratitude, also, to Kurdistan, who welcomed us when we were displaced, and to all those who came to help us by different ways. …
My message is a message of gratitude to all our friends, those unknown men and women over the world, who supported us by their solidarity, since the beginning of our exodus until today, in many ways: humanitarian aid, schools’ construction, churches, houses, medical centers, repeated visits of personalities coming from Europe, America and Australia.
Friends, as unknown soldiers, you made us feel we are not forgotten, we are not alone, we are beloved and recognized.
You have defended our cause. …
You, already, are preparing new projects to support us in our efforts of reconstruction. Be accompanied by our gratefulness and prayers:
To start the chapter of the reconstruction — the reconstruction of living together, with harmony and solidarity between different Christian denominations, and Muslim neighbors, Kurds, Arabs, Shabaks, Yazidis, Kakais, Mandaeans. …
In mutual respect, the recognition of diversity and rights. …
Consider all of them as citizens with the same rank, same rights, same duties.
25 October 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi
In the video above, Iraqi Christian soldiers raise a cross atop a church in Bartella after its liberation from ISIS. (video: YouTube/France24)
NEW YORK — Church bells rang as soldiers affixed a homemade cross at the summit of a dome of a church in the newly liberated town of Bartella, once home to more than 20,000 Iraqi Christians. Yet even as soldiers searched its empty streets and homes for booby traps, mines and snipers, offering prayers of thanksgiving in its burned out churches, questions of Bartella’s future, as well as that of the many villages and their former inhabitants of northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, have tempered the joy of the liberators.
“We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul,” said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, during a visit to CNEWA’s New York offices yesterday.
“How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages?
“We need a plan. We need some good, concrete plans,” he added.
Since the expulsion by ISIS of more than 120,000 Christians from their homes to the Erbil region of Iraqi Kurdistan in the summer of 2014, the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil has coordinated the care for the well-being of these “Internally Displaced Peoples,” working with international aid agencies — including CNEWA — and the religious and clergy of the various churches affected by the rise of the extremist group.
The church works “to provide the necessary needs — shelter, education, health, food packages — and be with them, and try to comfort them in their material needs and their spiritual and pastoral needs,” the archbishop said in an interview with Catholic News Service last week.
But more is needed for the long-term. People need “social intervention and political intervention, economic intervention and, most importantly, how we are going to reconcile all those divided groups which will remain, and they’ve been called to live together?”
The social service activities of the churches for the IDPs of the Nineveh Plain and Mosul have included care for all those in need — not just Christians — including Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis. But Iraq remains a fractured nation, its various communities fearful of the instability.
“Certain conditions, certain guarantees, have to be met to prevent this from happening again,” said an Iraqi priest of the Church of the East, Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, during a recent visit to CNEWA, of those families considering returning to their homes should ISIS be pushed out and defeated.
“How do we restore coexistence and mutual trust?” he asked, adding that the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government had failed to bind the diverse nation together, ignoring the existence of Iraq’s considerable non-Islamic minorities even in children’s text books.
“The sense of loss is profound,” he said, noting that, overnight, Christian communities founded by the apostles on the soil stained with the blood of martyrs lost their shrines, their relics and their patrimony. Families were uprooted, perhaps forever.
“We share in the liturgy and in the sacraments,” he said of what binds all Iraqi Christians together, “we share all, as seeds of hope.”
Despite the instability and the uncertainty of the theatre in Iraq, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said its president, Msgr. John Kozar, “is committed to accompanying Iraq’s churches, investing in their people and programs as they live out the Gospel mandate to love one another.”
CNEWA is actively supporting Christians and suffering minorities throughout the Middle East, particularly those displaced by ISIS and other extremists in Iraq and Syria. Visit this giving page for more information.
29 September 2016
Earlier this week, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar was in Onatario for the meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and to meet with CNEWA’s board in Canada. Along the way, he stopped by the offices of Salt + Light TV for an interview on their program “Perspectives.” Among other things, he touched on the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia. (His portion of the conversation begins at 8:10 in the video below).
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, CNEWA has responded to the debilitating drought in that corner of the world. Read this report to learn how.
But there is still so much more to be done. To find out what you can do for the suffering people in the Horn of Africa, visit this link.
23 September 2016
Sami El-Yousef visits the the Lighthouse School the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City. (photo: CNEWA)
Yesterday, in its Vatican Insider section, the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa published an interview with Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. The discussion focused chiefly on the many challenges facing Gaza, and efforts of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine — CNEWA’s operating agency in the region — to provide support for its people through parishes and church institutions:
You were just a few days ago in Gaza. How is the situation there and what is PMP doing to support the population, in particular concerning the creation of job positions?
Indeed I am a frequent visitor to Gaza as I make approximately six visits per year consistently since I joined the Mission in 2009. Our work is concentrated in Gaza through providing services to the community at large with no distinction to religion, color, race, or gender. Such work is done through a number of partners in Gaza including the Latin Parish and its institutions including the Holy Family School, the Latin Patriarchate School, and other operations of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. Additionally our partners include the Ahli Arab Hospital being the only Christian hospital in Gaza; the Near East Council of Churches clinics and vocational training centers; the Rosary Sisters School; and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), among others. The variety of support included humanitarian support during wars, renovation of premises, equipment and furniture grants, programmatic support where needed such as malnourishment programs and psycho-social support, scholarship support, youth sector support, pastoral programs, and capacity building and job creation. A star project will be launched soon that will provide 16 unemployed Christian youth with employment for 12 months in one of our partner institutions. This will undoubtedly help our Christian youth building their experience and at the same time bring some much-needed income. It is noteworthy to mention that the unemployment rate of Gaza is about 45%, the highest in the world.
Read the rest at La Stampa.
To accompany the people of Gaza as they endure through one of the most afflicted economic, political and social climates in the world, click here.
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank CNEWA Pontifical Mission Pontifical Mission for Palestine