13 June 2013
Arya Raghavan tends the cows at Mother Mary Home for Girls in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2008, we visited an orphanage in Kerala that was transforming the lives of its young residents:
Arya Raghavan is a 12-year-old girl with a big grin and sparkling eyes. Athletic, she loves to climb trees, pick fruit and toss them to her friends waiting below. Arya lives with her younger sister, Athira, and 40 other girls at an orphanage founded by a Catholic community of sisters in Chamal, a village in India’s southwestern state of Kerala.
The future for both Arya and Athira looks bright, but that was not always the case.
Four years ago, the girls’ father committed suicide, leaving their mother, Mini, homeless and destitute, unable to support herself and her four children. Eventually, Mini found a job working as a live-in caregiver for the sick and elderly. Though she manages to support herself, she cannot provide for her children — nor can they move in with her.
Mini would have preferred to keep her family together, but she reasoned her girls would be better off in a nearby child care institution. A Hindu, she had no doubts that her girls would be well cared for by the sisters at Mother Mary Home for Girls.
In a state where the rate of suicide is two and a half times the national average, Arya and Athira’s story is all too familiar. Many correlate Kerala’s high suicide rate with the state’s unemployment rate — a staggering 20 percent — which ranks among the highest in India. Underemployment is significant as well. Families largely get by with funds from family members who work abroad; foreign remittances account for more than 20 percent of Kerala’s gross domestic product. And though the economy in India has been booming, radically transforming this incredibly diverse and complex nation of a billion people, poverty is widespread among Kerala’s 31.8 million people.
Mother Mary Home for Girls lies in the remote and beautiful valley of Wayanad, nestled between hills covered in dense tropical vegetation. To Arya, Athira and the other girls, all of whom were born to poor, broken families, the orphanage must have first appeared as an oasis.
Read more about A Place to Call Home from the March 2008 issue of ONE.
12 June 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Indian Catholics Homes/housing
Pope Francis is presented with a leather Harley Davidson jacket during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 12 June. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
It’s not unusual for Pope Francis to receive gifts from people during his weekly audience. It is unusual for him to receive gifts like this:
Harley Davidson has given Pope Francis two of its classic motorcycles to mark the brand’s 110th anniversary and on Sunday hundreds will be allowed to park along the road leading to St Peter’s Square while the pontiff recites the Angelus prayer.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 bikers are expected to fill St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s blessing — the highlight of a four-day event in Rome to celebrate more than a century of Harley Davidson.
11 June 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Pope Rome
Mary Mathai and her son inspect their new home as it nears completion. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In India, there is an ongoing effort underway to move the poorest from humble huts into real homes:
A “roof over your head” is considered one of life’s basic necessities, and yet for many it remains out of reach.
“During the heavy rains, water would seep through the roof and fall on my face while I slept,” said Aleyama Luka, a widow from Wayanad, a district in northern Kerala.
“I would have to sit up all night sheltering the children under an umbrella.”
Poverty is not uncommon in Wayanad, a tiny hill area known for its spices and coffee. Though much of the local economy is tied to agriculture, the overuse of chemical fertilizers and insecticides and painful government-led economic reforms have devastated district farmers. In the period of a year, from May 2006 to June 2007, 101 farmers — all of whom faced bankruptcy — reportedly took their own lives.
But thanks to the Malabar Social Service Society (MASSS), an agency of the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Kottayam, efforts are under way to improve the lot of tens of thousands of people in need throughout northern Kerala: needy children, senior citizens, tenant farmers, unskilled laborers, fishermen, artisans, tribals anddalits, the so-called “untouchables” of India. …
Employing professional social workers, MASSS selects beneficiaries for its many programs from research gathered by an extensive network of field animators, as well as from recommendations made by priests of the archeparchy. MASSS’s housing initiative is part of its overall sustainable development strategy that also includes giving selected beneficiaries access to savings accounts, credit and affordable housing.
Mary Mathai borrowed 3,000 rupees (about $75) toward the cost of her new family home and pays only a nominal interest rate of 1.2 percent.
“Our old mud house just melted away in the rains ... and we used to get sick,” she said. “We sleep so much sounder now. The house changed our outlook toward life.”
Read more about Changing Lives in Northern Kerala from the November 2007 issue of ONE.
10 June 2013
Tags: India Kerala Economic hardships Homes/housing
Ruth Girmay, founder of Addis Hope, shares a moment with the program’s children. (photo: Sean Sprague)
A few years ago, we profiled a remarkable effort to bring help and hope to children in Addis Ababa:
Gete and her son, Dawit, live in a makeshift hut in Shiro Meda, a slum on the edge of Ethiopia’s sprawling capital city, Addis Ababa. Both have H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Dawit’s father died of the disease five years ago. And though AIDS is not uncommon in Addis Ababa — one in six adults is thought to have it — those who suffer from the disease are stigmatized. Gete cannot use the communal clotheslines to hang her washing, as her neighbors believe — wrongly, of course — that her clothes might spread the disease. Children in the neighborhood will not play with Dawit.
But Dawit is not friendless. He is one of 58 children who attend the Shiro Meda Day Care Center, more than half of whom are H.I.V. positive. Here the children receive instruction, have a regular meal and play. Shiro Meda is one of three day care centers run by the Addis Hope Program, which serves over 200 of Addis Ababa’s poorest children.
Many are children of women who have been abandoned, raped or, in Gete’s case, widowed. While providing a refuge for preschool children (ages 4 to 7), Addis Hope also trains mothers in entrepreneurial activities.
The program was founded in 2001 by Ruth Girmay, a former teacher at the Nativity Cathedral School in Addis Ababa. Helping the less fortunate has been a constant of her life. The daughter of a retired Ministry of Agriculture administrator, she used to give what little spending money she had to beggars outside her church.
Ruth, 28, said a dream she had as a teenager about St. Francis of Assisi inspired her to devote her life to helping the less fortunate. At first, she rented a small room to take in 15 children, whose mothers were making ends meet by begging or prostitution.
Ruth, a Catholic, then turned to De La Salle Christian Brother Gregory Flynn, who helped solicit funds from donor agencies. Brother Flynn also helped her navigate the bureaucratic hurdles in establishing her program for children. It took two years for the Addis Hope program to receive the proper certification from the government.
There is a great need for such programs in Ethiopia, a country of 75 million, half of whom live below the poverty line according to the latest United Nations survey. More than 50 percent of school-age children do not attend school. AIDS accounts for 30 percent of all adult deaths, and two million children have been orphaned because of the disease.
Read more about Addis Hope in the July 2006 issue of ONE.
7 June 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Health Care Orphans/Orphanages HIV/AIDS
A Lebanese family dances at an engagement party. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
We began this week with a story about Iraqi refugees finding a new home in Toronto. We thought we’d end with another image from that part of our world. Those refugees from Iraq are joining a growing number of people from the Middle East in Canada. In 2004, for example, we visited Lebanese immigrants who had settled in Montreal:
You will find them bowed in churches, whispering praise to “Allah” (God).
You will find them animated in cafes and bars, smoking water pipes and exclaiming “haram” (it’s a shame) over the latest injustice in the Holy Land or some bad call during a European soccer match.
You will find them seated in restaurants before plates of lamb sausages and salads, pounding their fists on tables and crying “mish maouleh” (impossible) in response to some devilishly tall tale.
You will find them frenzied near altars, elbowing their way to capture the perfect photograph of a loved one exchanging marriage vows and begging “lazza choue” (pardon me).
You will find them bellies bared in dance clubs, twisting their torsos and asking “in jeid?” (really) over the reported affection of some member of the opposite sex.
They are everywhere. They are Lebanese and they have found a home in Montréal.
That the most distinct people of the Middle East have found refuge and new life in the most distinct of Canada’s great cities should come as no surprise. The urbane, gregarious and multilingual Lebanese seem a natural fit for Québec’s cosmopolitan center, whose denizens fiercely protect their Francophone patrimony.
Read more about the Lebanese of Montreal from the September 2004 issue of ONE.
6 June 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity ONE magazine Canada Immigration
The Azar family shares a one-bedroom house with two other Syrian refugee families in the village of Al Qaa in Lebanon. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
The current issue of ONE features a look at refugees from Syria and Iraq, and ongoing efforts to help them. This morning, the Vatican released a document on refugees:
Catholic laity have an obligation to root out traces of xenophobia in their hearts and recognize refugees as their brothers and sisters — children of God whose dignity must be protected, said a new Vatican document.
“Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons,” a document of pastoral guidelines for providing material and spiritual assistance to people forced to leave their homes was published June 6 by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable activity.
Since the mid-1980s, the document said, the debate surrounding refugees and other asylum seekers has become “a forum for political and administrative election purposes, which fed hostile and aggressive attitudes among the electorate.”
In effect, countries are focused more on deterring newcomers from reaching their shores than they are on offering protection and a welcome to suffering people fleeing situations that threatened their lives and dignity, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the council for migrants and travelers, told reporters.
From a Catholic point of view, he said at a Vatican news conference, “every policy, initiative or intervention in this area must be inspired by the principle of the centrality and dignity of the human person.”
Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of Cor Unum, said being Christian means trying to meet both the material and spiritual needs of refugees and displaced people, who “ask us for a commitment of love that first of all restores their dignity as persons made in the image and likeness of God.”
“Along with bread, they need love that nourishes their spiritual dimension,” Cardinal Sarah said, and that love is precisely what gives witness to “the love with which Christ loves us and saves us.”
How can you help give witness to “the love with which Christ loves us”? Visit our Syria Emergency Relief page to learn more.
5 June 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees Migrants
A boy displaced by fighting in Syria attends a class in the governorate of Idlib, Syria, on 27 May. The Vatican has reiterated its call for negotiations and putting an end to violence in Syria, saying that children are suffering the most. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)
Pope Francis today spoke poignantly about the ongoing suffering of the people in Syria:
Christians must help the people of Syria because “where there is suffering, Christ is present,” Pope Francis told representatives of Catholic aid agencies working in Syria and with Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
“How much suffering, how much poverty, how much pain; and it’s Jesus who suffers, who is poor, who is thrown out of his country,” the pope said on 5 June during a meeting with the representatives who were holding a coordinating meeting at the Vatican.
Pope Francis said it is part of “the Christian mystery” that when the faithful see what is going on in Syria, “we see Jesus suffering in the inhabitants of the beloved Syria.”
“We cannot turn our backs on situations of great suffering,” he told participants at the meeting he convoked. “The weapons must be silenced.”
The meeting was held under the auspices of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable giving. The pope wanted the aid agencies to “respond to the continuing deterioration of the already serious humanitarian situation in the country and among the refugees,” said Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, council secretary.
Visit this page to learn how you can help those suffering in Syria.
4 June 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Syrian Civil War War Relief
Copts mourn after identifying a victim of sectarian and political violence. (photo: David Degner)
In the Spring edition of ONE, journalist Sarah Topol looks at how some of the men staying behind in Egypt are hanging on and seeking support, both economic and spiritual.
Meantime, the turmoil in Egypt is spreading to some unlikely places, according to USA TODAY:
Vendors at Egypt’s pyramids who are desperate to make money in a deepening economic crisis are using aggressive and even violent means to get tourists to give them some business, frequenters of the tourist spot say.
The U.S. Embassy issued a warning about increasing incidents at or near the famous pyramids at Giza about a dozen miles from downtown Cairo. Most of the incidents are due to overly aggressive vendors who in some cases come close to criminal conduct, the embassy says.
“U.S. citizens should elevate their situational awareness when traveling to the pyramids, avoid any late evening or night travel, utilize a recommended or trusted guide, and closely guard valuables,” according to a security message on the embassy’s website last week.
Read the rest here.
3 June 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Economic hardships Coptic Christians Copts
A pilgrim holds a banner bearing the words “Blessed Pope John XXIII pray for us” in preparation for a Mass at the tomb of the pope. (photo: CNS)
Pope John XXIII died 50 years ago today. One of the men who succeeded him, Pope Francis, mentioned him in his homily this morning:
The pope spoke of the saints, remembering that today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Blessed Pope John XXIII, “a model of holiness.” In the day’s Gospel, he added, the saints are those who “go to collect the rent” on the vineyard. “They know what is expected of them, but they must do it, and they do their duty. … The saints are those who obey the Lord, those who worship the Lord, those who have not lost the memory of the love with which the Lord has made the vineyard: the saints in the church. Just as the corrupt do so much harm to the church, the saints do so much good.”
John XXIII may be best remembered for convoking Vatican II, which led to dramatic reforms within the Catholic Church, including a greater emphasis on ecumenism and dialogue with other faiths. Last year, we interviewed Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who was a student in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. Describing some of the documents of the council, he said:
This is the basis for the church to reach out with great respect to the followers of different religions, conscious that the Holy Spirit is already active within their hearts and also within their religious traditions. This conviction leads to the statement that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” This does not signify by any means that the church considers all religions to be equal, since it believes that the fullness of revelation has been given in Jesus Christ. Yet the attitude of respect provides the grounds for dialogue and cooperation at the service of all members of the human race.
31 May 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Ecumenism Pope Dialogue
An icon of the Virgin and Child hangs inside St. Michael the Archangel in Ladomirová. (photo: Andrej Bán)
With May drawing to a close, today marks the end of the month traditionally devoted to Mary. But devotion to the Mother of God isn’t confined to just one month. For many of the faithful, it goes on all year. In Slovakia, for example, we found the depiction of Mary shown above when we visited a village with a strong Greek Catholic presence and learned about historic churches:
On a cold and wet November day, a group of carpenters hammered away at the roof of St. Michael the Archangel Greek Catholic Church in the village of Ladomirová in northeastern Slovakia. Built in 1742, St. Michael’s stands out as perhaps Slovakia’s most beautiful and celebrated historic wooden church. Surveying the men’s work, the church’s pastor, Father Peter Jakub, explained that after 40 years, it was time to replace the worn hand-cut spruce shingles.
Only some 50 wooden churches, most dating back two centuries, survive in the modern central European republic of Slovakia; historians estimate more than 300 may have been built between the 16th and 18th centuries. Approximately 30 belong to the Slovak Greek Catholic Church. A handful have been closed and restored as museums, while the remaining churches are used by Evangelical Protestant or Latin (Roman) Catholic congregations. In recent decades, the Slovak government has designated 27 of these tserkvi (Slavonic for wooden churches) as national cultural monuments.
These wooden structures are inexorably fragile, vulnerable to decay and fire. But as architectural achievements constructed during a tumultuous and religiously volatile era, they now galvanize significant interest in and support for their restoration and preservation.
The lion’s share of Slovakia’s wooden churches clusters in the eastern region of Prešov, a mountainous and heavily forested area bordering Poland and Ukraine. Rusyn Greek Catholics — who inhabited tiny hamlets scattered throughout the Carpathian Mountains — constructed most of these churches.
For more on Slovakia’s Greek Catholic heritage, and the country’s remarkable churches, read Rooted in Wood from the May 2008 issue of ONE.
Tags: Cultural Identity Icons Greek Catholic Church Slovakia Slovak Catholic Church