19 June 2013
Santa Lucia staff member Iman Bibawi Iskandar helps a resident practice writing Arabic Braille in preparation for an exam. (photo: Holly Pickett)
Almost half of Egypt’s population survives on less than $2 per day. According to the United Nations, poverty in Egypt has risen sharply over the past three years. And when economic conditions worsen, those with special needs often suffer disproportionately.
In the neighborhood of Abou Kir, northeast of Alexandria, the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross provide critical services to many of society’s most vulnerable members:
Home to some 300,000 people, Abou Kir is named for an important Egyptian early Christian martyr, St. Cyrus. Today, the city has a large Christian minority (about 30 percent of the population), most of whom follow the Coptic Orthodox or Catholic traditions. …
The Franciscan School dominates Abou Kir’s main thoroughfare, which is lined with mobile phone shops, vegetable stands and idling taxis. The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, a Lebanese congregation whose members run the school, know their facility is the most prominent institution in town. …
Next to the school, the sisters operate a pioneering project that, since the early 1980’s, serves one of the country’s most disadvantaged groups: blind children.
“This is a special Franciscan apostolate committed to caring for the blind,” explains Sister Souad with pride. “Their food, their drinks, their sleeping, their health care — from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to sleep at night — the Franciscans take care of everything.”
The Santa Lucia Home — named in honor of the patron saint of the blind — was built with funds from CNEWA’s donors and houses ten girls and eight boys from ages 8 to 18…
Most of the residents at Santa Lucia come from poor Christian communities in and around Alexandria or from impoverished areas of Upper Egypt, which lie south of Cairo. Many have experienced the stigma associated with being blind before coming into the sisters’ care.
To read more about the Santa Lucia Home, check out Liam Stack’s Blind to Limitations, from the May 2010 issue of ONE.
18 June 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Sisters Poor/Poverty ONE magazine
The sisters at St. Mary Monastery in Bediani keep bees to supplement their income. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
Georgia’s rich tradition of monasticism stretches all the way back to the sixth century. In the September 2007 edition of ONE, Paul Rimple provided a glimpse into the active lifestyles of women religious in the former Soviet nation:
The seven sisters of St. Mary Monastery in Bediani, a remote village in the southern mountains of Georgia, begin their day with communal prayer at 4 a.m. Three hours later, they are tending the gardens and the bees, milking cows, making cheese, embroidering vestments and cleaning the chapel.
Georgia’s religious houses are expected to be self-sufficient, which requires ingenuity on behalf of the sisters. But the sisters of Bediani also care for six single mothers and their children, who live near the convent and have little means of earning a living.
“So many girls came for advice,” said the ubiquitous Mother Mariam, who claims her effort to care for these women and their children was unplanned. “They want to keep their babies, but either their families, or the fathers of the babies, are against it.”
For one such mother, Ketevan, the sisters’ help has been a godsend. “If it wasn’t for this place, my life would be miserable,” she said holding her 16-month-old daughter.
“My family doesn’t accept me — I’d be on the street.”
These young women face a difficult road ahead: Georgia is poor, it lacks social service programs and it holds on to a non-Western concept of traditional relationships. Most single mothers are banished by their families.
Read more about Georgia’s Alternative Lifestyles.
17 June 2013
Tags: Sisters Georgia Monastery Monasticism Monastic Life
In this image from 2008, an Iraqi mother holds her child near her new home in Syria. (photo: Spencer Osberg)
In 2008, we looked at the wave of refugees moving from Iraq, hoping to find sanctuary in Syria:
Iraq’s Christians have paid a high price for the war. Prior to 2003, about a million Christians lived in Iraq, accounting for some 5 percent of the country’s 23 million people. But as violence intensified, reaching a crescendo in 2006, extremist groups began targeting Christians. Living in small pockets within predominantly Muslim communities, and without organized militias to protect them, Christians proved especially vulnerable. Moreover, extremists increasingly viewed Iraqi Christians as collaborators with the Western “Christian” occupying forces.
Fleeing the sectarian violence that has engulfed Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and areas where Christians have lived for centuries, an estimated 400,000 of Iraq’s Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries or further afield. Of the roughly half million who remain in Iraq, more than half are internally displaced, many having migrated north to the autonomous Kurdish region, which remains relatively stable.
Now, of course, many Iraqi refugees are on the move again, fleeing the civil war in Syria.
You can read more about them in two stories in the current issue of ONE: a look at Iraqis making a new home in Jordan and Syrians fleeing to Lebanon.
14 June 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, and Pope Francis attend a prayer service during a private audience at the Vatican on 14 June. (photo: CNS/Stefano Spaziani, pool)
Pope Francis met for the first time the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury today, and in his prepared remarks spoke about the desire for Christian unity:
Today’s meeting is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father. Hence the prayer that we make today is of fundamental importance.
This prayer gives a fresh impulse to our daily efforts to grow toward unity, which are concretely expressed in our cooperation in various areas of daily life. Particularly important among these is our witness to the reference to God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently.
Then there is the effort to achieve greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good. Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers.
Read more of the pope’s remarks, and those of the archbishop, at this link.
13 June 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Ecumenism Christian Unity
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.
Tags: Syria Refugees Migrants