5 December 2013
In 2004 image, two women — a Muslim and a Catholic sister — take notes during class at Bethlehem University. The Catholic school serves both Christians and Muslims and promotes interreligious understanding. (photo: Steve Sabella)
Over the next couple weeks, the “little town of Bethlehem” will figure prominently in songs and liturgies. But several years ago, we visited a leading university there, which revealed a different aspect of the town:
Founded by the Holy See and the De La Salle Christian Brothers, the university serves Christians and Muslims alike and offers degrees in such fields as arts and sciences, business administration, nursing, education, social work, hotel management and tourism.
It does so against the tense political backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whose flare-ups often have forced the university to suspend operations. While the current intifada has not produced closings on the scale seen from 1987 to 1990, it has had a tremendous impact on the school.
“The past few years have been a struggle,” says Brother Vincent Malham, F.S.C., Bethlehem University’s President and Vice Chancellor since 1997.
“The closures and curfews and checkpoints make it difficult for our students and staff to get here.”
And the devastation of the Palestinian economy has slashed the availability of jobs. “In Bethlehem, once a relatively affluent Palestinian city, unemployment is at least 50 percent,” Brother Vincent says.
Even so, the university continues to grow in numbers and in academic offerings, Brother Vincent adds. As such, Bethlehem University must be seen as one of the great successes of recent Palestinian history.
Bethlehem University’s origins date to Pope Paul VI’s 1964 visit to the Holy Land. He believed Palestinians would be well-served by a university and that such an institution also would help stem Christian Palestinian emigration. The pope asked the De La Salle Christian Brothers to run the project.
It was a natural choice: In 1680, John Baptist de la Salle founded his congregation to educate the poor, who typically did not have access to education. (Today, about 7,000 brothers and their colleagues run schools in more than 80 countries.)
At first, the university occupied a few rooms in a Bethlehem elementary and secondary school for boys.
“We were pioneers, but we had great teachers who were creative,” says Dr. Jacqueline Sfeir, a student in the 1973 inaugural class and now a professor of education at Bethlehem University.
Read more about The Perseverance of Bethlehem University in the November 2004 issue of ONE.
And to support CNEWA’s work in Palestine, visit this giving page.
4 December 2013
Tags: Education Interreligious Catholic education Bethlehem University Catholic-Muslim relations
In this image from 2004, a man displays a three-bar cross — commonly used by Greek Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the Slavic churches — before police during a protest in Kiev. (photo: Petro Didula)
The dramatic news out of Ukraine these days reminds us of events we chronicalled in the magazine nearly a decade ago, following the so-called “orange revolution.”
We reported in 2005 on the intersection of religion and politics in the public square during that historic standoff and the complicated history behind the protests in Ukraine, all growing out of the election that pitted reformer Viktor Yuschenko against Prime Minister Viktor Yankyovych:
Though both Mr. Yuschenko and Mr. Yanukovych are Orthodox, they drew their support from different confessional groups. Ukraine’s Catholic community, which accounts for about 13 percent of the country’s 48 million people (5 million Greek Catholics and 1 million Latin, or Roman, Catholics), supported Mr. Yuschenko and his pro-Western tilt. Meanwhile, the largest Orthodox community — the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which accounts for about 25 percent of the population — supported Mr. Yanukovych, an advocate for close ties to Russia. The two Orthodox communities independent of Moscow — the larger Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church — supported Mr. Yuschenko’s presidential bid.
“The ecclesiastical authorities are not supposed to take a stand in this crisis,” Father Oleksandre Hoursky told the International Herald Tribune. But then, like many clergy involved, he went on to ignore his own advice. “The church supports good against evil, the protection of human rights and the end of any injustices, and the state abuse of power,” the Roman Catholic priest continued.
Even Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, who heads the country’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, weighed in on the crisis. “At the root of the crisis remains an immoral regime,” he said, “that has deprived Ukrainian people of their legitimate rights and dignity.”
Read more about Forging Ukraine, and the history that led up to the orange revolution, in the May 2005 issue of ONE.
3 December 2013
Tags: Ukraine Russia Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Sister Bincy Joseph assists the girls with their homework. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2008, we profiled an orphanage in India offering refuge and hope:
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. Coconut and fruit trees abound. Milk cows and chickens wander the home’s four acres, donated by a local parish of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
Mother Mary Home opened its doors on 30 May 2004, initially welcoming just seven girls, including Arya and Athira. It has since grown rapidly. Three Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate, a religious community of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, run the home. Founded in 1962 by Father C.J. Varkey to share “the redeeming love of Jesus irrespective of caste, race and religion,” the community includes more than 700 professed sisters in more than a 100 communities throughout India, Italy, Germany and the United States.
The sisters administer not only orphanages and schools, but run and staff health care facilities, homes for the elderly, a rehabilitation center for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and function in a number of pastoral and social apostolates, including family counseling and prison ministry. …
In most cases, said assistant director Sister Jean Mary Koottuemkal, the girls are from the most dysfunctional of families, families with a history of domestic abuse, murders and suicides. She recalled one situation where two sisters saved their mother from being murdered by the father. Both parents are unstable and unable to rear their children. Some girls, she continued, cannot return to their village. In one such case, a girl was born out of wedlock. Another girl’s mother committed suicide. In India — especially its traditional south — many ostracize families with circumstances such as these.
Sister Jean Mary emphasized that Kerala, while largely rural, is densely populated, as much as three times the rest of India. And up to a third of the state’s population live below the poverty level.
Most of the parents of the girls at Mother Mary Home work as day laborers at local quarries, brick factories or large rubber estates. Wages are abysmally low, the work, seasonal and hunger, common. Parents often find it necessary, Sister Jean Mary said, to send their children out to work to supplement their meager incomes. The parents of these girls are so socially and economically marginalized that they never bothered to obtain birth certificates for their children.
Read more on A Place to Call Home in the March 2008 issue of ONE.
And visit this page to learn how you can make a difference in the lives of India’s young people.
2 December 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Education Orphans/Orphanages
Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, at the Vatican in late March. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
On Saturday, Pope Francis sent a message to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to mark the feast of the Patron of the Church at Constantinople, St. Andrew the Apostle. As part of the message, Pope Francis underscored the difficulties many Christians are facing in the Middle East:
Our joy in celebrating the feast of the Apostle Andrew must not make us turn our gaze from the dramatic situation of the many people who are suffering due to violence and war, hunger, poverty and grave natural disasters. I am aware that you are deeply concerned for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain in their homelands. Dialogue, pardon and reconciliation are the only possible means to achieve the resolution of conflict. Let us be unceasing in our prayer to the all-powerful and merciful God for peace in this region, and let us continue to work for reconciliation and the just recognition of peoples’ rights.
Your Holiness, the memory of the martyrdom of the apostle Saint Andrew also makes us think of the many Christians of all the churches and ecclesial communities who in many parts of the world experience discrimination and at times pay with their own blood the price of their profession of faith. We are presently marking the 1700th anniversary of Constantine’s Edict, which put an end to religious persecution in the Roman Empire in both East and West, and opened new channels for the dissemination of the Gospel. Today, as then, Christians of East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world. There is likewise an urgent need for effective and committed cooperation among Christians in order to safeguard everywhere the right to express publicly one’s faith and to be treated fairly when promoting the contribution which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture.
You can read the full text here.
27 November 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Ecumenism Middle East Peace Process Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
The Alslivi family enjoys Sunday brunch. Refugees from Iraq, the family faced years of separation before finally reuniting in Sweden in 2008. “Everyone in the household still vividly remembers the hard times and radiates joy about their current circumstances,” wrote Anna Jonasson in the May 2011 issue of ONE. To learn more about the challenges facing Iraqi refugees in Sweden, check out A Nordic Refuge No More. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
26 November 2013
Tags: Iraq Refugees Unity Iraqi Refugees Sweden
In Egypt, a young girl does her schoolwork. Catholic institutions in Upper Egypt, such as this Jesuit-run school in Minya, are largely responsible for the growth of the Coptic Catholic Church. Read more about it in our profile from the September 2007 issue of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)
25 November 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Education Catholic education
Greek Catholic seminarians in Hungary find some free time for socializing. (photo: Tivadar Domaniczky)
In 2007, we got a rare glimpse inside a Greek Catholic seminary in Hungary:
An ordinary day at the seminary starts at 6 a.m. with prayer, private meditation and the Divine Liturgy, followed by a quick breakfast.
Seminarians attend classes at the handsome theological institute, located down the street from the seminary. Classes begin promptly at 8:30 a.m. In the 1970’s, the eparchy opened the institute, named for one of the first doctors of the church, St. Athanasius. The only theological institute in the region, it is affiliated with the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.
Lunch is taken in the seminary refectory at 1 p.m. From 2 to 4 p.m., students study foreign languages (fluency in two is required), attend an occasional seminar, play a sport or relax. After a two-hour study period, there is a 15-minute biblical reflection before dinner at 7 p.m. From 8 to 8:30 p.m., the seminarians gather in the chapel, where the house spiritual director, Father Tamás Kruppa, suggests themes for each student to meditate on the next day.
At 10 p.m., it is silentium magnum: No speaking is permitted until breakfast the next morning. Lights are out at 11 p.m.
Once a month, a day of silent retreat — led by a priest invited by the seminary — breaks the regular schedule. Silence is the rule that day, even during meals. There is also a weeklong retreat, held at Máriapócs early in November, with many liturgies and devotions.
“It’s very good,” said Father Tamás Horváth, the prefect of the seminary, “but it’s hard for the boys to be quiet that long, just as it is for adults.”
Read more about what it takes To Be a Priest in the March 2007 issue of ONE.
22 November 2013
Tags: Seminarians Hungary Greek Catholic Church Eastern Catholics Hungarian Greek Catholic
In Kerala, an elderly resident of St. Athony’s House of Refuge recovers from an illness. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Several years ago, we profiled the remarkable work of the Sisters of Nazareth in one corner of India:
At the rear of St. Antony’s House of Refuge in the village of Edakunnu, some 25 miles north of Kerala’s commercial center of Ernakulam, the twin bed in a private room reserved for hospice care is again occupied. The silk draperies dressing the small window are drawn. Caregivers move about deliberately. Visitors enter discreetly. With hushed voices, they say their last goodbyes to 90-year-old Mary P.M. Puthusey, holding the dying woman’s hand and caressing her gently.
As she is anointed with oil for the last time, an aura of sanctified calm fills this space of final respite. A silver cross hangs from the wooden bedpost above her head. Pinned to the opposite post is a laminated icon of the Virgin Mary. From another wall looms a calendar, dominated by an image of Jesus, which reads in big block letters, “I am the way, the truth, the life.”
These words have long been at the core of the dying woman’s being. She and the 43 remaining residents of St. Antony’s chose the religious life long ago in their early adulthood. Mary P.M. arrived in 1949, shortly after the Sisters of Nazareth, a congregation of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, established St. Antony’s for young women who, in the words of Father Augustine Thenayan, director of the Nazareth Institutions, “wanted to lead pious lives and become sisters, but who had no education.” Young no longer, the residents today are gray-haired, frail, often ill and dying one by one.
Hovering by the woman’s bedside is St. Antony’s resident caregiver, Mary P.L. Taking on a nurse’s role, Mary P.L. monitors the patient’s tubing, cleans her bedpan and adjusts her blanket. She rubs the back of Mary P.M.’s grieving younger sister and fellow resident, Rosakkutty. And, she spends countless hours sitting beside the dying woman, talking to her and praying with her for a “happy death.”
“As with all who have gone before her, I try to take away her pain and keep her as happy as can be,” explained Mary P.L. “God has given me this gift. I try to use it.”
Read more about Kerala’s Saving Grace in the July 2009 issue of ONE. And to learn how you can help continue good work in India, visit this giving page.
21 November 2013
Tags: India Sisters Caring for the Elderly
This 2006 photo depicts a street scene in the Gaza strip, a poor and crowded land with one of the highest population densities in the world. (photo: Steve Sabella)
In the January 2007 issue of ONE, Paul Watcher wrote about health and health care clinics in Gaza:
A study by Johns Hopkins University and Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, commissioned in 2002, found that nearly 20 percent of children under the age of 5 suffered from malnutrition while anemia affected more than half of women under 40, and 45 percent of children.
A year later, Al Quds et al. published the 2003 Nutritional Assessment of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which compared its findings across years:
Comparisons of 2003 with 2002 median daily energy intakes demonstrate concerning trends:
In both age intervals, there is a significant decrease in median daily energy intakes: for 1-3 year olds, an 8.3 percent drop, for 4-5 year olds, a 13.2 percent drop [and as high as 19.2 percent in Gaza]
In stark contrast to 2002 and any other normally eating society, older children in the 2003 sample are consuming on average fewer calories than the younger children. Arguably this drop in daily calorie intake as children age is a marker for increasing food insecurity.
The State of Nutrition for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, published in 2005 by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health in association with the World Health Organization and UNICEF, included a chart further illustrating the relationship.
Time has passed, but this problem has not gone away. This 2010 UNICEF assessment observes that malnutrition rates “have been increasing since 1996, especially with respect to chronic malnutrition.” The WHO’s May 2012 report on health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories agrees that these circumstances persist:
For malnutrition in children under five years, stunting (chronic malnutrition) is not improving and may be deteriorating. A high prevalence of anemia is revealed among women visiting prenatal services (39.1 percent of pregnant women in the Gaza Strip and 15.4 percent in the West Bank).
These problems are further exacerbated by factors such as the Israeli blockade and, as Al Jazeera discussed yesterday, “Egypt’s ongoing crackdown on the Gaza-Egypt underground tunnels,” which have supplied Gaza through much of said blockade.
Much remains to be done, and every small effort has the potential to change lives. To learn how you can help the people of Palestine through its churches and men and women religious, click here.
20 November 2013
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Children Palestine Poor/Poverty Hunger
Father Jorge distributes blessed bread following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Honduras. (photo: Carina Wint)
In 2006, we visited a surprising corner of the world with a small but thriving Arab population — Central America:
Today, there are as many as 220,000 Arab-Hondurans. While they represent only 3 percent of the total population of 7.3 million people, they have had an outsized influence on the nation. They are most visible in business and only slightly less so in politics. Centro Social’s president, Juan Canahuati, a textile magnate with numerous other entrepreneurial activities, is considered the country’s top businessman. Coffee exporter and former Industry and Commerce Minister Oscar Kafati’s ancestors immigrated to Honduras in the late 19th century from Beit Jala, a Christian town adjacent to Bethlehem. Former President Carlos Flores Facusse’s mother came from Bethlehem.
Arab immigration to Latin America is not unique to Honduras nor are such success stories. To take just two prominent examples: former Argentine President Carlos Ménem (1989-1999) traces his roots to Syria; Mexico’s telecommunications titan, Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s third richest man, is of Lebanese descent.
Nearly all Arab-Hondurans claim Christian Palestinian origins, making the Arab-Honduran experience unique. Proportionally, there are more people of Palestinian descent in Honduras than any other Latin American country.
Arab Palestinians first came to Honduras in the 19th century, but the largest waves arrived after 1896, the year the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which then controlled Palestine, first allowed emigration. Numerous factors motivated the early emigrants. In 1909, the Ottomans included in the military draft Christians and Jews, who were once forbidden to serve, but required to pay tribute instead. Economic incentives also drove Arabs abroad. Tourism and commerce, areas in which many Christians worked, declined during World War I. And increasingly Palestine’s Arab Christians found themselves competing with the growing Jewish population, largely secular Zionist immigrants from Europe, in their entrepreneurial activities. Just as today, there seemed to be more opportunities for enterprising Arabs abroad.
But why Honduras?
Some researchers have suggested the earliest emigrants boarded ships without knowing their final destination. The choice of Honduras was not a choice at all; it was happenstance. But after conducting interviews in 1979 with many Arab-Hondurans, geographer William Crowley concluded that “many, and maybe the majority, of the early immigrants headed intentionally for Honduras.”
Most of the Arabs from Palestine who immigrated to Honduras were Orthodox. But until 1963, Honduras’s Orthodox community lacked a church, and by then many immigrants had joined the Catholic Church, the predominant Christian community in the country.
Today, the country’s only Orthodox parish, the Iglesia Ortodoxa de Antioquena San Juan Bautista in San Pedro Sula, serves more than 200 families. It is pastored by Father Jorge Faraj, a married priest whose grandparents came to Honduras from Beit Sahour, another Christian town near Bethlehem.
Father Jorge estimated that about 45 percent of Arab-Hondurans remain Orthodox, including a small number of Hondurans from Lebanon. “But I’m the only Orthodox priest, so it is difficult for me to serve the entire country,” he said.
While most Arab-Hondurans live in San Pedro Sula, there are also large numbers in Tegucigalpa and other cities. “These cities don’t have their own Orthodox parishes, and I can visit them only so often,” said the priest. “So, these people tend to attend Catholic churches. But then, they’ll come to San Pedro Sula for a visit, and they’ll always come to an Orthodox service here.”
Read more in Middle Eastern, Central American Style in the September 2006 issue of ONE.
Tags: Cultural Identity Palestinians Immigration Arabs