13 August 2013
An Egyptian girl wants a closer look at Verbo Encarnado Sister María de la Santa Faz. (photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
Several years ago, we reported on the remarkable work being undertaken by a congregation of sisters in Egypt seeking to help some of the poorest children in the country:
Amira still does not talk much, except with her eyes. A year after the sisters took her in, the 3-year-old is still recovering from the hell that was her home. Now her brown eyes are full of life and her expressive eyebrows, lifting and furrowing, say what she cannot: that she has been rescued, that she is lucky and that somehow she knows it.
Amira is from the dusty Egyptian town of Dekhela, near the coastal city of Alexandria. Here, the sisters of the Verbo Encarnado (Incarnate Word) Congregation, who hail from South America, have set up two homes for girls who used to live on the streets.
Some of the girls, like Amira, have escaped abusive families. Others seek an education, while some just want regular meals and a warm bed.
While the congregation’s Egyptian community is based in Cairo, “the smaller towns are where people really need help,” says Father Maurizio, one of the founders.
Father Maurizio helped set up the mission in eight years ago and was the first priest from the congregation to live permanently in the country.
“We wanted to learn more about this part of the world,” he says. “We recognize the value of Islam, but we also wanted to help support the Christian community.”
Approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population is Christian, mostly Coptic Orthodox. Coptic and other Eastern Catholics number about 300,000 persons. Other Christians include Greek Orthodox and evangelical Protestants.
Whatever their faith community, most Egyptians live difficult lives far from the modern bustle of Cairo or the colonial grandeur of Alexandria.
The national average daily income is just over $10 a day. About 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Due to overpopulation, a weak economy and high unemployment, the challenges facing Egypt’s youth are daunting.
Sister María Guadalupe, the superior of the community in Egypt, says the situation in Dekhela is especially bad. The town is poor; there are few social services.
“These girls were living with their families in one room,” she says. “No bathroom, no kitchen, just one room. Sometimes there would be a bed and that’s all. So the girls were spending all their time in the street.”
Many families consider education for girls a luxury rather than a necessity, she says. While some girls complete grade school, many are kept at home where their mothers teach them household duties. Such traditional attitudes prevail in both Muslim and Christian communities.
Read morea about Building a Brigher Future in Egypt in the November 2004 issue of ONE.
12 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Sisters Education
Students at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Kerala, India, find time not only to study but also to dance. Read more about St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’ in the September 2005 issue of ONE. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
9 August 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Kerala Orphans/Orphanages
Each day the boys at the Malankara Boys’ Home pause on the lawn to pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary before going to school. (photo: Jose Jacob)
In the Summer issue of ONE, we take readers to a home for boys in India that is offering a new lease on life for those some consider “untouchable”:
A low building in the front houses a library, sick room, kitchen, pantry, work area and classroom. A path paved with red and black tiles, chipped and broken in places, leads to a four-story building where children study, sleep and play.
Between the two buildings — each in need of fresh paint — lies a small lawn with a statue of the Virgin Mary inside a large lotus, the national flower of India, fashioned out of concrete. Here, children pray before going to school.
In this home in 1996, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Archeparchy of Trivandrum began a plan to deliver children from a vicious circle of poverty, squalor and despair.
Seventeen years later, the Malankara Boys’ Home counts more than 175 extraordinary young men as success stories, part of a growing effort to spark a quiet social revolution among southern India’s Dalits.
Dalit, a Sanskrit term, denotes the former “untouchable” groups in India’s multilayered caste system that segregates people on the basis of birth.
Although Mahatma Gandhi called the Dalit “harijan” (children of God), and the Indian constitution bans caste discrimination, those people once identified as untouchable continue to lag behind socially and economically.
But thanks in part to Malankara Boys’ Home, that is beginning to change.
“Our children have brought hope to those who are dismissed as social scum,” says the Rev. Jose Kizhakedath, a priest of the archeparchy who started the home and guided its first seven years. It is a hope that is slowly but perceptibly changing the lives of some of Kerala’s young people most in need.
Read more about Reaching the Young ‘Untouchables’.
8 August 2013
Tags: India Children ONE magazine Indian Catholics Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Children gather in a makeshift classroom in the Al Waer neighborhood of Homs. (photo: Ziad Hilal, S.J.)
In the Summer issue of ONE, now online, we look closely at CNEWA’s efforts to help needy children. One of the pieces in the magazine, written by the Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., describes the struggles of children in Syria who have been scarred by war:
Recent events have deeply affected the children, and we have noticed changes through our follow-ups at school. When they play, they transform wooden boxes into imitation weapons and play war games, reflecting the reality that the children are also internalizing the patterns of the war around them. Confronting this, we had to work hard to redirect the children to regular games, such as football and other sports.
Most children live in a state of denial. They refuse to acknowledge their fears. Meanwhile, mothers report their children cannot sleep alone in a separate bed anymore, which speaks to their trauma. Some others report cases that required the assistance of a speech therapist and a psychologist to overcome communication troubles.
At the same time, many youth have lost their jobs and their income, their great potential going to waste.
Thus, we decided to join both priorities in one project, aiming to take the children out of the streets and to provide jobs to the displaced youth.
We started with one pilot project at St. Savior Convent in the Adawiyya quarter, where many displaced families found refuge. The project consisted of gathering around 60 children in the convent and, with the help of the youth, preparing some educational activities: theater, music and more. The children were from different religious groups, and the convent became a center for reconciliation — especially for the parents from all confessions, who were obliged to sit together to watch their children in a common activity.
Soon after, two additional centers adopting the same model opened in other quarters where displaced families settled. At present the project enrolls more than 600 children.
Read more on Saving the Children of War.
And to learn how you can help, visit our Syria Emergency Relief page or check out various ways to support children in need.
7 August 2013
Tags: Refugees Children Syrian Civil War War Emigration
In this image from 2005, an Assyrian Christian man kisses a cross before the liturgy at St. George Cathedral in Chicago. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Today marks Assyrian Martyrs Day, commemorating a tragic event recalled by thousands around the world. The Assyrian International News Agency takes note:
On this day, hundreds of innocent Assyrians were massacred under the rule of newly established Kingdom of Iraq. The Simele Massacre took place in August 1933 in Iraq.
Following Iraqi independence and the establishment of its political, social and economic system, the Simele Massacre was committed with the sole objective of ethnic cleansing. In August 1933 Iraqi forces massacred civilians in Simele and at the villages of Dohuk and Mosul. Nearly 3,000 civilians were killed and residential areas, destroyed. Men, women, children and elders were victims without any distinction.
The survivors of the 1915 atrocities under Ottoman-Turkish rule had once again been the victims of mass murder. Well-known lawyer Raphael Lemkin was inspired by these two events to coin the term “genocide.”
In 2005, we wrote about Assyrians settling in Chicago in a story called Assyrian Assimilation. And we explored the history of the Assyrians in Michael J.L. La Civita’s profiles of the Chaldean Church in 2005 and the Church of the East in 2009.
6 August 2013
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Chaldean Church Assyrian Church Church of the East
Singers Yana Grigorian and Svitlana Kukharuk take a break during choir practice at the Armenian Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Lviv. Read about Armenian efforts to rebuild a sense of church and community in western Ukraine in Restoring Faith in the September 2012 issue of ONE. (photo: Petro Didula)
5 August 2013
Tags: Ukraine Cultural Identity Eastern Christianity Armenian Apostolic Church
Orphans join in prayer at Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Read more about the work of the children’s home in Every Child Has a Name from the September 2001 issue of our magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)
2 August 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Orphans/Orphanages
Muslims take part in prayers during the I’tikaf, a spiritual retreat in a mosque that is usually held during the last 10 days of Ramadan, at the Sanusi Dantata Memorial Jummu’at mosque in Abuja, Nigeria on 31 July. (photo: CNS Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters)
The Vatican today released the text of Pope Francis’ message to Muslims at the conclusion of Ramadan. The theme of the message is mutual respect through education. It says, in part:
What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices. We are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation. Families, schools, religious teaching and all forms of media have a role to play in achieving this goal.
Turning to mutual respect in interreligious relations, especially between Christians and Muslims, we are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values. Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship. How painful are attacks on one or other of these!
It is clear that, when we show respect for the religion of our neighbours or when we offer them our good wishes on the occasion of a religious celebration, we simply seek to share their joy, without making reference to the content of their religious convictions.
Regarding the education of Muslim and Christian youth, we have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.
We all know that mutual respect is fundamental in any human relationship, especially among people who profess religious belief. In this way, sincere and lasting friendship can grow.
Read the entire message here.
For more on the observance of Ramadan, check out this essay from the September 2011 issue of ONE.
1 August 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Christian-Muslim relations Interfaith Ramadan
A sister with her young friend at the John Paul II Peace Center in India. The center, which is dedicated to the care of people of every age facing severe physical and mental challenges, is part of the Paul VI Mercy Home, a complex of social service modules owned and operated by the Archeparchy of Trichur. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Last year, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar visited India. One memorable stop along his way was the Paul VI Mercy Home:
This Mercy Center offers superb educational programs to mentally challenged children. It is directed by the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, who do a marvelous job in serving the needs of these special loved ones. We were welcomed by a marching band and many smiling faces, including very small children, children up to their teens, many sisters serving there and a large contingent of trainees who study there to receive a diploma in working with special needs children. This institution is licensed to offer this diploma, as it has such a good name in its care for the specially challenged.
Read more about the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in House of Blessings, from the March 2007 issue of the magazine.
31 July 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Msgr. John E. Kozar Nirmala Dasi Sisters
Ethan Jacob Ramirez awaits his baptism in the arms of his mother at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Amman. (photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
Two years ago, we visited Jordan and profiled the migrant workers there, many of them Filipino Catholic women:
On Fridays, Mass is standing room only at the English-speaking Sacred Heart Latin Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan. Friday is the Islamic day of rest and it attracts the largest number of parishioners, most of whom work the rest of the week in and around the capital.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem established Sacred Heart parish in 1996 to serve Amman’s swelling Catholic migrant community.
Among the families are a scattering of Europeans and North Americans, most of whom work in the foreign embassies of the posh Jabal Al Weibdeh neighborhood that surrounds the church. A few wear bright salwar kameez, the traditional pajama-like trousers worn by men and women from the Indian subcontinent. The vast majority, however, are Filipino women.
“It was a little strange for me in church at first,” says Father Kevin O’Connell, who has led the parish since its inception 15 years ago. “You’d look out to an entire congregation of women.”
A congenial 67-year-old Jesuit priest from Boston, who wears slacks and sandals under his vestments, Father O’Connell, looks and acts the part of a wise, friendly grandfather.
He helps the choir and he holds the lease on a house where the choir rehearses and other church groups gather. Father O’Connell also oversees the Sacred Heart youth basketball team and helped a group of youngsters from the church secure a space in the Jesuit Fathers’ center where they can breakdance.
Most important, Father O’Connell spends much of his energy responding to the spiritual, emotional and material needs of his predominantly Filipino congregation and other Filipino migrants in the country.
“I understood that the first task was to give people a place where they could be at home,” says Father O’Connell. “For these people, just the ongoing, regular liturgy — with Filipino music, with people reading, with them being able to participate in whatever way they want — gives a strand of consistency and continuity. It’s their home. It’s their place. In most cases, there’s no place else they can gather.”
Though some have jobs at the Philippine Embassy or in international organizations, most are domestic workers. They live in their employers’ homes and work long hours. Many experience intense feelings of loneliness and homesickness. They often have families back home whom they miss desperately.
With few job opportunities in the Philippines and families to support, these women come to the Middle East, where jobs in the “care-giving industry” are plentiful. Motivated by the promise of comparatively high earnings, most of which they intend on sending home to their families, they often accept without complaint long hours, little personal time or freedom and substandard living accommodations.
When the Filipino women attend Mass at Sacred Heart, they make the most of it. Friday’s celebration is usually their only free time all week. They embrace it as a chance to connect with others, speak their native language and openly practice their faith.
The Friday mass in the Catholic church in Amman’s Jabal Al Weibdeh is celebrated by the Sacred Heart English-Language Catholic parish, and the attendees are almost all migrant workers—the vast majority are Filipino women. They come on Friday, the Islamic day of rest, because for many of them that is the only day they are allowed time off.
Read more about Filipinos who are Far From Home in the November 2011 issue of ONE.
Tags: Jordan Catholic Migrants Women