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Volume 43, Number 4
  
27 March 2012
Erin Edwards




Nirmala Dasi sisters walk with young patients on the grounds of Grace Home in Trichur, India. (photo: John E. Kozar)

We’ve profiled the amazing work of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in ONE magazine numerous times over the years. Earlier this month, CNEWA President, Msgr. John Kozar, had the opportunity to meet with some of these women and see first-hand the “thankless” work they do on behalf of society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala. In the November 2010 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the great work of these sisters on behalf of children and adults with H.I.V/AIDS at the Grace Home in Trichur, India:

With the school-age children gone, a quiet falls upon the grounds of Grace Home — that is until a 2-year-old boy noisily pushes his pintsize tricycle across the facility’s marble floor. The tricycle plays an electronic version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Energetic and healthy — in fact, rather pudgy — the boy first came to Grace Home in 2009 covered in scabies and looking lean, says Sister Lisi, who calls him simply Chakara, or “sweetie” in the local Malayalam language.

“He would cry all day and all night,” she says. “Maybe he was thinking about his mother — she lost her mind and lived with Chakara in the Kuttippuram Railway Station, taking him here and there. Or maybe he feared he was going to be given away.

“He’s in good condition right now,” boasts Sister Lisi, adding that Chakara’s CD4 count is high, at more than 800. “He doesn’t need ARTs.”

Chakara’s attachment to Sister Lisi is unmistakable. He clutches her habit at the knees. She picks him up and puts him back down. He pushes the tricycle around some more and then into her feet. Sister Lisi ignores him. Chakara gets fussy and she picks him up again.

“At his age, he needs a mother’s concern and love,” says Sister Lisi. “I feel like I’ve been appointed his mother. Now he’s getting so much love. I don’t know how much love I have to give, but whatever I have I give.”

Sister Lisi’s love and devotion are characteristic of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters. All 300 of its members, including 50 devoted to persons living with H.I.V./AIDS, “care for those who nobody else will care for,” says Msgr. Vilangadan.

The Nirmala Dasi Sisters care for society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala, Mumbai and as far away as Kenya. But no matter where they serve, says Msgr. Vilangadan, “they must be witnessing. We must show how Christ lived and show the kind of person he was — humble, poor, hardworking, striving to save the souls of the poor and sick. Our life must be an extension of Christ’s life.”

To learn how you can help CNEWA continue to support courageous sisters like the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, visit our “Celebrating Women” campaign on Causes. There is still time to give to our March matching challenge in honor of these women and others like them in the countries CNEWA serves.



Tags: India Sisters Kerala HIV/AIDS

26 March 2012
Erin Edwards




In this photo taken in 2010, a farmer rides through Wadi al Nasarah (Arabic for Valley of Christians), near Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Though much of Syria is in turmoil and many Christians are fleeing, we reflect today on Wadi al Nasarah, a group of about 40 Christian villages. In the January 2011 edition of ONE, Sean Sprague told the story of a flourishing valley of Christians holding onto its ancient Christian roots:

“We were traditionally farmers, harvesting our olives and growing grain crops and keeping animals. But these days, very few of us Christians are involved in that kind of work. We have prospered and have received a good education, going to university in the towns, so we either work in tourism or are professional people,” she continues.

Ms. Nehme’s generation is not the first to have left its rural roots: Her father is an electrician; her mother teaches at a local school.

Syria is a cradle of Christianity. The word Christian was first coined in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch — which has been a part of Turkey since the borders were redrawn in 1939. The apostles Peter and Paul settled there, nurturing a church that eventually emerged as the center of Christian thought in the eastern Mediterranean. Antiochene theologians, from both the Greek– and Syriac–speaking communities, played leading roles in the Christological controversies that eventually divided the early church, differences that are now understood as cultural and linguistic.

For more, read Syria’s Christian Valley.



Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Farming/Agriculture

23 March 2012
Erin Edwards




In this photo taken in 1996, a woman prays in an Armenian Apostolic church in Georgia.
(photo: Armineh Johannes)


Photographer Armineh Johannes has documented extensively the Armenian Catholic community — in Armenia and in the surrounding border countries like Georgia — for our agency for almost 20 years. She has captured some stolen moments that have really helped to educate us about the peoples and culture of Armenia. We’ve featured Armineh’s photos several times as ’Picture of the Day‘.



Tags: Georgia Armenian Apostolic Church

22 March 2012
Erin Edwards




In this photo taken in 2010, a woman fetches water from a well in Kerala. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Today is U.N. World Water Day and in many of the countries CNEWA serves, there is a water crisis of some sort to which we have responded. We recently wrote about CNEWA’s efforts in helping with Lebanon’s water supply crisis.

There are similar problems in India. In Kerala usually the women and girls of the family have to travel a mile or more on foot from their homes in order to retrieve gallons of clean drinking water. CNEWA has funded water tanks in many villages in Kerala, in order to eliminate such a burden. Just this month, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar was able to witness firsthand the positive impact these tanks have had on the people of Kerala:

Besides construction projects and renovations at the parish proper, CNEWA has been instrumental in helping the people of this parish to improve the quality of life by assisting in the building of substantial houses and water holding tanks. The area is very mountainous. Normally the rains come with great force and cause annual flooding, mudslides and loss of soil. With the water tanks, they now can break out of the cycle of being inundated by floods or suffering from drought.

After a most moving and loving visit with the parishioners at the church hall, we headed out with the pastor to a much more remote area of the parish. We saw firsthand the dynamic difference a new durable house can make for the poor and how having a controlled supply of water gives the cycle of life new meaning. We had some very steep climbs to arrive at these sites, but the recipients of our charity were beaming to show us their new homes and their water catchment systems. Thanks to you for giving them this new dignity through your kind donations over the years! CNEWA has funded over 40 such water tanks just in 2011 alone. Over the years, hundreds of families have benefitted from CNEWA’s water tanks in this part of India.

To learn more about Kerala’s water woes, read Rain Rich, Water Poor in the May 2010 issue of ONE.



Tags: India Water Women in India

21 March 2012
Erin Edwards




From left, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, Dominican Sister Maria Hanna and CNEWA Regional Director for Jordan and Iraq Ra’ed Bahou gather with Dominican Sisters outside the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Jordan. (photo: CNEWA)

Last December, during his pastoral visit to the Holy Land, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar had a chance to visit with Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena at their clinic in Jordan. These sisters — whose provincial house is in Iraq — staff hospitals, orphanages and schools for those still in Iraq and those Iraqis displaced throughout the Middle East. They do not turn their backs on the people, and the dire circumstances in Iraq seem to drive them to want to do more. Last August we were able to catch up with a few Dominican Sisters visiting the U.S. and gain some insight into this fearless congregation of sisters:

Your community lost its mother house to the violence.

Sister Diana Moneka: Yes, it was bombed several times. But God was with us. When they bombed our mother house the first time, the missile fell on a bedroom where four sisters were sleeping. It was 1:30 a.m. They couldn’t escape. Pressure from the fire prevented them from opening the door. A sister sleeping down the hall eventually got them out. The sisters were so shocked, but after a while they felt the presence of God. They realized, “We’re still alive because of God.”

How is morale among the sisters?

Sister Maria: They are very down and frustrated. Whenever there is some activity and work, and they’re busy and producing, they are happy. But sometimes, they get very frustrated.

Sister Diana: We’re walking with people step by step, every day. Wherever there is a bomb, we’re with the victims. Caring for traumatized people is a very difficult task, because their trauma wears off on you. Coming back home, if you don’t have a big community that supports you, the spiritual and psychological parts are very hard.

We’ve lost lots of family. I lost my brother. Five years ago, he was shot. One sister, two of her nephews were kidnapped and disappeared. Another, her nephew disappeared and they have heard nothing about him. It’s been almost five years now. We’re trying to help people and at the same time dealing with our own trauma.

Sister Maria: In the past six years, we have not had one meeting with all the sisters together. We used to have them at the mother house. This is very difficult for the sisters, because we can’t unite together. We want to build a new mother house. We have the property and the blueprints, but we do not have the money.

Click here to read more of our interview with the sisters.



Tags: Middle East Jordan Health Care Dominican Sisters

20 March 2012
Erin Edwards




In this image taken in December 2008, a worker prepares grapevines at the La Salle Center near Meki, Ethiopia. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

In 2007, the Brothers of the Christian Schools launched the La Salle Agroprocessing and Farmers’ Training Center facility in Meki, Ethiopia, which produces quality products, such as wine, marmalade, yogurt and butter, for domestic and international markets. The brothers aimed to develop a sustainable, profitable facility that at the same time provided educational, economic and professional opportunities to the community:

Women, wrapped in scarves to protect them from the scorching sun, clear brush from under the vineyard’s 20,000 imported Italian grapevines — grouped together by origin and identified with signs, such as “Barbera,” “Sangiovese” and “Montepulciano.”

If all goes according to plan, the brothers will have completely transformed this ordinary 75-acre plot of subdivided farmland into an integrated, income-generating agribusiness. Since the project’s inception, the brothers have raised a total of $800,000 in grants, which they have used to purchase the land, plants, construction materials, machinery and to pay labor costs. The next installment of funds will be used to double the amount of land, purchase 20,000 more imported grapevines and strawberry plants, and add livestock, including cattle, chickens, fish and pigs.

At every turn, the La Salle Center will provide economic, educational and professional opportunities to the community. Projecting a 54-person payroll, which will swell to 100 during harvest time, the brothers intend to staff the endeavor with people from the local community, who will gain on-the-job skills in modern agricultural techniques for use on their own family farms. The on-site agricultural training center will also offer workshops on improved agricultural techniques, such as biogas production, small- scale drip irrigation, animal husbandry and crop selection. The brothers also plan to loan the center’s tractors and other equipment to local farmers at below market rates.

For more, read Farming a Brighter Future.



Tags: Ethiopia Africa Farming/Agriculture Employment

19 March 2012
Erin Edwards




A resident of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Pulincunnoo, Kerala studies for class.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)


Today, many Roman Catholics celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. There are numerous religious orders and charities that bear this saint’s name — including St. Joseph’s Orphanage, a home for girls run by the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel in Kerala. The girls’ parents are unable to support them financially, so St. Joseph’s affords them better opportunities and hope for their future. In the September 2005 issue of ONE, Paul Wachter wrote about this home named after the saint:

While it is true that nearly all the “orphans” at St. Joseph’s have parents, the opportunities available to them at the orphanage and affiliated schools offer the young women better lives, the sisters said. “Otherwise there would be even less opportunities for the girls,” said Sister Priscilla Anna. Through the schooling at the orphanage and the after-school program, the sisters believe they are breaking a cycle.

“Our goal is to see all our girls with a good job and/or a good husband,” Sister Priscilla Anna said. “That way, when they have children, they will be able to present them with better opportunities than their parents offered them.”

For more, read St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’. To learn how you can support girls like the residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage — and the work of religious sisters like that of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel — join us as we “Celebrate Women” this month through a matching gift campaign that supports this admirable work. You can also join our community on Causes.com to share your appreciation for women and sisters!



Tags: India Kerala Orphans/Orphanages

16 March 2012
Erin Edwards




A young Bedouin traveling by donkey through the ancient city of Petra, Jordan.
(photo: John E. Kozar)


Petra — the ancient fortress city carved out of rock in the Valley of Moses — features some of Jordan’s best-preserved traces of antiquity, along with significant evidence of early Christianity. In December, CNEWA President, Msgr. John E. Kozar visited Petra as a part of his pastoral visit to the Holy Land. Read all of Msgr. Kozar’s blog posts from his journey.



Tags: Middle East Holy Land Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar

15 March 2012
Erin Edwards




Teacher Manna Gebreyons, interacts with her students at a Catholic school in the Tigrayan village of Sebia, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)

In 2009, we interviewed Sister Winifred Doherty, a member of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, about empowering women in Ethiopia. She stressed the importance of knowledge as a tool of empowerment. Having access to education provides the opportunity for success and prosperity. Though Catholics are a minority in Ethiopia, Catholic-run schools are making a difference. Take a look at our interview with Sister Winifred Doherty below:



Tags: Ethiopia Education Africa Catholic Schools

14 March 2012
Erin Edwards




A woman stands in the window pane of her future home in the Eparchy of Trivandrum in Kerala, built with funds raised by CNEWA. (photo: John E. Kozar)

As a part of his pastoral visit to India, CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar visited with families who are benefitting from the support of CNEWA donors in the construction of new homes. These homes are more sound and spacious structures than their former cramped “shanty” houses. Msgr. Kozar described these visits as a high point of his trip because he was able to see the tangible results of CNEWA’s best efforts:

Only a few kilometers away, but on an unmarked road, we were led by one of the priests to a mountainous area that has no community name, no zip code and no street address. In fact, our vehicle could only go so far and then we had to walk the rest of the way. Our purpose in this visit was to offer our solidarity and support to the poorest of the poor for whom we are helping in the construction of homes. By the way, these people are of the Dalit group, which means they are the so-called “untouchables” in India’s illegal but powerful caste system.

The project of building these homes is a combined effort of CNEWA, the Indian government and the parish outreach; in some instances, a very modest share is borne by the poor themselves. To understand the contrasts between the hovels in which these dalits live to the beauty and dignity as witnessed in the homes under construction is impossible. One mother showed us her one-room shanty — that housed five people — that was about the size of a small bathroom in Canada or the states. Even though her new home is still under construction, and very rough in appearance, she beamed with pride as she took us through the modest dwelling.

We had the good fortune to visit with two other families whose new homes are under construction. We were accompanied visit by two priests, who related very comfortably and beautifully with these, the poorest of the poor. On your behalf, I accepted the heartfelt and emotional expressions of gratitude for the generosity of CNEWA in giving these supposed “untouchables” dignity of life for the first time in their lives.

These visits were perhaps the high point in my visit so far as they reflected so well the best efforts of CNEWA in reaching out to the poor in this part of the world.

For more, read Msgr. Kozar’s 2 March blog post from the field, In the Footsteps of St. Thomas: Reaching Out to the ”Untouchables.“ To read all of Msgr. Kozar’s blog posts from his visit to India click here.



Tags: India Kerala Homes/housing Dalits





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