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Volume 44, Number 2
  
1 March 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita




Mar Musa, named after St. Moses of Ethiopia, is an ancient Syriac monastery famous for its medieval frescoes. Today, the monastery draws tourists and Christians and Muslims committed to interreligious understanding. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

This morning we received word from our regional director in Beirut, Issam Bishara, that a monastery north of the Syrian capital of Damascus was ransacked by masked gunmen around 6 p.m. on 22 February.

Deir Mar Musa is home to religious men and women under the protection of Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III. The following is a press release from the monastery describing the events that transpired:

Events of Wednesday, 22 February 2012, at Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi

Wednesday evening at 6 p.m., the following happened:

Around 30 armed men — all, except their commander, had their face covered — stormed the monastery’s sheepfold, where some employees were dwelling. They turned the premises upside down, looking for weapons and money, and asking for the father in charge. One of the shepherds was forced to lead some of the armed persons to another part of the monastery. Four of the sisters, who were about to go to the prayer, were confined to a room under surveillance. Right after, some of the aggressors entered the church. The monastic community, gathered for meditation, reminded them that this was a place of prayer, and as such should be respected. The armed men forced the people present to assemble in a side aisle of the church. Then, they forcibly intercepted other persons at the monastery. They went on searching for weapons and money, but to no effect, destroying all means of communication they could find, but without causing any major damage.

During the aggression, the individual responsible for the group was taking photos with his mobile phone. After having permitted that the prayer goes on, he ordered the people present to remain in the church for an hour.

The superior of the monastery was in Damascus, and could not return before daybreak on Thursday.

It is noteworthy that those with authority among the armed persons declared straight away that they did not have the intention to harm the people present at the monastery, and in fact, they kept their word during the aggression.

Naturally, the question arises as to the identity of the armed group. At the moment, it seems impossible to give a definite answer. For sure, those men were familiar with weapons, seeking material interests. The reason why they were looking for weapons at a monastery that has been well known for years for its choice and promotion of nonviolence remains obscure.

We thank God for the protection of his angels, and we prayed during Mass for our aggressors and their families. In spite of these painful events, we did not lose our inner peace nor the desire to serve reconciliation.

Deir Mar Musa



Tags: Syria Damascus Syriac Catholic Church Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan

29 February 2012
Greg Kandra




The Syro-Malabar Church in Palayur, Kerala, features the largest statue of St. Thomas in the world, and depicts the boat landing where he arrived in India. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Msgr. John Kozar, president of CNEWA, is beginning a pastoral visit to India “in the footsteps of St. Thomas.” He’ll be filing reports for this blog, along with pictures and video, over the next several days — introducing us to the many sisters, religious and lay people doing some remarkable work in that corner of the world.

It’s a corner regular readers of our magazine know well. Two years ago, writer Sean Sprague took a similar journey and described it in the pages of ONE:

“St. Thomas definitely landed on this very spot,” says Philomena Pappachan, caretaker of a chapel that marks where the doubting apostle arrived in southern India in the year A.D. 52. Located a few feet from the cemented banks of the Periyar River, the chapel is dwarfed by a grove of palm trees and a 30-foot cutout of the saint, who is depicted with a staff and an open book on which “my Lord and my God” is printed in English.

No archaeological evidence exists to substantiate or refute her claim. Yet for nearly two millennia, countless numbers of Christians and Hindus have believed “the holy man” journeyed through Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and finally India, where Thomas died a martyr’s death in the year 72.

Based on oral tradition, the fathers of the church — notably Clement of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome and Gregory of Tours — all write of his travels, deeds and faith.

In works such as the “Ramban Song,” an ancient lyrical poem, Indians remember Thomas’ miracles and the places where he preached, baptized and founded seven churches. Today, these shrines are major pilgrimage sites for Thomas’ spiritual heirs.

Read more in In the Footsteps of St. Thomas from the March 2010 issue of ONE.

And be sure to check One-to-One in the days ahead for updates from Msgr. Kozar.



Tags: India Indian Christians Msgr. John E. Kozar Thomas Christians

28 February 2012
Greg Kandra




In Syria, a group of men in the Christian village of Al Meshtayeh socialize over a board game. (photo: Sean Sprague)

As the conflict in Syria intensifies, Pope Benedict XVI has called on all involved to begin a process of dialogue, recently describing the situation there as “increasingly worrisome.”

Last week, a Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, the Holy See’s delegate to the Arab League, attended an international summit in Tunisia seeking to resolve the crisis.

Last year, writer Sean Sprague reported on Syria’s Christian Valley in the pages of ONE magazine:

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.

Even as masses of Arab Muslim troops invaded and conquered the Middle East in the seventh century, eventually receiving the majority of its population into Islam, Syrian Christians persevered, living peaceably with their Muslim neighbors.

Today, Christians make up about a tenth of Syria’s 22 million people. Half of these two million souls belong to the Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Antioch, the preeminent Christian institution in the country. As many as 500,000 people belong to the Syriac Orthodox Church, and another 125,000 belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Catholics number around 400,000 people and belong primarily to the Armenian and Melkite Greek Catholic churches.

The vast majority of the population of Wadi al Nasarah are Christian, 98 percent of whom belong to the Orthodox Church. The rest attend Melkite or Roman Catholic churches.

For this and more, read the January 2011 issue of ONE.



Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Syriac Orthodox Church Antiochene church

27 February 2012
Greg Kandra




Until eighth grade, an equal number of boys and girls attend the Catholic school in Meki, Ethiopia. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Ethiopia is struggling to give both boys and girls equal opportunities for education — an issue journalist Peter Lemieux explored in the pages of ONE in 2009:

If growing up in Ethiopia these days were a race, these children would appear to be off to a good start. But a closer look reveals an unfair contest, one that favors the boys.

While Meki Catholic School makes every effort to maintain gender balance — an equal number of boys and girls make up its primary grades — the number of girls enrolled in the school’s secondary classes drops sharply. For the girls fortunate enough to remain in school, the harsh reality of Ethiopia’s tradition of gender disparity hits harder than a stiff headwind in a 50-yard dash.

Against a metal fence enclosing the school grounds, Messeret Yohannes, an 18-year-old senior, discusses the future with her girlfriends. All expect to go to college. And all hope to become professionals either in accounting, banking, education or medicine. Given the school’s outstanding achievements, high aspirations such as theirs are certainly realistic. From among the graduating class, 94 percent are expected to attend college, compared to 30 to 35 percent nationally.

“I want to be a lawyer or maybe go into business,” says Messeret, whose voice grows bolder and more confident as the boys move out of eavesdropping distance.

As with other students at the school, most of these girls hail from families who make their living from subsistence farming and small trade. When asked to explain why women make up less than 20 percent of their senior class, the girls begin talking all at once. Cutting through the chatter, Messeret takes the lead and speaks for the group. “That’s the economic part of it,” she asserts.

“The drop-off happens throughout the country at the high school level, not just at our school,” adds the school’s popular headmaster, Brother Betre Fisseha, F.S.C.

“It’s the legacy of the Ethiopian social and cultural tradition. Girls are burdened with a big part of the families’ work, especially in rural areas. If their parents need help fetching water, herding animals or taking care of younger siblings, the girls go home. This obstructs the continuity of their education, particularly following elementary school.”

Read more in An Uphill Battle.



Tags: Ethiopia Education Africa Women (rights/issues) Catholic education

23 February 2012
Erin Edwards




Father Francis Eluvathingal performs a wedding ceremony at the Jyotis Care Center in Navi Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

For the January 2012 edition of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on how migrants from Kerala, India have built a church community in Mumbai. Father Francis Eluvathingal, a principal leader in this community, spoke with us about his vocation via Skype. Check it out below.



Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Priests

22 February 2012
Erin Edwards




A procession during Holy Week in Jerusalem taken in 1988. (photo: Paul Souders)

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season. It is a time of preparation for the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is also a time for reflection and sacrifice. What will you be doing this Lenten season?

CNEWA actually has a Lenten Giving Plan that may interest you. Check it out on our website.



Tags: Middle East Jerusalem Easter

21 February 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this image from November 2008, students at the Don Bosco Institute attend a welding class in the Rod el Farag neighborhood of Cairo. Some students, including those pictured here, are workers who came back to the school to enhance their skills. (Photo: Shawn Baldwin)

The economic conditions in the years following the global financial crisis have left many in need of work. In the face of widespread deleveraging and downsizing, the best that most people can do is focus on honing the skills that will make them marketable, or even able to start their own business. ONE contributor Liam Stack covered a school dedicated to this very pursuit - Egypt’s Don Bosco Institute - in his January 2009 article, Building Persons, Forming Good Citizens:

To ensure students can compete in Egypt’s rapidly changing economy, the school’s three-year curriculum focuses on vocational skills consistently in high demand. Most graduates secure employment in their respective trades upon leaving the institute, an accomplishment in which the whole Don Bosco community takes great pride.

“Almost every day we receive faxes from different mechanical and electrical firms asking us to recommend students for jobs,” said Don Riccio, headmaster. “Within two or three months of graduation, all of our students are working.”

In line with the charism of their founder, St. John Bosco — the Industrial Revolution-era Italian priest who used education to help impoverished children secure a better life — the Salesians believe education should both enrich the mind of the student and also serve as a steppingstone to a better life. In turn, a higher employment rate contributes to society’s overall economic development and benefits all members of society.

You can find the full article here.



Tags: Egypt Education Employment

17 February 2012
Erin Edwards




Sister Bellegia Shayaf, the mother superior of St. Thecla’s Convent in Maaloula, holds an orphaned girl. (photo: Mitchell Prothero)

Over the years, we have featured many stories on Christian life in Syria in the pages of ONE. With the ongoing violence and bloodshed in Aleppo, Homs and elsewhere, this beautiful image of a nun holding one of her orphaned charges from the ancient village of Maaloula serves as an important reminder of what is at stake for Syria’s Christians. Taken in 2007, this unpublished photo is from the story Echoes of Jesus From Syria’s Mountains in the May 2008 edition.



Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Village life

16 February 2012
Beth Clausnitzer




Scanned letter from an Eritrean child, dated March 18, 1986.

Recently, we received a small package in the mail that reached out and grabbed our hearts. It was an example of how love extends beyond our lifetime and is carried forward, sometimes by complete strangers.

To Whom It May Concern:

Today, I purchased a file cabinet at an estate sale at the home of a married couple in Orlando, Florida. (I learned both are now deceased.) When I brought the cabinet home and began to clean it, I found that some of the hanging files had items in them. The correspondences filed under “Orphans” touched me deeply.

I can just imagine how wonderful it was for the two young children pictured in the files to have had such loving and caring parent-sponsors, and how richly rewarding it was for the couple to be part of the children’s lives.

I simply could not discard, the photos and letters, I am therefore forwarding the file’s contents to you with the hopes that you will be able to, in turn, forward them to the two individuals, who are now adults, possibly with families of their own. What treasured memories the contents will surface for them!

Everything happens for a reason in God’s clearly defined plans for us. It was meant for me to find the file and to send it to you to forward to the beneficiaries of the couple’s generosity.

Lovingly in Christ,

A caring heart performing a random act of kindness.

The accompanying correspondences date as far back as 1983. Can you imagine how deeply this family must have loved and cherished their relationships with these children whom they had never met? The physical distance was greater than 8,000 miles, but the emotional connection was so strong the donors kept their letters and photographs for 29 years!

I wish it were possible for us to locate these now-grown children. Sadly, too much time has passed and there just aren’t enough resources to even begin such a quest. But while I am unable to locate the recipients of this family’s love, I can share their story of love with you.

May God bless this caring heart for this “random act of kindness” to remind us that love — especially God’s love — transcends both time and distance.

Beth Clausnitzer is CNEWA’s Director of Donor Services.



Tags: Children Africa Eritrea Sponsorship

15 February 2012
Erin Edwards




Hana Habshi sits in the unfinished St. Charbel’s Maronite Catholic Church in the village of Deir El Ahmar, Lebanon. (photo: Laura Boushnak)

In the January 2012 issue of ONE, Don Duncan reported on water scarcity in Lebanon and how CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, is helping to remedy the problem as well as empower the beneficiaries, such as Hana Habshi pictured above:

The project has jump-started the local economy and is helping to revitalize Deir El Ahmar. Residents have pooled money to build a new church dedicated to St. Charbel. Still under construction, the Maronite church stands on a once desolate lot. Now, a lush, landscaped lawn and garden cover the grounds. On summer afternoons, locals often gather on the cool lawn in the shadows of the church to relax and take refuge from the sun’s sweltering rays.

“Water has brought us back to the lands,” says Mr. Habshi. “It has breathed life back into the community, and now it assures the completion of our church. What’s more, now I can afford to move back from Beirut and retire here.”

The reservoir is just one of many water projects the Pontifical Mission has spearheaded in Lebanon since 1993, when it became a key nongovernmental partner in the country’s post-war reconstruction. In the early days, the agency focused on restoring damaged water systems in rural communities, to ensure clean drinking water as well as to irrigate farms. In recent years, projects also include water collection and sewage treatment.

For more, read Springs of Hope in Lebanon featured in our January 2012 issue.



Tags: Lebanon CNEWA Middle East Water Church





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