10 December 2018
Volunteer youth from the Knights of Malta Lebanon, a Catholic organization, and "Who is Hussein," a Muslim Shiite organization, as well as Girl Guides sponsored by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, gather on 8 December at the Malta health center in Beirut before heading out to decorate the homes of poor elderly. (photo: CNS/courtesy Order of Malta Lebanon)
On a gloomy, rainy Saturday morning in Beirut, 92-year-old Julia enthusiastically greeted her visitors, Christian and Muslim youth, who had come to set up a Christmas tree in her modest apartment.
“Welcome. I love you,” she said to her guests, who each greeted the beaming woman with kisses before breaking out in a chorus of “Jingle Bells.”
Julia, a Maronite Catholic, was one of 10 beneficiaries on 8 December of a Christmas tree decoration project for poor elderly that brought together Lebanese volunteers from the Knights of Malta, a Catholic organization, and “Who is Hussein,” a Muslim Shiite organization, as well as Girl Guides associated with the local St. Vincent de Paul.
Widowed for 40 years, Julia had spent her life as a homemaker. She lives with her 66-year-old unmarried son, Nicholas, who has difficulty finding work in his trade as a house painter.
There are no government-sponsored services for the needy in Lebanon. Julia is one of the beneficiaries of the Knights of Malta Lebanon’s Elderly Guardianship Program, in which the order’s youth volunteers visit the homes of elderly on a monthly basis.
And on this day, Julia was gleefully basking in the royal treatment, seated near her street-level balcony window, as her visitors enthusiastically demonstrated teamwork: assembling the tree, untangling and attaching lights and hanging brilliantly colored ornaments, singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.”
“Jesus Christ called us to bring joy to people, to help make their lives better,” 17-year-old Girl Guide Lea Chalhoub told Catholic News Service as she decorated Julia’s tree. “Lebanon is a country of Muslims and Christians living together, and so we need to work hand-in-hand to build a better society.”
“Jesus wants us to help people, especially at Christmas,” added Thea Rizkallah, age 8.
Switching to entertainment mode, some from the group danced to Christmas tunes streamed from a phone. Clapping and singing along, soon Julia could hardly contain herself, joining them for a little jig, her cane held out horizontally like a vaudeville star.
“My legs and arms are not so strong anymore,” Julia apologized, resuming her dance in a seated position, tapping her cane to the beat.
Then, choosing a shade from a mish-mash of items stored in a container beside her, Julia asked to have her nails painted. Malta volunteer Zahraa Omeiry applied the festive maroon color like a caress to each finger, as the singing continued. A neighbor, passing by on the street with groceries, stopped at the balcony window to peer in on the festivities, asking, “Is it your wedding day?” as Julia proudly showed off her nails.
Among Julia’s visitors, Zahraa and her cousin, Nour Omeiry, Shiite Muslims, recently joined the Malta group at Beirut’s Jesuit-run St. Joseph University, where they are both studying political science.
“It’s so important to help the less fortunate, to make people smile,” Nour Omeiry told Catholic News Service.
“We are all human and we have to live together,” she said of Muslim-Christian coexistence. “It’s great to bond with each other and to share something we all like to do,” she added. Like many Muslims in Lebanon, her family always observes Christmas with a small tree and a family dinner.
With a manger placed under its boughs, Julia’s tree was illuminated to great cheers, and together the young and old sang “Feliz Navidad.”
“Thanks be to God. You are better than gold,” Julia told her visitors.
Nicholas, who had quietly kept to himself on the balcony to allow his mother to solely relish in the attention, told CNS: “I’m so thankful that God has blessed us with this visit. I feel at peace when I see my mom so happy,” he added, his eyes filled with emotion.
The Knights of Malta manages a network of 30 different operations throughout Lebanon, including community health centers, mobile medical units and day care centers for the elderly.
The Lebanese chapter of “Who is Hussein” sponsors activities such as taking flowers to hospitals for the sick and poor and distributing food during the season of Ramadan and its “10 days of kindness” outreach during the feast of Ashura.
Young people from both groups also have collaborated by serving elderly poor the Iftar feast during Ramadan.
7 December 2018
Tags: Lebanon Muslim Interfaith
In this image from 2014, 80-year-old Marjik Harutyunyan was one of those struggling to get by, decades after the earthquake that devastated Armenia. To this day, countless others like her are still living in makeshift shacks erected in the aftermath of the quake. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
It was 30 years ago today that Armenia was hit by a catastrophic event — and the country’s people are still feeling the emotional and economic aftershocks:
Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri was flattened by a devastating earthquake in December 1988, taking the lives of 25,000 people, about 40 percent of whom were children. In the Western media, photographs of the ruined city — then known as Leninakan — became a source of humiliation for a crumbling Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; the quality of construction was so poor almost every building erected in Gyumri in the Soviet period was destroyed. A quarter century later, the city and its environs are shaken by a “different kind of quake.”
“This is an earthquake of life, of terrible social hardship and of moral values,” says Vahan Tumasian, who advocates for earthquake survivors’ housing rights and implements housing programs in northwestern Armenia. Even 25 years after the calamity, he adds, “poverty and homelessness are even more acute.”
…Since the earthquake, the population of Gyumri has dropped by about half. In 1988, some 220,000 people lived in the city. But by 2011 — due to the earthquake and the country’s economic collapse after it achieved independence from an unraveling Soviet Union — Gyumri’s population declined to 121,500. Many are convinced the actual number of people living in the city is less than 90,000.
According to the United Nations, Armenia is among the world’s “aging” nations. Pensioners constitute some 14 percent of the country’s 2.9 million people. In Gyumri, the average age is trending upward as more and more of the young and capable pursue employment abroad, usually Russia.
“Imagine how things stand with the frail elderly if men leave their children to go find jobs to earn their living, if unemployment is 40 percent in the city during the summer, and rises to 60 percent in the winter due to fewer seasonal jobs,” says Sister Arousiag Sajonian of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
“If the young cannot survive, how can seniors?” asks Sister Arousiag, who arrived in northwestern Armenia soon after the earthquake. She later founded the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Center in Gyumri, which since 2011 has also included a center to care for the elderly.
Observers say pensioners in northern Armenia are left alone with no caretakers for a variety of reasons. Some may have lost their children in the earthquake. Others lost their children to emigration. But alone in Gyumri exists the phenomenon of orphaned children brought by the Soviets to work in factories — orphans such as Ophelia Matevosian — who never married or created families and remain alone.
Though two of these factors find their roots in the past, one remains an ongoing concern.
“The growing migration of the young is aggravating the issue with pensioners,” says Theresa Grigorian, who heads the social affairs department of Gyumri’s municipal government. She says thousands of childless seniors now live in Gyumri, the majority of whom were orphans themselves. Between 300 and 400 have lost their children in the earthquake and more than 2,500 are now left without a caretaker because of the emigration of their surviving children.
CNEWA has been at the forefront of efforts to assist these broken men and women and give them a sense of possibility and hope.
CNEWA supports a variety of initiatives of Caritas Armenia, the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and the Ordinariate for Armenian Catholics in Armenia. Among efforts to care for the elderly, CNEWA supports the “Warm Winter” program of Caritas, which provides heating fuel to 620 pensioners living in Gyumri and in remote villages farther north, where temperatures can dip as low as 20 degrees below zero.
Read more about the remarkable spirit of these people who have survived so much and CNEWA’s work among them below. And to support efforts to give them dignity and hope, visit this link. Meantime, please lift up these people in your prayers and remember them in a special way, especially during this cold and difficult time of year.
An Unshakable Faith
Armenia’s Children, Left Behind
Shaken by the Earthquake of Life
6 December 2018
People in Byblos, Lebanon, gather around a Christmas tree on 30 November.
(photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)
5 December 2018
Dominican Sister Luma Khudher of Iraq is pictured in an early October photo in Chester, England. At a 4 December ecumenical service at Westminster Abbey, Britain's Prince Charles spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of Sister Luma, who fled ISIS but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence. (photo: CNS/Simon Caldwell)
The heir to the British throne spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of an Iraqi sister who fled Islamic State militants but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence.
Charles, Prince of Wales, described the resilience of Sister Luma Khudher, a Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, and other Iraqi refugees as a testament to the “extraordinary power of faith.”
Speaking in Westminster Abbey at a 4 December ecumenical service “to celebrate the contribution of Christians in the Middle East,” the prince recalled his “great joy” of meeting Sister Luma in England in October.
He told a congregation of more than 1,000 people how, in 2014, as extremists advanced on the Christian town of Qaraqosh, Sister Luma “got behind the wheel of a minibus crammed full of her fellow Christians and drove the long and dangerous road to safety.”
“Like the 100,000 other Christians who were forced from the Ninevah Plains by Daesh that year, they left behind the ruins of their homes and churches and the shattered remnants of their communities,” he said.
“The sister told me, movingly, of her return to Ninevah with her fellow sisters three years later, and of their despair at the utter destruction they found there,” he said. “But like so many others, they put their faith in God, and today the tide has turned -- nearly half of those displaced having gone back to rebuild their homes and their communities.”
Prince Charles said the return of Christians to Iraq represented “the most wonderful testament to the resilience of humanity, and to the extraordinary power of faith to resist even the most brutal efforts to extinguish it.”
He said that in meeting people like Sister Luma, he was repeatedly “deeply humbled and profoundly moved by the extraordinary grace and capacity for forgiveness that I have seen in those who have suffered so much.”
“It is an act of supreme courage, of a refusal to be defined by the sin against you,” he said, “of determination that love will triumph over hate.”
Christians who face persecution, endure and overcome “are an inspiration to the whole church, and to all people of goodwill.”
Sister Luma visited the United Kingdom in October as a guest of the Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians.
She speaks English, having studied at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and earning a doctorate in biblical studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, so she could describe her ordeal in detail during a private meeting with the prince.
In his address, Prince Charles also expressed his hope that Christians and Muslims will again live together in peace, saying that throughout history they have “shown that it is possible to live side by side as neighbors and friends.”
“Indeed, I know that in Lebanon, Muslims join Christians at the Shrine of our Lady of Lebanon to honor her together,” Prince Charles said. “And I know that there are Muslim faith leaders who have spoken out in defense of Christian communities and of their contribution to the region.”
“Co-existence and understanding are not just possible, therefore; they are confirmed by hundreds of years of shared experience,” he said. “Extremism and division are by no means inevitable.”
The Catholic Church was represented at the service by Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, vice president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference; Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe; and by U.S. Archbishop Edward J. Adams, papal nuncio to Great Britain. Christian leaders from the Middle East and North Africa also were in attendance.
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said that “to live in a country or in a society where a government, or an armed group, or even a minority of people consider that you should be consigned to oblivion because of your faith in Christ is an experience that is without parallel.”
“Obedience for Christians outside the Middle East and outside areas of persecution is to ensure that governments, that households, that societies welcome the afflicted, pray for the suffering, stand with those in torment, rejoice in liberation,” he said.
Read more about the remarkable work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq in ONE magazine:
4 December 2018
Tags: Iraq Dominican Sisters
The Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East gathered for its annual meeting 26-30 November in Baghdad under the theme "Youth is a Sign of Hope in the Middle East Countries." (photo: CNS/courtesy Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East)
Catholic leaders of the Middle East cautioned that the very existence of Christians in the region is threatened, but their faithful continue “to bear witness to the Lord Jesus amid a turbulent world interrupted by mighty waves.”
The Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East reminded young people: “In light of the difficulties and challenges you face in the midst of the current situation in the Middle East, and in light of the bleak migration that threatens your future and the Christian presence in the East as a whole, we stand by you. As we share the same present pain, we look forward to a bright future with your presence, and we assure you that we will work together to provide the foundations of your steadfastness and steadfastness in your land.”
The patriarchs met in Baghdad 26-30 November with the theme, “Youth Is a Sign of Hope in the Middle East Countries.”
Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of Chaldean Catholics, opened the meeting and noted that emigration and religious extremism are pressing challenges.
At a 27 November liturgy at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph, overflowing with young people who shared their questions, concerns, fears and aspirations for their future with the prelates, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said: “We live in this terrible legacy that we have inherited in recent years. Today, many people want to leave because of the difficulties and pain created by takfiri terrorism and external interference.”
However, Patriarch Younan exhorted, “If we want to be faithful and faithful to our fathers and grandfathers, we must remain steadfast despite all the challenges.”
The patriarchs also concelebrated the liturgy on 26 November at the Syriac Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad, marking the attack there eight years ago in which two young priests and 45 believers were martyred.
In their final statement, the patriarchs called upon Iraq’s officials “to work hand in hand to renew the country and its development.”
The patriarchs also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih, who was received by Pope Francis at the Vatican on 24 November. The president told the prelates that he had invited the pope to visit Iraq.
Regarding Syria, the patriarchs expressed satisfaction “with the stability in most parts of the country, where life has returned to normal, hoping that this will include stability in all of Syria.” They appealed “to all decision-makers to work hard for the return” of displaced people and refugees, which they stressed “will have a profound impact” on maintaining national unity “so that Syria will remain the land of peace, freedom and dignity.”
In their statement, the Middle East patriarchs affirmed their solidarity with Palestine and its people “who still groan under the occupation and long for the dawn of salvation and independence.” They called upon the international community to “recognize the Palestinian state within the framework of the two states and the return of Palestinian refugees to their lands.”
They also urged respect for religious minorities, adding, “The truth, as Pope Benedict XVI warns us, is that ‘peace and justice in our world cannot be achieved if religious freedoms are not respected for all.’“
3 December 2018
Tags: Iraq Middle East
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greets Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican on 3 December. (photo: CNS/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)
Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas renewed their commitment to peace in the Holy Land and a two-state solution to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the Vatican said.
The pope welcomed President Abbas to the Vatican on 3 December and the two spoke privately for 20 minutes.
In a statement released after their meeting, the Vatican said the two leaders focused on “efforts to reactivate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and to reach a two-state solution, hoping for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community to meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”
Pope Francis and Abbas also discussed the status of Jerusalem and underlined “the importance of recognizing and preserving its identity and the universal value of the holy city for the three Abrahamic religions.”
Tensions over the city rose again in December 2017 after President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.
The announcement sparked anti-U.S. protests throughout Asia and the Middle East and drew warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States’ long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.
Abbas presented the pope with a painting of the Old City of Jerusalem and said, “This represents the spirit of the Old City of Jerusalem.”
He also gave the pope a book titled, “Two Lands of Holiness,” a historical book about the Holy Land and Vatican City as well as hand-carved wooden panel.
The pope gave the president a commemorative medallion depicting St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1600s and a copy of his 2018 message for the World Day of Peace.
“It is from this year and I signed it with today’s date,” the pope said as he gave him the message.
Taking his leave, Abbas warmly embraced the pope, who thanked the Palestinian president for visiting.
“I am happy about this meeting,” Abbas replied. “We are counting on you.”
30 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Palestine
Now 8-months-old, little Mariam is thriving and healthy after being treated for a hole in her heart. (photo: CNEWA)
In May, we told you about a CNEWA success story from Jordan, 2-month-old Mariam:
Before Mariam was born, her parents came to CNEWA, looking for help. The mother was older, and it was clear she needed a Caesarean delivery. The CNEWA staff directed the family to the Italian Hospital, supported by CNEWA in Amman, and helped pay for the surgery.
The delivery went well, but the doctors discovered that Mariam has a small hole in her heart. She is being treated with drugs and, in time, it is hoped the hole will close and Mariam will have a long life.
This week, Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director in Amman, sent along the picture shown above, with an update:
This is her second visit to our CNEWA office. Mariam and her father stopped by for the distribution of the Christmas food tickets for Iraqi families.
She is healthy and gorgeous.
We’re delighted to share that news with our readers — and grateful, as always, for the generosity of our CNEWA family that continues to make stories like this one possible.
29 November 2018
A nun and patients pray during Mass in the St. Louis Hospital chapel in Jerusalem. Read about how this place has become An Oasis of Compassion in the September 2012 edition of ONE.
(photo: Debbie Hill)
28 November 2018
In Ukraine, seminarians share duties in tending the greenhouse at the academy in Uzhorod. Learn more about how young men are answering the call to the priesthood in Ukraine and coming Out From Underground in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Oleg Grigoryev)
27 November 2018
Tags: Ukraine Vocations (religious)
Workers decorate the Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on 26 November. The tree comes from the northern Italian region of Veneto. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)