3 October 2018
Diana Babish poses with a puppy outside her animal shelter in Beit Sahour, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
God gives everyone a mission, Diana George Babish said as she fielded a phone call about a dog who had been shot in Hebron. The mission God gave her is to take care of the abused and abandoned animals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, she said.
“God is pushing me to do this work. I believe it is something sacred,” said Babish, who uses an image of St. Francis surrounded by animals for her online profile.
Babish, a Catholic, admitted that it is not an easy mission in a place where, traditionally, society gives little importance to treating animals with compassion and routinely considers government-approved shooting and poisoning of stray animals as the best solution to population control.
“It is very difficult for me with the culture here; it is a very closed mentality,” she said. She spoke to Catholic News Service as she was trying to coordinate the injured dog’s transportation to her animal shelter in Beit Sahour, a village adjacent to Bethlehem.
“They continue to poison and shoot dogs because they don’t consider their lives to be of value.”
Her day began with the rescue of a 3-week-old puppy who was being kicked around like a ball by a group of schoolboys.
A few years ago, she traveled to Assisi, Italy, and she said she continues to draw strength for her work from the pilgrimage.
“Until now the pigeons still stay on his statue,” she said. “If God did not want anyone to take care of animals, he would not have given that mission to St. Francis.”
Last year Babish, who is in her late 40s, quit her day job as a bank manager to dedicate herself full time to running the first animal shelter in the West Bank, the Animal and Environment Association—Bethlehem Palestine, which she established in 2013.
In addition to $13,700 she received in donations, Babish used $20,000 of her own money to build the shelter. Currently it is run solely on donations and other forms of assistance, some of which also come from Israeli animal rescue organizations and individuals. Many of the dogs and cats she has rescued have been adopted or are being fostered by Israelis. By early October, she had rescued more than 400 dogs and more than 100 cats from the streets of West Bank cities. Recently she sent 15 dogs for adoption to Canada.
Babish has many critics within Palestinian society, including members of her own family, who complain that she is working with Israelis and spending her efforts on animals rather than people. Some charge her with profiting from the donations she receives, she said.
Still, Babish brushes off the insults and accusations thrown at her.
“If we had vets here in Palestine who had the proper equipment and treatments to care for the animals, or people who would adopt the dogs, I would leave them here. But Palestinians don’t want street dogs, most only want pure-bred dogs,” she said. “We in the rescue community put aside politics for the well-being of the animals. I tell (my critics) God gives each one of us our mission, and there are a lot of organizations taking care of people. My mission is to take care of the animals, the most vulnerable beings in the world.”
It was close to 9:30 p.m. and she had not yet eaten her dinner. She was working out the logistics of how to take three puppies and one adult dog to their foster homes in central Israel, then take other animals to a veterinary clinic to be treated and neutered. She also was preparing travel papers for a cat who was to be flown to her new home in Sweden.
Babish has 11 board members, 13 general members and two workers who help her in the day-to-day work at the shelter. Slowly she is making inroads into changing societal views about animals and rescue, she said.
The reality of life as a Palestinian is never far, though, and Babish must have an Israeli travel permit to go into Israel. She and a driver make rounds in Israel several times a week.
“A lot of (Palestinians) start to see that animals are very important. I am raising awareness through Facebook, fighting animal abuse,” she said. Some of her posts have received 14,000 views, she said. “Step-by-step I am creating more soldiers to fight for the sake of animals.”
2 October 2018
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Saints
Some 500 members of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary sing the group's anthem on 30 September at St. Joseph School in Cornet Chewan, Lebanon, during the annual commemoration of the Marian group. (photo: CNS/courtesy Congregation of the Youth of Mary)
Church youth groups provide an escape from life’s pressures and help in forming strong friendships, young Lebanese Catholics said at the annual meeting of their Marian group.
Under the theme, “Mary is Our Captain,” some 500 members of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary met on 30 September at St. Joseph School in Cornet Chahwan, north of Beirut.
Celebrating Mass for the gathering, Maronite Bishop Michel Aoun of Jbeil urged the young people “to be like eagles,” to rise up above the world and to keep their eyes on Jesus.
“That’s how the Christian life should be,” he said.
“You were chosen by God to be a light. You can be a witness to others who don’t know Jesus,” Bishop Aoun said, noting the 3-28 October Synod of Bishops to discuss “young people, the faith and vocational discernment” at the Vatican.
After the Mass, Christine Zaghrini, 27, told Catholic News Service: “This group is my escape. It’s a place where I meet God.”
“With all the chaos and stress we face, it’s easy to ‘lose’ God. But I know that on the day we have our weekly meeting ... I can be refreshed in my faith,” said Zaghrini, who works in information technology.
“I feel the presence of the Lord when I’m with this group,” Zaghrini said. “The church listens to us. The church helps us,” and young people need its support, she said.
The Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary has membership for young people, ages 20-35, in 17 regions throughout Lebanon, with around 1,200 members in 121 local groups. The organization also has groups for children, teens and adults over 35.
“I grew up in this group,” said Nassib Achkar, 25, a talent agent. “I have good friends here, and I found a special love and bond, like brothers and sisters.”
Working in the entertainment industry, Achkar often encounters atheists and people with little faith, he said.
“They are lost. Sometimes they make fun of me,” he said, noting that his faith is “something they can’t understand.”
“I feel I have a responsibility to be a witness. God put me in this profession for a reason, to help people to believe,” Achkar said.
Joe Allam, 26, in his first year as a seminarian, told CNS that the youth fraternities helped him to discover his vocation.
After all the spiritual retreats, “I could hear Jesus talking to me and inviting me to this road,” he said, noting that “when you are close to Jesus ... you become familiar with his voice.”
“Every young man and woman has to know that their church has a past, and the older generation should feel assured that the church has a future -- we are the future of the church,” Allam said.
Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop Aoun was the Rev. Marcellino Assaf, who was ordained in September and heard his calling to the priesthood as a member of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary.
Bishop Aoun told the young people it is every Christian’s vocation “to be a message of life and love.”
Families and work “should be a means to gain the kingdom of God, so that God is the only constant in your life,” he said, noting that through Mary’s help, “everything you do can lead you to God.”
Especially with the synod happening in the same month, it is good to see Lebanese youth “gathering with such joy and enthusiasm,” Msgr. Ivan Santos, charge d’affaires of the Vatican Embassy in Lebanon, told Catholic News Service.
“They are the hope of Lebanon,” he said.
Msgr. Santos urged the young people to follow Pope Francis’ call to pray the rosary each day in October.
“Young people, you are the answer for the church and for your country,” he said.
1 October 2018
Tags: Lebanon Beirut
A sister cares for a young patient at Maison du Sacre Coeur, a Catholic institution that serves the needs of specially challenged children in Haifa. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In an address to the participants of the Seminar on Ethics in Health, Pope Francis stressed the importance of forming a bond of humanity between health care workers and their patients. The conference, from 1-5 October, is sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and led by Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Bochatey of La Plata, Argentina, and the Health Consensus Foundation, an Argentina-based organization comprised of local and international health care providers, according to the conference website.
From Vatican Media:
Pope Francis based his speech around 3 key words: miracle, care and trust. These three words are very valuable in a world in which health in general “and particularly in Latin America, is living through an era marked by the economic crisis”, said the Pope.
With regards to the first word, “miracle,” the Pope said, “Those responsible for the institutions will tell me, and rightfully so, that we cannot perform miracles.” But, he explained, a miracle is not doing the impossible. A miracle is looking at an ill, helpless person and seeing a brother.
The Pope explained that, “we are called upon to recognize the immense value of every person’s dignity, as a human being, as a son of God.”
The second word: “care.” Because curing an ill person does not simply involve applying pharmaceuticals. “We know that when someone who is terminally ill is in serene, human company, they perceive this solidarity,” the pope said. “Even in these difficult cases, when the person can feel such love, respect and acceptance, the value of their being becomes their capability to give and receive love, not their productivity.”
The final word is “trust.” Pope Francis’ first example is “the trust the ill person has in themselves, that they will get better.” Of no less importance is the worker, who must be able to work in a serene atmosphere, in trusted surroundings. ”Placing yourself in the hands of someone else, especially when your life is at risk, is very difficult” said Pope Francis.
“We must fight to keep this deeply human bond whole” said Pope Francis. “No aid institution alone can take the place of a human heart, nor that of human compassion,” he said, quoting Pope Saint John Paul II.
28 September 2018
Tags: Health Care
A Bedouin family picks cherries in an orchard in Deir El Ahmar. (photo: Laura Boushnak)
In 2012, we visited a corner of Lebanon that was flourishing, thanks to a reservoir and irrigation system CNEWA helped to provide:
The presence of water gave us a means to stay here,” says 65-year-old Hana Habshi, a resident of the Maronite Catholic town of Deir El Ahmar. The once-bustling agricultural hub nestles on the slopes of the fertile Bekaa Valley, about 60 miles northeast of Beirut, where Mr. Habshi has lived and worked since the height of civil war in the 1980’s. But for the past decade, thanks to several irrigation projects, Mr. Habshi has returned to his hometown every summer to farm his family’s ancestral lands. “It helped us come back and live off the land again.”
Lebanon’s civil war — which ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990 — destroyed much of the nation’s infrastructure, including its irrigation systems, and sounded the death knell for the Bekaa Valley’s agricultural economy.
Without reliable sources of water, and subsequent erosion, farmers could no longer cultivate the land that formerly nourished lush fields and bountiful yields. Desperate for work, inhabitants moved to Lebanon’s major coastal cities, such as Beirut, Saida and Tripoli. Some left the country altogether. The few who remained scraped by as sustenance farmers, growing crops that require little water such as wheat, hay and, in some cases, hashish.
Deir El Ahmar, like most settlements in the area, remains but a shadow of its former self. Its many empty homes and crumbling public buildings remind locals and visitors of a more prosperous past. Though municipal authorities register some 10,000 residents, in reality half as many actually live there — and only then in the summer months. In winter, the town’s population plunges to little more than 3,000.
However, in the last ten years, Deir El Ahmar has been slowly but surely bucking the trend. Locals attribute this reversal to one thing — water. Since 1999, when the town installed its first irrigation system drawing on natural spring water, residents such as Mr. Habshi have been trickling back to town and reviving their parched properties and the Christian identity of the town.
“Before it was all just trees and shrubs, but look what happens when water comes,” says Mr. Habshi, pointing to the surrounding hillsides and valley below.
Read more about Springs of Hope in Lebanon in the January 2012 edition of ONE.
27 September 2018
Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu, left, attends 5:30 morning prayer in the chapel of her convent in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Read more about the life of this religious sister in A Letter from Ethiopia in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
26 September 2018
Lebanon's Our Lady of Kaftoun (Deir Saydet Kaftoun) Monastery in Kaftoun is pictured in this 2013 photo. Now the land of the cedars is accessible virtually, via a free app in English -- called Holy Lebanon -- aimed at promoting religious tourism. (photo: CNS /courtesy Nour Farra Haddad)
From its high majestic mountains, picturesque villages and coastal towns to its bustling cities, Lebanon is rich in breathtaking scenery, cultural diversity and religious sites.
Now the land of the cedars mentioned in the Bible 96 times is accessible virtually, via a free app in English -- called Holy Lebanon -- aimed at promoting religious tourism.
“Even if you can’t come to Lebanon to visit, you can download the app and have an idea about different religious sites around the country,” Nour Farra Haddad, developer of the Holy Lebanon app, told Catholic News Service.
“Holy Lebanon,” introduced in June, was followed in July with an announcement from the Vatican that it will authorize official pilgrimage visits to Lebanon in 2019.
The multifaith app features 300 religious sites, representative of all of Lebanon’s 18 religious traditions, including Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim. The sites include churches, monasteries, convents, shrines and sanctuaries as well as mosques, many dating back centuries ago.
“It is just a beginning,” Farra Haddad said, noting that more sites will be added to the Holy Lebanon app in the future.
While the app took two years to develop, it is based on Farra Haddad’s 10 years of research as a religious anthropologist.
Lebanon, about two-thirds the size of Connecticut, is visibly steeped in religion.
“This is something that really surprises people: We have about 6,000 religious sites all around Lebanon,” Farra Haddad said, although she notes that no formal comprehensive survey of the exact number of sites has been compiled.
“Because Lebanon is considered an Arab country, sometimes people assume it’s a Muslim country only or that it’s related to the Islamic world, but Christianity was born in this area,” Farra Haddad said.
“I think people who have a curiosity about the Holy Land forget that South Lebanon is a part of the Holy Land where Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary walked,” Farra Haddad said, referring to Sidon and Tyre. “There is no doubt about that.”
In Lebanon, Christians account for approximately 40 percent of the population.
The country’s president is a Maronite Catholic, and half of the country’s 128 parliamentary seats are reserved for Christians.
Lebanon has approximately 900 religious sites dedicated to Mary, according to the app. That’s not counting informal shrines, thousands of which dot the country near buildings and roadsides.
Aside from the sites of Lebanon’s native saints -- Charbel, Rafka and Hardini -- which are visited by Christians and Muslims, St. George is the most popular saint, with 350 Christian sites and about 20 Muslim sites.
Western saints -- including Sts. Francis of Assisi, Rita, Bernadette of Lourdes and Therese of Lisieux -- also hold a special place in believers’ hearts, and churches and sanctuaries dedicated to them can be found throughout Lebanon.
By far the most popular pilgrimage site is the Our Lady of Lebanon shrine and basilica -- Harissa -- perched high above the Mediterranean Sea. Each year more the shrine receives than 2 million pilgrims, Muslims and Christians alike, as Mary is venerated by Muslims, and a full chapter is devoted to her in the Quran.
“It’s very important to let people around the world know that there are Christians in Lebanon,” the Rev. Khalil Alwan, vice rector of Harissa, told CNS.
Maronite Father Alwan said it is fitting that Muslim sites are included in the app.
“In Lebanon, Christians and Muslims coexist. This is the mission of Lebanon. That’s what John Paul II said,” he emphasized, referring to the saint’s quote: “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”
“Lebanon is a holy land for Muslims and Christians,” Father Alwan added.
The Holy Lebanon app also happens to coincide with Harissa’s yearlong commemoration of the Marian shrine’s jubilee, 110 years since the shrine was inaugurated in 1908. Until 4 August 2019, pilgrims to the Marian shrine can receive an indulgence offered by the Vatican.
Farra Haddad pointed out that the Holy Lebanon app was designed for friendly navigation. “It’s not complicated, and the menu is easy,” she said, adding that elderly people have told her the app is simple to use.
From anywhere in the world, the Holy Lebanon app can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play.
Navigating between the six sections of the app, users can access historical details about each of the 300 religious sites; background about the saint or holy figure; details about Christian and Muslim rituals; a calendar of feast days and celebrations; suggested itineraries for tours; and lodging possibilities at monasteries and convents.
25 September 2018
French Bishop Nicolas Brouwet of Tarbes and Lourdes, in blue vestment, holds a candle during a vigil with Arab clergy, including retired Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, second from left, and retired Auxiliary Bishop Salim Sayegh of Jerusalem, at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Naour, Jordan. (photo: CNS/Osama Toubasi, courtesy abouna.org)
Mary makes people grow in Christ and “shows us the way to permanent communion with the church,” the bishop of Lourdes, France, told Catholic clergy and faithful gathered in this town with a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes.
“The Virgin Mary always leads us to Christ and makes our way to the kingdom of God. The Virgin Mary paves the way for us to the Lord, as if she also says that she is not always the focus of our attention, for she said in Cana ...: ‘Do whatever He tells you to do,’“ Bishop Nicolas Brouwet of Tarbes and Lourdes told people gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Naour on 21 September.
The bishop noted that when Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in France in 1858: “Bernadette was afraid of the apparition. She tried to make the sign of the cross, but she could not. Yet, after the Virgin Mary herself made the sign of the cross, Bernadette was able to do so, as if (Mary) were telling Bernadette: ‘Fear not, Christ is present in our midst. I was sent by the Holy Trinity.’
“The second thing that the Virgin Mary did during the apparition is that she did not speak and remained silent while smiling. Sometimes silence between two people is more expressive than talking. It indicates profound trust,” he said.
“The Virgin Mary respected this silent step toward Bernadette, and just made a smile,” he said. “Imagine this smile. It expressed a lot of confidence. The smile was the open door that paved the way for a new relationship. When we smile, everything becomes possible, and it becomes a sign of mental and emotional openness. When the Virgin Mary smiled, she revealed life in the kingdom of God and the life of grace toward God.”
Bishop Brouwet reminded people that St. Bernadette was “poor and sick ... illiterate and was not familiar with Christian education.”
Despite St. Bernadette’s weakness, he said, Mary “showed respect for her and viewed her as a very important person.” Mary does this to everyone, he added.
Among those present for the bishop’s homily were Bishop William Shomali, Latin patriarchal vicar for Jordan; retired Jerusalem Patriarch Fouad Twal; retired Auxiliary Bishop Salim Sayegh of Jerusalem; and Msgr. Mauro Lalli, first counselor for apostolic nunciature in Amman, Jordan.
Priests and deacons from the Latin, Melkite, Maronite and Chaldean Catholic churches as well as nuns from various congregations also attended the accompanying Mass.
24 September 2018
Tags: Jordan Mary
In this image from 2016, Abraham George, an Ethiopian Catholic, carries the cross during the Sunday Divine Liturgy in Bahir Dar. Priests, bishops, religious and lay people from Ethiopia, Eritrea and other East Africa countries are planning a Synod of Bishops, set to take place next month at the Vatican. (photo: James Jeffrey)
Due to its impact on young Catholics in Africa, fundamentalism will be a topic that bishops from East Africa prioritize in their talks with other delegates during the synod’s intervention sessions.
More than 300 delegates, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, sisters and laypeople are expected to attend the 3-28 October Synod of Bishops, which will meet at the Vatican to discuss “young people, faith and vocational discernment.”
Bishops from the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa also will take to the synod topics such as young people as protagonists, the training of spiritual directors and holistic formation in Catholic schools and universities.
Known by its acronym AMECEA, the group includes the bishops’ conferences of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, Djibouti and Somalia.
Maryknoll Rev. Joseph Healey, a facilitator at AMECEA’s preparatory meeting on the synod, said young Catholics in Africa want their peers to run their small Christian communities.
“A survey we have carried out in the AMECEA region and beyond in Africa has shown that our young people ... are no longer comfortable” in small Christian communities run by adult Catholics, he told Catholic News Service on 17 September. “They are today calling for the formation of their own [communities].”
Father Emmanuel Chimombo of Malawi, AMECEA pastoral coordinator, told CNS on 18 September that the 12 bishops at the Nairobi meeting also discussed integral education and formation in Catholic institutions, the digital world and its impact on young people, and situations of war, violence and young migrants.
The meeting also addressed uncertainty, hope, fear and unemployment, enjoyment of the liturgy and the vocational status of single persons with no particular consecration, he said.
The bishops considered these and other topics after they had deliberated extensively on the synod’s “instrumentum laboris” (“working document”), Father Chimombo said.
Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Ethiopian Catholic Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, Archbishop Tarcisius Ziyaye of Lilongwe, Malawi, and Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri, Kenya, are among the delegates from the East African region who will attend the synod.
The AMECEA meeting took place with financial support from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
21 September 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Eritrea
Pope Francis greets participants in a Vatican conference on battling xenophobia and racism.
(photo: Vatican Media)
Thursday, Pope Francis imparted a message of inclusion and tolerance for human rights, and warned against the rise of racism around the world:
Pope Francis warned that attitudes that many thought were a thing of the past — such as racism — are on the rise again and can lead to intolerant and discriminating behavior and policies and he urged politicians to avoid exploiting fear against those seeking refuge and better lives in our countries.
He was addressing participants at a just-ended Rome-based conference “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” at the Vatican on Thursday.
“We are living in times in which feelings that many thought had passed are taking new life and spreading,” Pope Francis said to the over 200 participants of an international conference on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of World Migrations.”
In his message that marked the conclusion of the event promoted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, by the World Council of Churches and by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, the Pope reflected on how, in our globalized world, there appears to be an upsurge of ”feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups judged for their ethnic, national or religious identity and, as such, considered not sufficiently worthy of being fully part of society’s life.”
Such sentiments, he warned, “all too often inspire real acts of intolerance, discrimination or exclusion.”
20 September 2018
Tags: Ecumenism Migrants Dialogue
In this image from August, a religious sister helps a man who has been displaced by interethnic violence in Ethiopia. Thousands have been impacted by the ongoing crisis in the country, and the church is responding. To lend your support, visit this page. (photo: CNEWA)