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Volume 45, Number 3
25 October 2011
Erin Edwards

A little girl at the nursery the Nirmala Dasi sisters run in Dharavi, a slum in the center of Mumbai. The children there are mainly from families that have working mothers. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Saturday in Mumbai, 285 girls participated in a district renaming ceremony, which aims to “give the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls.”

The girls — wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair — lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small flower bouquets from Satara district officials in Maharashtra state.

In shedding names like “Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” which mean “unwanted” in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars like “Aishwarya” or Hindu goddesses like “Savitri.” Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as “Vaishali” or “prosperous, beautiful and good.”

“Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy,” said a 15-year-old girl who had been named Nakusa by a grandfather disappointed by her birth. She chose the new name “Ashmita,” which means “very tough” or “rock hard” in Hindi.

We recently reported on life in Mumbai in the July issue of ONE. The Nirmala Dasi Sisters in Mumbai work with the poor, the marginalized and children. One priest explains:

“The sisters have been in Dharavi for over 20 years. Their commitment has never wavered. And from that, we as an eparchy have gained confidence and expanded our social services throughout Mumbai. It’s worked out well and has been an excellent boost to the eparchy. We never got enmity from anyone.

“And we’ve learned a lot of things from them — involvement in the community, simplicity, commitment. They get up and do it,” adds the priest.

Five days a week, the sisters operate a nursery school and day care center that enrolls more than 60 children with working parents. The center offers meals and a structured program of educational activities. It has earned a reputation as the best day care provider around; even Dharavi’s more affluent families clamor to register their children on its long waiting list.

For more from this story see, ‘Slumdog’ Sisters by Peter Lemieux and for more about the renaming ceremony in Mumbai see, Name changers: 285 Indian girls no longer 'unwanted' on

Tags: India Children

25 October 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

From the left: Thomas Varghese, CNEWA Vice President for India and Northeast Africa;
Monsignor John Kozar, CNEWA President; Bishop Vincent Mar Paulos of the Syro-Malankara
Catholic Church of Marthandam; and Father Sunny Mathew Kavuvila. (photo: Erin Edwards)

Yesterday, Vincent Mar Paulos, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Bishop of Marthandam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, paid a visit to Monsignor John Kozar at our offices in New York.

The jovial, 48-year-old bishop talked about a man who helped make his vocation possible, a CNEWA donor from Grafton, Ohio.

A.G., said the bishop, has supported more than 16 seminarians through CNEWA. Two of them have even become bishops in the Syro-Malankara Church, which numbers some 420,000 Malankara Catholics, most of whom live in southern India.

A.G. is “a lovely man and a real missionary,” said the bishop. “His wealth is the men he has assisted in their formation as priests.”

Tags: India Priests Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Bishops Sponsorship

24 October 2011
J.D. Conor Mauro

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai spoke to reporters at
our office in New York last week. (photo: Erin Edwards)

Last week, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai held a press conference at CNEWA’s headquarters. Since then, several news publications have released articles documenting his hour-long talk.

Writing for Catholic News Services, Beth Griffin reports:

[The patriarch] said the church does “not side with any government or regime,” but asks whoever is in power to respect the rights of the people and guarantee freedom of speech, religion and conscience.

Patriarch Rai said that in Lebanon, 18 distinct religious groups live together, “not in ghettoes.” He said Lebanon is a sign of hope for peoples of the region, and “the church in Lebanon is considered a guarantee for the Christian presence for that part of the world.”

In a detailed piece for the National Catholic Reporter, Tom Gallagher spotlights the following statements by Patriarch Bechara:

“We want to see a Middle East renewed in its respect of human rights and dignity, especially for her minorities. We want to see people electing democratic governments and holding them accountable. ...

“It is important to point out the role the Christians played in upholding democratic principles, freedoms and human rights in the Middle East. This is why a Christian presence there should be safeguarded and strengthened,” he said.

As part of his prepared remarks, Rai also spoke strongly for Palestinian refugees and said Israel needs to withdraw from parts of Lebanon.

“I ask the world community to commit itself to implementing the U.N. Resolutions concerning Lebanon in a direct way, such as 1701, which requires Israel to withdraw from the village of Ghajar, the Shebaa Farms and the hills of Kfar Shuba, and to refrain from violating Lebanese sovereignty,” he said.

The National Catholic Reporter piece is of particular interest; not only does Mr. Gallagher summarize the patriarch's address, but he goes as far as to conclude with a transcript of the event.

The full articles can be found by following their respective links: National Catholic Reporter and Catholic News Service. Other links of interest might include our previous blog entry and our Picture of the Day capturing a scene from the event.

Tags: Lebanon Middle East Interreligious Christian-Muslim relations Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter

24 October 2011
Erin Edwards

A young girl prays at St. Gayane Church in Etchmiadzin, Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

Photojournalist Armineh Johannes has documented the rich history and traditions of Christian life in Armenia for CNEWA for over 15 years. The seventh century church St. Gayane, featured in the photo above, is located in Etchmiadzin, the religious center of Armenia. In this story from our May 2008 issue of the magazine Paul Rimple explored Armenia’s “spiritual core”:

“Etchmiadzin is the spirit and soul of Armenians,” said Father Mkrtich Proshian, dean of the Vaskenian Theological Seminary, which overlooks the shore of Armenia’s Lake Sevan.

“It keeps the diaspora spiritually alive and is the heart of the nation.”

At once referring to the world’s oldest cathedral and a complex of structures — ancient, medieval and modern — Etchmiadzin echoes sanctity and stability. The complex houses the administrative offices of the Armenian Apostolic Church and functions as the repository of its cultural and spiritual heritage. Located west of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, Etchmiadzin enjoys renewed celebrity in post-Soviet Armenia. Yet, it faces daunting challenges as the church struggles to redefine itself in this resource poor and geopolitically fragile country.

“The fact that it was built with stone from Mount Ararat is very symbolic,” continued the priest. Armenians have revered the region’s highest peak for more than three millennia, once believing Ararat to be the home of their pantheon of gods. Here, Noah’s ark rested after the great flood and here God offered his covenant to Noah. Though Ararat remains a national symbol, the mountain lies across the country’s border, in what is now Turkey — a fact that inspires great sorrow among Armenians.

For more from this story see, Where God Descended by Paul Rimple with photographs by Armineh Johannes.

Tags: Children Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church

21 October 2011
Greg Kandra

CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, left, and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai, right, listen to a reporter’s question during yesterday’s news conference at CNEWA’s New York headquarters. (Photo: Erin Edwards)

To end the week, we offer another glimpse at Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai’s visit to CNEWA yesterday.

It was his first trip to the United States from Lebanon since his election earlier this year. You can find a report about his visit to our offices at this link, along with the full text of his remarks.

And to view a slideshow from the press conference, just click on the image at the top of this post.

Tags: Unity Ecumenism Interreligious Maronite Church Maronite Catholic

21 October 2011
J.D. Conor Mauro

Yesterday, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, released a message to Hindus preparing to celebrate the feast of Deepavali (often contracted to Diwali). In his remarks, Cardinal Tauran applauds the values celebrated in this festival and asserts that religious freedom is an essential component of peaceful coexistence. The Vatican Information Services site reports:

... The message, which also bears the signature of Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, secretary of the pontifical council, is entitled: "Christians and Hindus: Together in Promoting Religious Freedom". Deepavali celebrates the victory of truth over falsehood, of light over darkness, of life over death, of good over evil. The celebrations, which begin this year on 26 October, last three days and mark the beginning of a new year, a time for family reconciliation, especially among brothers and sisters, and adoration of the divine.

Religious freedom, the text reads, currently takes "center stage in many places, calling our attention to those members of our human family exposed to bias, prejudice, hate propaganda, discrimination and persecution on the basis of religious affiliation. Religious freedom is the answer to religiously motivated conflicts in many parts of the world. Amid the violence triggered by these conflicts, many desperately yearn for peaceful coexistence and integral human development."

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is a dicastery (department) of the Roman Curia that strives tirelessly to achieve three central goals. The council’s profile on the Vatican website summarizes them thus:

  1. to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of others religious traditions;
  2. to encourage the study of religions;
  3. to promote the formation of persons dedicated to dialogue.

The VIS article in full can be found here. For the full text of Cardinal Tauran's message, click here.

Tags: Interreligious Hindu Hinduism Christian-Hindu relations

20 October 2011
Greg Kandra

Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai of Antioch speaking at press conference at CNEWA offices.
(photo: Erin Edwards)

The head of the world’s Maronite Catholics, Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai, held a press conference at CNEWA’s headquarters in New York City this morning as part of his first pastoral visit to the United States since his election in Lebanon last March.

During his hour-long briefing, the patriarch spoke of his desire to seek dialogue and consensus with other religions, and expressed his hope that the “Arab Spring” will be “a real spring … that will lead to greater freedom and democracy.”

In an opening statement, he also asked for the world to “remain vigilant” as change sweeps over the Middle East.

“The church abhors the use of violence to meet any goal,” he said. “Violence can never be justified. We want to see a Middle East renewed in its respect of human rights and dignity, especially for minorities. We want to see people electing democratic governments and holding them accountable. It is important to point out the role the Christians played in upholding democratic principles, freedoms and human rights in the Middle East. This is why a Christian presence there should be safeguarded and the role of Christians strengthened.”

You can read the full text of the patriarch’s remarks here, and watch the video below.

Tags: Unity Ecumenism Interreligious Maronite Church Maronite Catholic

20 October 2011
Erin Edwards

Anna Valavanal (left) and her sister, Irin, visit the Deivadan sisters and residents in Thankamany. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

In the July 2010 issue of ONE Peter Lemieux reported on the fearless work of the Deivadan Sisters in Kerala, India and the community that stands with them:

Siji Valavanal and her two daughters visit the Deivadan Home in Thankamany, in the Idukki District, a few afternoons each week. Established four years ago, the home takes in abandoned elderly women. On those days, Mrs. Valavanal picks up her daughters, 5-year-old Anna and 12-year-old Irin, from school and takes them to the market, where they purchase sacks of rice, tapioca, vegetables and other staples. They then head over to the Deivadan Home, knock on the door and offer the groceries. But more important for Mrs. Valavanal, she and her daughters stay awhile and visit with some of the residents.

Anna, wearing a bright pink-checkered dress, and Irin, wearing a pretty green dress, approach the bedside of a reclining resident. The frail woman sits up, reaches her hands out and clutches Irin’s hands. Irin smiles. She then gently caresses Anna’s cheeks. Anna blushes. The elderly woman beams.

On any given day, visitors drop in unannounced. Some bring sacks of rice, while others offer financial support. Together, as a community, they keep afloat these homes for the abandoned elderly. Some, such as Mrs. Valavanal and her daughters, have adopted the residents as additional parents and grandparents and stop by regularly.

“We’re happy when we come here. We sit and enjoy their company, feel their pain and hear their problems,” explains Mrs. Valavanal.

“Nowadays, society is always looking at the top level, not the low levels. Most people want to make relations with those with status, not to serve those in need. I want to create in my daughters’ minds the desire to serve others,” she says, echoing the wisdom of Father Kaippenplackal’s mother. For that lesson, Mrs. Valavanal could not have found her daughters better teachers than the Deivadan Sisters.

For more from this story, see, Fearless Grace by Peter Lemieux.

Tags: India Sisters Caring for the Elderly

19 October 2011
Sami El-Yousef

In this photo taken from the playground of the Latin Patriarchate School in Ain Arik, you can see the Latin parish church on the left and the minaret of the local mosque on the right.

In our effort to visit towns and villages in the West Bank where there is a strong Christian presence — especially where there are a few vibrant institutions of the church serving the local communities — we paid a visit recently to the town of Ain Arik, a few kilometers to the West of Ramallah. The town has about 1,700 inhabitants, 33% of whom are Christians. Despite the fact that Christians are no longer in the majority, by presidential decree the head of the local council must be a Christian and the majority of seats in the council are reserved to Christians. Ain Arik is similar in this regard to 10 other locations on the West Bank where the mayor or head of the local council must be a Christian to ensure there is good Christian representation at various levels of the government. The other 9 locations are Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Ramallah, Zababdeh, Aboud, Jifna, Birzeit, and Taybeh.

This was a wonderful visit for many reasons. Ain Arik has not witnessed any major waves of emigration of its Christian population in recent years, except for a few young families who moved to other parts of the West Bank for better job opportunities. Land ownership of Christian families seems to be stable, and most importantly, the relations between the Christians and Muslims in the town are nothing but exemplary. Everyone we met was proud to highlight this and how the two communities have great respect for each other and live like a one big family. They described in detail the traditions the town has developed during religious holidays, both Christian and Muslim, and during weddings and funerals. In particular, the local custom followed to this day is that when a Muslim family loses a loved one, the Christians of the town provide the food to feed the many mourners. The reverse is also true: when a Christian family loses a loved one, it is the Muslim women that do the cooking to feed their Christian neighbors in mourning. What a way to build community together and nurture common respect.

Though we have not provided any grants to institutions in the town in recent years, I was proud that the Pontifical Mission had its footprints deeply ingrained in the three main institutions we visited. When we visited the Latin Patriarchate School serving some 170 Christian and Muslim students, the principal was quick to point to the big sign at the entrance that acknowledges and thanks the Pontifical Mission for the renovation works at the school a few years back. During our next stop at the office of the village council, the head pointed out that the renovation work to their quarters was a result of a grant from the Doty Foundation through the Pontifical Mission. Finally, when we paid a courtesy visit to the Greek Orthodox Church, Father Nicola started by thanking us for the grant that allowed them, a few years ago, to restore the church built in 1860 and bring it back to its original beautiful stone architecture. A true work of art!

I left Ain Arik a very proud man — not for anything I've done, since all the works predated my time at Pontifical Mission, but for being affiliated with an organization that does great work in communities where it is needed the most. Needless to say, I also came back with a number of requests for help! It will be a joy trying to raise funds for new projects in this great little town near Ramallah!

Sami El-Yousef is Regional Director for Palestine and Israel. To read George Martin's 1994 report on the village, click here.

Tags: Middle East Christians Palestine Christian-Muslim relations Funding Religious Diversity

19 October 2011
Erin Edwards

Lunchtime at the Bethlehem Day Care Center, Addis Ababa. (photo: Sean Sprague)

In the March 2006 issue of ONE Sean Sprague reported on the impact of Catholic Schools in Ethiopia. With the support of organizations such as CNEWA, Catholic schools in Ethiopia provide a quality education to children throughout the nation:

For more than 40 years, CNEWA has provided tens of thousands of children with food, shelter, clothes and schooling. Until recently, this support was earmarked for each individual child, whether enrolled in a Catholic school or living in an orphanage administered by a religious community, said CNEWA’s Regional Director for Ethiopia, De La Salle Christian Brother Vincent Pelletier. Now, in addition to providing these essentials, the agency has begun to support the needs of the institutions as well.

“This includes salaries, administrative costs and the repair and improvement of school facilities,” said Brother Vincent. “We have also learned that the schools’ administrators and teachers were not sufficiently trained,” he added, “so we are developing teacher training workshops.” To that end, CNEWA has recruited Felleke Shibikom, a veteran administrator of Ethiopia’s Catholic schools with more than 35 years of experience.

“Over time,” Brother Vincent said, “we expect this program will raise the level of administration and teaching in the 38 schools supported by CNEWA.” This includes Merhawi Kahsay’s school in Adaga.

For more from this story, see Making the Grade in Ethiopia by Sean Sprague.

Tags: Ethiopia Africa Catholic education Catholic Schools

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