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Volume 45, Number 3
30 December 2011
Erin Edwards

A woman prays in a church in Deir Azra, a Christian village in Upper Egypt. This is an unpublished photo from the September 2011 story Spotlight: Coptic Women. (photo: Holly Pickett)

2011 was a year of change throughout the world. Many countries in the Middle East underwent political upheavals — the repercussions of which will surely unfold for years to come. The people and churches we serve in the region — from Iraq to Egypt to Syria — were undoubtedly affected. Through it all, and with your generosity, CNEWA has assisted Christians throughout the Middle East.

This year has been one of change for our agency, too. In September, we welcomed a new president, Msgr. John E. Kozar.

With your continued support, CNEWA will remain a lifeline to those in need in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe in 2012! May your New Year be a blessed and prosperous one!

Tags: Egypt Africa Coptic Christians Coptic Church

29 December 2011
Erin Edwards

Sister Leema Rose and volunteer Jancy Kuthoor visit the homes of needy residents in Dharavi, Mumbai’s most infamous slum. (photo:Peter Lemieux)

In the July issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the work of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters with Mumbai’s poor. Many of the people the sisters serve live in Dharavi, Mumbai’s most infamous slum. Today’s front page of The New York Times featured an article on Dharavi and it’s residents’ unwavering hope in spite of the many odds they face.

The computer sits on a small table beside the bed, protected, purchased for $354 from savings, even though the family has no Internet connection. The oldest son stores his work on a pen drive and prints it somewhere else. Ms. Baskar, a seamstress, spends five months’ worth of her income, almost $400, to send three of her children to private schools. Her daughter wants to be a flight attendant. Her youngest son, a mechanical engineer.

“My daughter is getting a better education, and she will get a better job,” Ms. Baskar said. “The children’s lives should be better. Whatever hardships we face are fine.”

Education is hope in Dharavi. On a recent afternoon outside St. Anthony’s, a parochial school in the slum, Hindu mothers in saris waited for their children beside Muslim mothers in burqas. The parents were not concerned about the crucifix on the wall; they wanted their children to learn English, the language considered to be a ticket out of the slums in India.

For more, read In One Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope.

Tags: India Sisters Poor/Poverty

28 December 2011
John E. Kozar

Msgr. John Kozar (left) meets President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas (center) at a reception hosted by the Franciscans in Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)

Christmas Eve in the Holy Land began with a visit to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Msgr. William Shomali, the patriarch’s auxiliary bishop, hosted a brief reception, which included Father Guido, several chancery officials and myself.

During the reception, Patriarch Fouad politely warned me: “There will be many more such receptions today, so pace yourself on Arabic coffee and sweets.” It was good advice, as I had already experienced the remarkable hospitality of the Holy Land’s residents over the past three weeks. Everyone serves coffee or liqueur with chocolates or cookies.

Patriarch Fouad then treated us (about eight in total) to a lovely lunch, during which we engaged in pleasant conversation. Afterward, we headed to a reception hall, where the patriarch greeted about 150 parishioners and a huge contingent from the press corps. On behalf of all present, the parish elder formally greeted Patriarch Fouad. I had the honor of standing beside the patriarch, personally greeting each member of the delegation.

After this event, it was time to get the “procession” in order for Bethlehem. Procession, here, means about 50 cars in Jerusalem and another 100 cars, chauffeuring local dignitaries and elders, which joined the cortege along the route to Bethlehem. I had the privilege to ride in the second car, immediately behind the one driving Patriarch Fouad.

Military and police vehicles escorted the procession, which departed from Jerusalem’s Old City. The traffic in Jerusalem was blocked at all intersections, allowing us to crawl toward the city’s limits. I say “crawl” because there were so many cars in the motorcade that it moved very slowly.

On the way to Bethlehem, we made several stops, where Patriarch Fouad greeted elders and parishioners. Again, I was honored to greet them alongside the patriarch.

Once inside the city of Bethlehem, more cars joined the procession. As we arrived in the city’s center, we had to stop many times to allow the thousands of boy and girl scouts with colorful flags and band instruments to enter and lead the procession.

Bethlehem’s streets were jammed with people — Christians and Muslims alike — who came out to watch the procession and celebrate Christmas. Local authorities estimated that more than 100,000 people came to Bethlehem for the holiday.

The mood among the crowd was very warm and welcoming. People smiled and waved at us as we passed them in our cars; some asked for our blessings. The patriarch was a popular attraction and he often opened his window to invite people to come closer for a photo or a warm handshake.

The crowd was very mixed: Bethlehem residents and pilgrims from all over the world; elderly and hordes of young people; shoppers and merchants. One sight that caught my eye: Four young men in their twenties, locals I presume, sat in front of a little cafe, smoking a hookah pipe. As our motorcade passed, two of them made a reverent Sign of the Cross with the pipe’s mouthpieces.

We finally arrived in Manger Square at about 3 p.m. (about one and a half hours late), where tens of thousands of people and hundreds of members of the media gathered. Everyone surged to greet the patriarch and his entourage. The police and clergy in charge did their best to open a small lane for us to enter the Basilica of the Nativity.

Inside the basilica, leaders from the other local Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as members of the Muslim community greeted the patriarch.

I must tell you: the local hierarchy had me all dressed up as an honorary canon of the patriarchate. I had on my monsignor’s cassock and sash, over which I was asked to put on a very finely woven surplice with red sleeves and much lace. As the coup de grace, I wore a rabbit fur shoulder cape and an accompanying purple sash and hood. Never having worn such an outfit, I needed Msgr. Shomali’s help to vest properly.

About an hour later, we participated in a ritual, which included a brief visit to the grottos underneath the main basilica. I cautiously hunched over to enter the steep, low-ceilinged entry of the crypt and visit its four ancient altars and the altar in the new church overseen by the Franciscans.

This was a very special moment for me. I was so overwhelmed by this visit to these most holy altars and spaces that, when I returned to New York, I retraced my steps with the help of some guidebooks to appreciate more fully their significance.

However, I was most touched by the famous “star,” which is embedded in the stone to designate the place where Jesus was born. How does one describe that moment? Not with words, to be sure. And the stone niche, where Jesus was laid in a manger? For a believer, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Later, Bethlehem’s Franciscan community hosted a reception and dinner. Many dignitaries attended the event, including President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas, to whom the patriarch personally introduced me. Patriarch Fouad also introduced me to Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. It was a very warm and welcoming gathering, typical of events hosted by the Franciscans.

Midnight Mass actually began at 11 p.m. with matins, the traditional early morning prayer of the church. The celebration continued with the Solemn Eucharistic Liturgy, led by the patriarch and concelebrated by seven other bishops — Latin and Eastern — along with several hundred priests. Most of the priests were foreigners, who had traveled to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas as a part of a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.

The liturgy was beautiful and the basilica was packed. Television crews from all over the world filmed the Mass. The Palestinian Authority televised it live, to feeds around the world, which I believe was a first.

I am very happy to tell you that Father Guido and I remembered all of you in our Mass intentions, especially those who sent their intentions to our office beforehand. Thanks to Bernadette Wallace, my administrative assistant, we received and brought with us all of these names and intentions.

The Mass ended about 2:15 a.m. and we retired to the adjacent Franciscan monastery for a few winks of sleep.

Early Christmas morning, Father Guido and I visited the place of our Lord’s birth, which was a very special, silent moment for me to reflect on the significance of where I was standing.

Soon after, we attended a morning Mass in Arabic — celebrated by Patriarch Fouad — along with local parishioner and many pilgrims. Again, numerous members of the media were present and the basilica was filled to capacity. People even stood outside in the rain. The Mass in Arabic was most glorious and the music, most energetic.

Afterward, I had the opportunity to meet and greet the many pilgrims and foreign workers in Bethlehem, who gathered at this cherished site to celebrate their own special Christmas. Many Sri Lankans, Indians and Filipinos asked me to have their photos taken with yours truly — in my monsignor’s cassock and red sash. They were all so happy, and delighted to know that I have visited all of their countries in my previous work with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

My visit to Bethlehem ended around noon and we returned to Jerusalem for the remainder of the day.

Shortly after midnight, Tony Za’rour, our Jerusalem office’s driver and general services associate, drove Father Guido and me to the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. We said our goodbyes and caught our flight back to New York.

Rather than add additional comments about the grandeur, splendor and overwhelming excitement of this series of pastoral visits and pilgrimages, I will let my previous reports to you say it better, each as they unraveled in rapid succession.

I am grateful to CNEWA’s Communications Department, for reviewing and editing my posts, videos and photographs and helping me share my adventures with all of you.

Thank you for joining me on my journey to the Holy Land. The CNEWA-Pontifical Mission family is truly ONE. God bless all of you and God bless the poor of the Middle East and Holy Land whom we serve.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem conducts a blessing as he arrives at the Basilica of the Nativity for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in Bethlehem. Msgr. Kozar stands directly behind Patriarch Fouad. (Photo: CNS/Reuters)

Tags: Jerusalem Holy Land Ecumenism Pilgrimage/pilgrims Msgr. John E. Kozar

28 December 2011
Erin Edwards

Founded by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1987, the Bethlehem Day Care Center serves the families of Cherkos, an impoverished neighborhood in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
(photo: Sean Sprague)

A Catholic school education opens the door to a new world and better life for many of the families CNEWA serves. Its value is priceless, as Sean Sprague reported in this story from the March 2006 issue of ONE.

Paul Wachter reported on the social implications of providing children with a Catholic school education in Ethiopia in the March 2007 issue of ONE:

While much progress is being made at relatively prosperous schools like Bisrate Gabriel (which CNEWA supported in the past), the greatest challenges lie with Ethiopia’s underserved poor.

“It helps if we reach the kids early,” said Genet Assefa, principal of the Bethlehem Day Care Center. The center, founded by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1987, caters to the children of Cherkos, a slum in Addis Ababa that takes its name from the neighborhood church. (The sisters run a second day care facility in Addis Ababa, the Good Shepherd Sisters’ Center.)

On a recent visit to the Bethlehem center, more than 150 children, all under 7, were fully engaged in their classes. Some recited the English alphabet: “C! C is for cat.” Others practiced Amharic, their national language.

“The center serves two purposes,” said Mrs. Assefa. “It gives these children access to an early education that they wouldn’t ordinarily have, which will encourage them to go on to primary school and beyond. And it also frees up the parents, many of whom are single mothers, so that they can try to earn a living and improve their lives.”

For more see, Making the Grade in Ethiopia and Breaking Barriers. To learn how you can help educate a child in Ethiopia, visit our website.

Tags: Ethiopia Children Africa Catholic Schools

23 December 2011
John E. Kozar

Our final day of pastoral visiting and pilgrimage began in a most special way: Father Guido arranged for us to celebrate Mass at the Mount of Calvary located in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. It was a cherished moment for me to know that over this very location Our Lord was crucified. There were some pilgrims who joined us for the Mass and it was obvious in their faces how they, too, were so much in awe of the moment.

From there, we proceeded to pay a visit to the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Franco. We enjoyed a very animated discussion with him and he was most cordial in extending to me his best wishes in my new role as President of CNEWA. He shared with us some helpful insights on the complexities of working for the Church in an environment of conflict and tension. He said that after more than six years in Jerusalem, as the Nuncio for Israel and Palestine, he still understands only a little bit of the many problems that are part of daily life here.

After that visit, we shifted gears into the pilgrim mode, to visit some holy sites. I was blessed to have Father Guido as my guide along with Tony Za’rour from the office as our driver. We visited many sites in about six hours, so I will just mention some of the highlights.

First we headed to the Dead Sea, which at 350 meters below sea level is the lowest place on earth. We saw the famous sight of people floating in the salty water. The sea has receded so much, but still maintains its beauty and health-related benefits, as evidenced by the many skin treatment products from there that are sold throughout Israel.

From the Dead Sea, we traveled to the Qumran cave. This is where a shepherd in the 1960's found ancient scrolls nestled in earthen jars that had been buried for many centuries. These famous “Dead Sea Scrolls” opened to the world a first-hand glimpse of life in the ancient Essene community. The geography here is breathtaking: a mountain range which has a dramatic escarpment, the view to the cave itself, and the recently excavated early community with its very sophisticated system of water storage and irrigation.

Then it was on to Jericho to visit the oldest city on earth and, like the Dead Sea, a place situated more than 300 meters below sea level.

A little gem and a favorite site for Father Guido was next on our pilgrimage: an ancient monastery named for St. George, located in a extremely remote part of the desert, between Jericho and Jerusalem, but down a deep gorge and hidden from view of the nearest road. There are just two monks living there at present and one of them has trained his donkey to go up to the nearest Bedouin village to get milk and bread. Once loaded up, the donkey is sent back down into the steep gorge with the supplies. This is a new concept in home delivery!

Then it was on to Dominus Flevit Church, built on the site where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. From this spot, we had a magnificent view across the valley looking to the walled Old City.

Gethsemane was our next site, where Jesus spent his time in prayer before being arrested. Here we remembered Jesus and his agony in the garden.

Our final stop took us to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, where tradition holds that Jesus was denied by Peter and where he was also imprisoned before his crucifixion.

This is a most brief commentary on what was a very intense and memory-laden experience, too much to reflect in these few words. I was so grateful to have seen so much. I know that on successive visits here I will be able to visit more holy places, so I leave fully satisfied. I have been extremely blessed to have experienced so much of the best of the Holy Land.

(I also know that when I get home, I will enjoy reading some good guide books and reviewing some maps and relating them to the almost 3,000 photos that I have taken on this pastoral visit!)

Our day ended with a most uplifting video conference call to everyone in our office in New York. This was the third one during this pastoral visit. I was so excited to share some of my experiences with my staff. And it afforded the staff an opportunity to know much better our local director Sami El-Youssef, who gave a very impassioned reflection of what our visit meant to him, his staff and the people of Palestine and Israel.

I have the honor tomorrow (Saturday, December 24) of accompanying the Latin Patriarch to Bethlehem, where it will be my most precious privilege to concelebrate with him at the Midnight Mass at the Basilica of the Nativity built over the site where Jesus was born. You will all be remembered in my prayers during that Mass. Our special intention for the Palestinian people and all the people we have visited will be for a lasting peace.

I will share a final post with you after I return home on Monday, December 26. Until then, be blessed in God’s love. Merry Christmas. That expression means so much more to me now.

23 December 2011
Erin Edwards

In Ukraine, a boy stands before a tetrapod (icon stand) and a Nativity scene.
(photo: Ihor Tabin’sky)

We’ll be celebrating the holiday this weekend and returning to the office on Wednesday.

In the meantime, from our family to yours: have a safe, blessed and happy Christmas!

Tags: Ukraine Church Christian

23 December 2011
John E. Kozar

Msgr. Kozar visits the Holy Family Children’s Home, also known as the Creche of Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)

Our first visit today took us to the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Pope Benedict visited this camp in 2009 and gave a famous speech in front of the entrance to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people who have suffered so much in the two intifadas, which devastated much of this holy city.

Upon entering the camp we were greeted by the director of the Al-Rowwad Center, which offers young people a special creative environment to learn drama, photography, art and other areas of study that encourage them to express what the center calls a “beautiful resistance.” The resistance is not violent in any way but creatively allows the young to learn together how they can express their feelings in a constructive way. They are very proud of having dance and drama troupes that have performed in a number of countries, including the U.S.

As a somewhat serious photographer, I was really impressed with their exposition prints adorning the walls. I was also impressed that they literally take their performing skills “on the road,” in the form of a mobile stage for their performing arts programs. They even use the offensively high and sterile wall put up by the Israeli government as a “screen” for showing movies.

We had a walk through the camp and our host pointed out in many places the remnant of bullet holes fired from the military and we could even still see in the street the marks of the tank treads, a reminder of the full occupation by the Israeli military.

From this community-based center, we proceeded to a peaceful home for unwanted babies and expectant mothers rejected by families. It’s called the Creche of Bethlehem. What a fitting name. The director of the facility is named Sister Sophie and she is something special. This sister is the embodiment of the protector of little babies and the unwanted. She loves each and every one of the 91 childen cared for at the Creche.

She took us to a room with little ones ranging in age from a few days old to about nine months. One of the babies was left at a big garbage dump, another at Sister Sophie’s doorstep. Some children were dropped off for various reasons. There is no legal system for adoption in Palestine and Muslim tradition does not allow for it, so this is a big challenge. But Sister Sophie, her staff and her many volunteers still present loving smiles to all who visit.

CNEWA has offered some help here in the past, but the main source of support comes from the Knights of Malta. God bless them.

From Bethlehem, we traveled north of Jerusalem to a rather barren and hilly area about a half-hour out of the city. There we visited an all-Christian village named Taybeh. There are three Christian churches here — Latin Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox. To arrive here is to arrive in an oasis of peace, beauty and tranquility. The pastor of the Melkite parish was our host and first took us on a tour of his parish facilities, which included some improvements provided by or assisted by CNEWA. CNEWA is now helping to repair a fallen ceiling. The pastor, Father Jack, expressed many times over his profound thanks to all of you for your kindness.

A real surprise in the visit was entering the excavated ruins of one of the oldest Byzantine churches in all of Palestine, which dates to the fifth century. The view from this hilltop was magnificent, allowing us to see all the way to Amman, Jordan. This was actually part of the ancient town of Ephraim mentioned in the bible.

After our tour, we had lunch with a group of young people from the town who openly and honestly engaged us in a dialogue. They shared with us their frustrations, their dreams, their disappointments and their hopes. I responded that, first and foremost, they had to challenge themselves in their faith and I offered that we cannot give them money to accomplish their dreams but we can offer other forms of assistance such as technical help. But faith is the starting point. I admired them for their honesty, and I think that we gave them a broader view of ways to develop themselves as individuals and as a small Christian community.

The final event of the day was a Mass with the staff of our office here in Jerusalem and their family members. Mass was followed by a delectable meal prepared by Tony Za’rour, who is a very accomplished chef. It was delightful to meet the family members and to see how well they related with each other, especially with the many children of Pontifical Mission staff. The staff gave me a beautiful Jerusalem cross pin, which I will proudly wear on my suit jacket.

Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine and Israel, has done a tremendous job of hosting us. There is a huge amount of planning and execution that went into all these arrangements. He and his staff have truly been a family to me and I am most grateful.

Tomorrow, Father Guido and I will begin our day with an early morning Mass at the site of the Mount of Calvary, and then we will visit the Papal Nuncio. After that, I will have time for a personal mini-pilgrimage with Father Guido. Finally, our day will end with a video conference call with the entire staff in New York, so as to include them in a personal way with my pastoral visit to Palestine.

You will all be remembered tomorrow morning at Mass at the site of the death of Our Lord.

Tags: Palestine Msgr. John E. Kozar Bethlehem Separation Barrier Palestinian Refugees

23 December 2011
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Family members look down on the streets of Hamdaniya from their balcony.
(photo: Safin Hamed)

It is said that “history is written by the victors.” What is surprising is how much “editing” the victors often have to do. People who are interested in Eastern Christianity in general and the plight of Iraqi Christians in particular are familiar with the town of Qaraqosh on the Plains of Nineveh in northern Iraq. Qaraqosh is a town of less than 50,000 which has been Christian for a good fifteen hundred years. It is also known as Baghdeda, a name which goes back into truly ancient history. Some scholars believe that Baghdeda existed during the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Indeed Baghdeda may have been the scene of one of the last battles before Neo-Assyrian Empire fell to the Chaldeans from Babylon in 610 BC.

Since the beginning of the most recent Gulf War (2003-2011), Christians from all over Iraq have fled north to Qaraqosh or left Iraq entirely. I heard one person recently question if “all the Christians in Iraq live in Qaraqosh.” Problems arise, however, when the curious wish to find Qaraqosh or Baghdeda. Neither can be found on most modern maps.

The mystery is easily solved, however. One of the common characteristics of authoritarian regimes is to seek legitimacy by rewriting history. These regimes tend to seek legitimacy by connecting themselves with a real or imagined “glorious past.” Saddam Hussein, for example, portrayed himself in one parade as the new Sargon of Akkad, the great Mesopotamian conqueror three thousand years before Christ! When history does not fit the prevailing ideology of a regime, that history is simply rewritten.

Baghdeda or Qaraqosh was an extremely ancient town with roots stretching back 4,000 years. The inhabitants consider themselves Assyrians, the descendants of the great Neo-Assyrian Empire. Whether that is literally true or not, they do not consider themselves ethnically the same as the dominant Arab culture. People in the area speak Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, which was once the main language of the region. In addition, the town’s population has been overwhelmingly Christian since before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Qaraqosh and its inhabitants did not fit the Ba’athist (the political party of Saddam Hussein) portrait of Iraq—a homogeneous, Arab, Muslim country. In an attempt to “Arabize” Iraq in the 1970’s the Ba’athist government changed the name of Baghdeda/Qaraqosh to Hamdaniya. The name refers to the Banu Hamdan, an Arab, Shi’ite Muslim tribe that was politically dominant in the present day northern Iraq and Syria in the 10th century.

While Baghdeda/Qaraqosh may no longer be easily found on contemporary maps, it nonetheless remains there as an increasingly important stronghold of indigenous and ancient Christianity in Iraq, where the Christian presence has been drastically reduced since the American invasion in 2003.

To read more about Christians in Iraq today, see A New Genesis for Nineveh in the November 2011 issue of ONE.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians

22 December 2011
John E. Kozar

Msgr. Kozar tours the Ephpheta Institute, a school for children with hearing and speech impairments. (photo: CNEWA)

Our day began with an early morning Mass and then we headed to Bethlehem. This was an exciting drive for me, to know I was about to enter Bethlehem, the place of Our Lord’s birth and only three days away from celebrating Christmas there.

Along the way, our host Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine and Israel, showed me some of the demarcation lines between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, how settlements keep encroaching on Palestinian land and little by little the size of the territory earmarked for Palestinian people diminishes. There are walls of concrete that keep Palestinians locked inside one boundary and excluded from entering other boundaries.

We arrived in Bethlehem and went straightway to the Ephpheta Institute, a school for the hearing and speech impaired. We were warmly greeted by Sister Carmela de Marco, the superior, along with some other sisters and lay staff. After a chat about the program there and the type of instruction used with the children, we enjoyed a coffee together before beginning our full tour.

Of course, the highlight was being with the children, all 125 of them. The very youngest receive wonderful one-on-one training and speech therapy, rendered in a most loving way. After a few years of such intense instruction and training, the children are ready to begin primary school education. It was so edifying to see the progression of the children as they learned first to repeat sounds, then words, then to speak in sentences. The biggest surprise was the upper level kids who were actually bi-lingual, speaking in Arabic and English. I was so proud of each and every one of them.

Some of the older kids were doing some work on their computers and were excited to tell us about their studies and their dreams. One 10th grade girl very openly said to us: “I would like to come to America.” Another young man said to me: “Can I have the website address so that we can read your blog?” They were excited to hear about the blog and that I would be writing about them in this report.

From the Ephpheta Institute, we proceeded to the Pontifical Mission Library, located adjacent to Bethlehem University. He we were welcomed by a group of young married women, who were participating in a regularly scheduled personal and family enrichment session. This was really an impressive group. They offered to share with us the challenges of being a mother, a Palestinian and a Christian. Every one one of them affirmed how important the library has been in their lives. Under the very tranquil and hope-filled direction of administrator Ms. Monnitte Velasco and her great staff, these women were being enriched with instructions in cooking, in family values, self-development through reading, music instruction and many more programs. Father Guido and I felt very uplifted by the testimonials given by each one of them and have a very strong appreciation of the library.

As with our library project in Amman, Jordan, I will add that calling it a “library” doesn’t do it justice. It serves so many needs, it is more like a community center and resource for people of every age, including little children. After a lovely lunch prepared by Monnitte and the other young ladies — and after filling our plates several times! — we departed and walked next door to Bethlehem University.

Sami worked here for 24 years, in administration, so this visit was a sort of “homecoming” for him and a welcome to Bethlehem University for me. CNEWA was instrumental in the founding of this University, and has maintained membership on the Board of Directors, so my visit was all the more special.

Two De La Salle Brothers — Vice Chancellor Brother Peter Bray and Director of Development Brother Jack Curran — were our hosts and led us first on a tour of the facility. It is a beautiful campus with the original building renovated from its origins as a high school. There have been plenty of new buildings in recent times and another major building project is near completion. We even had an opportunity to engage some of the students. They seemed very happy and are thankful for the opportunity, as Palestinians, to seek higher education for a chance to have a better future for themselves and their families.

Our hosts made mention that the highest point in all of Bethlehem is the statue of Christ atop the original building on campus. How fitting that Jesus, in the town of his birth, would be the most dominant figure looking over the city and into Palestine and Israel.

On another note, the brothers also showed us some bullet holes in their home, left there as a reminder of the Israeli-Palestinian violence that erupted in the fall of 2000.

Everywhere, we hear that education is the key to the future of the Palestinians and higher learning is no exception. This university stands as one of only two Catholic universities in all of Palestine. And 70% of the student body is female, which is also a good sign of how this university can make a big difference in the future of Palestine.

From the university, we proceeded to visit the Catholic Action Sports Center. This project is housed on a large campus with everything from a gym (the largest and best in all of Palestine) to an outdoor swimming pool, weight training and fitness machine room, meeting and training rooms, outdoor picnic areas, large hall, etc. The Franciscan Custody owns the property and has a great partnership with CNEWA/Pontifical Mission in sponsoring basketball classes and league play.

We watched as a group of girls had a session with a very skilled trainer. It is an impressive center and is the only such facility in all of Bethlehem. Another great outreach of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission, thanks to all of you in your generosity!

The final visit was to Sami’s house for a superb dinner prepared by his dear wife. The very specials guests included His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali (whom we had met on our first day in Jerusalem), and Father Emil Salayta, Director of the Ecclesiastical Court. The meal was exquisite and the company superb. The Patriarch was very comfortable and shared with us some important insights into how the Church functions in an environment filled with many complications, conflicts and restrictions. Bishop Shomali also asked many questions about CNEWA/Pontifical Mission and it afforded me an opportunity to present a broader view of the many services we to offer, not just financial grants, but also with technical support and counsel.

Our stomachs were full and the hour was getting late, and I still had to write this note to all of you, so we departed. I had also realized that we would be leaving early the next morning for our first trip of the day, to Aida Refugee Camp.

So goodbye for now and God bless all of you. The Patriarch sends his best regards along with a blessing.

Tags: Msgr. John E. Kozar Bethlehem Bethlehem University

22 December 2011
Erin Edwards

Bohdana Havryliuk, left, Marichka Semeniuk and Marichka Havryliuk carol near Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Kosmach, Ukraine. (photo: Petro Didula)

Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the winter solstice. It is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The image above, from the November 2004 issue of ONE, shows carolers in Ukraine in the snow. What better way to weclome winter!

As the article notes:

“They can carol for a whole day at one house, if the man of the house provides enough food and drink. In the 1980’s some carolers came to Kosmach from another village to make more money,” he remembers. “At first people didn’t know the difference, but now they don’t give outsiders anything.”

But outside ways are making an impact on the Hutsuls; a dearth of job opportunities threatens the Hutsuls and their traditions.

“There’s no work in the village,” says a native of Kosmach, Anna Havryliuk. “Young people leave the country looking for work in the Czech Republic, Portugal and Italy.”

Still, even as they venture out into the world, the Hutsuls hang on to their traditions. On Christmas visits, Mrs. Havryliuk’s three grandchildren never fail to return to carol.

For more from this story see, Faith and Tradition.

Tags: Ukraine Orthodox Church Carpatho-Rusyn

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