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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
30 March 2012
Norma Intriago




Children in Ethiopia work out at Sister Ayelech’s “gymnasium.” (photo: CNEWA)

Norma Intriago is a fundraiser in the development office of CNEWA in New York.

With so many war orphans in her care, Sister Maria worries how she can feed them all. But today, thanks to you, she has hope. Hope for the neediest children in Iraq — and all of her sisters serving the poor in CNEWA’s world.

May God bless every single one of you who made a generous gift to our Celebrating Women campaign. You may remember a special benefactor of CNEWA pledged to match you dollar-for-dollar. I’m writing to tell you the promise was kept. The power of your generosity has been doubled!

Sister Maria isn’t the only beneficiary of your gift. Another is Sister Ayelech. She runs a humble Catholic school in Ethiopia that I visited. Her school is a home-away-from-home for some very poor children. I witnessed how she stretches every dollar so it really counts.

It was summer when I visited. School was out and some of the children had no one to watch after them. With almost no money, Sister Ayelech created her own “summer school.” She turned simple mattresses into a fun gymnasium. Thread and needles became crafts class.

Sister Ayelech even rescued discarded sewing machines from a local dump. These were transformed into an opportunity for jobless mothers to earn money to care for their families — and earn another valuable currency: hope.

With you standing behind them, Sister Ayelech and Sister Maria can continue serving the poor and witnessing to the Gospel in some of the poorest places on earth.

On behalf of all the religious women with whom CNEWA partners, I thank you for your celebration gift. And remember: you didn’t give just one gift. With the dollar-for-dollar match, you gave two. Be sure the sisters will double their grateful prayers to God for you.

And if you haven’t had a chance to participate in our Celebrate Women campaign, don’t worry. You still have time. Click here by Saturday to double your gift to religious women and the poor whom they serve.

Oh, and one more piece of great news: You inspired yet another benefactor of CNEWA to offer an additional matching gift challenge — $50,000 for the formation of novice sisters. You’ll hear more about it soon. Until then, thanks again!



Tags: Iraq Ethiopia Sisters Africa
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30 March 2012
Greg Kandra




A Dalit woman in the village of Podiyattuvila, India surveys the poor surroundings of her
present home. (photo: John E. Kozar)


Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, made a pastoral visit to India earlier this month and captured this haunting image of a Dalit woman — one of the so-called “untouchables.” As he wrote in the March issue of ONE:

As an untouchable she was not entitled to own anything or to have any benefits or rights. But thanks to her parish priest and in collaboration with CNEWA, God has brought to her family a newfound dignity in being the actual owner of a new home, being built in the second picture. It is with a sense of gratitude that she invited me to see what was, block by block and bucket by bucket of cement, becoming her home. She, her husband and neighboring helpers and parishioners are the contractors and builders. A humble gift of $1,800 made all this possible. CNEWA is assisting in building five such houses.

You can see her new home and read more about it, here.

And you can follow all of Msgr. Kozar’s journey “In the Footsteps of St. Thomas” and read his daily blog postings from India here.



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30 March 2012
Greg Kandra




A Syrian refugee girl looks out from a tent at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Boynuegin 24 March. (photo: CNS/Osman Orsal, Reuters)

With the situation in Syria worsening by the day, Tom Gallagher of the National Catholic Reporter this week interviewed by e-mail CNEWA’s Issam Bishara, regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Based in Beirut, Bishara offered a comprehensive assessment of what is happening to Christians in the region:

NCR: What is the current situation at this time for Christians in Syria, who make up about 10 percent of the 2.5 million population?

Bishara: The majority of Christians in Syria are not concentrated in one specific geographical area, but are rather dispersed all over the country, which makes their security situation more critical. However, at present and with only the exception of the Christians of Homs, the majority of Christians remained in their communities and in their homes. But as we knew from different sources related to the church, the Christian families started looking for a contingency plan consisting of finding a safer place for their families in case the uprising and the military events escalated all over Syria, with the same scenario as Homs.

Christians in Syria are in a difficult spot because if they support the protestors, they could be targeted by Assad’s government forces, and if they support Assad, and his regime falls, they could be retaliated against by a new Islamist regime. So what are Christians currently doing during this conflict?

During this conflict, the majority of church leaders from different confessions and rites expressed their concern toward the escalation and violence and the repercussions on the minorities, and called their communities to remain calm and to avoid taking sides in this conflict, whether against the regime or against the protesters.

But the general feeling among the Christian communities is a deep concern based on the reality that where the Arab Spring has flourished, political life has become more fanatic and less tolerant of recognizing equal rights for Christians. Even Tunisia, where the former regime was based on a complete secular approach and tradition for more than 50 years, turned into an Islamic-dominated government, and just yesterday, large demonstrations there were calling for the establishment of a full Islamic state.

Have Christians been specifically targeted by Assad and his government forces?

No. On the contrary, the regime is still providing protection to the Christian communities in almost all places where the regime is still controlling the ground. But the problem occurred especially in Homs after the protestors and the Islamic groups had controlled a part of the city (Bab Amro Quarter) where around 200 Christians were killed. The other concern is related to terrorism, which can target anyone and any place and especially Christian military officers and their communities.

The city of Damascus is important historically and has religious significance for Christians. The city has also been a city tolerant of religious minorities. Is this still the case or have things changed for the worse for Christians during this conflict?

Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest cities of Syria, remained relatively well-secured and controlled by the Syrian regular forces, and all Christians in those cities are still enjoying their freedom and practicing their faith as regular.

On Feb. 24-25, the ancient St. Virgin Mary Church was damaged in the fighting in Homs. Can you tell us more about that?

St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt is located in the downtown of Homs, or what is so-called “the Old City,” and is considered the siege of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Homs. The majority of churches and Archbishoprics of other confessions are also concentrated in the same surrounding (Hamidiya, Boustan el Diwan, etc.), and this quarter was subject to military confrontations between the militias and the government forces, and most of the time militiamen were using the churches and the Christians as shields to protect themselves from shelling. It is also important to mention that some icons inside the churches were damaged on purpose by the militias.

With so much fighting going on, many people are leaving their homes in order to find refuge in safer areas. Is this the case with Christians, especially those Christians in and around Homs? If so, where are Christians going to seek refuge?

Despite the difficulties of getting accurate statistics from the field, our updated information estimates that before the military escalations in Homs, the Christians used to number around 1,500 families (all rites). At present and after two weeks of the withdrawal of the militias from Bab Amro, the security situation is still very critical, especially with all the sniper fire on the civilians and the army on one hand and the acts of pillage on the other hand.

A religious sister told us this morning that the 500 families who left their houses during the battle and found shelter in Tartous and Damascus found their houses and properties completely stolen or even confiscated.

The families who decided to remain are in danger, are living in fear and poverty. Most of them cannot go outside their dwellings because of sniper fire, and of course none of them have any kind of income; the only reason they stay in Homs is to preserve their properties and because they have no other place to go to.

There’s much more at the NCR link. And you can read more about Syria’s Christian Valley in the January 2011 issue of ONE.



Tags: Syria CNEWA
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29 March 2012
Erin Edwards




Girls and boys take dance lessons at the Caritas center in Georgia. (photo: Molly Corso)

In the current edition of ONE, Molly Corso reports on the issue of child homelessness in Georgia and the people and instiitutions that are in place to help tackle this problem:

In the case no parent or extended family member can care responsibly for a child, social workers now decide between two new government programs: foster care, in which the child is placed with a qualifying family, or a small group home, similar to the church-operated ones in Bediani. Typically, government-run group homes accommodate eight to ten children and two trained professionals.

The government also encourages charitable organizations operating homes for homeless children and youth, such as Georgian Orthodox Church, to expand their services. Orthodox religious already have agreed to open group homes in Achara — a semiautonomous region in the country’s southwest — and other areas.

The Catholic humanitarian agency Caritas Georgia (a partner of CNEWA) is one of several nongovernmental organizations that manage the government’s new small group homes. A leader in providing care to Georgia’s vulnerable children, it currently operates four government-built group homes.

For more, read A Child’s Rights Restored. Check out the rest of the March edition on our website!



Tags: Children Georgia Orphans/Orphanages Caritas
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28 March 2012
Erin Edwards




Msgr. Kozar captured this image of a sister at the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan, during his visit to the Holy Land last December. (photo: John E. Kozar)

In his short time as CNEWA president, Msgr. John E. Kozar has lent his photographic eye to the agency. From his first pastoral visits to the Holy Land and India, we have gained a trove of beautiful images that help tell the stories of the regions and people we serve. Recently, the National Catholic Reporter interviewed Msgr. Kozar regarding the work of CNEWA. Here’s some of what he had to say:

So what have the first several months been like?
I came onboard on Sept. 15, 2011, I had meetings with Msgr. Stern and then I had an intense week of meetings with key personnel. These meetings allowed for the big picture to be brought down a little bit and it allowed me to ask a lot of questions. I was only here one week when I hosted a plenary meeting with my international directors, which had been scheduled the year before. I really felt more than anything else that I was supposed to be here. When I connected the dots of my life, this was where I was supposed to be. We had five wonderful days of stepping outside the box in order that we all could look inside the box together. We are one CNEWA even though we have offices in eight different countries. We are one family, as we are one in Christ.

Read more of the interview here.



Tags: CNEWA Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar CNEWA Pontifical Mission
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28 March 2012
Erin Edwards




A Syrian boy and other refugees who fled the violence in Syria are seen at a temporary shelter in a school in the Wadi Khaled area of northern Lebanon 7 March.
(photo: CNS /Jamal Saidi, Reuters)


Yesterday, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has decided that the Holy Thursday collection at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, will be used to offer humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. The situation in Syria has resulted in the exodus of Christians from the region. Many are finding refuge in surrounding Middle East countries like Turkey and Lebanon. Earlier this month the Catholic News Service interviewed Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq, about how what's happening in Syria reflects a changing Middle East:

“The same pattern like in Iraq is re-emerging, as Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians in Syria,” said Issam Bishara, vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon and Syria. “Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians.”

“We lost Christians in Iraq; if we lose (them) in Syria what will happen to Christians in the Middle East?” said Ra’ed Bahou, the Pontifical Mission’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. “Christians are leaving the region, and we have to work to reduce this loss. Time is not with us. (Syria) is the last castle of Christianity in the Middle East. If they start emigrating from Syria, it is the beginning of the end of Christianity in this area.”

In a March 7 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Bahou said there are no official statistics, but an estimated 200 Christians were among the recent wave of Syrian refugees entering Jordan. He said many of those same refugees earlier had fled Iraq for Syria.

“They are refugees from one country to another. It is everywhere now, not just in Jordan. Also in Lebanon and Turkey. This population movement is also creating a changing Middle East,” Bahou said.

For more read, Syrian Christians Fear Persecution. To learn how you can help Syrians, visit our website.



Tags: Syria Middle East Refugees Pope Benedict XVI
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27 March 2012
Erin Edwards




Nirmala Dasi sisters walk with young patients on the grounds of Grace Home in Trichur, India. (photo: John E. Kozar)

We’ve profiled the amazing work of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in ONE magazine numerous times over the years. Earlier this month, CNEWA President, Msgr. John Kozar, had the opportunity to meet with some of these women and see first-hand the “thankless” work they do on behalf of society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala. In the November 2010 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the great work of these sisters on behalf of children and adults with H.I.V/AIDS at the Grace Home in Trichur, India:

With the school-age children gone, a quiet falls upon the grounds of Grace Home — that is until a 2-year-old boy noisily pushes his pintsize tricycle across the facility’s marble floor. The tricycle plays an electronic version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Energetic and healthy — in fact, rather pudgy — the boy first came to Grace Home in 2009 covered in scabies and looking lean, says Sister Lisi, who calls him simply Chakara, or “sweetie” in the local Malayalam language.

“He would cry all day and all night,” she says. “Maybe he was thinking about his mother — she lost her mind and lived with Chakara in the Kuttippuram Railway Station, taking him here and there. Or maybe he feared he was going to be given away.

“He’s in good condition right now,” boasts Sister Lisi, adding that Chakara’s CD4 count is high, at more than 800. “He doesn’t need ARTs.”

Chakara’s attachment to Sister Lisi is unmistakable. He clutches her habit at the knees. She picks him up and puts him back down. He pushes the tricycle around some more and then into her feet. Sister Lisi ignores him. Chakara gets fussy and she picks him up again.

“At his age, he needs a mother’s concern and love,” says Sister Lisi. “I feel like I’ve been appointed his mother. Now he’s getting so much love. I don’t know how much love I have to give, but whatever I have I give.”

Sister Lisi’s love and devotion are characteristic of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters. All 300 of its members, including 50 devoted to persons living with H.I.V./AIDS, “care for those who nobody else will care for,” says Msgr. Vilangadan.

The Nirmala Dasi Sisters care for society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala, Mumbai and as far away as Kenya. But no matter where they serve, says Msgr. Vilangadan, “they must be witnessing. We must show how Christ lived and show the kind of person he was — humble, poor, hardworking, striving to save the souls of the poor and sick. Our life must be an extension of Christ’s life.”

To learn how you can help CNEWA continue to support courageous sisters like the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, visit our “Celebrating Women” campaign on Causes. There is still time to give to our March matching challenge in honor of these women and others like them in the countries CNEWA serves.



Tags: India Sisters Kerala HIV/AIDS
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26 March 2012
Erin Edwards




In this photo taken in 2010, a farmer rides through Wadi al Nasarah (Arabic for Valley of Christians), near Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Though much of Syria is in turmoil and many Christians are fleeing, we reflect today on Wadi al Nasarah, a group of about 40 Christian villages. In the January 2011 edition of ONE, Sean Sprague told the story of a flourishing valley of Christians holding onto its ancient Christian roots:

“We were traditionally farmers, harvesting our olives and growing grain crops and keeping animals. But these days, very few of us Christians are involved in that kind of work. We have prospered and have received a good education, going to university in the towns, so we either work in tourism or are professional people,” she continues.

Ms. Nehme’s generation is not the first to have left its rural roots: Her father is an electrician; her mother teaches at a local school.

Syria is a cradle of Christianity. The word Christian was first coined in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch — which has been a part of Turkey since the borders were redrawn in 1939. The apostles Peter and Paul settled there, nurturing a church that eventually emerged as the center of Christian thought in the eastern Mediterranean. Antiochene theologians, from both the Greek– and Syriac–speaking communities, played leading roles in the Christological controversies that eventually divided the early church, differences that are now understood as cultural and linguistic.

For more, read Syria’s Christian Valley.



Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Farming/Agriculture
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26 March 2012
John E. Kozar




In Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 18 March, a priest lights a candle in front of a picture of Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, Egypt. Pope Shenouda, who served as patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church for 41 years, died 17 March at the age of 88.
(photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)


Yesterday, I represented Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a prayer service celebrating the life of Pope Shenouda III, who died on 17 March after leading the Coptic Orthodox Church for more than four decades.

I was warmly welcomed to the church of St. Mary in East Brunswick, New Jersey, by Bishop David, who leads the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese in North America, and by many priests of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which has a number of parishes in the New York metropolitan area. I was especially made to feel at home by the youth — young men and women devoted to the memory of their deceased pope. The church — filled with images of the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints — was overflowing, a testimony to the love and the leadership of this dynamic man of God.

In my remarks to the assembled faithful, I shared with them that, despite the reality of the dwindling numbers in our Christian families in the Western world, it was most uplifting to be present with so many committed young people.

I learned that in all things, Pope Shenouda III was a devoted father and teacher. “A church without the youth is a church without a future,” he once said. “And the youth without the church are a generation without a teacher.” Despite being responsible for millions of Coptic Christians scattered throughout the globe, he never ceased to give weekly lectures from the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, which drew millions of young men and women for decades.

The papacy of Shenouda III marked an unprecedented expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, especially in North America, where there are now more than 200 parish communities in Canada and the United States. He also ushered in a revival of catechesis, focusing on the formation of youths, and Christian monasticism, which began in the deserts of Egypt in the early fourth century.

Thank God for this loving servant of the church, and may the Lord bless the Coptic family, the spiritual sons and daughters of Shenouda III, and heal them in their time of grief.



Tags: Egypt Coptic Orthodox Church Copts Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria
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23 March 2012
Greg Kandra




Palestinian Joseph Hazboun, 46, poses at the piano with his daughters, Layal, 16, Yazan, 14, and son, Lene, 12, in their apartment in East Jerusalem 28 Feb. For 17 years Hazboun, who is from Bethlehem, West Bank, has been living with his family in Jerusalem without a permanent Israeli residency permit. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

If anyone needs to know what it is like to live in a divided city like Jerusalem, a member of our CNEWA family can tell you.

Catholic News Service recently chatted with one of the long-time staffers in our Jerusalem office:

Joseph Hazboun remembers when he could hop into his car in Jerusalem and drive the few miles to the nearby West Bank city of Bethlehem to see his family. It was easy enough, even passing through mandatory checkpoints, that he and his Jerusalem-born wife and children would make the trip at least twice a month.

It has been years, though, since the Hazbouns, who are Catholic, could make the 25-minute drive on their own. Now the family must take light rail, two taxis and walk across a checkpoint to get from their home in East Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The venture takes at least 90 minutes. The result: The Hazbouns have curtailed their visits to once every several months.

Israeli laws on the book since 2003 strictly limit who can obtain permanent residency status and thus enjoy the related benefits, including driving privileges. The Supreme Court recently upheld the law.

Although he is the spouse of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who holds an Israeli permanent resident ID, Hazboun is prohibited from becoming a permanent resident of Israel because he is from Bethlehem. Only those with permanent residency can enjoy benefits of Israeli society, including coverage under the health care system and social security benefits.

Every year the couples keep close track of their rent receipts, utility bills, school tuition payments and vaccination records. They trek to the Ministry of Interior and then to the Civil Administration in the West Bank to get the piece of paper that allows them to live together legally as a family.

They are among thousands of Palestinian couples who continue living in a state of limbo and uncertainty because they must apply for a temporary residence permit annually. “That puts us at their mercy as, at any given moment, they can rebuke our residency permit and tell us to go away somewhere. But I have nowhere else to go. Here is where my work is, here is where we have our home,” said Hazboun, 46, who has worked in the Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine for 18 years. He has lived in the city since he married his Jerusalem-born wife, Rima, 17 years ago.

“I can’t understand what the security threat is to Israel if we drive,” Hazboun said. “This is just another prohibition to make our life in Israel difficult. It is a demographic war. (They think) that if they make it difficult for us we will say, Why live such a life in Jerusalem when we can move about freely in the West Bank?”

There’s much more. Read the rest. And for more on life in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel, check out Msgr. Kozar’s posts on his Journey to the Holy Land, and for some history of the sacred city, read The Holy City of Jerusalem.



Tags: CNEWA Jerusalem Palestinians
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