7 March 2012
Outside the Syro-Malabar Church in Palayur, Kerala is a reproduction of the baptismal font where St. Thomas first baptized the Brahmins. (photo: Sean Sprague).
Day 9, 7 March 2012
Since our visits today involve quite a bit of travel, we headed out early and proceeded north to the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Irinjalakuda, the home diocese of our own M.L. Thomas, regional director of the India office and one of my traveling companions.
We arrived at Pratheeksha Bhavan, an institution for mentally challenged children and adults. The facility is directed by Sister Paulcy, C.S.C., and the Sisters of Charity. This was an exciting visit, as the sisters have put together an amazing variety of programs to educate specially challenged individuals with vocational training and occupational and physical therapy — all done in an environment of loving patience and kindness.
The residents are joined each day by an additional group of many other special needs children and adults who joyfully arrive from neighboring areas to have a day of learning and activities.
I was particularly taken with the quality of the vocational and occupational therapies and activities. Sister Paulcy has formed partnerships with business enterprises, government agencies and individuals — all of which provide an outlet for the work done by these very energetic special needs children and adults. Their pride in learning and crafting is obvious. CNEWA has been a part of this wonderful outreach, and the gratitude of the sisters was reiterated many times over. Thanks to all of you in our CNEWA family.
From here we proceeded to visit with the bishop of Irinjalakuda, Mar Pauly Kammookkadan. He is a very affable man and only two years into his term as bishop here. We had a lovely chat with him, followed by a very filling lunch (even though the bishop apologized that since it was Lent, the meals are “meager.”) I learned so much about this very historic eparchy, truly the “cradle of the faith in India,” as he explained, since it was in this area that St. Thomas first landed by boat and began his missionary work with the people of this faraway land now known as India.
When you visit southwestern India, so many eparchies and parishes lay claim to the doubting apostle, but this is real history and this eparchy of the Syro-Malabars merits the legitimate designation of being the first to receive the faith brought by St. Thomas. This is really exciting to me, as I consider this pastoral visit to be a walk in the missionary footsteps of St. Thomas.
The bishop introduced us to his entire chancery staff, who joined us for lunch. They are a delightful group of dedicated priests and sisters and they seem to have a wonderful rapport with their beloved bishop. The bishop was profuse in his thanks to all of the CNEWA family for our prayers and financial support.
Next stop was a visit to a small home for severely challenged adults, both mentally and physically. This facility is operated by the Nirmala Dasi Sisters. Before arriving, we had to be “rescued,” as we had gotten lost. Father Peter, the chaplain, came on his motor bike to find us and then led us to this rather hard-to-find location.
The work done by the sisters is heroic, just as we had discovered yesterday in another institution run by this same congregation. Some of the patients/residents have been there for years and rely totally for all their needs on the compassionate care given by the sisters. Assisting the sisters, at least for a two-week period, were nine novices from a different congregation who were participating in this “field experience” in preparation for making their vows. Other religious congregations of men and women also send their novices, aspirants and postulants for short-term immersion in this most special ministry. What a learning experience it must be.
We met one resident, 44 years old, whose body is grotesquely disfigured and contorted. God has given him an incredible ability to draw. With great difficulty and some modest assistance, he positions himself to hang on the bedrail in such a way that he can take a pencil in his gnarled hand and draw with a creativity and detail that you would not believe. In fact, one of his most celebrated pieces is a portrait of the bishop, the original of which hangs on the wall in the bishop’s office. I was shown a copy of this and other artwork. You cannot believe how gifted he is and how comfortable he is in his affliction. He has even been featured on television.
We also visited with some residents who are unable to communicate at all — no sounds, no sight, no hand or body motion, no response — but all loved beyond measure by these dear sisters. I said a prayer for all of them, a prayer of thanks for reminding me that God never wants to abandon anyone, even the most defenseless.
We next had a very brief visit to Palayur Church, venerated as the place where St. Thomas first arrived in a canal by boat and, as the story goes, had his first three families of converts, all of the Brahmin caste — the highest one in the ancient kingdom. There is now a parish here — more like a pilgrimage site — by a remnant of the canal and a pond that, legend has it, represents a miracle brought about by St. Thomas, when he prayed and water came forth from the ground. This visit, though brief, heightened my sense of walking in the missionary steps of St. Thomas.
Our final visit of the day, and it was absolutely a delight, was to St. Joseph Orphanage in Brhamakulam. This large facility houses about two hundred girls, who attend classes across the street in a school directed by the same congregation of sisters, the F.C.C. Sisters (Franciscan Clarist Congregation of Sisters).
What an enthusiastic welcome upon arrival here! All the girls were bedecked in their St. Joseph uniforms and formed a huge honor guard for Thomas Varghese, M.L. Thomas and me. Their excitement was contagious.
In a tightly packed meeting room, we received hearty welcomes from Sister Maria Sudha, the director, and from Sister Scarlet, the provincial superior, with all the girls checking out my every move. They were mesmerized by my eyes, my gestures and my speech patterns, and responded to my every word with such overwhelming enthusiasm. I felt like a rock star with these lovely girls.
They treated us to some very polished entertainment, which included biblical playlets, songs and dances. We gave each of them some candy after their performance and our remarks. All of the girls approached me with the biggest smiles imaginable. Some even reached out to touch my face, especially my cheek, as their expression of affection.
Following all of this, we proceed to the dining hall, where all the girls were lined up with their metal plates and cups, waiting for me to enter and to give a blessing. I said a special prayer for all of them, as they are presently in the midst of their standardized exams.
The sisters took us outside through a field with some cows, some chickens and other farm animals to show us a rather high-tech filtration system, subsidized by CNEWA, which allows them to re-use wastewater. It is very eco-friendly and cost-effective in conserving water, which is a most valuable commodity in India. I was very happy that CNEWA has been instrumental in helping them to address this need and to preserve the environment, as well.
We had one more final goodbye to all of the girls who were again standing in line to see us off. What beautiful smiles for this farewell.
I remembered all of you at many junctures today. As I am winding down this pastoral visit very soon, I can’t help but be thankful for all the blessings I have received from the loving individuals I have met. Even though you are physically far from here, you have been very close to me and to our many special family members here in India. Many of you have adopted children here through your sponsorship, but the truth is that they have adopted you and love you very much.
God bless you and God bless the poor of India.
7 March 2012
Tags: India Education Msgr. John E. Kozar Orphans/Orphanages
Syrian refugees receive humanitarian aid from an Islamic organization in Tripoli, Lebanon, 6 March. (photo: CNS/Omar Ibrahim, Reuters)
As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, a new humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Issam Bishara, our regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, puts it in context:
In February 2012, Syrian government forces carried out a major attack on Homs. This resulted in the deaths of over 700 inhabitants, including women and children, and led to the widespread condemnation by world governments and various non-governmental organizations. On 29 February, the Free Syrian Army withdrew in a strategic retreat from Homs, in order to save the civilians still in the Baba Amr district.
During the past few days, some 2,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, many of them from Homs, and particularly its opposition stronghold of Baba Amr. The majority of them, being Sunni, found refuge in border villages where they have relatives and mainly in the cluster of Wadi Khaled in Akkar-North Lebanon and in the East Bekaa border, in a no man’s land area called “Al Masharih.”
As for the Christian population: according to both Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, the superior general of the Good Shepherd congregation and Father Eliane Nasrallah, a good friend of CNEWA and the Greek Catholic parish priest of Al Qaa village (a Lebanese village located on the eastern border with Syria), the majority of the Christian families of Homs and the surrounding villages left during the escalations and found refuge in three areas:
- The Valley of Christians (inside Syria). It’s around 60 kms away from Homs on the international road between Homs and Tartous, which is a popular tourist site in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border. Most people in the area are Christians (Greek Orthodox, in particular.)
- The coastal city of Tartous (inside Syria). The Sisters of the Good Shepherd screened around 150 Syrian Christian families who escaped from Homs and found refuge in that area in addition to around 50 families who found shelter in Damascus.
- The Lebanese village of Al Qaa. Father Nasrallah says that at present 40 Christian families found refuge at their relatives’ homes within his parish. After visiting a majority of them, he reported that all of them are needy and living in very difficult conditions.
All displaced Christian families are struggling with severe weather. They are without power and basic necessities. They need emergency assistance such as food, foam mattresses, blankets, heating fuel and medications.
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, and have only been exacerbated by the death of more than 200 Christians in Homs as a result of the violence in the area, where the only victims have been civilians. It was reported that Christian residents of Hamidiya had been stopped from leaving Homs by anti-government forces, and were forced to evacuate their homes in the mosque to use them as human shields for protection against government troops. Further, the Virgin Mary Church, one of the oldest churches dating back to the early Christian era, was attacked by terrorists on 24-25 February. The surrounding commercial area, mainly owned by Christians, was also attacked. The same pattern that emerged in Iraq is now playing out in Syria: Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians.
At present, the priority of the local church is to help the displaced Christian families in Lebanon and inside Syria. Displaced Muslims are supported by Muslim NGO’s (mostly religious and Salafi institutions) and are receiving substantial funds from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Christians are finding refuge with Christian communities where none of the Arab aid is available. The church is their only hope.
CNEWA is in the process of raising funds to assist some 260 families inside Syria and in Lebanon in coordination with Caritas Lebanon, which has already started providing some necessary items such as blankets to some families, regardless of religious affiliation. Click here to help!
It is worth mentioning: the Lebanese government has adopted a policy of remaining unbiased to the conflict in Syria. Accordingly, it is allowing demonstrations and free speech for both sides, without discrimination.
7 March 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Middle East Christians Relief
In this photo taken in 2000, Armenian Catholics celebrate Divine Liturgy in a village near Gyumri, Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Today, Pope Benedict XVI addressed Middle East Christians in his general audience, encouraging church leaders and faithful in the region to remain hopeful in these arduous times:
“I extend my prayerful thoughts to the regions in the Middle East, encouraging all the priests and faithful to persevere with hope through the serious suffering that afflicts these beloved people,” he said.
The pope made his remarks when he greeted Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut and Armenian bishops from around the world attending their synod in Rome.
At the end of the general audience March 7 in St. Peter’s Square, the pope expressed his “sincere gratitude” for Armenian Catholics’ fidelity to their heritage and traditions, and to the successor of St. Peter.
Such fidelity has always sustained the faithful throughout “the innumerable trials in history,” he said.
The majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches — the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite or Melkite churches.
For more check out the full CNS story in the ‘News’ section of our website. To learn how you can support Middle East Christians, visit our website.
6 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Armenia Armenian Catholic Church
In this 2010 image, Sister Lisi Valloppally walks with young patients on the grounds of Grace Home in Trichur, India. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Day 8, 6 March 2012
It is late evening and I am very weary from an emotionally challenging day of pastoral visits. There were many joyful moments, to be sure, but there also many moments that challenge one’s soul with the suffering of the poor.
We began very early by driving north about one and a half hours to Trichur to have coffee and a visit with His Grace Archbishop Mar Andrews Thazath, of the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Trichur. He very warmly greeted us and was most happy to tell me that he was a classmate of Msgr. John Faris, formerly of CNEWA, while they were both graduate students in Rome.
Archbishop Andrews is a visionary who demonstrates his courageous spirit through efforts to “put out into the deep,” as Luke’s Gospel puts it, offering wonderful service to the poor. He has continued some very creative programs for the poor initiated by predecessor bishops, including every type of social service and educational programming you could imagine. He wished us a brief goodbye, as he would join us later for lunch at his seminary.
From our visit with him, we headed to the Paul VI Mercy Home, a complex of social service modules owned and operated by the Archeparchy of Trichur. And of special note, local Catholics and others offer enough support that the programs are almost self-sufficient.
This Mercy Center offers superb educational programs to mentally challenged children. It is directed by the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, who do a marvelous job in serving the needs of these special loved ones. We were welcomed by a marching band and many smiling faces, including very small children, children up to their teens, many sisters serving there and a large contingent of trainees who study there to receive a diploma in working with special needs children. This institution is licensed to offer this diploma, as it has such a good name in its care for the specially challenged.
The children were a delight and, amazingly, understood most of the English I spoke, even though M.L. Thomas did a superb job of translating for me.
From the educational modules, we travelled to another part of the very large campus to visit the John Paul II Peace Center, which is dedicated to the care of people of every age with severe physical and mental challenges. The care given here is nothing short of phenomenal. Many residents require total assistance for every bodily need: feeding, dressing, cleaning, etc. A core group of sisters — aided by some volunteers from France and a number of aspirants of their community — give a heroic example of what serving others is all about. We were especially touched by the aspirants, girls 18 to 20 years old who would accept this most demanding work as a foretaste of a possible religious vocation, and do it so lovingly. What an example for some of our young people!
On the same huge campus, we next visited the Grace Home, which accepts children and adults stricken with H.I.V./AIDS. We focused our attention on the children who are victims of this disease. They greeted us with song at the door of their “Home.” They were cherubic in their welcoming and demonstrated to us why the name “Grace Home” is so appropriate. The care given by the sisters and others creates an environment of God’s grace, which overflows with joy and happiness, even though some of these little ones might not endure the ravages of this disease.
Credit must be given to the archbishop of Trichur, to Father Joshi Aloor, the director of the entire facility, and to his assistant, Father Johnston. They, along with the Nirmala Sisters who serve on this large campus of loving care, do an amazing job of bringing Christ to those with these special needs.
From here we headed to Mary Martha Syro-Malabar Major Seminary. There are currently 136 seminarians studying at this seminary, about 40 percent of whom are from the Archeparchy, and the others represent many of the other Syro-Malabar eparchies and a few religious congregations. We did not get to visit with the seminarians, as they were involved in studying for their exams later that day. We were content to have a lovely lunch with the administration, faculty and a special guest, the archbishop.
A nice break was our next pastoral visit to the Congregation of Samaritan Sisters Generalate, where we were warmly greeted at the main entrance by Mother Rose Cornelia and the Mistress of Novices, Sister Sophia. With them were all the sisters living there, plus the very happy and smiling novices dressed in their lovely white saris and a contingent of about 20 postulants and aspirants.
We were lead into the chapel for a brief prayer and then on to a meeting hall, where Mother Cornelia formally greeted us and gave us some welcoming gifts. This was followed by a beautiful program performed by the aspirants, postulants and novices. They presented a program of dances, mime, recited verse and song. What a spirited bunch of young women, exuding such happiness, joy and poise! We were delighted to be entertained by these future sisters.
After some refreshments — and some storytelling by yours truly — we bid our farewell to all the smiling sisters and candidates, who all accompanied us to our vehicle. I promised to come back and spend more time with them. They expressed their loving gratitude to all of you for your ongoing support in prayer and gifts. They promised you their prayers.
Next on our schedule was St. Anne’s Orphanage, also in Trichur. This is a large institution with about 130 girls, which, like all the other institutions and programs we visited this day, is subsidized by CNEWA. This facility is directed by Father Laurence Thaikkattil and is serviced by the Carmelite Sisters, with Sister Rita Grace, C.M.C., as the superior.
Here, too, we had a surprise welcome of cheers, smiles and raised arms from all the girls lined up in the hidden passageway at the entrance of the orphanage. They certainly made the three of us feel at home.
We headed into a meeting hall where we were formally greeted by Father Laurence and given bouquets of flowers by some of the smallest children in the program. Then we were treated to some amazing dancing by the children. Their intricate steps, coupled with their obvious pride in entertaining, were infectious.
After the program, I was privileged to address — or should I say entertain — all 136 of these sweethearts. They were so happy, their smiles were overwhelming. Even though they were also studying for their exams, they gave all their loving attention to us and brought joy to each of us. After a little repast with the sisters, we headed out to our next and last stop of the day.
We arrived at St. Christina’s Home, a place for unwed mothers and newborns, along with unwanted babies and children. This home is also run by the Archeparchy of Trichur and is directed by Father Paul Neelankavil. Sister Chinnamma, a Nirmala Dasi sister, serves as the superior. A beaming group of youngsters warmly greeted us at the entrance. This facility also accepts adult women who have been disowned by their families and would otherwise live on the street.
Father Paul brought a little girl to meet us, held lovingly in his arms. He explained that she had been “dropped off” only two hours earlier. With big eyes fixed on this strange visitor from America, this little one offered us a huge smile. That said it all. God bless the little ones.
Father Paul then took us to the newborn nursery where some of the babies were being nursed and held by their mothers. Since there is often a great social stigma in being an unwed mother, the mothers often leave these infants with the sisters after delivery. From this area of the facility, babies move to the intermediate nursery, where little girls from 6 months to 2 years are housed. The goal is to place as many as possible in adoptive homes, and this institution has an enviable record in the placement of these children. This particular group made us melt — they were so affectionate, looking for us to hold each and every one of them. The care given them by the sisters is amazing.
Our visit ended with a number of the children walking us to our vehicle for a final loving goodbye.
It was a very long and memorable day. There was the reality of much suffering and many sorrowful stories. But there was always joy, love and hope on the faces of everyone, and especially with these most blessed visitors.
You were there with me and are remembered by all the children, all the specially challenged, the abandoned, the many sisters giving loving service to the poor, the priests. After all, they are your family.
God bless all of you.
6 March 2012
Tags: India Msgr. John E. Kozar Orphans/Orphanages Seminarians HIV/AIDS
The Pontifical Mission-built reservoir in Deir El Ahmar holds up to 13.2 million gallons of water. (photo: Laura Boushnak)
Like the dysfunction in the electricity, internet and public sectors in Lebanon, the country’s patchy water sector is also seen, by many Lebanese, as an apt reflection of its hobbled government. Since the civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, Lebanese have learned how to manage as private citizens and not rely on the government for support and protection. This mentality continues to this day and while it serves them well in surviving and managing during power and water cuts, it is also harmful in that few Lebanese seek to hold the government accountable for these shortcomings.
There is a widespread conviction here that political corruption does more harm to water supply than global warming. For example, there are precious few Lebanese initiatives to unmask and end such systemic problems in governance and thereby improve the provision of basic services, like water, once and for all.
In Lebanon, politics and business run very, very close, and for every advocate for reform to the government’s handling of basic services, there is another government figure with business interests in the given sector that run counter to the interests of the larger public. Private water provision is big business in a country where the government runs short of public water demand by some 30 percent.
Unlike its neighbors of Syria and nearby Jordan, Lebanon is a water-rich country and sees enough rainfall and snowfall (in the mountains) to more than provide for its annual needs. Its problems are a lack of water collection and storage infrastructure, an antiquated network of pipes that leak some 40 to 50 percent of the water, and an almost complete lack of water treatment facilities to clean polluted water.
To improve many of Lebanon’s daily woes, like water shortage, a clean up of governance culture and a stamping out of corruption is required. In the meantime, the NGOs, church groups and foreign governmental funds are providing a stopgap role that certainly helps, but will only become truly sustainable when Lebanon has a political culture that can take such initiatives and scale them up nationally.
For a personal take on Lebanon’s water woes, check out A World Without Water. And for more on what’s being done to help the people affected, read Springs of Hope in Lebanon in the January issue of ONE.
6 March 2012
Tags: Lebanon Water
Deacon Kassahun Teka, age 27, studies for the priesthood in his one-room, windowless dwelling in Meki, a rural town in southern Ethiopia. He belongs to St. Michael’s Church in Meki.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported on the evolution of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s role in encouraging those infected with H.I.V. to take their prescribed drugs while continuing to practice their faith rituals. Similarly, in the September 2009 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on how Ethiopian Orthodox clergy were adjusting to the many social and economical changes in Ethiopia. Among these changes being the general increase in public awareness of public health issues, including H.I.V./AIDS. These changes fueled adjustments to curriculum used in clergy training centers:
“When you see the potential that the members of the clergy have in such development activities, we have to get them engaged. We need to train them. The need is growing for our clergy to be more aware of what’s going on around the world rather than just limited to the Ethiopian situation.”
The program’s current curriculum already reflects this thinking.
“I’d say the curriculum is 60 percent development, 40 percent spiritual,” Dr. Legesse adds.
Participants learn about a number of issues, including alleviating poverty, gender equality, public health and environmental conservation. They also gain practical training in the latest agricultural techniques for the small-scale cultivation of fruits, vegetables, teff and beans. And they learn of the crucial importance of speaking openly with parishioners about traditionally taboo subjects, such as sexual behavior and H.I.V./ AIDS, as well as how to deal appropriately with individuals infected with the virus.
“In earlier times, a young girl went to a priest and told him she had H.I.V.,” recalls Abba Welde Gabriel of St. Michael’s Church in Meki, 12 miles from Ziway. “She asked for a blessing, and the priest said, ‘You’re too young for H.I.V. Go away.’ Now they’ve been trained to address that situation.”
The curriculum also aims to develop and strengthen the clergy’s interpersonal and communication skills. Traditional priestly formation emphasizes memorization, celebrating the liturgy, administering the sacraments, preaching and chanting. In general, this formation does not provide young clergy with the people skills required to lead a parish community in today’s fast-changing world.
“Some priests are born religious people and receive due respect, but others aren’t and don’t. They lack self-confidence,” says Abune Gregorius of Ziway. “You have to consider their position as role models for society. Priests have to live up to that requirement. The clergy training centers help them do that.”
Deacon Kassahun Teka, who serves St. Michael’s Church in Meki, recently completed the clergy training program. The 27-year-old credits it with having made him a more effective minister.
For more, read As It Was, So Shall It Remain?.
5 March 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Ethiopian Orthodox Church HIV/AIDS
Msgr. Kozar visits an orphanage run by the Bethany Sisters. (photo: CNEWA India)
Day 7, 5 March 2012
Today, we shifted gears and directed the focus to the staff of our regional office in Ernakulam, which is a city in Kerala of about three million people and very historic, especially in terms of the Christian faith. This is the seat of the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Mar George Cardinal Alencherry. We will have a visit with him in a few days, as he prepares to convene a synodal meeting with all his bishops of this church of four million souls. Since Cardinal George did me the honor of visiting me in New York several months ago, I am honored to be able to repay the visit.
However, today we focused our attention on the wonderful men and women who staff our office here in Ernakulam. It is the largest office in many ways: in the number of employees as well as the number of projects, institutions, programs and individuals directly assisted by CNEWA. The office primarily serves the two very dynamic Eastern Catholic churches in India, the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara churches, but the staff has also reached out to the other non-Catholic Eastern churches, which also include several million people.
My first surprise was the location of the office of CNEWA, as it is strategically located on the campus of the Syro-Malabar Archiepiscopal Curia. This is a large, impressive hilltop property just outside the city of historic Cochin (also referred to as Ernakulam). After making a turn just before reaching the top of the hill, we arrived at an unusually-designed building that houses the CNEWA offices. The design of the building was very creatively conceived by Thomas Varghese when he previously served as the regional director of this office and basically started from scratch. He and his team of architects and builders have assembled a very beautiful multilevel office structure that is bright, comfortable and very efficient in use of space and design.
But the best part of this CNEWA office is the lovely family-like staff who serves here. Their professionalism, as obvious as it appears, is second to the warm hearts and the genuine dedication of these hard working men and women.
Naturally, there was some apprehension as I entered. After all, the new big boss was now in the office for the day of reckoning and accompanied by the previous regional director. So how did they react to the new president of CNEWA? You would have to ask them, of course, what they thought of me as the new boss, but I can tell you they were very warm and welcoming. I felt right at home with each and every one of them. I shared with my thoughts that, despite being separated by time differences and continents, we are one family in CNEWA and I thanked them for the amazing work they do. By the way, they were obviously joyful in having Thomas “back home” with them.
What impresses me about the work of this dedicated staff is the sheer scope of the outreach done through them. The office cares for tens of thousands of orphans or needy children living in homes associated with CNEWA’s sponsorship programs; thousands of school-age children receive educational subsidies; thousands of the abandoned elderly, the feeble, the sick, the dying are lovingly tended to with dignity and grace; homes are built for the poor; water is retained for farmers and families; generations of young men have been formed to serve the Lord as priests (and I have visited already with many of them) as well as generations of women who have entered religious life; churches, parish halls, convents, rectories all built with your prayers and support! All of this is coordinated, visited, reviewed, distributed and reported on by this talented family team of CNEWA. I expressed to all of them, not just my profound thanks for all they do, but I also included you in my expressions of thanks.
Our host for my entire pastoral visit is Mr. M.L. Thomas, who has been a loyal member of the CNEWA team since the office was opened in Ernakulam some nine years ago. He does an exceptional job in directing all these efforts in India. He is very well respected by bishops, priests, sisters and all the people responsible for administering the programs and institutions of these dynamic churches. He is most highly regarded by his staff. And, in this regard, he follows so well in the footsteps of his predecessor Thomas Varghese.
I did not even realize it, but as large as the office outreach is today, until only nine years ago the processing of the needs and distributions was handled by the papal nuncio to India. With all the other responsibilities of a nuncio, it was not possible for him to give the necessary attention to the mountains of details as is the case today. So the office was initiated by Thomas and my predecessor, Msgr. Stern, to accommodate the many needs of administration on behalf of CNEWA
Imagine the volume of visits and communications needed to serve thousands of institutions and programs. The India regional office does an amazing job in reaching out to the poor. And that should make all of you reading this feel really good. Your charity and your prayers are working and bringing about some amazing results in the name of the church and on behalf of our Holy Father.
I invited, or rather I should say that M. L. (as he is commonly called) invited, all of the staff to join me for a lovely lunch at a restaurant. It was a happy occasion and I was delighted to get to know everyone and to see them hungry and happy — just what a family gathering and meal should be.
After lunch, I visited a tailor, well known to countless bishops and priests for making cassocks for their everyday use. All priests and bishops here dress in a white cassock and for future visits I, too, want to be properly dressed, so I am having some cassocks made by this gentleman. I will also wear them in other hot climate zones, all over India and beyond.
It was a gentle day and a very fulfilling one to be with my India regional office family. They all expressed their loving best wishes to you and their thanks for all the charitable good works made possible by your gifts and effected by their labors. God bless you for giving such dignity to so many of the poorest of the poor in India. Your presence with me is felt by so many here in India.
5 March 2012
Tags: India Msgr. John E. Kozar
Day 6, 4 March 2012
Our schedule for today featured just one pastoral visit, but it was one filled with great content and meaning.
We arrived a little after 6 a.m. at St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Apostolic Seminary in Kottayam. Waiting in front of the seminary was the rector, Father Alex Taramangalam. It was still dark and he walked us inside to meet with the priest in charge of liturgy, with some sisters who brought a choir of girls, and with some priests who would concelebrate with me. I had the privilege of celebrating the liturgy in this Syro-Malabar Seminary in the Latin rite, complete with English and Latin sung parts of the Mass.
While we were going over preparations for the Mass, the seminarians were chanting together the morning prayer of the church in their distinct style and their own beautiful local Malayalam language. Father Alex pointed out to me one portion of their morning prayer was for all their benefactors, which includes all our CNEWA family.
My first impression as I processed to the altar was the size of the chapel filled with smiling seminarians, about 300 of them, a mix of those at the philosophy level, theology level and about 35 seeking advanced degrees in Theology and Scripture. What an uplifting feeling to know that God has blessed the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church with so many priestly vocations.
This seminary is one of three Syro-Malabar synodal seminaries, not the oldest (as it is presently celebrating its golden anniversary), but it has the largest student body.
Back to the liturgy ... It was very humbling and much appreciated that all the seminarians had copies of all the responses to the newly promulgated Latin rite Mass and were fully in sync with every detail of the liturgy. I think they may have been more comfortable with this rite than so many of our faithful at home still coming to grips with changes put in place since last Advent. And they even sang some responses in Latin.
You might not appreciate what an honor it was for me to celebrate with these seminarians in my own rite. The Syro-Malabar liturgy is filled with so much reverence and inspires me to be a better celebrant in my own liturgical norm. I am grateful to all of them for this.
At the end of Mass, Father Alex gave a glowing introduction of me, especially noting how CNEWA has accompanied the seminarians for many years on the road to priesthood. I cannot remember the exact number, but he mentioned that this seminary has been blessed to have educated and formed about 1,600 priests giving service all over the world. In fact, in my homily I, too, highlighted the wonderful missionary charism of the Syro-Malabar Church. As with St. Thomas the Apostle, Syro-Malabar Catholics always reach out to spread the Good News of Jesus far and wide. I thanked them for continuing to answer the call to priesthood and to be faithful to their Syro-Malabar heritage.
I also shared with them after Mass about the work of CNEWA and how blessed are we to serve the needs of our brothers and sisters in the Eastern churches. I told the seminarians that my role is to educate our Catholics, to animate them and to inspire them too embrace more fully our family in the East. I also assured them we will continue to accompany them as they discern God’s will.
Father Alex and his team of administrators and faculty, under the spiritual leadership of the Syro-Malabar Synod, offer the seminarians a great blend of top-notch academic theology coupled with very healthy doses of formation. The result, as I have evidenced firsthand, is a community of priests firmly rooted in their faith and ministry, and committed to give loving service in Christ’s church. You should be proud of them and take delight as their loving sponsors.
Thomas Varghese mentioned in his remarks to the seminarians how valued is the relationship between the sponsors and their seminarians and told the young men how important it is to write to their CNEWA family sponsors. They promised to remember all of you in their prayers. In fact, they sang a hymn to Our Lady at the end of our sharing in which they commended all of you to her protection.
After Mass we enjoyed a bountiful breakfast with the seminary administration, again the rector being a superlative host. All of the faculty and administration and staff, including the sisters I was fortunate to meet, made us feel most welcomed.
The final facet of our visit was a tour of the vast campus. CNEWA has had a hand in building the new library, which is “state of the art,” with an impressive reference section, a lending section, digital control system and plenty of space and plenty of books for quality research and reference. The grounds are impeccably maintained and the seminarians assist with gardening chores, general maintenance and other household tasks. There is also a very impressive museum and a special treat was to walk up several flights of stairs to a special chapel/prayer and meditation room. This simple room invites seminarians to come for private, quiet prayer at any time of day or night. A spirit of peace permeated this holy space. And how perfect it was to climb to this holy place on the Lenten Sunday when the story of the Transfiguration is read!
After our visit to St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, we packed up our things at the Vincentian Provincial House, offered our thanks to its superior, Father George Arackal, and proceeded to Ernakulam where we would be based until our departure on 9 March.
I end this day with much hope after my energizing visit to the seminary. Whatever God’s plan is for each of them we do not know, but with certainty we can say, the church will be blessed. God bless you and keep you in his love.
5 March 2012
Tags: India Msgr. John E. Kozar
In this image from 2006, a sister and children play at Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Complex in Gyumri. (photo: by Armineh Johannes.)
In a country ravaged by wars and earthquakes, the nuns at the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Complex have learned to keep their eyes on the ball — and even have some fun. One of those is Sister Arousiag Sajonian, who has done some remarkable work in a troubled corner of Armenia. She spoke with us about it during a recent visit to New York City. You can read part of that conversation in the January 2012 issue of ONE. (You can learn more about the work of the sisters here and here.)
Meantime, you can see more of the interview with Sister Arousiag in the video below.
5 March 2012
In this 2010 image, locals living near Kerala’s Idukki Dam, the largest of its kind in Asia, collect water at a well. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Day 5, 3 March 2012
Today was a full day of pastoral visits. Some were very poignant and all were important in terms of our being present with the poor.
We began very early in the morning and arrived in the hill country of the Eparchy of Kanjirappally, which numbers some 204,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics. At the eparchial pastoral center, we were welcomed by Father Matthew Paikat, the vicar general, who also conveyed the best wishes of the bishop, who was out of the country.
After a delightful breakfast with Father Matthew and several other officials, we headed out, led by the vicar general, who insisted I ride with him. This afforded me an opportunity to learn about this eparchy and its many outreaches to the poor. Father Matthew highlighted how CNEWA has been a most significant supporter since the eparchy was founded in 1977.
About an hour later we arrived at the flourishing mountainside parish of St. Thomas, in Kanamala. What an amazing reception: A marching band of beautiful special needs youngsters and young adults, several hundred children, their parents and the elders of the parish, all lined up in a receiving line. There were many huge Indian umbrellas held by the women and hoisted high while twirling them to welcome the three of us. Thomas Varghese, M.L. Thomas and I were swept away by this welcome.
They led us to the beat of the marching band to the church, where we entered to say a prayer, and then on to the humble parish hall, which was packed. The welcoming continued in the form of remarks from Father Matthew, who spoke on behalf of the bishop and expressed profound thanks to CNEWA for the many facets of assistance given to this parish. Then the pastor gave a very emotional welcome to us and also highlighted the many expressions of solidarity from CNEWA from the parish’s beginning. Then came some young people who did some amazing dancing: a combination of intricate classical Indian dances and a little bit of Bollywood. They put their heart and soul into the performance.
Besides construction projects and renovations at the parish proper, CNEWA has been instrumental in helping the people of this parish to improve the quality of life by assisting in the building of substantial houses and water holding tanks. The area is very mountainous. Normally the rains come with great force and cause annual flooding, mudslides and loss of soil. With the water tanks, they now can break out of the cycle of being inundated by floods or suffering from drought.
After a most moving and loving visit with the parishioners at the church hall, we headed out with the pastor to a much more remote area of the parish. We saw firsthand the dynamic difference a new durable house can make for the poor and how having a controlled supply of water gives the cycle of life new meaning. We had some very steep climbs to arrive at these sites, but the recipients of our charity were beaming to show us their new homes and their water catchment systems. Thanks to you for giving them this new dignity through your kind donations over the years! CNEWA has funded over 40 such water tanks just in 2011 alone. Over the years, hundreds of families have benefitted from CNEWA’s water tanks in this part of India. (To learn more, click here.)
A note about these wonderful people: About a hundred years ago, this group of people — already fiercely loyal to the Syro-Malabar Church — arrived in this heavily-forested mountainous terrain. They brought with them skills in farming and settled in what others thought was impenetrable terrain. They also brought with them their faith, even before priests and sisters could accompany them. The community has done reasonably well, sustained by their faith and their talents, even in difficult times.
From this cherished parish visit, we headed to St. Joseph Orphanage in Kannimala, directed by the Sisters of Charity. This is a relatively small orphanage with about 50 girls, but the environment is loving, thanks to the leadership of Sister Shiny C.S.C., and the others sisters working with her. I was overwhelmed with the cleanliness of this facility. They should get an award! The sisters stress with the girls the importance of cleanliness and good order. You would have been amazed at how neat they kept their dormitories, the eating facilities and the laundry area (the girls do their own laundry).
We enjoyed a brief dancing program presented by some of the girls, who had the poise of young ladies. The girls listened to Thomas Varghese and M.L. Thomas, who shared some beautiful thoughts with them, especially how their sponsors love them very much. Thomas even referred to those of you sponsors as their “aunties” and “uncles.” I was very proud of both of them, as team members of our CNEWA family. The children all send you their love and promised their prayers for you, their aunties and uncles.
From the orphanage we headed to the town of Palai, which is famous for the incredible number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life that have come one parish there. Over 145 priests have been ordained from this parish and many bishops have grown up here, of whom I have met a number.
But the purpose of this visit was to experience the very large Palai Girls Town, run by the Snehagiri Missionary Sisters, a community founded in 1969 that already counts 500 professed sisters.
Guess what kind of welcoming reception greeted us as we entered the rather large compound: A large, beautifully bedecked marching band made up of about 35 girls who live at this orphanage. They led us into a large and immaculately clean auditorium where we were given the ceremonial bouquet of flowers. A special treat of this visit was to meet the founder of the congregation, Father Abraham, and the sisters’ superior general, Mother Virmala. Father Abraham is 98 years old and is still sharp in mind, albeit limited in mobility. What an honor to be in his presence!
The girls also presented some absolutely professional-grade dancing entertainment. They were dressed in classical Indian garb, displaying intricate moves, and were well disciplined in their every move. The superior told me they have won a number of competitions. There are about 175 girls at this institution and CNEWA has been a major donor in support of the wonderful programs offered to the girls. In many of these “orphanages,” the girls are not necessarily orphans in the traditional sense, but are nonetheless in need of some type of support. Some have lost a parent; others have parents who cannot care for them. Some have been abandoned; others have parents too involved with caring for the ills of another family member.
We were tired after much travel, some emotionally-packed visits with the poor, high energy events in a thriving mountain parish and joy-filled experiences with God’s little ones.
After a dinner with some of our Vincentian hosts, we returned to the Provincial House for a good night of sleep. CNEWA and its extended family are blessed to be remembered by the poor in India. The children will remember you in their night prayers tonight and countless others will pray for you daily. You are all loved and before I turn out the lights (or perhaps the familiar power outage will do it for me), I, too, promise to remember you in my prayers.
Tags: India Msgr. John E. Kozar Indian Christians Orphans/Orphanages