2 March 2012
In this photo taken in 2007, Tomy and Elsama Runnanthanamy are seen by their family’s hut. Thanks to a house building project funded by CNEWA and implemented by Diocese of Kottayam Social Services in villages of Wayanad district, Kerala, they were able to move out of their house.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Day 4, 2 March 2012
Today, Thomas and I traveled to the outback, to areas deep in the south Indian countryside. Since CNEWA has been involved in a number of projects here, I was very happy to make this visit.
We arrived very early in the morning at the hilltop parish of St. Mary, a Syro-Malankara Catholic church in the village of Podiyattuvila. We were surprisingly met and greeted by the parish priest, and a delegation of some 50 parishioners. Our purpose was to review the construction work being done to replace the previous church that was almost completely destroyed by fire in late 2010.
It was delightful to see the church under construction and to see the pride in the eyes of the parishioners who led us on a tour of the construction site. It was obvious that this was a dream being fulfilled. And how they shared with me their gratitude — many times over — of how CNEWA was such an important partner in helping this dream to be realized.
Father Stephen, who is the parish priest, told us that the parish includes 100 families — all of whom attend the Sunday Divine Liturgy, which is presently held in a temporary hall. Additionally, daily liturgy is well attended and there are parish activities every day. A personal highlight for me was the singing of some of the Malankara hymns in Malayalam rendered by the women of the parish.
After a variety of photo opportunities and a light repast, we bid our host a fond farewell and I assured them I would return someday to concelebrate a liturgy in their beautiful new church.
Only a few kilometers away, but on an unmarked road, we were led by one of the priests to a mountainous area that has no community name, no zip code and no street address. In fact, our vehicle could only go so far and then we had to walk the rest of the way. Our purpose in this visit was to offer our solidarity and support to the poorest of the poor for whom we are helping in the construction of homes. By the way, these people are of the Dalit group, which means they are the so-called “untouchables” in India’s illegal but powerful caste system.
The project of building these homes is a combined effort of CNEWA, the Indian government and the parish outreach; in some instances, a very modest share is borne by the poor themselves. To understand the contrasts between the hovels in which these dalits live to the beauty and dignity as witnessed in the homes under construction is impossible. One mother showed us her one-room shanty — that housed five people — that was about the size of a small bathroom in Canada or the states. Even though her new home is still under construction, and very rough in appearance, she beamed with pride as she took us through the modest dwelling.
We had the good fortune to visit with two other families whose new homes are under construction. We were accompanied visit by two priests, who related very comfortably and beautifully with these, the poorest of the poor. On your behalf, I accepted the heartfelt and emotional expressions of gratitude for the generosity of CNEWA in giving these supposed “untouchables” dignity of life for the first time in their lives.
These visits were perhaps the high point in my visit so far as they reflected so well the best efforts of CNEWA in reaching out to the poor in this part of the world.
Following this full morning of activities, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and proceeded to our base of operations for the next few days, the Vincentian Provincial House in the city of Kottayam. Since I had visited here as a guest early last year in my previous job with the Propagation of the Faith, I felt very much at home being greeted by the provincial and dear friend, Father George Arackal.
After settling in and unpacking, we enjoyed a brief rest at the provincial house and the customary break for tea. We then traveled to Changanacherry to participate in the completion of a “Popular Mission Retreat.” As Father George explained, a popular mission is the culmination of one week of dynamic preaching and catechesis in a given parish. The closing of this popular mission happened to be in the cathedral parish, the largest parish, in the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Changanacherry. The parish was divided into ten centers and a team of 33 Vincentian fathers prepared the people for this solemn closing event.
If you can imagine: There were 10,000 people who solemnly processed from various parts of the city and arrived in an amphitheater setting in front of the cathedral. I was privileged to sit in a seat of honor next to the archbishop and to offer a word of greeting from all of you. Something that really impressed me was the tremendous variety of participants in the closing ceremony. There were thousands of little children, young people, parents and very many old people. All of them responded with great energy and vigor at the charismatic style of program that was shared with them. The ceremony lasted over three hours and I was tired just watching the energy of the participants in a very hot and muggy environment.
Although we had to hurry to return because of the huge traffic, I was very touched by so many people, especially mothers, who ran up to me to receive my blessing and to receive a blessing for their small children. As a priest, it was a special moment and a satisfying reminder of my vocation.
It is very late and it has been a tiring, but most fulfilling day. I especially remind you of the power of the prayers of the poor; that power was evident to me at every turn. May God bless you and may He bless the poor.
2 March 2012
Tags: India CNEWA Msgr. John E. Kozar
Hassan Atrache buys water from a delivery truck at his house north of Beirut.
(photo: Laura Boushnak)
Journalist Don Duncan wrote about Lebanon’s water woes in the January issue of ONE. Here, he offers a personal perspective.
There are several things I had to adapt to when I first moved to Lebanon in May 2009. Although it is the most “Westernized” of Arab countries, and that makes some aspects of the move easy for a Westerner, the Westernized veneer belies deeper cultural differences one must understand and assimilate to over time. But before any of this happens, there are more practical differences that are starkly obvious the minute you land. Many basic government services are patchy. Electricity outages are a daily occurrence, water cuts happen frequently — especially in the dry summer months — the postal service is not reliable, and the internet speed in Lebanon is among the slowest in the world.
Within a few weeks of my initial move, the hot summer season was firmly in place and the steady supply of water I had come accustomed to became less and less steady. I had just about gotten used to the daily three-hour power cuts, which rotate on a scheduled basis, when I would wake up to find my kitchen tap and shower dry. Water cuts, it seemed, were much less predictable than electricity cuts and so were much harder to get accustomed to. Cuts would happen sporadically and last many hours, sometimes entire days, and the worst was that I never knew, once the water was cut, how long it would be before it would come back on so that I could carry on my household chores. In the meantime, the sink would progressively fill with dirty dishes, laundry would sit unwashed and, worst of all, in the searing, humid Beirut heat, I would have to manage without a shower and feel hot and nasty indefinitely.
The situation became unbearable and I began to try out some solutions. I would buy water bottles in bulk and boil them in big saucepans on the gas stove to do the dishes and laundry. I’d warm up water and give myself a sponge bath in the shower to feel fresh again. It wasn’t the same, and it was really time-consuming.
Then I began to see how Beirutis did it. The rich ones had big reservoirs in their buildings which would be filled by private providers as part of the hefty building charges they paid every year. The poor would resort to pulling water from wells or taking a plunge in the sea to keep clean. Those in between, many of them my neighbors, would manage by saving and rationing their water and when that ran dry, they’d pay a private water provider who would come and pump water he had taken from a spring up in the mountains. He’d come along in his mini-tanker truck and connect its hose to their water tanks. For a set price, he would pump a thousand to two thousand liters, to be rationed over as long a period as possible.
I have gotten used to this kind of intermittent government provision since I moved here, although there are still times I become exasperated and marvel at how easily the Lebanese adapt to fluctuations in supply of the various government goods and services. The truth is that, since 1975, when their civil war first broke out and the government collapsed, the Lebanese have learned how to do it themselves and not rely so much on the state. Since the war ended in 1990, things have gotten better and the government is more present, but the Lebanese people’s ability to cope has endured — an asset of resilience when the going gets tough.
You can read more about this issue — and what is being done about it — in the story Springs of Hope in Lebanon.
2 March 2012
Tags: Lebanon CNEWA ONE magazine Beirut Water
A man prays in a Coptic shrine behind the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
Last month, CNEWA’s Vice President for Development Gabriel Delmonaco, accompanied by our Vice President for the Middle East and Europe Father Guido Gockel, toured the Holy Land with a group of CNEWA benefactors. During their Jerusalem visit, they not only saw first-hand some important CNEWA projects, but they also were able to celebrate Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Here is an excerpt from Gabriel’s final blog post from the field:
When the alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m., I was already awake. The steady sound of the rain hitting the windows and the roofs of the cars woke me up. We all had to be ready by 6:30 to take advantage of the great opportunity to celebrate Mass at the Altar of the Crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Most of us could not believe that, this place that had been so crowded with pilgrims yesterday, would belong entirely to us for 30 minutes today.
As we walked through the wet roads of the Old City, some of the shops opened their doors. The strong smell of Arabic coffee permeated the alleys. Jerusalem was slowly waking up to a new day that for us would bring many unexpected surprises.
We waited for Father Guido at the Altar of the Crucifixion and at 7 a.m. sharp he arrived, escorted by a Franciscan priest. This altar is cared for by the Franciscans. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and other Eastern churches care for other sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. During Mass, we remembered one of our faithful donors from Arizona who will undergo a complicated operation to remove a tumor. This is CNEWA — a family of concerned Christians who care for each other.
For more stories and notes from this trip, check out Gabriel’s blog posts from the field.
1 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Jerusalem Middle East Holy Sepulchre Coptic Church
In this photo taken in 1998, novices of the Bethany community prepare food at their residence near Kottayam, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Day 3, 1 March 2012
Early this morning we left Trivandrum for the town of Marthandam in the state of Tamil Nadu. There we joined Vincent Mar Paulose, the Syro-Malankara Catholic bishop, for a delightful breakfast. Mar Paulose had honored us with a visit during a recent trip to the states, so I looked forward to spending some time with him on this pastoral visit. He introduced us to his vicar general, who had served in Philadelphia for a few years, and also four deacons who are anxiously awaiting their day of ordination in the middle of April. By the way, these deacons specifically asked of you, the CNEWA family, for your prayers as they approach this momentous day.
After our breakfast, Mar Paulose gave us a thumbnail sketch of his eparchy, which is relatively young and began with no Catholics. He also shared with us that his priests are very young and he is blessed with more than 50 seminarians, and expressed profound thanks to the CNEWA family for our sustained assistance in support of seminarians, needy children and many other outreaches. He ended our visit by promising to remember all of you in his prayers.
One of the highlights of the day followed when we visited Vimala Orphanage. Here, we were warmly greeted by the house superior, Sister Rose Francis, and the house director, Sister Savio, and a bevy of beautiful young girls. Sisters led us inside where about a 140 girls — all orphans or abandoned and neglected — were assembled to greet us. This contingent of smiling girls represented three different orphanages, all of which are directed by the Daughters of Mary.
The main feature of our visit was to be entertained with songs and dances by these very special children. Their intricate hand and foot motions, their obvious delight in sharing their gifts with us and their genuine happiness overwhelmed me. The simplicity and the sincerity and the faith of these children were an inspiration to all of us.
After the entertainment, I had the privilege to chat with the girls. I shared with them a very simple message: That each one of them is a part of God’s family and that God loves each and every one of them as he loves children everywhere. I further shared with them that they have family in North America, in Canada and the United States, members of the CNEWA family who lovingly support them. Some of them even referred to you as their aunties and uncles to whom they have written. Please know how much they love you and how they promise to remember you in their prayers.
After completing a tour of the facilities, which included a visit to a beautiful museum dedicated to their founders, we departed for Thiruvithancode, where we visited the famous “half church” built by St. Thomas the Apostle. This was a very interesting visit and its history extends to the year A.D. 63, when according to tradition the doubting apostle built this edifice. After many years of change of administration, it is presently being well maintained by the Syriac Malankara Orthodox Church.
Our next stop was to join the Daughters of Mary in Pilankalai, where they run a home for the physically and mentally challenged. We stopped for lunch and a brief tour. The sisters went all out to make us welcome and to remove any hint of hunger on our part.
After driving for nearly two hours, we arrived in Kanyakumari at St. Joseph’s Balika Bhavan to be greeted by the Bethany Sisters, formerly known as the Sisters of the Imitation of Christ, and a delegation of the orphaned girls who reside there. These lovely girls also had prepared an entertainment program for us of song and dance. Their poise and their skills in every facet of this entertainment were very enriching. Afterward, we spoke about me, my role at CNEWA, the work of CNEWA and their important role in the future of India. Here again, I stressed with them that each one is special in God’s eyes and I also reminded them of God’s call to do something special for him and his people.
The girls then insisted on leading us by hand to show us their residence. They were very proud to show us their dining room, their kitchen and their laundry facilities — with great pride they spoke of being part of St. Joseph’s Balika Bhavan. As I found out later, some of these girls are the children have Hansen’s disease, more commonly known as leprosy. And although their parents are cared for at another Catholic institution, they themselves are not able to live with their parents.
Less than a mile away we paid a visit to Stella Maris Social Center, which is administrated by Sister Anila Christy of the Daughters of Mary. Sister Anila is no stranger to CNEWA or to New York as she served in the Archdiocese of New York and its chancery and canon law offices for a number of years. This humble woman, well educated in canon law, is at her best working with the poor.
Sister Anila and her colleague, Sister Monica, who is the former mother general of the Daughters of Mary, welcomed us and introduced us to two other sisters working at Stella Maris. After our fifth coffee break of the day (!), we were taken on a tour of the rather extensive campus. The sisters’ outreach includes community development, programs to empower women, care for people with Hansen’s disease, housing for abandoned people, vocational training and even a piggery, where the animals are sold for income. Being introduced to a group of women in training to be community leaders, it was obvious that they had great respect appreciation and admiration for Sister Anila. We certainly look forward to see Sister Anila again, and she has promised to visit us at our offices in New York this summer.
Much emphasis today was related to God’s little ones, especially those who are orphans. I share with you again their profound thanks for your sponsorship and support and their promise of prayers for each of you. As I end this day, which has been a very long one, I say a prayer of thanks for having been blessed to be in the presence of these children. May God allow us to be like them.
1 March 2012
Tags: India Sisters Indian Christians Orphans/Orphanages Thomas Christians
Mar Musa, named after St. Moses of Ethiopia, is an ancient Syriac monastery famous for its medieval frescoes. Today, the monastery draws tourists and Christians and Muslims committed to interreligious understanding. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
This morning we received word from our regional director in Beirut, Issam Bishara, that a monastery north of the Syrian capital of Damascus was ransacked by masked gunmen around 6 p.m. on 22 February.
Deir Mar Musa is home to religious men and women under the protection of Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III. The following is a press release from the monastery describing the events that transpired:
Events of Wednesday, 22 February 2012, at Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi
Wednesday evening at 6 p.m., the following happened:
Around 30 armed men — all, except their commander, had their face covered — stormed the monastery’s sheepfold, where some employees were dwelling. They turned the premises upside down, looking for weapons and money, and asking for the father in charge. One of the shepherds was forced to lead some of the armed persons to another part of the monastery. Four of the sisters, who were about to go to the prayer, were confined to a room under surveillance. Right after, some of the aggressors entered the church. The monastic community, gathered for meditation, reminded them that this was a place of prayer, and as such should be respected. The armed men forced the people present to assemble in a side aisle of the church. Then, they forcibly intercepted other persons at the monastery. They went on searching for weapons and money, but to no effect, destroying all means of communication they could find, but without causing any major damage.
During the aggression, the individual responsible for the group was taking photos with his mobile phone. After having permitted that the prayer goes on, he ordered the people present to remain in the church for an hour.
The superior of the monastery was in Damascus, and could not return before daybreak on Thursday.
It is noteworthy that those with authority among the armed persons declared straight away that they did not have the intention to harm the people present at the monastery, and in fact, they kept their word during the aggression.
Naturally, the question arises as to the identity of the armed group. At the moment, it seems impossible to give a definite answer. For sure, those men were familiar with weapons, seeking material interests. The reason why they were looking for weapons at a monastery that has been well known for years for its choice and promotion of nonviolence remains obscure.
We thank God for the protection of his angels, and we prayed during Mass for our aggressors and their families. In spite of these painful events, we did not lose our inner peace nor the desire to serve reconciliation.
Deir Mar Musa
1 March 2012
Tags: Syria Damascus Syriac Catholic Church Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal and Father Emil Salayta of the Latin patriarchate toured CNEWA’s offices today. (photo: Erin Edwards)
“Peace cannot be obtained without justice and even without forgiveness,” said the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, at a conference in Washington, D.C., a few days ago.
“It’s not a question only of who’s right, who’s wrong. Forgiveness cannot be obtained without sacrifices, cannot be obtained without compromises. And I think peace is worth it to pay the price of sacrifice and compromise.”
To learn more about the conference, and the remarks of the patriarch, visit our news page.
Tags: Middle East Christians Jerusalem Middle East Patriarchs