14 June 2012
In this 2006 image, Father Douglas May stands in front of a Cairo plaza and mosque across the street from the Our Lady Queen of Peace Home for Mentally Handicapped Children.
(photo: Octavio Duran/Maryknoll Mission Archives)
Father Douglas May grew up in a small town near Buffalo, New York, but now serves as a Maryknoll missionary in Cairo. From time to time he will offer his insights and perspectives “on the ground” from Egypt. Here, he offers a brief introduction to the work he does.
After working with Maryknoll in Kenya for four years, I returned to Egypt in late January of 2012. As the only native-born American, English-speaking priest in Egypt, I provide pastoral services for several communities in the Cairo area. On occasion, I also say the Coptic Catholic Divine Liturgy in both Arabic and English, as the need arises.
In many ways, it’s been a kind of homecoming. I have spent 18 of the last 30 years working in Egypt and was part of the formation-education team at St. Leo the Great Coptic Catholic Seminary for ten of those years.
When I first returned, my original intention was to provide pastoral support for Catholics who speak English as a first, second or third language. It was also to be “Uncle Douglas” for many of my former seminarians who are now priests scattered throughout Egypt. But with the encouragement of the Holy See’s nuncio, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, I applied for and got the position of “International Coordinator” for the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation and the Center for Arab-West Understanding (a nongovernmental organization, or NGO).
The Center for Arab-West Understanding (CAWU) and its company, The Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation (C.I.D.T.) in Cairo, are some of the few “on-site” organizations fostering Muslim-Christian dialogue and sociopolitical pluralism in Egypt and in the Middle East. It supports forums and workshops among religious and political leaders; reviews and critiques media information on the internet, TV and in the press; runs an intern program for students from Arab and Western countries; provides an internet library; and offers translation services. The Arab-West Report is run by C.I.D.T. It is the largest English-language website in the world concerning Christian-Muslim relations and reviews Arab and Western media reports on TV, the internet and in the printed media. It has become a reliable source of information for many writers and reporters.
While my focus over my first four months has been finances and fundraising, I hope eventually to do some “on-site” work in villages where many of my former seminarians are now priests. I want to do whatever I can to help promote interreligious and interdenominational relations, along with sociopolitical and religious pluralism among Egyptians. Being a “foreigner,” I need the help of local leaders, at least on the Catholic side, to do this. Right now, we’re still in the planning stages. In the current environment, it is obvious that efforts have to be made or the sociopolitical and religious situation will only get worse.
Having a labor-relations background and some hotel management experience in the U.A.E. before becoming a priest, I hope that maybe a team approach can facilitate some positive change. I also worked for two years back in the late 80’s with the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Cairo, where I was the only Christian and only American teaching at a nursing school that was run by the society. Looking back on that experience, I realize I learned much more than I taught.
I hope to write occasionally for ONE-TO-ONE, as well as for the A.W.R. website. While I am not an academian nor an expert, I believe that my various experiences and contacts give me the ability to view things differently and offer personal reflections.
14 June 2012
Tags: Egypt Unity Ecumenism Interreligious Christian-Muslim relations
Olha Tomkiv, Daryna Palykh and Iryna Tomkiv come together for a family reunion.
(photo: Petro Didula)
In the March 2011 issue of ONE Mariya Tytarenko reported on the disappearance of Ukraine’s villages and the efforts to preserve Ukrainian culture and history. She met with many elderly residents, such as the Tomkiv sisters, who shared a desire to keep tradition alive:
Though a widow living on her own, Mrs. Palykh–Tomkiv has three sisters living nearby, 61–year–old Daryna Palykh, 70–year–old Iryna Tomkiv and 80–year–old Olha Tomkiv. The sisters survive their parents as well as two brothers and a sister.
On the feast day of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God, the family gathers at Iryna’s home. “Glory to Jesus Christ,” she says, using the traditional greeting in the village to welcome visitors, who include several relatives from the area and two nieces from Lviv.
Iryna has earned a reputation in the region for her exceptional embroidery skills. Her elaborate needlework adorns almost every item in the house, including napkins, tablecloths, pillowcases, curtains, wall décor and icons.
For more, read What’s Next for Ukraine’s Villages?
13 June 2012
Tags: Ukraine Village life Eastern Europe Eastern Catholics
Novices pose for a portrait at the mother house of the Daughters of Mary in India.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
When you give to CNEWA this month, your gift will be doubled to support sisters in the regions we serve. Your generosity not only provides support to the sisters working in the field, but it supports the formation of these women. While in India earlier this year, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar had an opportunity to meet with novices at the mother house of the Daughters of Mary:
After a plentiful breakfast and more wonderful conversation with the major archbishop and his chancery officials, we headed out to the mother house of the Daughters of Mary, one of the larger congregations of women religious in the Trivandrum Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
Waiting at the doorway was our host, Mother Roselin, D.M., the superior of the community. After a coffee with Mother and other council members, she proceeded to give us a mini tour of the facility and to introduce us to a lovely, smiling group of novices, postulants and aspirants — about 50 in total. The joy and happiness of these young girls and sisters was infectious. They greeted us with songs and kind expressions of welcome. And I was invited to share with them about my own life and the work of CNEWA.
Visit our website to learn how you can double your gift to sisters.
13 June 2012
Tags: India Sisters Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Vocations (religious)
An Iraqi woman prays at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan, on 15 April. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighboring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. (photo: CNS/Ali Jarekji, Reuters)
With the situation in Syria deteriorating and anxiety growing over the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the National Catholic Register’s Tim Drake spoke recently with someone intimately connected to the region and its people: Bashar Matti Warda, the Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, in northern Iraq:
Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there has been a significant reduction in the number of Christians in Iraq. Why is that?
Yes, there’s been a reduction. Christian churches were targeted, Christians were threatened and killed, and many were forced to move elsewhere. There are so many reasons that many felt there was no future for them amidst an immature political process. The political process is based on family and tribal connections. Those in the U.S. look at the situation and wonder what’s going wrong. They say, “They have a constitution; there was an election. Things should be going okay.” What those on the outside don’t realize is that tribal connections are working on the inside. The tribes and parties look out for their own interests. Iraq is a very wealthy country, with a $100-billion budget, and many resources, such as oil. There’s much greed. So, for Christians, there are many reasons for them to leave — and maybe one or two reasons for them to stay.
Where are Christians going? Are there any safe enclaves for Christians in the Mideast?
They have gone to Syria, to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, but all of these are “waiting countries.” People tend not to stay there. Forty-four percent of Iraqi asylum seekers are Christian. They are going to any place that will speed the process of immigration. Other families seek final settlement in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. Those who are not able, who are too poor or do not have the means to travel, often move inside the country to places such as Erbil and northern Iraq.
How might the instability in Syria affect Christians there?
It’s precarious. Syria is sensitive because Lebanon would be affected by Syria. It would cause chaos there as well as to the Christian presence in Iraq. When there’s chaos, it is not a good time for minorities.
Do you see post-communist Russia as a possible defender of Christians in the Mideast?
No, primarily because of communism. The Orthodox are very strong in Russia, but, politically speaking, we cannot view them as our defenders.
What are three things you would like American Catholics to know about Catholics in Iraq?
First, that Christianity has had a presence in Iraq for 2,000 years. It’s a very old community. It has not been converted from Islam. We were there before Islam. Our schools were always the best, even from the sixth and seventh centuries. Second, we’ve been through a very difficult time. We are grateful to the many people who have held out a hand of charity and solidarity with us, the various Catholic charities. However, we would like to leave this path of charity for the path of opportunity. Yes, we are a minority, but we have the capability to stay and build a good future for Iraq. Third, I would like to see more of a commitment by the media to raise the awareness of the issues in Iraq to build schools and hospitals. We are not benefitting from the wealth that Iraq has. We need to find ways to stay and build the community. When we leave Iraq, it’s a big loss. When I visited our communities in Detroit, the second and third generations are no longer speaking the language. Our whole culture is gone.
Do you see a peaceful generation coming?
Yes, that’s what we have to work for. The next generation is not following in the footsteps of their parents because they are tired of the mess. So many voices are asking when, for what and why? These courageous questions are helpful.
There’s much more at the Register.
We also spotlighted Christians in Iraq recently in A New Genesis in Nineveh, the cover story of ONE's November 2011 issue.
12 June 2012
Tags: Syria Iraq Iraqi Christians War Emigration
Lettegebriel Hailu and her niece discuss migrating to Israel. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Award–winning journalist Peter Lemieux reports from Africa and India for ONE. To read his full report on Ethiopian migrants, see The High Stakes of Leaving in our May 2012 issue.
I witnessed one of the most striking scenes from my reporting on the migration of young Ethiopian women to the Middle East when I interviewed Lettegebriel Hailu and her 16-year-old niece Mebrhit. The teenager was poised, against her family’s wishes, to set off for Israel to work as a domestic servant.
We sat on plush couches and neatly upholstered chairs in the foyer of the domestic abuse shelter that Lettegebriel runs in Addis Ababa. The smoky scent of freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee filled the air. The scene was comfortable, if not the conversation, as Lette translated her young niece’s answers to my questions.
The first part of the interview offered few insights into Mebrhit’s thinking. Like a teenager steeled to get her way, her replies were hushed and to the point. She seemed disinterested in the discussion at hand.
But when I asked Mebrhit about the logistics of traveling to Israel, for the first time she started to open up. And what she had to say must have sent shivers up and down her aunt’s spine.
There are two ways for migrants to leave Ethiopia for the Middle East. They can fly out of Bole International Airport with a legitimate travel visa — for tourism or work abroad — or they can go overland on the “desert route” and cross the border into a neighboring country, usually with the assistance of illegal traffickers. Some head to Djibouti then take a boat to Yemen and eventually make their way to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Others go through Sudan and continue by bus or by foot to their destination country.
If all goes according to plan, they arrive no worse for the adventure. But for even the most discerning and well-traveled migrants, let alone a 16-year-old girl from rural Ethiopia, that is one very big “if.”
According to Mebrhit and her friends who have already braved the passage from Ethiopia to Israel, she will follow her brokers’ instructions — from what to wear and how to behave, to where to go and what to do. She will travel from the Merkato in Addis Ababa to Sudan by bus. She will dress in Muslim attire, covering her face and traveling in slippers. From there, she will cross into Egypt on foot, claim Eritrean nationality and, says Mebrhit, “there’s an obvious place where you go to prison.” In jail, she will make a short telephone call.
Lette interrupts her translation: “She’ll be saying, ‘Send me this amount of money, otherwise I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison.’ Then by hook or crook, we’ll have to get her that money. Once she receives the money, she’ll be let go.”
By that point in the journey, Mebrhit will have memorized her new identity, that of a persecuted Eritrean. Her traffickers will have given her fake Eritrean documents — with a few years added to her age. She will have studied the details of her Eritrean village, the high school she supposedly attended, the names of fictitious family members and concocted stories that demonstrate a youth going nowhere. And on the buses and in jail, she will do deeper background research about life in Eritrea. After her release from prison, she will look to connect with another broker to get her to Israel.
As Lette knows well, the dangers of these overland journeys — not to mention what Mebrhit faces once in the destination country — lurk at every turn. In the desert, migrants are sometimes left miles from the border and told to walk the rest of the way with no food or water. Boats that traverse the Gulf of Aden can be overcrowded, shoddy and at risk of capsizing. Along the way, migrants may be passed from one broker to the next, each ready to exploit and extort the vulnerable migrant in his possession.
Mebrhit is too young to grasp the gravity of these life-altering risks. And Lette is essentially powerless to prevent Mebrhit from taking them. She and her family can only advise Mebrhit and support her in Ethiopia, if not her decision to make this journey.
“She doesn’t know more than we know,” says Lette. “And this is all the information we have. But her mind’s made up. So we’re really stuck.”
Lette and I squirmed in our cushioned chairs, hunting for a more comfortable position. But there was none.
12 June 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East Migrants Women
A female member of Kunama village — a peaceful, nomadic people who eventually settled near the border with Ethiopia — can be identified by her jewelery.
(photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Representing CNEWA on a visit to Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000, Sister Christian Molidor documented a unique group of people that had settled in Eritrea — the Kunama people. Lacking an alphabet and doused in many traditions, the group experienced hard times during the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Sister Christian visited a mobile clinic in the Kunama village:
One by one the women approached the hut with their children. Only three women could fit inside the hut, especially when each mother had several children. Using the posters, a lay catechist explained how polio can be a serious health threat, how to detect the virus and why immunization would help each child. The catechist also described rehabilitation exercises to be used if a child contracted the disease. Illiteracy and language differences did not prevent the women from understanding these facts.
When it was their turn to take the vaccine, some children took the drops with stoic courage; others screamed and their mothers had to hold them while the nurse poured the vaccine into their mouths.
After each child received the vaccine, the women and children remained around the hut visiting with one another, watching others arrive and just enjoying the day “away from home.”
The African sun is unbearably hot, but following tradition the Kunama women wear layer upon layer of flowing garments. Kunama villages are desolate and colorless; it is a small wonder the women wear such lovely, brightly colored clothing. All the women wear colored beads that identify them as Kunama. Some younger women wear jewelry — in their noses, their ears, around necks and ankles; all the children, male or female, wear at least one amulet around their necks. Christians wear crosses or scapulars.
For more, read Strange But Miraculous Medicine.
11 June 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Health Care Eritrea Women
This October 2009 photograph depicts rain clouds over the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine in Jerusalem's Old City that also has significance to Jews and Christians.
(Photo: CNS photo/Darren Whiteside, Reuters)
The exodus of Christians from the Middle East has been garnering a great deal of attention — so we asked sociologist Dr. Bernard Sabella to take a closer look at some of the causes, in a web-exclusive essay for ONE magazine:
The percentage of Christians living in the Holy Land has decreased from 10.7 percent in 1890 to 1.4 percent in 2010. There are three principal explanations for this: First, the local Christian community has a relatively lower population growth compared to the rest of the population; second, the ongoing political conflict and instability; and third, the dire economic and social consequences of a prolonged political stalemate.
Christian families in the Holy Land are relatively small, with an average size of four to five members, compared to Muslim and religious Jewish families, which average one and a half to two times as many children as Christian families. During the decade 2000 to 2010, Christian numbers remained the same because of lower birth rates and the emigration of Christian youth.
The 1948 Arab-Israeli war left its impact on the Holy Land’s indigenous Christian population — 60,000 of its members became refugees (among the total 726,000 refugees) and 30,000 were displaced within the boundaries of the new state of Israel. Thanks to the assistance of the various churches and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, many of the refugees, irrespective of religious background, were able to recover and resume their lives.
If 1947 is taken as the base year, when the Christian population was at 143,000, population experts would expect the figure to have doubled naturally by 1980 and to have reached the mark of 400,000 or more by 2010, assuming a growth rate of 2 percent per year. To the contrary, the present figures indicate the disappearance of six out of every ten Christians since 1948. Some would argue this is strictly due to trends of demographic nature. But in reality, these matters alone do not explain the steadily declining numbers, particularly in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
For more answers, read the rest on our magazine’s website.
11 June 2012
Tags: Palestine Israel Holy Land Christian
Three students pose for a portrait at a Latin Catholic school in Ader, Jordan.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
In the May edition of ONE, journalist Nicholas Seeley visited some of Jordan’s remaining Christian villages and reported on efforts to uphold the faith and adjust to a changing world:
“I have five engineers — boys and girls — out of nine.” He grins proudly as he lists their accomplishments: one works as an agricultural engineer for the army, another teaches in Amman, a third is an engineer in Abu Dhabi. The other children are in high school and college. His wife teaches in Smakieh’s public schools.
“All scientific knowledge has come to us through the church,” says Mr. Hijazine. “We, as Christians, want to be the best in the area.”
For years, he says, people from Smakieh have left to pursue higher education, a choice the local church has always encouraged. “They came back bringing new ideas and information with them,” continues the educator. “They tried to make us understand or to explain to us how the rest of the world was working and changing. So everything came to us either through the church or through the people who came back.”
For more, read A Bridge to Modern Life.
8 June 2012
Tags: Jordan ONE magazine Catholic Schools Bedouin
This icon of St. Ephrem the Syrian is one of many that
shows him in a popular pose, writing. (photo: Wikipedia)
Saturday 9 June marks the feast of St. Ephrem in the Latin church (it’s celebrated on 28 January in the East) and 17 centuries after his death, he continues to be a compelling and fascinating figure. As CNEWAs magazine once noted:
Often referred to as the Harp of the Holy Spirit, this
learned theologian and Doctor of the Church was born in Nisibis, Syria
(modern Nusaybin, Turkey) in the year 306. He spent much of his life in
preaching and writing hymns and poems dedicated to combating the heresies of
Gnosticism and Arianism. He was baptized by Bishop James of Nisibis — a man
who greatly influenced his life.
A poet and writer, Ephrem had a complex and artistic personality marked by a
strong tendency to be hot-tempered. But with tremendous self-control, he
dominated his fiery nature and devoted his life to asceticism.
Ephrem taught in Nisibis until the city was ceded to the Persians and he was
forced, with other Christians, to emigrate to Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey).
There, Ephrem continued his teaching at the famous School of Edessa whose
reknown, and even founding, has been attributed to him.
An aspect of Ephrems unusual personality is evident in the fact that,
although ordained a deacon, he never became a priest — avoiding consecration by feigning madness. Although no certain explanation can be found for this behavior, some biographers believe it was due to a feeling of unworthiness.
He was a prolific writer, and one of his hymns was translated and published
in the magazine in 1999:
HE CAME TO US IN HIS LOVE, THE BLESSED TREE, WOOD DISSOLVED
WOOD. FRUIT WAS ANNIHILATED BY FRUIT, THE MURDERER [ANNIHILATED] BY THE
IN EDEN AND IN THE INHABITED EARTH ARE PARABLES OF OUR LORD. WHO IS ABLE TO
GATHER THE LIKENESSES OF THE SYMBOLS OF HIM, ALL OF WHOM IS PORTRAYED IN ALL
IN SCRIPTURE HE IS WRITTEN; IN NATURE HE IS ENGRAVED. HIS DIADEM IS
PORTRAYED BY KINGS, AND BY PROPHETS HIS TRUTH, HIS ATONEMENT BY PRIESTS
HE IS IN THE ROD OF MOSES AND IN THE HYSSOP OF AARON AND IN THE DIADEM OF DAVID.
THE PROPHETS HAVE HIS LIKENESS, BUT THE APOSTLES HAVE HIS
You can read the complete hymn here.
7 June 2012
Tags: Syria Saints
A sister speaks with a resident of the Maison du Sacre Coeur, a Catholic institution run by the Daughters of Charity that serves the needs of disabled children. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Here at CNEWA, we value the work of religious sisters throughout the regions we serve. Congregations such as the Daughters of Charity in Israel remind us, through their dedication, that the love is in the details. Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA president, was able to witness their remarkable work firsthand when he visited Israel last December:
From his office we drove to the Maison du Sacre Coeur. This is a cherished Catholic institution that serves the needs of specially challenged children of all ages — even up to their early 20’s. Sister Katherina Fuchs, the Austrian-born Daughter of Charity who directs the facility, welcomed us and introduced us to three other sisters, who came from Lebanon and Spain. This dedicated group of sisters, followers of St. Vincent de Paul, offer tender, loving care to these very special children. I was particularly moved while watching the level of care with which some physical therapists worked, massaging the muscles of these special needs kids. Through a delicate series of respiratory heaves and hos, they were able to extract from them the desired cough that would help to clear their lungs.
Do you want to support the work of sisters like the Daughters of Charity? For the next 60 days, your gift to sisters — for their formation and good works — will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000 by a generous benefactor of CNEWA.
Tags: Children Israel Sisters Disabilities Daughters of Charity