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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
12 June 2015
Greg Kandra

In Cairo, a young zabbaleen, or garbage picker, transports by a donkey cart his day’s scavenging to be sorted and sifted for anything useful. (photo: John E. Kozar)

The newspaper for the Archdiocese of New York, Catholic New York, features this week an interview with CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, reflecting on his recent trip to Iraq and Egypt:

Msgr. Kozar said he found the same strong faith among the Christians in Egypt. They face a different, but no less worrisome range of problems, including the perception by their Muslim neighbors that they were supportive of, if not complicit in, the military overthrow of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi nearly two years ago.

In the aftermath of that coup, mobs attacked Christians and burned their churches. “About 55 church compounds were burned, destroyed, and I visited four or five of these,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And although there is a great improvement in having this government, we feel more protected but by no means are we free of violence or free of danger.”

Unlike other parts of the Middle East where better-educated Christians are at least better financially positioned, Christians in Egypt are often at the bottom of the social strata.

Part of the reason Msgr. Kozar visited Egypt was to show CNEWA’s solidarity for this marginalized, impoverished community. On the outskirts of Cairo is a municipal dump and on the fringes of that dump live 900,000 people in a squalid shantytown. They make their living picking through the garbage. These “garbage pickers” are overwhelmingly Christian. There are no public utilities and no water, no sewers and no electricity. You won’t find the shantytown on any government map.

“They collect garbage in donkey carts or on their backs and they hand-sort it,” Msgr. Kozar explained. “Food they can’t eat, they give to the pigs. And they sort out plastic. They have crude, hand-cranked machines to mulch plastic for recycling, same thing with aluminum.”

Read more and check out additional photos at Catholic New York.

And to learn more about the plight of the garbage pickers of Egypt, read “Salvaging Dignity” in the September 2012 edition of ONE.

12 June 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Activists stage a protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in Bangalore
on 6 June. (photo: AFP/Manjunath Kiran)

Church institution says Indian government ‘abandoned’ farmers (Fides) A year after its election, the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has abandoned farmers, the backbone of the Indian economy, and granted a free hand to extremist groups who attack religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians,” says the Rev. Fusine Lobo, national director of the Pontifical Missionary Societies in India. “The government has cut subsidies and pursues a policy favorable to big interest groups and corporations,” the director said. “The increase in suicides among farmers is an alarming signal…”

Syria conflict: Al Nusra fighters kill Druze villagers (BBC) At least 20 Druze villagers have been massacred by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front in northwestern Syria, activist and opposition groups say. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said elderly people and a child were among those killed in Qalb Lawzah in Idlib province on Wednesday afternoon…

Assad meets with synodal delegation of the Syriac Orthodox Church (Al Manar) Syrian president Bashar al Assad said that the extremist aggression against the region target the diverse social and cultural fabric of the region in general and Syria in particular, SANA reported. Members of the Holy Synod stressed that Syria has been and always will be a homeland for all of the Syrians with their various affiliations and “a sanctuary” for all those who believe in the generous values of humanity in spite of the ferocious war waged against the country…

Lebanese Christian leaders focus on need for president (Al Monitor) Christian political and religious leaders in Beirut intensified efforts to address the conditions of Christians in the region and to find a solution to the stalemate in Lebanon, where the presidential vacuum has continued since May 2014…

Families outraged as Israel closes probe into deaths of four Gaza boys (U.S. News & World Report) Israel says no action will be taken against those involved in the last year’s bombing of Gaza beach that left four Palestinian children dead, saying that it was an accident. The father of one of the children expressed his hope the killings would be part of a case against Israel, which is expected to be presented to the International Criminal Court…

Egypt agrees to reopen Gaza’s Rafah crossing for 3 days (Haaretz) The head of the Palestinian Authority border agency announced Wednesday that the Egyptian government has decided to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip for three days starting Saturday. The official says the decision to open the crossing followed a direct appeal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and senior Egyptian officials to reopen the crossing, to ease the hardship of many people who have been stuck on either side of the crossing, especially as Ramadan approaches…

Tags: Syria India Lebanon Middle East Christians Palestine

11 June 2015
D.E. Hedges

In this photograph from the 1980’s, Mother Virginie shares a happy moment with the little boy she named Moussa, or Moses. (photo: CNEWA)

Name: Mother Virginie Maalouf
Facility: Maison Notre Dame des Dons pour L’Enfant Heureux
Location: Zahlé, Lebanon

In 1978, when Lebanon was in the grip of civil war, Sister Virginie Maalouf decided to leave her congregation, “and go on my way to try to make a little difference.”

The home for orphaned children that she established — Maison Notre Dame des Dons pour L’Enfant Heureux — began in a modest four-room apartment in the Lebanese city of Zahlé. “It wasn’t much,” she recalls. “But we made sure to surround all the children with all the warmth and care we could provide them with.”

By 1984, more than 50 needy children — many of them former street kids — had lived at the home for varying periods, with more arriving every year. Encouraged by generous supporters, Mother Virginie began to consider buying a plot of land for a new, larger house for the children.

“On the night of July 24th 1984, I heard a knock on the door,” she remembers. “I opened the door, and there I saw a baby in a basket just like Moses. He was very weak and it was a miracle that he was saved. I named him Moussa (Moses). I decided to go forward in buying the land we needed — and then found that next to the land was a place where people visit and pray, and where a holy painting of the prophet Moses was placed. I was at peace, knowing I was on the right track, and thankful that God was with us.”

Since moving into the new house in 1987, Mother Virginie explains that she and her staff have continued to provide children with “an embracing family atmosphere.” Every child attends school in the neighborhood, many study music and theater, and also sing at churches across the region.

As for the orphan left in a basket on Mother Virginie’s doorstep long ago: Moussa eventually attended Christian schools and university, where he graduated with a degree in Graphic Design. “Now he has been married for five years,” she says with pride. “He loves what he does, is very successful at it, and still comes home and helps me every day.”

Lebanon has strict laws regarding the naming of abandoned children, but Mother Virginie has won permission to give her family name “to the children of my heart. Today, seventeen children with unknown parents, including Moussa, bear my last name, Maalouf.”

Over the years, more than 1,400 girls and boys have been nutured by Maison Notre Dame des Dons pour L’Enfant Heureux. “I look back now from where we started,” Mother Virginie says. “And I am beyond grateful for what we have been able to achieve. I pray that God gives all the children graceful lives and happiness.”

In light of all the good she continues to do, she deserves solid support for her hard work. As Mother Virginie admits, “the last few years have been very difficult to us because of the wars surrounding us. People cannot help us a lot anymore like the old days. But thank God, we are able to survive.”

Thousands of sisters. Millions of small miracles.

To support the good work of sisters throughout CNEWA’s world, click here.

11 June 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2012, students at St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle Catholic School in Addis Ababa line up for Morning Prayer with their teacher. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

With the school year drawing to a close in many parts of the world, we were reminded of the classrooms we’ve visited in CNEWA’s world — including some remarkable ones in Ethiopia, where Catholic schools are thriving in a country that actually has very few Catholics:

Catholics — Latin and Ge’ez combined — make up less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s roughly 85 million people. Forty-three percent of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox; 32 percent, Muslim; and 19 percent, Protestant. The Catholic Church plays a disproportionately influential role in the lives of many Ethiopians, however, especially through its schools, clinics and other social service institutions.

More than 350 Catholic schools operate around the country, enrolling some 120,000 Ethiopian students each year.

...Ethiopia’s Catholic schools generally provide the ideal learning environment. The grounds are well maintained. Books, computers and other equipment are plentiful. Class sizes are small. And the value of discipline is palpable. “Don’t underestimate the importance that in Catholic schools you have religious people around,” says Father Asfaw Feleke, director of the Lazarist School in Addis Ababa.

“They’re consecrated people — men and women — who are bound by vows for a lifetime. They do the work from the bottom of the heart, not because there are rules and directives. They set a tone.

They’re full-time workers. When you’re full time, focusing on the job and facilitating everything, that also makes a difference.”

Read more about how Catholic schools are “Making the Grade” in Ethiopia. And to learn how you can help support these institutions, check out this giving page.

11 June 2015
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis greets Russian President Vladimir Putin as he arrives for a private meeting at the Vatican on 10 June. At center is Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household.
(photo: CNS/Gregorio Borgia pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis meets with Vladimir Putin (Vatican Radio) Russia’s President Vladimir Putin met Pope Francis Wednesday evening in a private audience in the Vatican. It was the second meeting between the Pope and the Russian President...

Police probe death threat against Indian cardinal (Vatican Radio) Indian Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, the archbishop of Ranchi, the state capital, received a threatening letter on 8 June, allegedly from the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India (CPI Maoist). The letter contained a demand for 50 million rupees (about 691,844 euro or US$780,000) to be paid within 15 days. Claiming that the Church has financially prospered through evangelism, the letter states: “You have made money [moolah] spreading the religion, which is why you should give a cut to the organization...”

Hundreds pour into Turkey from Syria (Al Jazeera) Hundreds of people have fled from Syria into Turkey as moderate fighters and Kurdish forces battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group holding the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. Activists on the Turkish border said that Turkish authorities allowed Syrian refugees in Raqqa province to cross into Turkey on Wednesday after another group of hundreds crossed over to Turkey on 4 June...

ROACO meeting to address plight of suffering Christians (VIS) ROACO (Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches) will hold its 88th annual plenary assembly in the Vatican from 15 to 17 June. The assembly will begin on Monday morning with an audience granted by Pope Francis to the representatives of the various aid projects to the Oriental Catholic Churches. As in previous years, it will be a session dedicated to the situation in Syria with attention also given to Iraq in view of the recent tragic developments in that region which also affect the faithful of the Eastern Churches. The results of the recent visit to Iraq made by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, during which he and a delegation from ROACO met with refugees, bishops, priests, and religious in Baghdad, Erbil, and Dohuk, will be presented...

Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Turkey Russia

10 June 2015
Ra’ed Bahou

Both locals and foreign-born students, including refugees from Iraq, gather for classes in English at CNEWA’s community center in Amman. (photo: CNEWA)

Ra’ed Bahou is regional director at CNEWA’s office in Amman.

The past few months have been very busy for the CNEWA community center in Amman. It continues to be an important venue for a wide array of people — locals, some foreigners and Iraqi refugees who are taking English language courses.

After the spring evaluation of the English lessons, the staff decided to hold the classes on Mondays and Wednesdays to have more time for library operational work and to help the locals. Classes serve all ages — from four-years-old to over 70. The staff organized families so they could learn together — grandparents, mothers, fathers, and grandchildren, all in one class; this is to accommodate the older people who have no experience of the English language at all.

The work with the Iraqis is very challenging; they come to the community center with all their problems, difficulties, physical and emotional struggles and anxieties. Despite this, though, they have a deep and solid faith that God is with them in their journey and they still maintain their joy and goodwill. The staff affirms and helps the refugees, giving counseling and support as they face their daily challenges.

The other activities are for the foreign-born children who took catechism lessons from the Teresian staff for their First Communion. Also the children’s catechism and junior choir continue to practice for the Mass; three young members of the choir are taking guitar lessons in order to be prepared to play in the Friday and Sunday Masses of the English language parish. And seven members of the junior choir are taking classes to prepare for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

To learn how you can help support CNEWA’s work in Jordan, please visit this page.

10 June 2015
Greg Kandra

Ukrainians attend Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 10 June. The sign in Italian says, “Holy Father, Pray for Ukraine.” Ukrainians were calling attention to their country as Pope Francis was scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the
Vatican Wednesday. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope, Putin to meet today (NPR) Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis will meet for the second time on Wednesday. Russia Today, the English-language news outlet of the Russian government, reports that Putin will head to the Vatican for the meeting. RT reports: “The two men champion similar conservative values in a rapidly changing world, as well as concerns for emerging threats to Christianity. During their last meeting in 2013, Putin and the Pope discussed the danger Christians face in the Middle East at the hands of radical Islamists”...

Putin’s calculated revival of the Russian Orthodox Church (The Fiscal Times) Something remarkable, though little noticed outside Russia, happened during the massive Victory Day parade and celebration held in Moscow last month. With troops assembled in Red Square awaiting his inspection, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, standing in the back of an open car, was driven through the gate in the Spasskaya Tower. As the car passed beneath the tower’s giant icon of Jesus it slowed and Shoigu, with the portrait above him and the massive edifice of St. Basil’s Cathedral to his right, made the sign of the cross. This was remarkable because Shoigu, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, neither is an ethnic Russian nor is he even a Christian. Born in the Siberian region of Tuva, Shoigu is widely believed to be a Buddhist...

Holy See: Poor countries need better access to medicines (Vatican Radio) The Vatican has called for waivers for the Least Developed Countries from certain obligations of intellectual property treaties in order to give them better access to essential medicines and vaccines. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, said this particularly needed to help fight HIV/AIDS...

Chaldean Patriarch: only national reconciliation can save Iraq (Fides) On the first anniversary of what is called “the tragedy of Mosul” when the jihadists of ISIS conquered the second city of Iraq, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael I, turns to refugees forced to flee from their city with a message to express his closeness in prayer, along with the hope “that you can return home soon, in the land of your fathers”...

Lebanese will pray for their country before Mary (Fides) From 12 to 16 June, a series of liturgical celebrations and moments of Marian devotion will be held in various locations in Lebanon on the occasion of the second anniversary of the consecration of the Lebanese nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary...

Tags: Iraq Lebanon Ukraine Russia

9 June 2015
Greg Kandra

This Romanian icon of St. Ephrem the Syrian was written in 2005. (photo: Wikipedia)

Today, 9 June, marks the feast of St. Ephrem in the Latin church (it’s celebrated on 28 January in the East). Often called the “Harp of the Holy Spirit,” Ephrem was born in Nisibis — then in the Roman province of Syria — now Nusaybin, Turkey in 306. He spent much of his life preaching and writing hymns and poems:

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 Ephrem’s 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.

St. Ephrem died in 373, at the age of 67.

A familiar prayer among the Eastern churches remains this brief invocation for Lent:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

At a time when the land so closely associated with St. Ephrem is facing increased turmoil and strife, let us pray that the saint will watch over Syria and Turkey, and help guide all who dwell there on the path to peace.

9 June 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Young supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate in the streets the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on 7 June. (photo: AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Kurdish election gains are ‘historic’ boost for inclusion in Turkey (Al Jazeera) The surprising success of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) in this weekend’s election was a historic moment for one of the country’s — and world’s — longest-persecuted ethnic minorities. By capturing 13 percent of the national vote in Sunday’s poll, the HDP became the first pro-Kurdish political faction to surpass the minimum threshold and gain representation in parliament for Turkey’s 14 million Kurds…

Islamic State: One year on, a brutish regime maintains grip on Mosul (Christian Science Monitor) One year after the Islamic State invaded the Iraqi city of Mosul, its hold on Iraq and neighboring Syria has spread, despite a U.S.-led military campaign to halt the group. Secretly filmed footage of life in Mosul, released by the BBC today, shows the power and control the Sunni Muslim militant group holds over everyday life in the largest city in its self-declared caliphate…

Inside Mosul: What’s life like under Islamic State? (BBC) Exclusive footage reveals how Islamic State wields power over people’s everyday lives in Iraq’s second city, Mosul, a year after it was captured…

Islamic State isn’t just destroying ancient artifacts — it’s selling them (Washington Post) Islamic State militants have provoked a global outcry by attacking ancient monuments with jackhammers and bulldozers. But they also have been quietly selling off smaller antiquities from Iraq and Syria, earning millions of dollars in an increasingly organized pillaging of national treasures, according to officials and experts…

The Journey: Syrian refugee risks life crossing the Mediterranean, Sweden-bound (The Guardian) In the darkness far out to sea, Hashem Alsouki can’t see his neighbors but he can hear them scream. It’s partly his fault. They are two African women — perhaps from Somalia, but now is not the time to ask — and Hashem is spread-eagled on top of them. His limbs dig into theirs. They would like him to move, fast, and so would he. But he can’t — several people are sprawled on top of him, and there’s possibly another layer above them…

Patriarchs met in Damascus to give courage and hope (AsiaNews) Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs of Antioch called for a political settlement of the Syrian crisis and the return of all the people who have been kidnapped and displaced…

Russian Church hopes meeting of Putin, pope will help Middle East Christians (Interfax-Religion) The Russian Orthodox Church believes the upcoming meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis may address the peacekeeping initiatives in the Middle East and the other regions, specifically, the issue of the protection of Christians…

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I shares World Oceans Day message (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) “Over the past two decades, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church worldwide has drawn the world’s attention to the deteriorating condition of our oceans. Now then, more than ever, it is important to recognize the need to respect and protect this invaluable and inalienable resource of our planet, which is the unique source of sustainability and biodiversity, but also the innate cradle of religion and culture…”

Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Turkey ISIS

8 June 2015
Greg Kandra

Friends and family gather to celebrate an engagement between a young Coptic couple in Australia at Saint George’s Coptic Church in Melbourne. (photo: Sean Sprague)

In 2007, we paid a visit to Australia to report on a land rich in diversity of faith and culture:

I left the world of peroghi and stuffed cabbage in the back of a black Hyundai Sonata — bearing the customized license plate, “COPT 1” — for the Melbourne suburb of Preston. There, I joined Amba (or Bishop) Suriel, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand, at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church to commemorate the miracle of the Wedding at Cana. After the Divine Liturgy, celebrated in Arabic and Coptic, we traveled further to celebrate the engagement of an Australian Coptic couple.

“We mix with the Anglo-Australian population, and I have Australian friends, though in many ways our lives are quite different from theirs,” said Nariman Eskander, 28, who at age 13 left her native Egypt, home to more than 8 million Coptic Orthodox Christians. Australia’s Copts tend to hang on to their traditional customs and culture, eschewing the drinking and frolicking found in mainstream Australian culture, she said.

The bishop, who is in his late 40’s, noted that parenting has had much to do with the maintenance of such customs among even young Copts.

“My parents had a great influence on me, teaching me to fear God and warning of the traps faced by youth living in Western society,” he said. “My parents realized we must live within God’s commandments in an upright way.”

But even Copts question whether or not their families will remain intact. “Three-quarters of us will probably marry another Copt,” said Ms. Eskander, “though in the future I imagine there will be more intermarriage, and perhaps we will slowly lose our culture.”

Read more about “Diversity Down Under” in the May 2007 edition of ONE.

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