30 November 2016
In this picture from September, Pope Francis is greeted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano handout via Reuters)
Today, 30 November, marks the feast of St. Andrew, the man traditionally held to be the founder of the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
At the conclusion of his general audience today, Pope Francis sent special greetings to “the beloved Patriarch Bartholomew” — the successor of Peter extending his warm wishes to the successor of Peter’s brother and doing so, as he put it, “in a spirit of genuine fraternity.”
Vatican Radio notes:
Pope Francis expressed his desire to be united to the patriarch and to the Church of Constantinople, offering them his “best wishes for all possible goods, for all the blessings of the Lord, and a warm embrace.”
A delegation from the Holy See, bearing a message from Pope Francis, is in Istanbul for a visit to the patriarchate on the Apostle’s feast day. The customary visit is reciprocated each year on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome.
The Holy See delegation was led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Koch was accompanied by the council’s secretary, Bishop Brian Farrell, and the under-secretary, Monsignor Andrea Palmieri. The delegation was joined in Constantinople by the apostolic nuncio in Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell.
The delegation took part in the solemn Divine Liturgy offered by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, in the Patriarchal Church of St. George at the Phanar. They also met with the patriarch, as well as with the synodal commission on relations with the Catholic Church.
Following the Divine Liturgy, Cardinal Koch delivered an autograph message of Pope Francis to the ecumenical patriarch, accompanied by a gift.
In the message, Pope Francis said the annual exchange of delegations is “a visible sign of the profound bonds that already unite us” as well as “an expression of our yearning for ever deeper communion.” In the journey toward full communion, he said, “we are sustained by the intercession not only of our patron saints, but by the array of martyrs from every age.”
Pope Francis also noted “the strong commitment” to re-establishing Christian unity expressed by the Great and Holy Council held in Crete in June. The pope noted that relations between the churches have, at times, been marked by conflicts; “only prayer, common good works, and dialogue,” he said, “can enable us to overcome division and grow closer to one another.”
The Holy Father also wrote about the importance of theological dialogue, and especially the shared reflection on the relationship between synodality and primacy in the first millennium. This reflection, he said, “can offer a sure foundation for discerning ways in which primacy may be exercised in the church when all Christians of East and West are finally reconciled.”
Finally, Pope Francis fondly recalled his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew and other Christian leaders and representatives of various world religions in Assisi. The Assisi gathering, he said, was a joyful opportunity to deepen our friendship, which finds expression in a shared vision regarding the great questions that affect the life of the church and of all society. He concluded his message with an assurance of prayer and best wishes for the ecumenical patriarch, and all those entrusted to his spiritual care.
You can read the full text of the pope’s message at this link.
29 November 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Residents flee the Al Moyaser neighborhood of Aleppo to a government-held area on 29 November 2016. (photo: Jawad al Rifai/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Report: Israeli airstrikes hit Syria outside Damascus (The Guardian) Israeli jets fired two missiles from Lebanese airspace towards the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, early on Wednesday, the official Syrian news agency said, in a strike on an unknown target that caused loud explosions…
U.N. to hold emergency meeting on Aleppo’s ‘descent into hell’ (CNN) The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday on the dire humanitarian situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for the meeting on Tuesday…
Mosul food, water reserves dwindling (Reuters) The United Nations issued a fresh warning on Wednesday about the humanitarian situation in eastern Mosul where the U.S.-backed Iraqi army is locked in heavy fighting with ISIS militants. More than six weeks into the offensive against ISIS’ last major city stronghold in Iraq, the army is trying to dislodge militants dug in among civilians in the eastern districts, the only side Iraqi troops have been able to breach…
Lebanon stops building wall around parts of Palestinian refugee camp (The Jerusalem Post) The Lebanese Army informed the joint Palestinian leadership in Lebanon on Friday that it has halted construction of a cement wall around parts of the Ain al Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon, the country’s largest, following popular protests…
Peace talks on Ukraine end without agreement (Reuters) Four-way talks on ending a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine finished without a breakthrough on Tuesday, with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declaring that “lip service” statements were not enough to achieve lasting peace…
Franciscans issue call for children to pray for peace in the Holy Land (OFM.org) “Dear Brothers and Sisters, May the Lord give you peace! For a long time, as Friars Minor, we have been concerned about the situation that our brothers are experiencing together with the Christians and the entire population of Syria. Not long ago, we called on the international community to intensify its efforts to stop the war and the suffering of the civilian population and to make every effort to achieve peace…”
29 November 2016
Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Ukraine Holy Land
The Little Sisters of Nazareth bring learning — and joy — to young residents of the Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Lebanon. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
This year, to mark #GivingTuesday, we are encouraging our friends around the world to support CNEWA’s education programs — and, as one example of that, we’re turning a spotlight on the Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Lebanon. There, a small group of heroic sisters is helping minister to thousands of displaced men, women and children. The Little Sisters of Nazareth are providing healing and help to so many who have seen their lives torn apart by war. We profiled the sisters several years ago in the pages of our magazine:
The Little Sisters of Nazareth have had a family of three nuns stationed in Lebanon since 1971. Sister Anita and Sister Rosa have served for four years, while Sister Joanna arrived a year ago, though she has long experience in Lebanon. Based first in Jisr el Basha, the sisters left Lebanon briefly for the safety of Jordan after the camp was razed in 1976. But in 1978, the Pontifical Mission [CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East] approached the sisters and, to ease their return, offered living quarters in Dbayeh.
With CNEWA’s support, the Little Sisters began their work at the camp in 1984.
“There were no other organizations working here,” Sister Joanna said. Since then they have been joined by several aid organizations, including World Vision and Caritas Lebanon. Through CNEWA, benefactors have sponsored many of the camp’s needy children and also fund educational programs, emergency health care and even infrastructure repair, such as sheathing the camp’s open sewers.
The sisters trace their roots to Blessed Charles de Foucauld, the French mystic and hermit who lived humbly in the Sahara desert and prayed to God, “I abandon myself into your hands, do with me what you will.” He desired to live among those who were “the most abandoned.” Today, this little band of heroic sisters continues to live out that spirit of sacrifice and surrender among the displaced in Lebanon — and CNEWA is proud to support them in their mission. Won’t you join us? Visit this page to learn how you can help.
29 November 2016
Syrian families, fleeing from various eastern districts of Aleppo, queue to get onto government buses before heading to government-controlled western Aleppo. The Syrian government offensive to recapture rebel-held Aleppo has prompted an exodus of civilians.
(photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
‘Deeply alarming’: Thousands fleeing Aleppo (BBC) Up to 16,000 civilians have been displaced by the Syrian government’s advance into besieged rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo, the UN says. Humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said thousands more were likely to flee if the fighting continued to spread and intensify in the coming days. He expressed concern about their fate, calling the situation deeply alarming...
Iraqi leader predicts ISIS collapse in Mosul (AP) Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says Islamic State group fighters lack the courage to put up long-term resistance in Mosul, despite unleashing hundreds of car bombs that have killed and maimed Iraqi soldiers and civilians as the fight for Iraq’s second-largest city appears set to extend well into next year...
How ISIS recruiters found fertile ground in Kerala (The Guardian) India’s Muslim population, the third largest in the world, has so far contributed negligible numbers to ISIS — fewer than 90 people, according to most estimates. “More have gone from Britain, even from the Maldives, than India,” says Vikram Sood, a former chief of India’s foreign spy agency. But growing concern over the group’s influence was made official this month, when the US embassy in Delhi issued its first Isis-related warning, of an “increased threat to places in India frequented by Westerners, such as religious sites, markets and festival venues”...
15 arrested over burning Coptic guest house (Egypt Independent) The public prosecution ordered the remanding of 15 persons into custody over the burning of a Coptic community guest house in Naghameesh village, Sohag province, in the wake of rumors that the place had been turned into a church. All of the accused will be held for four days pending investigations, while another 13 persons were cleared and released...
‘My week living like a refugee’ (Catholic Register) From 14-17 November, I participated in an event called Life of a Mesopotamian Refugee. Students from the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union (ACSSU) wanted to reach two goals: to educate McMaster, Ryerson and York University students about refugees and to fundraise $30,000 to send to Iraq and Syria through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). This year is the third time I tried to emulate the life of a refugee today, placing strong emphasis on the word “tried”...
VIDEO: Rebuilding a Greek Orthodox church in New York destroyed on 9/11 (The New York Times) Construction of the St. Nicholas National Shrine is underway...
28 November 2016
One of the young people at Lebanon’s Dbayeh Refugee Camp is Abed, who hopes to learn French so he can be accepted into the Lebanese school system. (photo: Anna Fata)
Editor’s note: This year for #GivingTuesday, CNEWA is encouraging our friends to support our education programs, including those at the Dbayeh Refugee Camp outside Beirut. You can learn more about how to help on our special Giving Tuesday page. Below, Anna Fata, a friend and advocate of CNEWA who works with the Holy See Mission to the U.N. in New York City, describes visiting the camp earlier this year.
On a recent trip to Lebanon to visit my family, I got to encounter some of the people CNEWA helps: a small number of the estimated 1.5 million refugees living in Lebanon. I visited the Dbayeh Refugee Camp on the outskirts of Beirut; it is home to more than 4,000 refugees, most of whom are Palestinian Christians. It is also home to the Little Sisters of Nazareth, one of many local congregations with whom CNEWA partners to offer relief and assistance to those displaced within the Middle East.
I had seen enough pictures of refugee camps to expect the run-down buildings and rusted playground. But what I didn’t expect — and what truly surprised me — was the resilience and generosity I discovered among its residents.
I visited in the summer, while many refugee children were attending one of the summer camp programs supported by CNEWA. The leader of the summer camp is a Palestinian refugee named Elias. He was born in Lebanon and has lived at the camp his whole life. The other summer camp workers were also refugees, many of whom recalled attending the camp in their childhood. For various reasons, Lebanese law prohibits refugees from working in professions such as law, medicine and engineering. As a result, unemployment is one of the major issues refugees face there. Elias, like many of the other camp workers, makes a living by serving the children in his community.
The ongoing conflict in neighboring states has brought an influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into Lebanon, as well. Elias told me the Palestinian Christians who make up most of Dbayeh’s residents accepted the Syrian refugees — many of them Muslim — into their community with open arms, sharing resources and jobs. In a country where until recently most neighborhoods and towns were segregated by religion, the Dbayeh camp is an exceptional model of harmonious interreligious living. Despite cultural and religious differences, Syrian and Palestinian children learn and play well together at school, as their parents educate them and socialize together, as well.
I don’t want to paint a rose-colored picture of their lives. Refugees are stigmatized both legally and socially. For example, I spoke with a 17-year-old camp counselor named Tania who spoke flawless English, loved math and aspired to work in finance. I was heartbroken to discover that her status as a refugee prevents her from working in her desired field. There are also laws that make it difficult to make basic home repairs to the “temporary houses” these families have lived in for more than 70 years. (An elderly couple I spoke with, for example, said the tin roof on their home always made noise, especially when rain fell on the leaky roof.)
Despite their troubles, everyone I met treated me with characteristic Middle Eastern hospitality and warmth. The children offered me their snacks, and poor families who had little to give invited me in for tea.
The more I learn about the situation of refugees in the Middle East, the more complex the issues facing these groups appear. I’m no expert on the Middle East and cannot begin to fathom solutions that would give the refugees a place of permanence. But I think there is an appropriate human response that we — whether Christians, Muslims, Jews, or none of the above — need to choose. It is a response that the Little Sisters of Nazareth are living every day. We can be part of the solution by following the example of the sisters and the refugees themselves — to respond with the same openness and generosity they have shown one another, despite differences in beliefs and culture.
As we celebrate this holiday season with our own families, we need to remember those who will be far from home for the holidays — including those who are internally-displaced and cared for by local congregations in the Middle East. Some may even celebrate their first Christmas in a refugee camp, separated from loved ones they may never see again.
The political and economic instability in Lebanon and surrounding areas makes the work of organizations such as CNEWA all the more vital. The refugees I met make up just a tiny fraction of the men, women and children CNEWA serves. There are so many more — and the needs are so great. This holiday season, please remember these and others CNEWA is working to uplift and support.
Visit this link to learn how you can help. To read more about refugees in Lebanon, check out Lebanon on the Brink from the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. To learn more about the selfless work of the Little Sisters of Nazareth, read A Sister Act Hard to Follow. And take a moment to watch the video below for a poignant glimpse into the lives of refugees in Dbayeh.
28 November 2016
The Rev. Remzi Diril, also known as Father Adday, celebrates the liturgy at an apartment in Kirsehir, Turkey, on 10 November. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)
Holding a golden chalice and paten with a single hand, Father Remzi Diril slowly moved from one person to another, distributing the Eucharist. He reached for a consecrated host, dipped it in the chalice, and gave it to a woman in her 40s, whose head was covered with a veil.
With chants in the background and incense filling the air, the moment inspired reverence. Yet the liturgy was not in a church; it was in an apartment in Kirsehir, a small, conservative city in the heart of Turkey, a Muslim-majority country.
Being the only Chaldean Catholic priest in charge of pastoral work in Turkey, Father Adday, as he is known, has become a true itinerant priest, a road warrior who, each year, logs thousands of miles tending his flock, the community of Iraqi Christian refugees in Turkey. Their exact number is unknown, but it is estimated to be 40,000.
Since he was ordained two years ago, Father Adday, 34, has baptized more than 200 children, married more than 20 couples and administered the Anointing of the Sick to more than 30 people. He also is on his fifth suitcase.
“So far this year we have celebrated first Communion for more than 100 children. And last year it was more than 150,” he said.
On a recent hourlong flight from his base in Istanbul to Nevsehir, a city in central Turkey, Father Adday sat comfortably in the emergency exit row of a plane from a low-cost airline.
“There is more legroom here,” Father Adday said; his eyes locked on the airline’s magazine crossword.
The trip’s cost is an important factor considering that the church is not able to reimburse his expenses. That only happens when there is an official function or religious festival. More often it is the priest, or the families he visits, who pay for the trip.
“It is easier for them to help me with my travel expenses than to pay, for a family of 10, for a trip to Istanbul," Father Adday explained.
Once he arrives at his destination, the priest relies on a support network who connects him to the local community of Iraqi Christians.
From Nevsehir Father Adday took a 60-mile bus ride to Kirsehir, where he met Adnan Barbar and his wife, Faten Somo. This was the priest's eight time in the city.
“This is my family in Kirsehir. In every city, I have a family. Sometimes more than one,” he said.
The couple acts as Father Adday’s local liaison. After welcoming the priest to their apartment with the customary tea and sweets, Barbar and Somo got on their cellphones. They were familiar with the city’s 225 Iraqi Christian families, and they were assembling the priest’s itinerary.
This area of Turkey is a pivotal place in the history of Christianity. Early Christians came here escaping persecution in the Roman Empire. Remains of the churches they built can still be visited today. However, no Catholic churches function in this part of the country. And when Father Adday visits, Mass is celebrated in homes, as the early Christians also did.
Celebrating the liturgy in a public hall would allow more people to attend, but renting a hall costs about $900, which can be better spent traveling to visit more families.
On average, 10 families are invited to each Mass, and 30 people attend. This allows for an experience different from the one felt in a church.
“A Mass in a house is more like a family. Father and children sharing the glory of God,” Father Adday said. “I would say it is like watching a film in a movie theater versus watching it at home with your family.”
After the liturgy, the priest visited Marta Kiryakos, a woman from Bartella, Iraq, suffering from cancer. Her daughter, Nadira, opened the door of the bedroom, crying, worried about her mother's health. Kiryakos' condition is delicate, and the priest prayed for several minutes as he anointed her temples and forehead with oils.
Many of the people Father Adday visits have spent several years in Turkey, waiting for an answer to their asylum applications to countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States. The process is long, and this time in limbo has caused many people physical and psychological problems.
“People need spiritual help. They need a priest. They want the church with them. I can’t give them material things, but I can give them my time and give them hope,” the priest said.
Father Adday and the Iraqi refugees he serves are Assyrian, an ethnic group from the Middle East. Their language — Assyrian — is related to the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic.
But their connection is not only the ethnic group and language. When Father Adday was a child, his village in southeast Turkey was burned during the Kurdish-Turkish conflict. He and his family had to move to Istanbul.
That is another reason that keeps Father Adday on the road with the people.
“When you leave your sheep in the mountain, you don’t know what will happen to them. But when you are with them it is different. You can show them where the water is; where there is a good place to stay. They are like children waiting for their father,” he said.
After two intense days and one night in Kirsehir, Father Adday prepared to return to Istanbul. He celebrated five liturgies and visited multiple families, but he said he was not tired.
“I hope that my visits allow them to become more spiritual and in touch with the church, and to refresh their belief in Jesus. Every Christian needs to refresh his spiritual life,” he said.
“I also hope to give them hope and remind them ... that God makes miracles, and for that they need to believe. I tell them let God do the working for you. He is our Father and he wants the best for you,” Father Adday said.
28 November 2016
In the video above, experts raise concerns about the rising number of missing and exploited refugee children in Europe. (video: Rome Reports)
A third of Aleppo now taken by Syrian forces (BBC) Syrian government forces have captured a third of the rebel-held territory in eastern Aleppo, monitors say. The advance, after heavy bombing from the air, is a major blow for the armed opponents of President Bashar al-Assad...
Winter closes in on Iraqi refugees fleeing Mosul (Reuters) The United Nations is asking donors to fund winter kits for 1.2 million people — preparing for a worst case scenario that much of the city’s population may have to flee. Seventy-two thousand have fled so far, and winter has brought freezing temperatures. The Kurdish authorities are requiring fleeing civilians to stay in camps even if they have family outside, so that males can be checked for ties to Islamic State. Relatives crowded out front, bringing blankets and pillows...
Gaza risks becoming an ‘easy launch pad’ for ISIS (The Jerusalem Post) Palestinian infighting and years of an Israeli blockade could turn the impoverished Gaza Strip into an easy “launching pad” for Islamic State recruiters, Qatar's foreign minister says.
African ant colonies pose threat around Christian churches (CNBC) The ant colonies are in the forests that surround Orthodox Christian churches in Ethiopia, which are some of the last natural forests in the country. Ethiopian Christians have long surrounded their churches with woodland. Some of these forests are more than a thousand years old, and are unusually rich areas of biodiversity in areas otherwise barren or deforested for agriculture.
Iconography classes attract non-Orthodox (RNS) Anna Schalk finds herself weeping each time she enters an Orthodox church and gazes at the flat, colorful icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The impressionistic painter had long been drawn to spiritual images but this year she took a big step beyond her own artistic and religious traditions. At a summer workshop, she created an icon of her own, alongside other students who spent a week together with the same mission. “It’s like a meditative experience,” said the retired pediatric occupational therapist, a Roman Catholic, comparing her work on the icon to partaking in Communion...
23 November 2016
At St. Mary’s, a Byzantine Catholic church in Kingston, Pennsylvania, parishioners make peroghi. (photo: Cody Christopulos).
As families in the United States gather together for Thanksgiving Day — and abundant feasting — we’re reminded of other cultures that have their own celebrated food traditions. In 2005, we took a look at some Eastern European delicacies in a corner of Pennsylvania:
In the early 20th century many Ruthenian immigrants came from villages in Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. St. Mary Protector, a Byzantine Catholic church in Kingston, near Wilkes-Barre, was founded to serve these immigrants, whose descendants have stayed in the area long after the mines shut down.
Four times a year St. Mary’s holds a peroghi sale, twice during the 40-day Filipovka fast before Christmas and twice during the 40-day Great Fast before Easter.
For each sale, about 30 volunteers spend two days making 4,000 potato peroghi. Church fund-raisers selling Ruthenian food are common in most parts of Pennsylvania, including my hometown of Bethlehem. (The regional popularity of peroghi is such that Pittsburgh is called the “peroghi capital of the world.”) The language and many of the traditions of the old country may fade, but its foods bind the generations together. Such is the American “melting pot.”
Read more from the January 2005 edition of ONE.
23 November 2016
Tags: Cultural Identity United States Eastern Europe Cuisine
Metropolitan Justinus Boulos Safar, the Syriac Orthodox patriarchal vicar of Zahle and Bekaa [editor’s note: mistakenly referred to as “Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch” in narration], says Christian refugees have been a blessing and an opportunity to put the faith into practice. (video: Rome Reports)
Mosul completely surrounded by Iraqi troops (CNN) The city of Mosul is now entirely surrounded by Iraqi-led forces, an alliance of paramilitary groups said Wednesday, more than a month since the operation was launched to seize control of the key city from ISIS militants. The Popular Mobilization Units made the announcement in a statement that was also distributed by the Iraqi Joint Operations Command…
Christianity returns to the Nineveh Plain (CNA) Two years after the sound of church bells was replaced by the sound of explosives in Bashiqa, Iraq, just north of Mosul, Christians are again celebrating the Divine Liturgy after forcing the Islamic State out of their homeland...
Single male refugees face hardships in Lebanon (Huffington Post) A study of single, male refugees in Lebanon by the International Rescue Committee, published earlier this year, paints an alarming picture of men struggling to access aid and vulnerable to exploitation. Among the 500 men interviewed, 53 percent did not register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, due to access restraints and misconceptions about their eligibility. While 19 percent was not able to reach one of the centers, at least 30 percent believed unmarried men are automatically ineligible to register and 8 percent believed they would not get aid even if they registered…
Pope meets with Islamic culture group (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met in the Vatican on Wednesday with participants at a colloquium organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization from Tehran…
Maronite bishop named chairman of board of C.R.S. (U.S.C.C.B.) Bishop Gregory John Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn has been appointed chairman of Catholic Relief Services (C.R.S.) Board of Directors by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The cardinal made the announcement on 22 November. The C.R.S. appointment is effective for a three-year term…
Activist: Three years after uprising, life in Ukraine ‘considerably worse’ (Sputnik) The Ukrainian leadership has failed to salvage the economy, tackle corruption and improve the lives of the people two and a half years after the protests in central Kiev, which became known as Euromaidan, led to a coup, activist and blogger Dennis Schedrivy told Radio Sputnik, painting a grim picture of what life is like in Ukraine these days…
22 November 2016
Tags: Iraq Lebanon Ukraine Refugees Pope
The Rev. Thomas Rosica has been a great partner in CNEWA’s mission. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Readers of CNEWA’s materials — magazine, blog, social media and appeals for help — are aware that this special agency of the Holy See depends on its partnerships with men and women in all walks of life to carry on its mission of service to the Eastern churches. Together, we build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and inspire hope.
Without these relationships, Catholic Near East Welfare Association would be merely an idea, not even a vision.
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica is one of those partners, a companion committed to the mission of CNEWA who in a very real way works “to connect you to your brothers and sisters in need.”
Born, reared and educated in Rochester, New York, Father Tom entered the Congregation of St. Basil and was ordained to the priesthood in Rochester in 1986. It was during his years of advanced studies at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem that Father Tom became well acquainted with the work of CNEWA and the staff of our Jerusalem office, then led by Brother Donald Mansir, F.S.C., and (then) Father Denis J. Madden. These were hopeful and exciting years in Jerusalem, with peaceful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians making headway — invigorating CNEWA’s outreach to the poorest of the poor through the local churches — and dialogue among the Holy City’s church leaders, coordinated by CNEWA, that would eventually lead to the restoration of the great dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In a very real way, Father Tom began connecting the people served through CNEWA with hosts of concerned men and women after he founded in 2003 Salt+Light Television, Canada’s first national Catholic television network. A fruit of World Youth Day and the visit of St. John Paul II to Canada in 2002 (which Father Tom directed at the request of the Canadian Catholic bishops), Salt+Light has become a major resource for Catholics not just in Canada, but throughout the English- and French-speaking world.
Millions of homes have learned about the miracles of Bethlehem University, the hopes of Pope Benedict XVI’s special assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, the challenges of the churches in the lands made holy by the blood of martyrs, and the crises in Ukraine and the role of the churches there in healing a people scourged by war.
In televised features and interviews with CNEWA president Msgr. John Kozar and staff members, such as Canada’s national director Carl Hétu, Father Tom has explored what makes CNEWA tick, revealing CNEWA’s love for the poor and passion for the truth.
In these times of fear, trouble and uncertainty, Father Tom has been a clear voice of reason, serving the Holy See as a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, media attaché for synods and papal transitions and as an English-language assistant for the Holy See’s press office. An engaging man with a lively wit and a clear understanding of the church’s role in engaging and transforming rather than condemning society, Father Tom is, nevertheless, critical of those instruments used to divide the people of God. The Internet, for example, “can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space,” he said upon accepting the St. Francis de Sales Award given by the Diocese of Brooklyn earlier this year, describing it as “an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties.”
“The church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who — even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation — often find themselves afraid and wounded by life,” he added.
“The light of Christ reflected in the church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor or ghetto network of communications for the elite, the clean, the perfect and the saved.”
CNEWA is grateful to Father Tom for his heroic work to help us reflect “the light of Christ” — and spread that light around the world, especially among those most in need.