Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
31 March 2016
Greg Kandra

Sister Arousiag Sajonian serves as superior of Our Lady of Armenia Convent in Gyumri, Armenia.
(photo: Nazik Armenakyan)

Her first name means “Carrier of Light” in Armenian. And for more than two decades, Sister Arousiag Sajonian has been bringing light and hope to a troubled corner of Armenia — a land ravaged by earthquakes, wars and economic crises.

She was born and raised in the Middle East — “between Syria and Lebanon,” as she puts it — and entered the convent at age 19. A sister of the Immaculate Conception, she now serves as superior of Our Lady of Armenia Convent in Gyumri. CNEWA once described her order as a group of “no nonsense nuns” — and they are, to put it mildly, active. Sister Arousiag supervises an orphanage, a daycare center for the elderly, a vocational school and a summer camp program.

As she wrote in our magazine in 1997:

We have taught some 1,000 students on a weekly basis, preparing them for Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist and Reconciliation.

We have also visited the elderly and the sick and have organized public seminars. All these activities have been made possible through a vehicle donated by CNEWA, which has carried us back and forth from village to village.

Our classes and presentations were the first formal catechetical lessons offered to Armenian Catholics since the country was annexed by Soviet Russia in 1922.

This busy nun visited our New York office in 2012 and found time to sit down for an interview and described her long partnership with CNEWA:

Sister Arousiag: Every time I haven’t been able to get enough funds for a project, I’d write a letter to CNEWA and put on the top “S.O.S.” And I always received a positive response. Immediately.

ONE: What is the one message you’d like the world to hear about the work that you do?

Sister Arousiag: My message would be to share what they have with the least fortunate. Most of the time, they are people who don’t know how to get out of their situations. What we want is to teach them how to overcome — how they can have a more dignified life. That is very important: that we don’t pity them. We just help them to live a better life. That is something every human being strives for. They want dignity.

31 March 2016
CNEWA staff

Pope Francis waves from his Fiat during his visit to the United States last September. One of the cars used during his trip will be auctioned to benefit a number of Catholic charities,
including CNEWA. (photo: Getty Images)

Place your bid.

From The New York Times:

The used hatchback up for auction comes with low mileage, a premium sound system and a glass roof. But because it once carried Pope Francis around New York City, bidders are willing to pay several times its Kelley Blue Book value.

On the bidding site this week, a Fiat 500 Lounge (list price: $24,695) is one of the biggest attractions, alongside items such as tickets to Beyonce’s “Formation” tour or a chance to meet Paul McCartney.

The car was one of six that Francis used on his three-city United States tour in September. Officials with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York decided, like their counterparts in Philadelphia, to auction the car for charity.

“We’ve never had a papal Fiat before,” Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said. “They’ve always taken the Popemobiles home with them.”

The auction for the car started on St. Patrick’s Day, when it appeared in the parade in New York, and the bidding had reached $130,000 by Tuesday evening, surpassing the $82,000 fetched by the hatchback used in Philadelphia. The auction ends on Thursday afternoon.

The proceeds will go to Catholic schools and charities, including Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “We decided to use them to help further the work that Pope Francis was so supportive of while he was here,” Mr. Zwilling said.

Read the rest.

31 March 2016
Molly Corso

Sister Monica, a native of Poland who staffs the Harmony Day Center, checks Ivlita Kuchaidze’s blood pressure. (photo: Molly Corso)

In the Spring 2016 edition of ONE, photojournalist Molly Corso profiled a World War II survivor now spending her days at a Tbilisi facility for the elderly. Here, she introduces us to some others at the facility.

I was raised in a close-knit Italian family, where the median age skewed closer to 60 than 16, so walking into Caritas Georgia’s Harmony Center always feels a bit like going home.

Women like Ivlita Kuchaidze, with her quick wit and self-deprecating humor, remind me of my grandma and her sisters.

But there, really, the comparison ends. My grandma and her sisters, after years of hard work, enjoyed a quiet and secure retirement. Ivlita, and the 35 other senior citizens who spend their days at the Harmony Center, have not been so lucky.

Whole generations of Georgians were robbed of the peaceful old age they had planned when the savings they worked for their entire lives evaporated, along with the Soviet Union, 25 years ago.

Now, in their 80s and 90s, they lack the means to heat the rooms they live in and to purchase the medication they need. Instead, they depend on a mixture of charity and their small government pensions (about $66 a month) to survive.

They dress in the clothes that are donated to Caritas Harmony Center, eat the meals provided at Caritas’ soup kitchen, depend on the warm showers and free medication they can receive at the day center.

In a word, their lives are difficult — a far cry from the old age they planned when they were working as doctors, architects, scientists, nurses, and cultural attaches.

An example: Azmat, a 90-year-old regular at the center, rides the bus to the center, using her cane to navigate the broken pavement.

A former chemist and inventor, she helped create clothing and shoe factories and traveled extensively during her career at a ministry in the former Soviet Union. Now, she applies her inventor’s mind to survive the challenges of poverty: when she found she needed a cane — expensive at $12 — she redesigned a plastic broom handle to make a walking stick.

Or Ivlita, a former surgical nurse, who lost the little government assistance she used to receive because she was given an electric heater. She lives, with her daughter, in a single room without any heat. To stay warm, she said, she dresses like a “cabbage”: layers and layers of clothing, even in bed.

But instead of complaining about their fate, Azmat, Ivlita and the other guests at Caritas Harmony Center seem determined to get the most out of every afternoon.

On holidays, they play the piano, read their own poetry and dance.

On slow days, they gossip over their tea and cookies, comparing strategies for dealing with the complicated bureaucracy that doles out the little assistance they receive from the government.

They devour magazines and solve crossword puzzles in the library, play chess in the sitting room.

To pass the hours, they share stories from their past — and trade advice on how to stay warm after the center closes for the day.

A favorite tip is to drink one’s tea while still bundled up in coat and hat, so all that captured warmth stays with them for a little bit longer.

Read more about Georgia’s elderly in A Survivor Speaks in ONE magazine. In the brief video below, Molly Corso narrates a look at life at the Harmony Center.

31 March 2016
Greg Kandra

Markian Surmach shows off some of the beautiful pysanky, or decorated eggs, he sells in his Ukrainian shop in New York City. See more examples of his work, and learn how they are created, in The Colors of Easter in the March 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Erin Edwards)

31 March 2016
Greg Kandra

Children talk among the rubble in the city of Daraa, Syria, on 29 March.
(photo: Mahmod Abazid/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

U.N.: humanitarian help to Syria may lose momentum (AP) A supervisor of U.N. aid says efforts to get humanitarian help to besieged areas in Syria risk losing momentum several weeks into a partial cease-fire. Jan Egeland, who is leading a task force on humanitarian aid, said that “we are afraid now to lose some of the momentum that we got after the Munich meeting” in February, which set off a drive for better aid access and for the truce...

Report: Turkey shooting Syrian refugees on border (Newsweek) Turkish border guards have shot 16 refugees, including three children over the last four months as they flee violence in Syria, The Times reports. Citing London-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the newspaper detailed incidents such as the killing of a man and his child, when crossing the border near the Syrian town of Ras alAin, earlier this month...

Blasphemy cases rising in Egypt (AP) In the past three years, prosecutions on charges of insulting Islam have risen dramatically. From three such cases in 2011, there were 21 cases in the courts in 2015, around half targeting Christians, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights...

Only 26 Jews remain in Cochin, India (Haaretz) These are just two of the seven synagogues in the coastal state of Kerala. (Another one, the striking Parur synagogue, is located 25 kilometers away on another Jew Street.) Despite these symbols, one thing Kerala does not have much of anymore is Jews. Today, there are only 26 Jews left in Cochin — though some don’t speak to, or even recognize, the others...

Pope to release document on family (CNS) The Vatican has set 8 April for the release of “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis’ reflection on the family and family life. The document, subtitled “On Love in the Family,” will be released at a Vatican news conference with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Giuseppina and Francesco Miano, a married couple who participated in both the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. “Amoris Laetitia” is what is known as a “postsynodal apostolic exhortation,” a document addressed to the whole church reflecting on themes of church life and faith that have been discussed at a gathering of the Synod of Bishops...

30 March 2016
Raed Rafei

Father Haddad collects medicine from a storage unit outside his parish church in Zakho.
(photo: Raed Rafei)

Writer Raed Rafei reports on a mobile clinic serving displaced Iraqis in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. Here, he offers some personal insights from the time spent with the Iraqi priest who runs the clinic:

The moment the Rev. Yousif Jamel Haddad, 31, picked me up to take me to the church he leads, I knew I was up for something special. This energetic, witty and well-rounded man greeted me wholeheartedly before we hastily drove to Zakho, a bustling small town in Kurdistan close to the majestic mountains separating this part of Iraq from Turkey and Syria.

“The further north you go in Iraq, the harsher people become,” he warned — echoing, probably, the bitterness of his own experience as a pastor in this lost land. He was raised as a city boy in the capital Baghdad. Father Haddad generously shared everything with me, from personal stories about how he has become a priest to bold theological views as well as sound geopolitical analysis regarding the future of Iraq.

On the road, we drove past a big mall, dozens of housing projects — some completed, but the majority still under construction — and an imposing neo-classical building, adorned with columns and a dome. That turned out to be the campus of an American university, not yet inaugurated. Everything I saw was evidence of the growing wealth of Kurdistan (growth now significantly put on hold since ISIS took over nearby territories) even if the signs of another reality, rural and destitute, can still be felt while passing through the bare landscape.

In Zakho, my first stop was the Virgin Mary Church, the Syriac Catholic establishment dating back to 1612, as Father Haddad proudly noted. The evening of my arrival, the pastor was celebrating a liturgy in this newly renovated church. He himself had overseen the restoration of the building and the display of some of its treasures, like a series of ancient stones with biblical inscriptions. That was one of his first missions when he arrived almost four years ago to preside over a small community of Christians here. Father Haddad confided that he was first appointed as a bishop in the United States, but said that he could not adapt to the American way of life. After a year in Boston and other parts of the country, he decided, against all odds and resistance from his superiors, to move back to his beloved Iraq.

For four days, Father Haddad, the mastermind behind the mobile clinic that I was reporting on, invited me many times for meals and tea to meet with displaced Christians from his community and discuss practical matters pertaining to refugee life as well as historical information on the Christian presence in the region. I was touched to see that he shared the rectory with displaced families. He seemed happy to see the place buzzing with the voices of children playing. He told me that when the refugees first arrived, he had to accommodate the men inside the Church and the women and children in a hall annexed to it. This situation lasted for several days before families could be relocated to rented apartments.

After a year and a half of displacement, Father Haddad understood that what his community really needs is not just assistance with food and medicine but hope for the future. He said that the church is offering computer courses to help the displaced find work. He has also helped families open a bakery and other small businesses to start generating income. Among all the problems facing refugees that I witnessed here, unemployment seemed the most pressing one. I repeatedly saw looks of discomfort and shame in the eyes of the men I interviewed when they revealed they had not been working for months.

The last thing that the two companions of Father Haddad, Wissam and Youssef, told me before dropping me at my hotel in Erbil was: “You know, we are educated people. We all have college degrees.” One had studied tourism and the other, drama. They had good jobs in the Nineveh Plain before ISIS occupied their homes. One worked with the local government and the other had a thriving business.

But now, as they bitterly said, they were doing nothing of value.

Read more about Father Haddad’s mobile clinic in Health on Wheels in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. Meantime, check out the video below, which gives an intimate look at a day in the life of the clinic.

30 March 2016
Greg Kandra

A priest displays his cross tattoo, which Copts receive at baptism. See more pictures from Egypt, and read about the faith of Christians there, in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: John E. Kozar)

30 March 2016
Greg Kandra

Syrian refugees are seen at Fiumicino Airport in Rome on 29 February. The United Nations is urging countries around the world to accept nearly half a million Syrian refugees.
(photo: CNS/EPA)

U.N. Chief urges countries to take in more Syrian refugees (The New York Times) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Wednesday for countries around the world to accept around half a million Syrian refugees, criticizing political leaders who have responded to the migrant crisis by demonizing asylum-seekers. Opening a one-day ministerial conference in Geneva convened by the United Nations refugee agency, Mr. Ban called for “an exponential increase in global solidarity” in urging countries to accept about 480,000 Syrians over the next three years...

Aid to besieged areas of Syria has reportedly increased since cease fire (AP) A new report says the United Nations and partners delivered badly needed medical and food supplies to about 150,000 people in besieged areas of Syria after a cease-fire that started last month led to a drop-off in fighting. U.N. convoys delivered supplies to people in 10 of 18 areas under siege and to thousands in other, hard-to-reach areas after the 27 February cease-fire, according to the monthly report made available Tuesday. By comparison, less than 1 percent of areas designated as besieged received food aid in all of 2015, according to the U.N.’s humanitarian office...

Child labor rising in Gaza (Reuters) Child labor has risen sharply in Gaza, where youngsters toiling in garages and on construction sites have become breadwinners for families feeling the brunt of the Palestinian enclave’s 43 percent unemployment rate...

Doubts over new government in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s prospects of forming a new government, which is vital to get billions of dollars in crucial international assistance, were thrown into fresh doubt on Tuesday...

Reports: Turkish government “expropriates” churches (Fides) In the context of the military operations carried out in southern Turkey against Kurdish positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the government in Ankara ordered the expropriation of a large area of the historical center of Diyarbakir, even confiscating all the churches of the city which stands on the bank of the Tigris River. This is what local sources reported, relaunched by Agos, the Turkish-Armenian bilingual newspaper published in Istanbul...

29 March 2016
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., has worked to ease the suffering of those who remain in Homs, Syria, especially the children. (photo: John E. Kozar)

It is impossible to read about the work of the Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., a longtime partner of CNEWA, and not be moved. He has worked tirelessly in Syria to help that country’s most vulnerable citizens, its children, during a period of devastating war and upheaval. He wrote about it for ONE in 2013:

Starting February 2012, we realized the new status quo was likely to persist and we had to deal with this new reality, assisting the thousands of families living in temporary shelters in the relatively safe areas of the city. Our first priority was to take care of the hundreds of children who transformed the streets into their only playground and school, putting them at the mercy of the snipers, the shelling and the street violence. I still remember one of the children hiding behind a wall and calling me to take cover from a sniper. The children of Homs became experts in the art of escaping violence, but unfortunately many were not as lucky as I was on that day, and they paid with their lives on the streets.

Recent events have deeply affected the children, and we have noticed changes through our follow-ups at school. When they play, they transform wooden boxes into imitation weapons and play war games, reflecting the reality that the children are also internalizing the patterns of the war around them. Confronting this, we had to work hard to redirect the children to regular games, such as football and other sports.

Most children live in a state of denial. They refuse to acknowledge their fears. Meanwhile, mothers report their children cannot sleep alone in a separate bed anymore, which speaks to their trauma. Some others report cases that required the assistance of a speech therapist and a psychologist to overcome communication troubles.

At the same time, many youth have lost their jobs and their income, their great potential going to waste.

Thus, we decided to join both priorities in one project, aiming to take the children out of the streets and to provide jobs to the displaced youth.

His concluding thoughts:

As a priest, I would like to say our role as a church is to push people toward hope, which should never be abandoned — no matter how unbearable circumstances may seem.

Hope is what CNEWA has helped us provide. I believe it has been a lifeline from God — helping us and guiding our efforts to glorify the name of the Lord.

Read more in his Letter from Syria: Saving the Children of War from the Summer 2013 edition of ONE.

29 March 2016
Greg Kandra

Ivlita Kuchaidze, center, has survived famine, war and neglect over her 93 years in Georgia — but today lives in poverty, depending on charity to survive. Read her remarkable life story in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |