Current Issue
December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
13 February 2018
CNEWA staff

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian family. (photo: CNEWA)

Last week in Eritrea, priests, religious and lay people associated with the work of St. Vincent de Paul celebrated the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Vincentian movement. It was in 1617 that St. Vincent began his outreach among the poor, through the Daughters of Charity. He organized wealthy women of Paris to collect funds for missionary projects — and from that humble start the Vincentian family grew into a worldwide charity.

We’re pleased to share some images from that event — along with our congratulations and prayers of thanksgiving on this wonderful occasion.

St. Vincent de Paul himself spoke movingly of service to the poor — and his spirit and charism continue to inspire Vincentians everywhere.

“You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry,” he wrote, “heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. You are the servant of the poor. Go to the poor; you will find God.”

13 February 2018
Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service

Msgr. Peter Azar reads as Chorbishop Dominic F. Ashkar, pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church in Washington, prepares ashes during Mass on 12 February. In the Maronite Catholic Church, ashes are distributed on Monday, two days ahead of the Latin rite’s traditional Ash Wednesday distribution. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)

At the Monastery of St. Francis of Assisi in Bayada, north of Beirut, faithful gathered for Ash Monday Mass in the chapel on 12 February.

In the Maronite Catholic Church, ashes are distributed on Monday, two days ahead of the Latin rite’s traditional Ash Wednesday distribution. This allows Catholics to observe 40 days of Lent, but also celebrate two church feasts for which fasting is not required: the feast of St. Joseph and the feast of the Annunciation.

“To change our character, it is difficult, but we ask God for the grace to be able to fast,” Melkite Father Nidal Abourjaily said in his homily before distributing ashes.

“Fasting will help us to grow closer to God as we unite our sufferings with him, and this is the most important thing,” said Father Nidal, a Franciscan Capuchin and superior of the monastery.

Typically, in Lebanon, Catholics follow the recommendations of their respective rites regarding their fast for Lent. The Maronite Church, for example, asks for fasting daily from midnight until 12 noon, and abstinence from meat and dairy products for those in good health. Sundays are not considered days of fast or abstinence.

“All fast, in some way,” Father Nidal told Catholic News Service of the faithful — a blending from Catholic rites, including Maronite and Melkite as well as some Roman Catholic — who attend St. Francis.

Berthe Obeid, a Melkite Catholic, told CNS she fasts until noon and sometimes until 3 p.m.

“I like chocolate and nuts, so I try to stop eating those as well,” said Obeid.

“It’s not so difficult when I know I am doing this for the Lord. I want to do something to please him, to be near him, so he gives me more strength to do it. Lent is a time to draw closer to God, to leave the things that can pull us away from him,” she explained.

“Looking back over the years, I can see now how I’m growing in my faith because of Lent,” Obeid added.

During Lent, Myrna Chaker, a Maronite Catholic, will be fasting each day until noon and will abstain from dairy and meat.

“I also try as much as possible to give up the things I really like,” Chaker said, noting that she likes crispy foods such as crackers and toasted bread. “And definitely sweets. I love chocolate.”

“When I give up material things, it helps me more in the spiritual life. I should forget myself during Lent and focus on how to help people and how to show more and more love. I want to offer up this Lent more for the people around me,” Chaker explained.

Aside from fasting, Chaker said she tries to devote more time to prayer and to attend Mass every day as well as eucharistic adoration.

“I ask God to use me as an instrument,” she noted, adding that social media offers an opportunity to share Scriptures, prayers and inspirational tidbits to encourage others in their Lenten journey.

Joseph Haddad, a Melkite Catholic, is a self-described cheese addict, but said he will not eat meat or dairy products during Lent.

“Lent is the time to work on the will. It’s the least I can do for the Lord,” said Haddad. “I need to step forward to the kingdom of God.”

“Actually, I was waiting for Lent. For Christians who don’t experience Lent, they don’t know what they’re missing,” Haddad said. “You might not see any difference during Lent but, afterward, surely there’s a blessing, even if it’s a few months later. And you see yourself maturing more with God.”

Haddad said he would intensify his fast during Holy Week. For three days, beginning on Holy Thursday until noon on Holy Saturday, Haddad fasts completely, taking only occasional sips of water.

Especially during Holy Week, Father Nidal senses that the faithful “really suffer with Christ and participate in his sufferings.”

“You can sometimes see people crying” in church, he said. “They know that Jesus saved us by giving himself on the cross. Knowing that, they in turn participate strongly.”

While some faithful have different ways of fasting during Lent, Father Nidal noted, “the most important thing is to arrive to a spiritual resurrection with Christ.”

13 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis and Patriarch Youssef concelebrate Mass in the Casa Santa Marta.
(photo: Vatican Media)

Pope Francis says Mass with Melkite Greek patriarch (Vatican News) Pope Francis concelebrated Mass on Tuesday morning with the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Youssef Absi. Instead of delivering a homily, Pope Francis said a few words about the meaning of the day’s celebration, at which members of the Melkite Greek Synod participated...

Damascus warns Israel of ‘more surprises’ (The Jerusalem Post) The Syrian government said on Tuesday that Israel would face “more surprises” in future attacks on Syria’s territory, after Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 jet. Syrian anti-aircraft fire downed the F-16 as it returned from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria early on Saturday. Both Iran and Russia are supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s near seven-year civil war...

Hindu hardliners attack Christian schools in India ( Hindu hardliners have stepped up intimidation of Christian educational institutions in India, not least Catholic colleges. In one recent case, sheer numbers were used to break through a security cordon with the aim of performing a nationalistic ritual...

Worsening Ethiopia drought threatens to end nomadic lifestyle (AFP) Down a sandy track past a desiccated animal carcass lies a cluster of half-built huts that Ethiopia’s government and aid agencies hope will blunt the worsening toll of repeated droughts. The soon-to-be village of Dabafayed is intended as a new, permanent home for once-nomadic herders made destitute by the country’s back-to-back droughts. The lifestyle change is drastic but necessary, officials say...

An end to Gaza’s misery is as elusive as peace (The New York Times) Gaza has dissolved into such misery that Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff of the Israeli Army, has warned the cabinet that it is on the verge of collapse and there is a real threat of another uprising...

12 February 2018
Magdy Samaan

At St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria, Egypt, the Daughters of Charity provide a nurturing environment for children. (photo: Roger Anis)

In the current edition of ONE, journalist Magdy Samaan chronicles the remarkable story of the Daughters of Charity in Egypt. Here, she adds some personal reflections of her experience covering the story and meeting the sisters.

Alexandria is a beloved city for Egyptians. Once, it was the main destination for summer holidays vacationers. Everyone, especially the older generations, keeps happy memories for the city. For me, it was the city where I saw the sea for the first time — a stunning memory. I have written many stories from there, but most of them were sad — covering the demolishing of a villa or the sectarian tension between Muslims and Copts.

But during my most recent visit to Alexandria I had the chance to write about something positive: The Daughter of Charity a Catholic community of women serving in Egypt since 1844.

The Daughters of Charity in Alexandria manages the Saba Banat dispensary and St. Vincent de Paul School. After I finished my interview with Sister Simone Abdel Malek, the superior of the community and the manager of the dispensary, I asked her to go with my colleague, photographer Roger Anis, to speak with some patients, who were waiting in the hall outside her office to see doctors. She suggested coming with us. “They will feel safe when I’m with you,” she said.

Sister Simone walked with us in the long hall. With a kind smile, she asked the people if we can interview them and take pictures. Her presence made our job easier because the people trust her. When we visited the place again, Sister Simone was out of the country, and we had to do the interviews without her help. Not everyone wanted to speak.

For me, it was impressive how five religious sisters are able to run such big ministry. But as I talked with them, I learned that they depend on a tradition of more than 170 years; they have earned respect and trust across many decades.

One of the people I met in Saba Banat is Mohamed Goda, a 41-year-old farmer, and his wife, Aliaa Ibrahim. Mr. Goda is a conservative Muslim. He talked with a lot of gratitude about the dispensary which helped him to treat his two-year old son. The workers of the dispensary and the school do not ask anyone about their religious background, and those who come seeking the services leave any religious prejudice outside the doors.

The situation at St. Vincent de Paul School was similar. Sister Eman Fawzy, the manager of the school, shows patience and firmness — but her firmness doesn’t conflict with the spirit of the Daughters of Charity, whose work is based on love for the poor. It was not only the tradition and the trust that helped the sisters; they were also equipped with education. Each sister has a degree or two in her field of service. The local community treats them with respect and trust — and people seem to know the sisters are raising the standards for everyone.

A mother of a student in the school told me that her family relocated to a flat nearby when her son was accepted as a student there. She did it because she knows he will get a good education. She believes any sacrifice will be worth it.

Read more about Charity’s Daughters in the December 2017 edition of ONE. And watch the video below for a personal glimpse of the sisters at work.

12 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis meets at the Vatican on 12 February with Italian young people, adults and migrants rescued from human traffickers. The pope responded to the questions five of the young people asked about preventing trafficking and assisting survivors. “Human trafficking,” the Holy Father said, “is a crime against humanity.” Read more here. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

12 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Embed from Getty Images
A picture taken on 12 February shows children gathering around their tent in the middle of Gaza City. This family, including eight children, left their apartment after the father lost his job and could no longer pay rent — another sign of the dire financial straits facing so many in Gaza.
(photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

With Gaza in financial crisis, fears that ‘an explosion is coming’ (The New York Times) Across Gaza, the densely populated enclave of two million Palestinians sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, daily life, long a struggle, is unraveling before people’s eyes. At the heart of the crisis — and its most immediate cause — is a crushing financial squeeze, the result of a tense standoff between Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, and Fatah, the secular party entrenched on the West Bank. Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority but was driven out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007...

Israel warns: Iran and Syria are playing with fire (The Jerusalem Post) Israel warned Syria and Iran Saturday morning that their attempts to escalate the situation in the north will bring the full force of the IDF upon them...

Indian cardinal expresses ‘anguish’ over increasing threats to pluralism (Catholic Herald) Cardinal Oswald Gracias, newly elected president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, has expressed “anguish” over increasing threats to pluralism in the country. “Intolerance is causing a certain amount of anxiety to us,” Cardinal Gracias said in Bangalore, while addressing a news conference at the end of the assembly of Indian bishops...

Pennsylvania town welcomes growing number of Coptic Christians (York Daily Record) They’d already left their homes in Egypt and landed in York, coming a distance of almost 6,000 miles. Now, after almost two years of worshiping in downtown York, a community of 80 Egyptian Coptic Christian families has found a new home for now — this time, in Dallastown, about seven miles down the road...

9 February 2018
Greg Kandra

The video above shows a typical day for workers operating a mobile clinic in Iraqi Kurdistan.
(video: Raed Raphei)

This week, we take you on a remarkable road trip, in a mobile clinic providing physician and pharmacy services to displaced families in Iraqi Kurdistan.

As we reported in 2016:

Funded by CNEWA, the mobile clinic is an initiative of the Rev. Yousif Jamil Haddad, the pastor of the Virgin Mary Syriac Catholic Church in Zakho, a bustling city close to Turkey and a commercial hub for the export of oil from Kurdistan.

“Many refugees are staying in poor, remote villages where they have no access to medical care,” says Father Haddad, explaining the motivations behind the project that began its operations last June.

Today, the mobile clinic visits 22 villages scattered throughout the hilly northern edges of Kurdistan, serving a population of roughly 15,000 internally displaced Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families. Staffed by a doctor, a pharmacist, an administrator and a driver, the van departs from Zakho around 9 a.m., five days a week. Each morning, the van is loaded with supplies stored on the premises of the Syriac Catholic parish. It then makes its way to one or two villages where, typically, the clinic’s doctor provides medical consultation to some 140 patients.

In the daily efforts of this small operation, displaced from all walks of life have found a lifeline — enabling many of the region’s most vulnerable people to reclaim health and hope.

Check out the video above for an up close and personal view.

9 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Girls from San Joe Puram Children’s Village in northern India practice basketball. The complex of schools and facilities is proving to be A Place of Promise and Providence for kids with a variety of physical challenges. Read about it in the Winter 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)

9 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, shown in this photo from 2016, has urged churches and business leaders to do more to tackle the problem of human trafficking. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)

Cardinal Nichols: step up efforts to stop human trafficking (Vatican News) Churches, governments, police and business leaders must do more to tackle the growing phenomenon of human trafficking. That’s the view of English Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who is in the Vatican this week for a meeting of the ‘Santa Marta’ group on combatting modern slavery and trafficking...

Trump: recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was high point of presidency (Haaretz) In an interview for an Israeli newspaper, President Donald Trump said that his 6 December declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was the high point of his time in office. In the Hebrew-language translation of an excerpt from Trump’s interview with Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth, Trump said that both Israel and the Palestinians would need to compromise significantly to achieve peace. Trump said this in replying to Bismuth’s question on whether Israel would have to give something in return for the declaration...

New Russian police chief enlists Orthodox priests, churches to help stamp out crime in the force (The Moscow Times) A new police chief in southern Russia has reportedly ordered for his subordinates to visit churches in an effort to stamp out crime within the force’s ranks. The unorthodox orders came after Rostov-on-Don police officers were arrested for starting a drunken fight, causing a car accident and accepting a bribe in the past week, the local news website reported Thursday...

Iraq seeks $100 billion for reconstruction (Reuters) Iraq is seeking around $100 billion in foreign investment in transport, energy and agriculture as part of a plan to rebuild parts of the country and revive the economy after a three-year war on ISIS...

Ethiopia to free hundreds of prisoners (Reuters) Ethiopia will release 746 more prisoners, including a journalist and a senior opposition official who were jailed for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, the attorney general’s office said Thursday. The decision follows a series of changes announced by the government to try to reduce tension in Ethiopia, which has been hit by unrest since 2015...

Cardinal Gracias elected new president of Indian Bishops’ Conference (Vatican News) Almost 200 bishops are attending the 33rd General Body Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), which is taking place at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences in Koramangala, Bengaluru...

8 February 2018
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

The video above offered a preview of the interfaith gathering at Assisi in 2011, with context and history about what the meetings there have meant. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)

The promulgation of “Nostra Ætate” (“The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”) on 28 October 1965 committed the Catholic Church to dialogue with the great religious traditions in the world. The declaration was groundbreaking, in that the Catholic Church declared that it “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these [non-Christian] religions” and called Catholics to “enter ... into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.”

It’s worth looking at how that “discussion and collaboration” came out — and how it is being carried out to this day.

On Pentecost Sunday 1964, a year before the promulgation of “Nostra Ætate,” Pope Paul VI set up the Secretariat for Non-Christians whose work was “to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of other religious traditions.” In the decades since, that work has only deepened. As the Catholic Church became more sophisticated and deeply engaged in this dialogue, Pope John Paul II in 1988 restructured the Roman Curia (the central administration of the Catholic Church), creating the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID).

This stressed the importance of dialogue with other religions and expressed it more positively. As a result, no longer does the Catholic Church express its relationship to other religions as “non-Christians,” but sees the endeavor as more broadly conceived, attempting to understand the religions of the world on their own terms and not merely as “not us.”

In addition to maintaining bi-lateral dialogues with the great religious traditions of the world, the PCID encourages and promotes local dialogues. Three times a year it publishes “Pro Dialogo,” containing articles on theological topics related to inter religious dialogue; it also reports on the work of local dialogues throughout the year.

This work has entailed not only words, but also concrete actions. Three popes — John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis — have hosted major interfaith events in Assisi. At these gatherings, religious leaders from around the world gathered to reflect on the values they hold in common and on how they might work together for a more just add peaceful world. In addition, every year the Holy See sends out greetings to members of other religions — including Hindus, on the feast of Diwali (the festival of lights) in November and Muslims on ‘Eid ul Fitr — the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. Other religious traditions are included throughout the year, as well.

The PCID also has a special committee for relations with Muslims. The proximity of the two faiths and their often unfortunate histories together convinced the church to pay special attention to Islam. While the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with many different Muslim majority countries, the PCID focuses primarily on religious issues. Recently, relations between the Catholic Church and Al Azhar University, perhaps the premier Sunni Muslim university in the world, were resumed with the hope of increased cooperation between Muslim and Catholic theologians and thinkers.

While the work of the PCID may seem remote to Catholics in general and also to CNEWA, nothing could be further from the truth. Catholics all over the world are increasingly encountering members of other religions. More and more, they are our neighbors. In the U.S., Europe and elsewhere mosques, Hindu mandirs (temples), Buddhist sanghas (religious communities), Sikh gurudwara (temples/centers) are becoming familiar fixtures in urban — and even rural — landscapes.

CNEWA works in the Middle East and southern India. In both regions, Christians are a minority surrounded by much larger religious communities — Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Good relations with these faiths in imperative. Often, members of these religions benefit from programs which CNEWA maintains.

Over the years the popes have stressed the importance of interreligious dialogue for the survival of the planet. The Catholic Church recognizes that centuries of interreligious conflict must be replaced by interreligious dialogue and understanding. Again and again popes have stressed that this not something added on to Catholicism but part and parcel of what it means to be Catholic.

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