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Winter, 2013
Volume 39, Number 4
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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
22 February 2012
Gabriel Delmonaco




Al Lagan spends time with the sisters and children at the Crèche in Bethlehem. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)

CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco recently accompanied a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

When the alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m., I was already awake. The steady sound of the rain hitting the windows and the roofs of the cars woke me up. We all had to be ready by 6:30 to take advantage of the great opportunity to celebrate Mass at the Altar of the Crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Most of us could not believe that, this place that had been so crowded with pilgrims yesterday, would belong entirely to us for 30 minutes today.

As we walked through the wet roads of the Old City, some of the shops opened their doors. The strong smell of Arabic coffee permeated the alleys. Jerusalem was slowly waking up to a new day that for us would bring many unexpected surprises.

We waited for Father Guido at the Altar of the Crucifixion and at 7 a.m. sharp he arrived, escorted by a Franciscan priest. This altar is cared for by the Franciscans. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and other Eastern churches care for other sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. During Mass, we remembered one of our faithful donors from Arizona who will undergo a complicated operation to remove a tumor. This is CNEWA — a family of concerned Christians who care for each other.

Upon our return to the office, we were in for a surprise: Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director from Jordan, informed us our afternoon trip to his country was at risk, because an unusual snow storm was expected during the next two days. Unlike many of our cities in North America, a snow storm in Jordan means everything is paralyzed. Since all our donors on this trip are successful executives, we could not exempt ourselves from an impromptu meeting to make an executive decision. Should we shorten the trip and avoid being stranded in Amman? Or should we take the risk and be faithful to our initial schedule? Shortening the trip meant cutting our visit by more than two days. Weighing all our options, we decided unanimously to leave early.

The next few hours, as one can imagine, were as hectic and dense as the black clouds amassing in the sky over Jerusalem. We packed, changed flight plans, hopped on a shuttle, crossed the border to Jordan, paid a brief visit to a project for needy girls, hopped on the shuttle again and finally headed to the airport.

I’m writing my final notes on a plane at 4:30 a.m. As we head back home, I have a whirlwind of thoughts in my mind. Our donors on this trip have been incredibly united, joyous and profound, thanks also to Father Guido’s inspiring spiritual direction. With renewed enthusiasm, they return to their regular lives, executive meetings, loving families — but, I hope, with something more. I hope they have been rekindled in their Christian faith by what they have witnessed: the struggles of people who feel imprisoned in their homeland, the plight of Christians who feel compelled for many reasons to leave the land where Jesus walked, the dedication of staff members like Joseph in Jerusalem or Doris in Jordan, people who live their jobs as a ministry.

Life is a complicated matter. It is a constant battle between good and evil. I hope our benefactors realized that through CNEWA their treasures are planting many good seeds.

This has been an incredible experience. We officially close the chapter of this trip, but the story of CNEWA family continues.



Tags: CNEWA Palestine Jerusalem Israel Jordan
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21 February 2012
Gabriel Delmonaco




Al Lagan, CNEWA donor, Joseph Hazboun, Jerusalem office manager, and Sami El Yousef, regional director for Palestine and Israel, chat outside the CNEWA-Pontifical Mission office in Jerusalem. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)

CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco recently accompanied a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Last Wednesday, 15 February, was an important day. Early in the morning, after crossing the New Gate and entering the Christian Quarter, only after a few steps on the uneven cobble stones, we saw the emerald-green iron gates of CNEWA’s office in Jerusalem (known locally as the Pontifical Mission). Sami El Yousef, the regional director, was already waiting for us on the threshold of the door with a welcoming smile. “Marhaba,” he said and introduced us to his devoted staff members ready to discuss with us the mission and operations of the office.

CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission recently celebrated its 60th year in the Holy Land. In 1949, right after the war and the subsequent exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Pope Pius XII decided to create a pontifical agency for the relief of refugees. Born as a temporary organization to respond to an emergency, the Pontifical Mission has grown in its scope and outreach, step by step with the problems of this troubled land.

Sami recalled that some Palestinian families who had lived in western Jerusalem for generations fled to the eastern part of the city and sought temporary refuge in his parents’ house that had some extra room. They told Sami’s family that they felt this war would be over in a few days and they could return to their homes soon. They fled with a few possessions and most importantly with the key to their house that they jealously kept. Days, months and more than 60 years went by and none of these families were able to return home. All the initial members died with the hope to receive justice and now their children carry the same dream. Some of them very cynically said that they’ll never see peace during their lifetime, but they still preserve the key of their parents’ house.

Gathered around a table with staff members, during the first 20 minutes of our meeting we watched a moving video presentation prepared to mark the 60th anniversary of this office. As the images and the voice of the narrator went through the six decades of struggle and hope, we realized how much was accomplished in the name of the Holy Father by a rather small staff. Food, housing, support, jobs, restoration of churches and negotiations are just some of the important needs addressed by the Pontifical Mission.

As the conversation proceeded, Sami presented the geopolitical and demographic analysis of the area. We all realized something very important, which explains the dedication and unity of this office. Our staff members are all Palestinians; they lived through the struggles and challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian violence. Some had their land confiscated, so that a dividing wall could be built in the name of security. Others saw their children emigrate abroad. All have to go through the indignity and inconvenience of crossing through check points to visit our programs and projects. But in the middle of all this, the Pontifical Mission provides hope and comfort, thanks to a dedicated staff who can understand this conflict because they are part of it. All our benefactors on this trip acknowledged the sacrifice and stoicism of these unknown heroes.

As the day unfolded, we continued with the visitation of other holy sites, following in the steps of Jesus in Jerusalem. I believe that whenever any of us knelt to pray, we could not stop thinking of how fortunate we are to enjoy freedom in our own country. We could not stop thinking of how fortunate we are to entrust the work of CNEWA in the Holy Land to such a dedicated and concerned staff. Shukran!



Tags: CNEWA Palestine Unity Jerusalem Israel
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15 February 2012
Gabriel Delmonaco




Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims. (photo: John E. Kozar)

CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco are accompanying a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Last night, we stayed up late at our residence at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. We might have gone to bed. But Deacon Steve Marcus, with full consensus of the others, asked to reflect more on our trip. I don’t blame him. The past few days have been overwhelming. As we compared our notes and elaborated on our impressions and theories, we came to appreciate ever more the presence of CNEWA in the Holy Land.

Some commented that no media outlet will ever be able to tell the full story in this part of the world. One has to come and visit. One has to spend time with ordinary people and listen to their stories. One has to go through the same checkpoints Palestinians have to cross in order to understand why they feel imprisoned in their own land. And when you look in the eyes of Israeli soldiers, you find out that many of them are young men and women perhaps scared of the huge responsibilities given to them. They wear it like a suit many sizes too large, and it shows clearly.

This situation is difficult for everyone. Yet, in the name of politics and ideology, people on both sides are suffering. CNEWA does not involve itself in politics, but in many of the countries where we work we have to deal with the consequences of politically motivated actions.

As we debated animatedly, Deacon Steve recalled the conversation he had had with a Palestinian man, George, who lives in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. His father owned that house and before him his grandfather. But now, George is resolved to leave. His young children are harassed every day on their way to school. Sometimes, other kids spit on them on their way to school. They are Arab Christians who live now in the wrong place at the wrong time.

George says he will move to the outskirts of Jerusalem with other Christian Palestinians in a complex of 80 apartments built by the Latin Patriarchate in collaboration with CNEWA. This project started in 2004 and it’s not completed yet as a result of daily bureaucratic complications. When we spoke to the builders, they explained that soldiers show up every day, sometimes three times a day, to check permits and the identity cards of workers.

Al Lagan, from Boston, commented on an earlier meeting with Bishop William Shomali, the Latin patriarchal vicar. The bishop told the story of a young Palestinian boy beaten by soldiers because he was on the streets of Jerusalem late at night. His legs were broken, but he was admitted to the hospital only after he spent several hours in prison.

When Mr. Lagan asked the bishop what he thought about the general situation, he calmly asked us to pray for peace and to continue to support local Christians, who now number only about 50,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem. He especially encouraged us to support pastoral projects.

“We need to rebuild the spirit, hope and faith of our brothers and sisters here,” he said. Father Guido during our tour of the holy sites reaffirmed this sentiment, saying, “How can we give peace, if we don’t have peace inside us first.”

We thought our St. Valentine’s Day would focus only on the holy sites in Jerusalem. Instead, we experienced a city filled with tension and frustration that required spiritual reflection and meditation. In the land where Jesus offered his life on the cross to heal our broken souls, too much blood is shed over politics. And if it weren’t for the faithful work of the local church and organizations such as CNEWA and its operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, we’d be hard pressed to find any hope. Peace to all.



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14 February 2012
Gabriel Delmonaco




Deacon Steve Marcus is introduced to a child from the Crèche Institute in Bethlehem.
(photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)


CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco are accompanying a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Monday, 13 February

When the Magi reached the grotto of the Nativity, I’m sure they left their camels just outside it. When our group arrived at Bethlehem’s Nativity Square, a Palestinian policeman asked us to move our car quickly. Our guiding star, Tony, could not hover above the grotto nor even nearby. Nonetheless, the CNEWA delegation made it to the holy place where Jesus was born. After a long line of modern shepherds, we kneeled in the very place where, according to the tradition, the infant Jesus rested between Mary and Joseph. There was no child there, but soon we would be among many innocents of Bethlehem.

From the Basilica of the Nativity we drove down a hill to the Paul VI Pontifical Institute of Ephpheta. More than 140 hearing-impaired children are schooled there, and in addition they are trained to speak and lip read by the Sisters of St. Dorothy and their professional staff. Deafness unfortunately is a problem in the West Bank, where a large number of interfamily marriages are arranged to keep family and family wealth intact. As a consequence, some children are born with genetic deficiencies.

Sister Piera showed us how children learn to speak thanks to a software developed in Canada. For younger kids, the software shows air balloons that children can blow up by uttering sounds in a microphone. Another very ingenuous invention of Sister Piera is a train that runs on the rails only when children are able to reach a certain level of pitch with their voice.

Ephpheta is what Jesus said to the man who was deaf and mute. It means, “Be open!” At Paul VI Ephpheta Institute, which CNEWA has supported since its inception more than 40 years ago, the miracle repeats itself every day. Through the miracles of Facebook, one of our dear benefactors contacted me and asked me to give a special kiss to the child she is sponsoring at Ephpheta. I’m happy to report that her child is doing fine and was very happy to be chosen among the others for a special treat. I took several pictures for Jennifer, our generous benefactor. This is CNEWA ... We are a big family where we make connections between people in need and people who want to help.

Following our tight schedule, we literally ran to our Pontifical Mission Library, located right next to the far larger complex of Bethlehem University. I have visited the Pontifical Mission Library in the past, but this time I noticed a pleasant positive change. Not only is the library offering books, Internet and various classes to young children in Bethlehem, they also started to take children on field trips to various cities. A recent one was to Jericho and the children enjoyed it very much. For some of them it was the first opportunity to leave Bethlehem and explore other historical places. The cost of the membership is nominal and allows children to have access to unique services. The library is run by a lay association of the faithful, the Teresians, and since the children using the library are Christian and Muslim, they also encourage interreligious and cultural dialogue.

We were invited to lunch at Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university in the West Bank. Its institute of hotel management prepared for us a first class meal. Brother Peter Bray and Brother Jack Curran gave us a tour of this lovely campus, even showing us the pock-marked walls showered by bullets sprayed by the Israeli army during the second Intifada. The brothers miraculously avoided the bullets.

Currently, 70 percent of the student body is Muslim; the remainder is Christian. Also, 70 percent is female. Tuition is inexpensive and is partially subsided by the university, which CNEWA has supported since its foundation.

Our trip to Bethlehem could not end in a better way than with a visit to the Crèche Institute. Sister Elizabeth (who has recently come on board to replace a retiring Sister Sophie), with the help of social workers, picks up abandoned children from the streets and provides them with food, shelter and medical care. They also provide support to young women (sometimes as young as 16), who are victims of abuse at home. The most beautiful moment was when all our benefactors held children as young as two weeks in their arms. If it weren't for Sister Elizabeth, they would have succumbed to a horrific fate.

Sister explained to us that every baby is by law registered as a Muslim and cannot be adopted. At the moment there are 12 infants picked from the streets in this situation. One baby, whose name in English would be translate as Glory, spent so much time in the cold that he was half paralyzed when the sister picked him up. Now, he is doing fine and offered me the most beautiful smile.

Late in the afternoon we headed toward Jerusalem, where wandered through the alley of the Old City. By chance, since this was not scheduled today, we ended up at the church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose.

This was a very intensive day. Deacon Steve Marcus commented: “In one day, we witnessed the place where Jesus was born and where he was crucified. And in the middle we have experienced the powerful change CNEWA is bringing in the land of Jesus.”



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13 February 2012
Gabriel Delmonaco




Late in the day, dusty hills surrounding Jericho prepare for sunset. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)

CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco are accompanying a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Saturday, 11 February

As if modern Magi, we are looking for the birthplace of Jesus, but unlike them we are not following complicated astronomical trajectories. Our comet and guiding star is a Palestinian named Tony and instead of slow camels we are using a much faster and reliable Hyundai minivan. Unlike the Magi of the East, we came from the United States with one thing in common: we, in different ways, work for a papal agency that strives to support Christians in the Middle East and other troubled countries in the world. We don’t carry precious gifts ... only our desire to learn more about the situation of Christ’s followers and the way CNEWA is making a difference in their lives.

The Holy Land of the Magi has changed a lot. Villages on the shores of the Sea of Galilee are now inland; the waters are receding at a remarkable rate. Others are only remembered on dusty plaques; their ruins have been swallowed by earthquakes or ravaged by wars. The Magi didn’t have to go through Israeli checkpoints to adore the Christ child. Today, they wouldn’t even have been able to cross the River Jordan since the country traditionally associated with the Magi, Iran, isn’t exactly on good terms with Israel.

Despite all these differences with our predecessors, Father Guido, Steve, Joe, Al, Mary and I are motivated by the same desire of learning more about the man who changed our lives so much.

In Nazareth, at the site of the Annunciation, we reflected on the feelings of Mary when she was announced the great news. In Capernaum, a flourishing town in the time of our Lord, we walked through the sites where he performed his ministry and called some of his disciples. Although this village is now a quiet archaeological site, we could easily imagine what life must have been like. As we walked from the house of Peter to the Synagogue Jesus attended on the Sabbath, we brought the life of the town back again.

As Father Guido read the pages of the Gospel, we heard Jesus say, “Which is easier to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven, ’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

On the Mount of the Beatitudes, we could still hear the awe of the people listening to his message and witnessing the multiplications of loaves and fish. Steve Marcus, a Maronite deacon of the Eparchy of Brooklyn and a loyal benefactor to CNEWA, said that he’ll never hear the Gospel the same way after this trip. As we travel and listen to the Gospel, he avidly takes notes for future homilies.

Mary and her father Al from Boston cannot believe how beautiful these biblical places are and how torn by political issues they have become today. Joe, a retired lawyer, reflects silently, overwhelmed by this experience.

Sunday, 12 February

On the second day, on board our air-conditioned and comfortable four-wheel camel, we circumnavigated the Sea of Galilee. From Tabgha, we drove north and then east and south, through the occupied Golan Heights, once a part of Syria. Observing the level of infrastructure that has been built since the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967, it seems unlikely these lands will one day be returned. The hilly Golan Heights strategically overlook Galilee and the land beyond.

As we approached Jericho, Father Guido noticed how unusually green and lush the soil was. Our comet, Tony, explained that there has been an unusual, steady rain in the past few days.

Before reaching Jericho, we stopped at the rocky and deserted area of Qumran. What appeared before our eyes, although blinded by the strong midday light, was a monumental excavation site that brought to life the place where the Essenes, a monastic religious Jew community, once thrived. The area is important, for it is here that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by Bedouin in 1947.

After a quick look at the Dead Sea, where we saw swimmers floating on the salty waters, we entered the lowest and oldest city of the world: Jericho. Described in the Bible as the city of palm trees, today it is inhabited by 20,000 people. When I last visited in 2009, I had to go through two check points: first an Israeli followed by a Palestinian. Today, only the Palestinian one is active and the soldiers greeted us cheerfully. Jericho is an important biblical site. The Old Testament describes Joshua’s army of Israelites marching around the city, blowing their trumpets and destroying its walls. The New Testament documents the conversation between Jesus and the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, on a sycamore tree.

Before the sun disappeared completely behind the mountains beyond Jericho, we decided to walk through an impervious canyon carved out of a rocky deserted mountain to reach the monastery of St. George of Koziba. Located in Wadi Qelt, in the eastern West Bank, minutes from Jericho, this Orthodox monastery is built into a cliff and it took us about 2,000 steps to reach it at the bottom of the canyon. After praying in a crypt and meeting some of the monks, we decided to head back. What on the way down had been a pleasant walk now seemed a harsh and steep climb. Two in our group didn’t feel they could handle the hard walk. They closed a deal with Bedouins and returned on the back of a donkey. Unfortunately, we have a gentleman’s agreement and I cannot disclose their names ... But I guess I can tell you one is a deacon and the other a lawyer.

After a typical Middle Eastern dinner, we returned to our modern camel and headed toward Bethlehem.



Tags: Middle East Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims
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