9 September 2013
The Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) of Canada is generously supporting projects to aid poor Christian families in the Holy Land through CNEWA Canada. Members of this fine organization — including Velma Harasen, C.W.L.’s former national president — were able to visit these projects during our Holy Land Pilgrimage.
The video above highlights the good work of two of CNEWA’s partners in the Holy Land:
The Infant Welfare Center in Jerusalem assists teenagers with learning disabilities and helps them to stay in school, as well as providing support for their families and teachers.
The Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour (near Bethlehem) provides much-needed health care to pregnant women, new mothers and their babies — including many of the poorest in the region.
Click here if you’d like to contribute to “Velma’s Dream.”
Next year, from 29 June – 9 July 2014, CNEWA Canada will again extend to C.W.L. members the opportunity to join us on a pilgrimage. We will visit the holy places of the Bible, meet Holy Land Christians and witness the good works of our many partners in the region. If you are interested, visit the trip page for more info. You can also watch our Holy Land pilgrimage promo video.
30 August 2013
Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Donors Holy Land Christians CNEWA Canada
During our Holy Land pilgrimage a few weeks ago, we had the privilege of visiting Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrows.” While the route has varied over the centuries, tradition holds that this is essentially the path Jesus travelled on his journey to Calvary.
To walk in the last footsteps of Christ while we remembered his suffering and prayed the Stations of the Cross was both memorable and moving. You can follow along as we trace Christ’s path in the video above.
7 August 2013
Tags: Holy Land Christianity Holy Land Christians Prayers/Hymns/Saints Christian
The Church of the Beatitudes, run by Franciscans, was built on the site believed to be where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. (photo: CNEWA)
The first three days of our journey were spent in Israel. We visited the Mount of the Beatitudes and the surroundings of the Lake of Tiberias, referred to in the Bible as the Sea of Galilee; Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus; and the house of St. Peter in Capernaum, which was used for community gatherings by the very first Christians.
It seems so simple and peaceful to build a church, but the political climate of that era was complex and violent, making the process extremely hazardous. The Christians had to be strong, determined and forgiving.
In a similar way, we encountered a brave man who as a child was forced with his family out of his village and became a refugee in the new Israel. Archbishop Elias Chacour is the Melkite Catholic leader for Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee. Our group spent a good two hours with him in Haifa where he explained the difficult life of Arab Palestinian Christians in Israel since its creation in 1948.
Most of the Arabs live in segregated villages where Israeli Jews and Arabs rarely connect. He told us he had to go to court over 35 times as a priest, just trying to construct a parish hall, schools and a gym. “I never understood why the authorities didn’t want us to succeed,” he said.
One of his projects, a school for Israeli children from all backgrounds — Jewish, Muslim and Arab Christian — has seen great success, but it is an exception in this complex place.
We were all very moved by Archbishop Chacour’s presentation. Before we parted ways, he shared copies of his books with us — Blood Brothers and Faith Beyond Despair, in which he describes his life in Israel and how peace is possible. A few days later, one of my fellow pilgrims, Corina, told me that she couldn’t put the book down. “It’s too good,” she said, “and so informative. I never knew about Arab Palestinian Christians living in Israel. It’s a must read.”
Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour poses with Velma Harasen, former national president of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, and Carl Hétu, director of CNEWA Canada. (photo: CNEWA)
5 August 2013
Tags: CNEWA Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour
On our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we made it a point to give our patronage to Christian-owned businesses whenever possible. We felt it was important to show solidarity with Christians in the Holy Land in a tangible way by supporting their livelihoods.
For many Christians, running a local business is a major factor enabling them to stay in the Holy Land and thereby maintain a Christian presence there. Christians comprise less than 2 percent of the population and that number continues to decrease. Many emigrate due to high unemployment and a harsh financial climate.
Tourism plays a vital part in the Holy Land’s economy, and gift shops can grow quite large to accommodate this. (photo: CNEWA)
Some of our support for Christian businesses took the form of visits to gift shops to buy souvenirs. Many of us purchased olive wood holy statues — traditional handicrafts of the Holy Land. We also visited a wine shop run by Salesian Fathers, who have their own winery in the Cremisan Valley.
We stayed at the Ararat Hotel, a new Christian-owned hotel in Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories. Our other accommodations were at the Mount of the Beatitudes and Stella Maris guesthouses run by religious orders.
We also enjoyed a traditional lunch with Nora Kort, a Christian woman representing the Arab Orthodox Society. The Arab Orthodox Society of East Jerusalem is dedicated to helping Palestinian women help themselves. One of their initiatives is the Melia Art and Training Center — “an organization of women from all over the West Bank” dedicated to preserving traditional Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery.
Catholic Women’s League of Canada members examine embroidery sold through the Melia Art and Training Center. (photo: CNEWA)
One of the most memorable details of our trip to the Holy Land was the food — pita bread with hummus and other dips, kebabs, tabbouleh and more delicacies. We ate at numerous restaurants and really experienced the local culture through its cuisine.
Tour guide Alex, left, breathed life into our excursion by providing historical and biblical context. (photo: CNEWA)
Finally, our tour guide, Alexander (“Iskandar” in Arabic), was a Palestinian Christian. Alex was awesome — he greatly enhanced our experience of the Holy Land. He was not only knowledgeable of the cultural and historical context of the places we visited, but we also saw to the very roots of his deep Christian faith. In every place we visited, he brought out a Bible and we read a passage from Scripture pertaining to the place, treating us to a more complete experience. We also appreciated his patience and his humor. He was a pleasure to be around!
11 July 2013
Tags: CNEWA Catholic Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians CNEWA Canada
Velma Harasen, former national president of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, meets children at the Infant Welfare Center in Jerusalem. (photo: CNEWA)
Velma Harasen is the past national president of the Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) of Canada. We asked for her reflections after participating in the C.W.L.’s Holy Land pilgrimage with CNEWA. She shares her thoughts below:
What a blessing, what a gift to have journeyed in pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a small group that soon became like family. My daughter, Lori, was my accompanying family.
Our guide Alex, a Palestinian Christian, was an amazing source of information and referred to Bible readings at the various holy sites that we visited. A tearful departure spoke volumes of the love and respect we had for him.
Father Geoff celebrated Mass for us and truly served as our spiritual leader, including when we renewed our baptismal promises at the river Jordan. He may never know how much he meant to all of us but hopefully our gift of the handmade purple stole expressed our thanks.
I have been to the Holy Land twice before but this pilgrimage was very special to me. We met, mingled and ate with the Christians of the Holy Land and learned more about their daily struggles. Life is not easy!
In a local parish in Reineh, we attended a Latin Mass celebrated in Arabic and were treated to a reception afterward. We visited a number of projects supported by CNEWA, plus the two projects that were part of Velma’s Dream.
The Shepherds’ Field Hospital in Beit Sahour is operated by the Cooperative Society for Health Welfare, which is comprised of local families maintaining the hospital for the poor of the area, mainly pregnant women and babies. With limited resources, they serve their community with Christian love. We met the board, the midwife, nurse and a doctor who volunteers his time.
In a very small, sparse labor and delivery room with two narrow beds, I wondered aloud how they could manage should there be two mothers in labor at the same time! The response: “Sometimes we have three; we can manage!” The board is working hard to build a larger facility and was proud to show us the excavation!
The Infant Welfare Center is in the heart of Old City of Jerusalem. Children from the age of 4 months to 5 years are accommodated in the daycare. When we were there, the babies were enjoying their afternoon nap. However, we spent time with the older ones assembling puzzles, talking and singing. One class made thank you cards for each of us while, in another class, we joined in singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”! The center also operates programs for teens to keep them in school and off the streets.
I was affirmed that both these projects supported by the Catholic Women’s League were worthy and our donations were put to very good use! We have made a difference!
3 July 2013
Tags: Children Israel Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians
Our pilgrims gather at the Jordan River. (photo: CNEWA)
On 29 June, the C.W.L. and CNEWA pilgrimage group headed to the Jordan River, where according to Scripture John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water “in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:28)
Since our pilgrimage took us only to Israel and Palestine, we stayed on the west bank of the river, across from the Jordanian park Pope John Paul II had inaugurated in the year 2000. As with most of the Holy Sites we visited, the Israeli site marking Jesus’ baptism has its own history. Unlike most, it is an Israeli National Park and is not cared for by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land or the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic patriarchates.
The site has been open for only two years. Since the conclusion of the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, the entire border has been a military zone with fences, mines and soldiers.
Thankfully, we were privileged to drive to the site — well below sea level — under a scorching sun without any problems. Father Geoffrey Kerslake led us in prayer as we renewed our baptismal vows, and afterward invited us to take a dip in the river. It was an emotional experience as we then headed for the desert, the same desert where Jesus retreated for 40 days.
3 July 2013
Tags: Palestine Israel Holy Land Jordan Pilgrimage/pilgrims
A little boy plays at the Infant Welfare Center. (photo: CNEWA)
Velma’s Dream brought together women from all over Canada to support the tremendous efforts of women in the Holy Land — efforts like the Infant Welfare Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel.
The Infant Welfare Center helps children with learning disabilities throughout Jerusalem. Unfortunately, many families are unaware of the special needs of their children, and attempt to integrate them in local schools. The Infant Welfare Center founded a school for remedial education to address these needs.
In addition to helping local children, the center runs classes and lectures for mothers. They offer courses in parenting, nutrition, mental health and even yoga!
The women and men behind the Infant Welfare Center welcomed the Catholic Women’s League, and brought them face to face with the children and mothers they help. What a joyous experience it was for the C.W.L. women!
3 July 2013
Tags: Children Holy Land Education Jerusalem Disabilities
Father Geoffrey Kerslake from the Ottawa diocese concelebrates Mass with Father Elias Odeh, parish priest in Reineh. (photo: CNEWA)
On our journey to the Holy Land, we wanted to meet the “living stones,” the Christians ministering to people in this land. On Sunday, 23 June, we went to Mass in the Latin parish of Reineh, a small village beside Nazareth in Israel. That turned out to be a special day for several reasons. First, it was Pentecost Sunday (since Easter in this part of the world follows the Julian, rather than Gregorian, calendar). Also, the parish priest, Rev. Elias Odeh, was marking the 43rd anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. But it was another detail that may be most memorable: many in our party had a chance for the first time to attend a Roman Catholic Mass celebrated in Arabic.
For many in North America, this may be stunning news. ‘Aren’t Arabs all Muslims?’ some might ask. How is it possible that Arabs are also Catholics? Let’s not forget that Christianity was present in the Holy Land some 600 years before Muhammad, and many Arabs had converted long before. Today, even though they are in small numbers, these Arab Christians are proud of their heritage and their faith.
Rev. Geoffrey Kerslake, who accompanied us on the pilgrimage, concelebrated Mass with Father Odeh. Afterward, our group was invited to join the parishioners for coffee and cake in a warm and friendly setting. We were surprised to see how many spoke English very well!
[Editor’s note: we interviewed Father Odeh as part of our coverage of the Year for Priests. Check out what he had to say here.]
Members of CNEWA and the Catholic Women’s League of Canada take to the pews in a Latin Catholic church in Reineh. (photo: CNEWA)
2 July 2013
Tags: CNEWA Israel Holy Land Holy Land Christians CNEWA Canada
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada’s Brenda Killick, right, speaks with a midwife and a nurse from Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour, Palestine. (photo: CNEWA)
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada partnered with CNEWA Canada to support two projects in the Holy Land. Last week 12 members had the opportunity to see the fruits of their generous and hard work. A few sat down with Bradley H. Kerr to reflect on the experience.
What is the Catholic Women’s League of Canada?
Velma Harasen, former national president: It’s a national organization of Christian women from across Canada. We have just under 100,000 women. Our motto is “For God and Canada.” We do work in parishes, community service, leadership development, spiritual development and social justice.
The theme during my two years as national president was Faith and Justice, and we looked for an international project we could all rally around. We thought: “The Holy Land is the center of our faith. We see the injustice there. Why don’t we find a project that supports Holy Land Christians, particularly women?” That’s when we started working with CNEWA Canada.
Janet McLean, former provincial president for Quebec: Carl Hétu from CNEWA presented eight options to our national executive and provincial presidents. I was involved with that discussion. It’s funny how we all picked the Infant Welfare Center as our first choice. It was unanimous. We were all drawn to the idea of helping women and their children.
The Infant Welfare Center is a Christian daycare in the Old City of Jerusalem. What did you accomplish for them?
Velma: The center is primarily a daycare, but our particular project was to assist young women aged 12-15 who are on the verge of dropping out of school in order to work in restaurants and hotels during the tourist season. When the season is over, the girls lose their jobs but don’t go back to school. The project we supported was to prevent dropping out and to try to get those who do, back into school.
Once you picked a project, what did you do?
Barbara McDonald: We took it to the grassroots — the provinces, dioceses and parishes. We explained the initiative, and brought some visuals. Then the ladies had a lot of bake sales and other fundraisers. The donations were very, very generous.
Velma: During my time as president, I had the privilege of going to every province to speak about it. It was amazing how generous people were. This was my dream, and it came true.
Now you’ve seen the Center. What did you think?
Barb: I was impressed by the director. She thinks about today and tomorrow. She’s creative. … She’s got energy.
Janet: They coordinate with the girls’ families and their schools. They get the mothers of the girls involved. That’s encouraging. Teenagers are the same all over the world — if it’s easer to earn money than go to school, they’ll take the easy way out. But three girls have gone back to school and are doing really well. It’s nice to know we were able to help them.
Angela Pomeroy: What a loving group of staff. There’s a lot happening in the Holy Land that we have difficulty making sense of. What Christians have to deal with — it would crush many people. But through it all, the Infant Welfare Center maintains the Christian values of love, dignity and hope.
You quickly met your fundraising goal and picked a second project with the Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour, Palestine. Can you tell us about it?
Velma: The hospital looks after new mothers and babies. The staff explained that vitamin deficiency is a common problem they see. We raised money to provide vitamin supplements.
Barb: The program also involves education and prevention.
Janet: They showed us pamphlets they distribute to mothers about how to stay healthy. I thought, “This is good. It’s the little things like this that don’t get the funding. But sometimes they are more important than the big things.”
What did you think of the hospital?
Velma: I was quite overwhelmed with the things they are accomplishing in very sparse conditions.
Barb: By our norms, the building is small.
Velma: The labor and delivery room had two cots. I asked the nurses, “What do you do when you have two women in labor at the same time?” They said, “Oh, we can handle three! We manage!”
Angela: When you look at us as mothers and what we had in delivering our children, it’s luxurious compared to what people cope with in Palestine. But they make it beautiful and loving with such little resources.
Barb: What struck me is that as much as it is a Christian hospital, they accept anyone and everyone who needs services. And it you can’t pay, if you don’t have money, fine. The staff maneuvers the finances so they can cover many free deliveries.
I was impressed that the hospital is a cooperative.
Brenda Killick: The members work collaboratively as a community of like-minded citizens to improve the health of women and children.
Barb: They are doing things for themselves, for their community, for those in need. It’s not that the hospital asks for handouts — yes, they do need help and we provided it — but families pay money to be a part of the cooperative. By our standards it’s not a high amount. … And when they use the hospital, the members pay a lower fee than nonmembers.
How are you going to take this experience back to your parishes in Canada?
Barb: I think those of us who came on this pilgrimage will be messengers. We will try to enlighten, encourage, incite and educate.
Janet: I would like to see the Catholic Women’s League stay involved. This trip has reinforced for me how important it is to support the Christians of the Holy Land.
Angela: I’m an educated woman. I think I know a little bit about some things. But I knew nothing about the Christians in the Holy Land and how they are living. I can’t wait to develop a presentation for my parish. There are things we can all do to help Holy Land Christians, and the most important is prayer.
Former C.W.L. President Velma Harasen meets with Infant Welfare Center Director Tania Awwad in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNEWA)
1 July 2013
Tags: Holy Land Catholic Canada CNEWA Canada Women
I had the privilege to meet with Sister Marta from the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute for the deaf here in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, deafness is a common problem facing the Palestinian community. The incidence of deafness is approximately 3 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 15 percent in certain villages — a much higher percentage compared with other regions of the world.
CNEWA has sponsored the Ephpheta Institute since its founding over 40 years ago, helping the sisters, teachers and staff provide a quality education for deaf and hearing-impaired children throughout the Palestinian community. Sister Marta spent the afternoon showing us around the school and speaking about the challenges faced by these children. I could go on about the amazing work of these Sisters and the special life of the children they serve, but Sister Marta puts it better — listen to her talk about the importance of building trust and self-confidence in these children:
You can read more about the good work of Ephpheta here. And visit this page to learn how you can help children with challenges.
Tags: Children Holy Land Education Bethlehem Disabilities