7 August 2014
During our journey to the Holy Land with Catholic Women’s League of Canada members in July, we visited some places that Pope Francis had visited during his pastoral visit to the Holy Land from 24-26 May 2014. It was special to follow in his footsteps, praying where he prayed and hearing the stories of people who had encountered him. I thought I’d give you a taste of it through pictures.
Jordan River: We visited the Baptism site on the Israeli side of the Jordan River, where Pope Francis prayed and met with refugees, the sick and disabled. At this place, we renewed our baptismal vows.
Bethlehem: His Holiness Francis stopped spontaneously at the wall separating Israel and Palestine and silently prayed. We also took a moment to pray at this spot.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Pope Francis met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, their predecessors.
Western Wall: Pope Francis prayerfully placed intentions in the wall and embraced his Argentinian friends, Jewish Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud. We also offered our prayer intentions here.
Yad Vashem: We visited the Hall of Remembrance where the pope gave an impassioned speech which began with “Adam, where are you?”
Upper Room: Before leaving the Holy Land, His Holiness celebrated Mass in the Upper Room. We prayed together in this room, where the Last Supper took place and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Twelve Apostles at Pentecost.
31 July 2014
Tags: Pope Francis CNEWA Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims CNEWA Canada
Picture Caption: Rev. Vincent Pereira of the Archdiocese of Ottawa joins Episcopal Vicar Rev. David Neuhaus and parish priest Rev. Piotr Zelasko at the Mass for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem. (photo: CNEWA Canada)
During our pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Catholic Women’s League members from Canada, we met a unique group of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. They make up a small but important community.
The leader of this community is Rev. David Neuhaus, the patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics. Father Neuhaus has an interesting background. He grew up an Israeli Jew and was baptized Catholic at age 26. Four years later, he joined the Jesuits and became a priest.
Father Neuhaus spoke with us about the reality of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. After Israel became a state, people began to immigrate there in the 1950’s. You would assume that all these people were Jews. But the church in Israel began to notice that some of these people came to church on Sunday looking for a Mass!
Thousands of Catholics came to Israel with their Jewish spouses and families. They all spoke Hebrew. Father Neuhaus says this was something of an anomaly — Hebrew was the language always associated with the Jewish religion and Christians never used Hebrew.
The challenge at first was making Hebrew a Christian language — Mass, prayers, theology and catechism in Hebrew. Overall, that was quite successful.
The biggest difficulty has been transmitting the faith to Christian young people in a place where Jews are the majority. These children live fully immersed in secular Jewish society with no signs of Christianity anywhere. Many marry Jews and never come back to the church. So one of the church’s main focuses is children and youth ministry.
One of the aims of this church is to build unity among Arabic-speaking Christians and Hebrew-speaking Christians, and also to foster reconciliation among Christians and Jews. In its humble way, the vicariate is taking one step at a time to do just that.
This Hebrew-speaking vicariate also has a special outreach to the migrant population of Israel. Father Neuhaus is also the coordinator of the pastoral care for migrant workers and asylum seekers. This includes workers mostly from Asia, including Filipinos, Indians and people of other nationalities.
Many of these workers care for the children of the Jewish people, along with the elderly, the sick and the handicapped. The vicariate provides them with a space for community and Masses in their native languages. The children of these migrant workers end up going to school in Israel and learning Hebrew. These children also require support to nurture faith.
There are also asylum seekers who come from Africa — mainly Eritrea and Sudan. Unfortunately, Israel rarely grants refugee status to asylum seekers, so these people live in limbo. Good priests, nuns and pastoral workers do their best to care for this community’s needs.
During our visit, we joined the Hebrew-speaking community for Mass. For the Rev. Vincent Pereira, the chaplain of our pilgrimage, it was a unique experience to concelebrate Mass in Hebrew. There were three special things about the Mass:
During the sign of peace, it began with the presiding priest, since the priest represents Christ. He shook hands and it moved through the congregation from the front row to the back row. It was interesting symbolism — peace starts with Christ, and he spreads his peace to everyone.
Another detail was that they used matzo (traditional unleavened bread) instead of the regular white hosts that we use in North America for the Eucharist.
Finally, they gave us books and we sang with them and prayed the Mass parts in Hebrew. No, we didn’t learn Hebrew in a day — but we used books where Hebrew was transliterated into English to make it easier to follow. The music was beautifully performed by their seminarian Benny.
One thing that Father Neuhaus said stuck with me. I will try to take it to heart. He said that having a hard life doesn’t mean that you will not find someone who has an even harder life than you. So please reach out to them, open up and be generous towards those who have less than you.
Read more about the Hebrew-speaking vicariate in this article in ONE magazine.
23 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Israel Holy Land Catholic Holy Land Christians
Our pilgrimage group poses with the staff and residents of the House of Grace in Haifa. (photo: CNEWA Canada)
Recently, CNEWA led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land along with members of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada. One of our aims was to encounter the local Christians. In Haifa, we had the privilege of hearing the story of the “House of Grace” from the founders’ son, Jamal Shehade. CNEWA has partnered with the House of Grace for many years, supporting their various initiatives.
The House of Grace began 32 years ago as a humble ministry of Kamil and Agnes Shehade. Shortly after they married in the early 1980’s, the Shehades began to take in ex-convicts, providing a home for them in their small two-bedroom apartment. Eventually, their ministry grew into an abandoned church that they renovated and named the House of Grace.
Mr. and Mrs. Shehade had five children, who also lived with these former offenders. They grew up treating them as a part of their family — and, at times, even babysitters.
It is a difficult transition for those released from prison, as they are often ostracized by society and can easily fall back into negative behaviors. For many former prisoners at the House the Grace, it is the first time they are treated as human beings with dignity, rather than lowlifes or criminals. At the House of Grace, they are shown what a real “home” is like.
People of different faiths — Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze — live together at the House of Grace. They celebrate each other’s feasts and learn one another’s traditions. Eventually, they begin to understand and respect each other, even if they don’t always agree — which is rare in a society where there exist many deeply held prejudices.
We heard from one House of Grace resident who says their ministry has given him a new lease on life. He is very thankful to the people who gave him support and helped him to look positively toward the future. He has since obtained employment in construction, and is now focused on building a better life for his family.
We also learned that the House of Grace has a Canadian connection. As a young person, Kamil Shehade spent a year and a half at the Madonna House apostolate, a house of hospitality in the small town of Combermere, Ontario. Archbishop Joseph Raya sent Mr. Shehade to Canada when he noticed that the young man was going down a dangerous path in life. This experience greatly influenced Mr. Shehade — in his faith and in his attitudes toward community and the people within who are marginalized or reviled.
A few years ago, I spent two weeks at Madonna House. So I understand the ministry of the House of Grace, because it has the same open-door warmth that I experienced at Madonna House.
Unfortunately, Kamil Shehade died of cancer in 2000. He was only 46 years old. But his wife Agnes and his children have continued the work of the House of Grace with the support of staff and volunteers. Together, they live out the Gospel simply — with kindness and love, changing one life at a time.
To read more about their inspiring work, see this article from ONE magazine.
21 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians Canada CNEWA Canada
Velma Harasen, left, and Betty Anne Brown Davidson of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada meet with the mayor of Bethlehem, Ms. Vera Baboun. (photo: CNEWA Canada)
We had an amazing visit to the Holy Land recently, joined by members of the Catholic Women’s League. I’d like to share with you some stories of our visit.
On 3 July 2014, our group was privileged to visit and speak with current mayor of Bethlehem, Ms. Vera Baboun. She is the first female mayor of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Our group was mainly composed of women leaders from the Catholic Women’s League in Canada, so it was a unique experience to visit the mayor, herself a Catholic woman and a leader.
Ms. Baboun is a passionate woman of faith. She shared with us a quote from a homily by the former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, James Beltritti, that touched her personally during a tough time in her life and resonated with all of us: “Blessings and grace only reside in the womb of suffering. Learn how to give it birth.”
As a widow and mother of five children, Ms. Baboun has experienced great hardship in her own life. But this perspective helped her to focus on the blessings that come from and with such difficulties.
She discussed with us Bethlehem’s unfortunate status as a gated city. As part of the West Bank, it is under occupation by Israel and surrounded by a separation wall. And, metaphorically speaking, she shared that the faith is now walled as well:
“The wall breaches the path of faith between the moment of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the moment of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. We have a young generation in Bethlehem now who do not know the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, [which is] ten minutes away by car. …
“It is not only Bethlehem that is walled, but the message of our faith, our Lord, and love and peace is walled as well. I’m terrified for this fact. It’s a walling of the message, not only the walling of a city.”
She also spoke about different injustices that the Palestinian people face due to the conflict with Israel — for example, water shortages, ongoing confiscation of property and limits on people’s movement. As a minority group, Palestinian Christians are also often caught in the middle of conflicts between Jewish and Muslim populations.
We can keep the Star of Bethlehem burning by sharing the story of the “living stones” — the Christians of the Holy Land. They keep the faith alive and bear their cross every day. She urged us to please carry the cross of Bethlehem with us wherever we go. We left inspired and touched by her words.
27 June 2014
Tags: Holy Land Christians Bethlehem CNEWA Canada West Bank Women
Last year’s participants in the pilgrimage to the Holy Land gather in the Shepherds’ Fields near Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA Canada)
On 29 June 2014, I will be blessed to travel for the second time to the Holy Land with members of the Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.). We are visiting Israel and Palestine for nine days on a spiritual pilgrimage and to learn about local Christians and Christian organizations.
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada has about 90,000 members in parishes all across Canada. Through the initiative called Velma’s Dream, they are currently supporting two projects in the Holy Land: the Infant Welfare Centre in Jerusalem and Shepherd’s Field Hospital near Bethlehem, both of which we will be visiting.
Velma Harasen, former national president of the C.W.L. and namesake of “Velma’s Dream,” will be accompanying us. Ms. Harasen also came with us last year. Her vision is to encourage the Catholic Women’s League to continue to support the poor in the Holy Land.
Our group also includes Betty Anne Brown Davidson, the current C.W.L. national president; Carl Hétu, CNEWA Canada’s national director; the Rev. Vincent Pereira of the Archdiocese of Ottawa; and participants from as far west as British Columbia and as far east as Quebec.
I look forward to this exciting trip, as we walk in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who made a recent pastoral visit to the Holy Land in May. The Holy Father encountered local Christians, prayed with them and lovingly listened to their stories.
Two of last year’s participants shared some reflections on the trip:
“I am so grateful for this trip on so many levels — to experience the land where Jesus chose to minister, to deepen my faith in God by reflecting on his presence in me … to see what life is like as a Christian in an area of struggle.” – Angela Pomeroy, Kelowna, BC
“Wherever we went, we were continually reminded of the life of Christ in the sacred stones of the buildings we entered, but also in the “living stones,” the Christians we were so fortunate to meet. These people, living in Israel and Palestine, are desperately trying to maintain and preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land.” – Chantal Devine, Caronport, SK
We will post an update on the blog during our trip, so stay tuned!
Learn more about Velma’s Dream on our website.
9 September 2013
Tags: Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians Canada CNEWA Canada Women
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.
11 July 2013
Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Donors 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!
2 July 2013
Tags: Children Israel Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians
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)
Tags: Holy Land Catholic Canada CNEWA Canada Women