14 February 2017
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets displaced Iraqis after the eucharistic liturgy in Erbil.
(photo: Paul Jeffrey)
One of the more energetic and visible advocates for CNEWA’s work among the persecuted and the poor has been the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. His support has been tireless and, indeed, heroic.
In his capacity as CNEWA’s chair, the cardinal has visited a number of regions we serve, to meet those who are facing challenges and difficulties far removed from his work in New York City.
Just last year, he traveled with CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre to Erbil, where he met some of the Iraqi Christians who have been displaced by ISIS — men, women and children who have been literally running for their lives.
He spoke about that visit in an interview with the National Catholic Register:
What I saw was this blend of terrible sadness, and yet amazing charity and hope. Sadness, because these people who had come from Mosul or the plains of Nineveh — their families go back centuries and centuries, some to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle — had to abandon their homes in a couple of hours’ notice and couldn’t bring anything. They brought their children, obviously, and they brought their elders. The priests and nuns accompanied them on the [10-hour] walk, and they made it safely there. All these people want to do is go back home.
What’s hopeful is that they still have an extraordinarily vivid faith — their resilience is nothing less than profound. What’s moving as well is the remarkable charity and hospitality with which the Christians of Kurdistan have welcomed them.
So, we toured a number of camps. There would be thousands of these people in the refugee camps, which are actually rather secure and safe and where the local Christians have opened up schools, medical dispensaries and pharmacies. The people there will be the first to say that they are well taken care of — so, thanks be to God — because of a lot of international Christian support, and, yes, some support from the Kurdistan government and the Iraqi government.
At least they have these secure makeshift caravans, which we would call “trailers,” to live in. And the camp seems to be secure, and their needs and health and food are taken care of, as well as the education of their children. So the charity that has been shown them is remarkable.
Last summer, ONE published a photo essay, chronicling the cardinal’s visit. As we noted then:
“Pope Francis keeps saying that we priests must be with our people,” Cardinal Dolan said in his meeting with seminarians. “We just came from a refugee camp where we met a priest who slept outside on his mattress because he said he couldn’t sleep inside if his people were outside.
“We’ve met with sisters and priests who walked with the people from Mosul as they were fleeing. That’s the model of the priesthood. That’s Jesus: To be with our people all the time, to be especially close to your people in the difficult times.”
That closeness to people is emblematic of Cardinal Dolan’s priesthood. And again and again during that visit, it was striking to see how eagerly he embraced those he met — and how joyfully the people in the camps reached out to embrace him and make him feel welcome. In the true spirit of CNEWA, he seeks to accompany others in their struggles, sorrows and hopes.
When the Register asked what spiritual lessons he took from his trip, he offered an answer that beautifully encapsulates so much of CNEWA’s own mission:
We learn, first of all, that our faith is indeed as Jesus said: our “pearl of great price.” We tend to take it for granted, but these are people who literally have lost everything, rather than give up their faith. So, first of all, we learned the primacy of faith. We learned that we need to ask ourselves: Are we prepared to live our faith in such a way as we are ready to die for it? Because these people are. They will give up anything but their faith. As one lady said, “They can’t take our faith away from us.”
No. 2, we learn the importance of solidarity. This is the lesson of St. Paul in Corinthians come alive: When one member of the body suffers, all suffer. So we are suffering with them, and we cannot be callous to their suffering. So that solidarity is a second lesson.
Thirdly, we learn the importance of hospitality and charity, in that, even though it’s a long-range hospitality, we’re all at home in the Church. I said to them, “You know I don’t understand your language, we look different from you, we have come from a nation far, far away — and yet, I feel at home with you, because we are members of the household of the faith, and we are one.”
7 February 2017
In this image from 1999, CNEWA’s John Faris and Elizabeth Weese meet the Rev. Shaji Mekkara, whom “Grandma Elizabeth” had sponsored as a seminarian. (photo: CNEWA)
Many of the unsung heroes of CNEWA have worked tirelessly behind the scenes, changing lives in ways that often go unnoticed. One of those heroes is Elizabeth Weese.
She was a volunteer in our New York office for a number of years — but before that, sponsored a seminarian in India. She described her experience recently in an email to us:
About 1984 an Irish friend urged me to sponsor a seminarian. Bless her good soul! I filled out an application and it wasn’t too long before I received a letter and picture of Shaji Mekkara from India. And so it began. We corresponded all through his seminary days, learning about each other. Two or three years after his ordination, he was sent for two years to Lugano, Switzerland, to continue his studies. Plans were made pretty quickly for a visit to Lugano so that we could meet. Actually, I went twice, thinking I would never see him again. It was after these visits that he decided he should call me “Grandma” — and so I have been ever since.
But we did meet again when I brought him here, to the United States for three weeks. It was during that visit that we had a lovely meeting with [CNEWA’s Deputy Secretary General] Msgr. John Faris and some of the staff. That was also when I asked about doing some volunteer work for CNEWA and was invited and became a small part of the CNEWA family. It was all very fulfilling and I’ve continued to be a sponsor of various projects within the “family.”
I’m afraid my volunteer days are over, but not my affiliation with CNEWA. Never.
More on Shaji: I find it hard to believe that on May 8, 2017, he will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination! God gives us such lovely gifts.
Among her many other charitable activities, Elizabeth Weese is also a Lady of Charity and a Lady Grand Cross in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
We asked her what led her to volunteer with CNEWA, and she wrote back:
It was a sudden inspiration at the time Shaji and I had our visit. I had done some volunteering before but had never thought about CNEWA. I’m glad I did. It has been a rewarding experience for me and I hope my stuffing envelopes was helpful — although it’s difficult to understand how that might have an effect on someone half way around the world!
Then, again, God’s ways are mysterious and you never know how he’ll make use of our talents or even the every-day things we can do.
Amen, Elizabeth. Thank you for helping us to do what we do — and for helping nurture another vocation!
To learn more about how CNEWA supports seminarians and helps form church leaders, both religious and lay, visit this link.
3 February 2017
In this image from 1991, Cardinal John O’Connor speaks with the Lebanese press corps following a conference with Beirut’s ranking Orthodox leader, Metropolitan Elias Audi.
(photo: Maria Bastone)
He was a lion, a man who “said it like it was.” He never feared to make his point and rarely if ever apologized in public — except for one glaring exception: asking the Jewish community’s forgiveness for the acts and offenses committed against them by the Catholic Church. So read the obituaries of a man indeed larger than life, a passionate defender of life, a powerful enemy of racism and anti-Semitism, a man who preferred to be a priest’s priest and pastor, a boy from Philly, Cardinal John J. O’Connor.
Archbishop of New York and chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association from January 1984 until his death in May 2000, Cardinal O’Connor does not bring to mind cool feelings. After attending a prayer vigil at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the day of his death, I piled into a cab. The cabbie was listening to talk radio, and the talk that night was of the life and death of the cardinal. As the cabbie snarled through the congested traffic that defines the Big Apple, I heard caller after caller, New Yorkers from all walks of life, talk about a man who touched their lives in deeply personal ways — his midnight stops to hospitals, his visits to people dying of AIDS, his ability to listen and empathize, his love of mothers, his concern for the priests and sisters serving the people of the archdiocese, his passion for the rights of laborers and the poor.
At the end of the trip — a long one — even the cabbie had tears in his eyes.
Cardinal O’Connor’s commitment to and love of the CNEWA family extended years before he assumed the mantle of leadership. He served as a generous benefactor, friend and counselor. Of his impact on CNEWA as its head, my dear friend and former colleague, the late Peg Maron, said it best in the pages of our magazine, published soon after his death:
He challenged the leadership of CNEWA to renew itself.
Under his direction, programs in the Middle East expanded to include such innovative projects as a housing renovation program in the Old City of Jerusalem and a comprehensive village rehabilitation initiative in Lebanon. And, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he committed CNEWA’s support of the church in post-Communist Eastern Europe.
Cardinal O’Connor tirelessly encouraged support of avenues of dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox; Christians, Jews and Muslims; Israelis and Palestinians. On trips to the Middle East he met with religious and political leaders throughout the region to keep open the lines of communication.
And he had a special love for the people of Lebanon.
At great personal risk he traveled to Lebanon twice during its civil war, in 1986 and 1989, to demonstrate the solidarity of American Catholics with the people of Lebanon. ...
Following the war, in January 1992, the Cardinal visited Lebanon a third time. During this visit he promised to do whatever he could to help rebuild that shattered nation. He fulfilled this pledge immediately after his return when he invited Lebanese American leaders to his residence on 26 February and challenged them to forget their differences and coordinate their efforts toward rebuilding their homeland. Also, at their request, he led a representative delegation to a White House meeting with President George Bush to seek a change in the United States’ Lebanon policy.
In gratitude for the Cardinal’s efforts on behalf of Lebanon, the Ambassador of Lebanon to the U.S., on behalf of the Lebanese President, presented Cardinal O’Connor with the Order of the Cedar, Lebanon’s highest honor, in January 2000.
Cardinal O’Connor was and remains a CNEWA hero. He retooled the agency, challenging its administrators to clarify its Catholic identity, update its systems, improve its transparency, expand its good works, and to remember always the needs of the poor. His leadership set CNEWA on a course to enter the turmoil of the 21st century, when the works of this special agency of the Holy See have been so sorely needed.
His life was one of a true leader. No doubt, he was received into the bosom of the Lord with the words, “well done, John Joseph.”
31 January 2017
Tags: CNEWA Catholic Cardinal John O’Connor
The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio ministered to people in Syria and committed his life to dialogue with the Islamic world. (photo: CNS)
When we first met this CNEWA hero two decades ago, we had no idea the dramatic turn his life would take.
The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio had settled in Syria, at Mar Mousa (St. Moses), a monastery about an hour’s drive north of Damascus that had become a treasured pilgrimage site for thousands of people every year. Our story in the magazine from 1998 explained its history:
A manuscript from Mar Mousa now in the British Museum dates the monastery’s construction to the sixth century. Local tradition says the monastery was founded on the site of the grave of St. Moses the Ethiopian (c. 330 – 405).
According to tradition, Moses, the slave of an Egyptian official, was dismissed from service for immoral conduct and theft.
Once freed, he formed a band of fierce robbers, who ran roughshod throughout Egypt. Fleeing the law after one escapade, he sought refuge with some hermits who overwhelmed the robber with their sanctity and kindness. He asked to remain with the hermits and, after making a confession, he received the sacraments. Encouraged by St. Isidore, he overcame his penchant for violence and sex and, with his band of robbers-turned-monks, he traveled throughout the Near East, spreading the Gospel.
Moses became a well-loved individual, particularly in the East, where the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Latin and Syrian churches honor his memory.
In 1982, when Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, first came to Syria, the ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery of Mar Mousa was abandoned and in ruins. The monastery church dates from the 11th century; the frescoes that adorn it, from the 11th and 12th centuries.
...Today, the Mar Mousa community is led by Father Paolo, who has a flare for archaeology, languages, preservation and, of late, cheese-making. Definitely no hermit, Father Paolo is the tour guide, spiritual leader and overall mus’uul or the one responsible in the monastery.
“Today our community is composed of 10 members: five monks and five novice nuns [all of whom are under 40 years of age],” he says. “And we are international: we are Syrian, Italian and Swiss.”
He intended to turn the monastery into a place for shared prayer and dialogue — ideals close to the heart of CNEWA:
Christian-Muslim dialogue and supporting the Syrian Christian ecumenical movement rank at the top of this man’s objectives. His interest in Islam led him to pursue a doctorate in Qur’anic Studies from Rome’s Gregorian University.
“Our community plans to be ecumenical,” Father Paolo comments.
“We are particularly committed to prayer, hospitality and dialogue with the Islamic world. We hope to be a part of the movement in the Universal Church working toward achieving harmony with the Islamic world.”
Under his guidance, over the next several years the monastery became a center of interfaith dialogue. But the political situation in Syria eventually led Father Paolo to a different calling. The Italian Jesuit priest became a vocal peace activist and critic of the Syrian regime. Then, in 2013, he was kidnapped by militants of ISIS. There were reports that he was executed, but they have never been confirmed. An ISIS defector in 2015 insisted that he was still alive.
Pope Francis has mentioned Father Paolo in his public prayers and asked the world to pray for him and other Christians whose fate is unknown.
To this day, he remains a heroic figure to many around the world who continue to believe in his ideals of dialogue and peace between peoples.
As one of friends, Hind Aboud Kabawat, told a reporter last year:
“We have to follow his principles. To love the others, to build bridges with the others. To cross the line and make peace and make reconciliation. This was his favorite word.”
24 January 2017
Born without arms, Jilumol Thomas grew up cared for by the Sisters of the Destitute in a home supported by CNEWA. She now works as a graphic designer. (photo: CNEWA)
Jilumol Thomas has done more — and with far less — than most of us can imagine. This 23-year-old young woman has defied the odds again and again, and is continuing to show others a quiet heroism that comes from trust in God.
CNEWA’s regional director for India, M.L. Thomas, wrote to tell us about her recently:
Jilumol Mariott Thomas — “Jilu” to her friends — was born the second of three children of Thomas Nellanikkattu and Annakkutty of Karimannoor near Thodupuzha in Kerala, the southern state of India. Tragically, she was born without arms. When Jilu was just four years-old, her mother died. Jilu was taken to the Mercy Home run by Sisters of the Destitute at Changanassery, a small town in Kerala, India supported by CNEWA in its childcare program.
At the Mercy Home, Jilu got support in abundance from the sisters. They set up a canvas for Jilu and gave her color pencils. In time, she learned how to battle her physical shortcomings. She started practicing graphics on a computer. Earning high marks in school, she eventually graduated and secured a degree in Animation and Graphic Design from Media Village in Changanassery.
After earning her degree, she started working on some computer-related jobs for private organizations. She later served as an office assistant at a church-run hospital at Paimkulam.
But her dream was to make a career in graphic design. Bishop Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath, Bishop Auxiliary of the Syro Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamali, invited Jilu to join Viani Printing Press, run by the Archdiocese in Kochi city. A work space was specially created for Jilu at Viani by rearranging the computer table, mouse and keyboard; it was set up in such a way that she could work with her feet.
The little girl born without arms or hands is now reaching and touching many with her talent — and her spirit.
Someone once asked her, “When you cry, how do you wipe your tears?,” and she replied: “I have no hands to erase my tears. Let me meet everyone with laughter and a smile so that I never need to cry.”
Jilu credits her faith, her family, and the sisters who raised her for teaching her what is possible.
“There are people who discourage me,” she says, “but I learned many lessons from them regarding life. A bird sits on the branch of a tree with a firm belief that the branch will not break away from the stem. Similarly, the journey of my life is with full trust in my merciful God.”
19 January 2017
Msgr. Richard Lopez helped raise awareness about the plight of Syrian Christians among high school students in Atlanta. (photo: Michael Alexander)
One of CNEWA’s dedicated supporters is a priest in Atlanta, Georgia, Msgr. Richard Lopez. We first met him in 2014, when he was teaching theology at an Atlanta high school and helping raise awareness about the plight of Christians in the Middle East:
Students at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, were stunned to hear about the plight of their brothers and sisters in the thick of the Arab Spring during a presentation given by Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
“I honestly had no idea what was going on,” St. Pius X senior Abby Barnett, 17, says. “Once we had the presentation, though, we started talking more about it in class. It was really eye-opening.”
News of church burnings, homeless children and abducted church officials concerned the school.
So they decided to do something about it.
St. Pius X’s student-led, anti-genocide group, STAND, enlisted the help of students at Marist School in Atlanta to host an ice skate-a-thon for Syrian students in need.
Nearly 50 students enjoyed the Marietta Ice Center last November, and raised about $400 to donate to CNEWA for Syrian children. The money raised helped about 10 Syrian children receive backpacks, shoes, coats and other school supplies.
...Msgr. Richard Lopez, professor of theology at St. Pius X High School, says he is proud of his students for representing the “essence of our religion — to help those in need.”
“Adolescents will embrace a cause,” Msgr. Lopez says. “Give them a reason to stand up against evil, they will.”
Since then, Msgr. Lopez has retired, but he continues to support the work of CNEWA in whatever ways he can. We asked him what motivates him. He responded in an email that was both poignant and powerful:
I guess the first reason for my motivation would be that anything that happens to the Body of Christ happens to us. It remains a mystery to me how Christians in the West who live in such comfortable security should not be outraged about the abuse of other Christians in the Middle East. That outrage should lead to active charity and active political involvement. I think the fact that over the years I had Iraqi, Syrian and Egyptian Christian students and often heard first hand accounts of their relatives suffering motivated me to do something for those being persecuted.
I believe as Christians we have to honor the pain, the suffering, and the death of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East by active involvement in their recovery and restoration. They are literally the “roots” of our religion. Their shrines, their churches, their monasteries, indeed in some cases their language, belong to the earliest days of our faith. How can we stand by and let that glorious patrimony be destroyed? They have endured and kept the faith under periodic persecution and discrimination for 1400 years and kept that faith under pressures we have been spared. God have mercy on us if we do nothing to save and honor them.
We remain grateful to people such as Msgr. Lopez who continue to spread the word about our work — especially among the young — and who remember our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are so often forgotten.
17 January 2017
Sister Katharina Fuchs belongs to the the Daughters of Charity and serves the handicapped and poor at Maison du Sacre Coeur in Haifa, Israel. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Some of the most dedicated people in CNEWA’s world are those who work with the handicapped — and one heroic figure we’ve come to know over the years is Sister Katharina Fuchs, of the Daughters of Charity.
We first profiled her in our magazine 20 years ago:
“We try to give good care to the children,” explains Sister Katharina Fuch, D.C. “We try to assure good health and good food. We try to make life as agreeable for them as we can. We try to find what each child likes — music, play, laughter, television, radio, video. We want these children to feel good.”
The children are some 60 severely mentally and physically handicapped boys and girls, aged from newborn to 16 years. The place is the Maison du Sacre Coeur — the House of the Sacred Heart — in the Israeli port city of Haifa. The care-givers are Sister Katharina, three other sisters, a number of local specialists and other staff.
Sister Katharina is the Austrian-born superior of the House of the Sacred Heart, established by the Daughters of Charity, the religious community founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul.
In addition to caring for the resident children, the sisters also maintain a day-care center with 240 children, assuring working mothers that their children are well cared for during the workday.
A few years ago, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, paid a visit to Maison du Sacre Coeur:
This is a cherished Catholic institution that serves the needs of specially challenged children of all ages — even up to their early 20’s... I was particularly moved while watching the level of care with which some physical therapists worked, massaging the muscles of these special needs kids. Through a delicate series of respiratory heaves and hos, they were able to extract from them the desired cough that would help to clear their lungs.
I asked one what this hard work meant to him, and his reply was: “I know each one of these children and their needs. I know when they are sick and when they are happy. I love them as I love my family.” I know where they get that loving family feeling — from the sisters.
The sisters have also opened a kindergarten for almost 200 children. This has endeared the sisters ever more to the community, as they welcome children from Christian, Jewish and Muslim homes. Love is the common bond here and these youngsters have a real head start in learning how love can conquer many ills — even war and social injustices.
Recently, we asked Sister Katharina what she found most rewarding about her work. She replied:
To serve the poor, the sick, and vulnerable and those who need help in any way. The handicapped are on the top of this long list, nevertheless from whichever society, social background or political ideology they come from.
Moreover, to work in the Holy Land gives us the opportunity to be in contact with all kinds of people living here. Jews, Muslims, Druze, Christians etc. can live and work together for the same goal: to provide good care and quality of life for all. Here, we can give testimony of the love of God for the poor, and to engage in interfaith dialogue.
It is a testimony she never tires of giving:
“I think our house is necessary,” Sister Katharina explains, “as this care doesn’t exist in many other places in Israel. In other places mentally and physically handicapped children just sit in chairs all day. These children need love and affection.”
“Maybe they’ll never get better, but as long as they live it’s important that they are as happy as they can be.”
10 January 2017
Sister Souad Nohra, the director of the Santa Lucia Home in Egypt, teaches blind children “there is nothing they can’t do.” (photo: Holly Pickett)
One of the more inspiring projects CNEWA supports is the Santa Lucia Home, a boarding facility for blind children run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Alexandria, Egypt. The director is Sister Souad Nohra, who never tires of teaching the children the art of the possible:
In Egypt, children with special needs have many disadvantages. Yet at Santa Lucia, the nurturing environment and commitment to higher learning provides some balance. Named for the fourth-century saint and patron of the blind, St. Lucy — who, according to tradition, was blinded before her martyrdom — the home encourages children to rise above their limitations. They are taught that nothing is beyond their reach, and the children are expected to shine.
“We teach them independence,” says Sister Souad Nohra, the director of the home.
At the home, children who once might have spent their lives in the shadows — helpless or hopeless — are receiving an incalculable gift. Darkness is giving way to light.
The center cares for 5 girls and 11 boys between the ages of 4 and 18. Most students come from poor farming villages in Upper Egypt or the outskirts of Alexandria. The sisters provide for every need — from clothes and books to food and extracurricular activities, such as sports and music. They also organize field trips to the beach.
Upstairs in the center’s immaculately clean dormitory, the children have their own numbered cupboards. The children are expected to dress themselves. At meal times, students procure their own cups and silverware from dining room drawers, and then clean up after themselves.
“They have to know they can do these things by themselves. They are very proud; they don’t have to depend on anyone,” says Sister Souad.
And many of the children do indeed learn to live independently:
Sister Souad says they begin preparing children for the task from day one.
“We tell them, ‘One day, you will leave here and go to university with all kinds of people around.’ Since they are prepared, the transition is normal. We encourage them to take recorders to class, then listen again at home. They study normally.”
One of their students recently received a scholarship to study in the United States.
“I hope other blind children learn that going away from their family is not that difficult; it can be much better for their future,” Abanoub says.
“We teach them there is nothing they can’t do,” Sister Souad says proudly. “They are normal children. The only difference is they cannot see, but that doesn’t mean they can’t live a normal life.”
Sister Souad and the other sisters at the home are heroically making the impossible possible — giving hope to those who so often feel like outcasts, helping to bring light to those born in darkness.
6 January 2017
Tags: Egypt Sisters
Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C., has been a fixture at Bethlehem University for more than
40 years. (photo: Bethlehem University)
One of the most familiar fixtures at Bethlehem University for several decades has been Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C. Affectionately known as “Brother Joe,” he has been a member of the CNEWA family for a long time. For several years, in the 1980’s, he served as the director of our regional office in Jerusalem.
He’s also a rarity: a CNEWA hero who has actually been around longer than CNEWA.
The university’s magazine saluted him shortly after his 90th birthday, in October of 2015, and told some of his story:
Brother Joe was born in Queens, New York, in 1925 where he grew up during the depression. With two siblings, his parents had three children to attend to in those difficult economic times. Brother Joe attended an elementary school run by Dominican Sisters, the parochial school of the Brooklyn diocese of Elmhurst, Queens. The diocese offered scholarships for students to its secondary school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, which was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. “I always wanted to be a priest,” Brother Joe says. “But at school I became interested in joining the Brothers. At 15 years old, Brother Joe left home to go to a training school for boys interested in joining the Brothers. “We were encouraged to focus on the vocation, and at that time it was common to leave home for that purpose” Brother Joe explains. He graduated in 1943 and went to Novitiate for one year’s training in the Brotherhood, after which he enrolled in Catholic University in Washington D.C. His class was sent to various schools after three years, before completing their Bachelor’s degrees, since there was a shortage of teachers during World War II.
When Brother Joe came to Bethlehem University in 1975, he was ready for a new challenge.
That new challenge was to serve as the university’s second president, a position he held for seven years. Forty-two years after he arrived in Bethlehem, he is still active at the school, continuing to help shape young lives.
We got in touch with him recently, and he offered a few thoughts on CNEWA (better known in the Middle East as Pontifical Mission):
The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission made a lasting impression on me to this very day, which is difficult to explain.
I had spent all my life working in the classroom with young men — wonderful work, but rather narrow in scope, between walls with regular hoursand specific topics but in a sense confining. That was life in the “Ivory Tower.”
The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission is quite different from teaching and being cooped up in the classroom all day. The classroom and labs are quite immobile and inside, with rare opportunities to be outside. But there is a world outside the classroom. I saw and felt this reality with the work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission.
One example — and perhaps the most outstanding for me — was visiting several handicapped children, living in a recently established center converted from a school to a home for mentally disabled children (with the help of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission — that was why I was there).
I had never worked with handicapped children. I was scared stiff the first time I visited the home. But seeing the children of all ages (including babies) made me want to cry, but gave me the strength to continue my regular monthly visits. I remember the first time one of my superiors from the United States came to see my work and I brought him to the center and how nervous he was about seeing these unfortunate children. Despite my attempts to prepare him, he had to excuse himself early in the visit.
Another highlight of my work was regular visits to the libraries sponsored by CNEWA/Pontifical Mission in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I was surprised the libraries were so well-used and the librarians were so popular. I always enjoyed these visits to the libraries, which were so helpful for education. I am pleased to say that in my supervisory position I was able to support constructing a public library in one corner of the university, having its own entrance outside the walls for the children and public, so it was accessible when the university was closed.
Even when the country was still adjusting to the results of the Six-Day War, which limited our work to the local scenes and Gaza, where we supported a school for the blind, I was rewarded by the great help we were able to give — such as loans, verbal support, personal visits and so on.
Today the most important work is the same as at my time: helping others. That means helping them earn a living, helping with medical needs or housing, especially when their house was destroyed or residents evicted. It also means helping, especially, the children, who often go hungry.
My philosophy is ‘helping others’ — be they students, the poor, anyone in need.
That philosophy lies at the heart of CNEWA’s mission, as well. We’re proud to have shared in that work with Brother Joe and the dedicated people at Bethlehem University. Ad multos annos!
22 December 2016
Tags: Palestine Bethlehem Bethlehem University
As a seminarian from Ukraine, Oleksandr Bohomaz told us in 2014, “I want to be a witness of God’s greatness.” (photo: courtesy Seminary of the Three Hierarchs, Kiev)
In 2014, in the wake of the upheavals in Kiev, Antin Sloboda from CNEWA’s office in Canada interviewed a seminarian in Ukraine, Oleksandr Bohomaz, who described his background, his vocation and his faith:
I aspire to bring people closer to God. Our people are very poor, materially and spiritually. Soviet rule wounded spiritual life in Ukraine, and now it is strongly needed. Many people struggle with addiction — families are broken.
My family has been also touched by the problem of alcoholism. I believe only Jesus can help us to overcome these challenges and that he calls me to dedicate my life to proclaiming his love to all people. …
The Lord has used the recent events in Ukraine to strengthen the faith of our people. First of all, Ukrainians, who for centuries were dominated by others, finally have realized they are one nation. Since November 2013, our priests have actively supported the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to fight for their dignity and justice. More people now trust the church, even those who previously identified themselves as atheists.
On the Maidan Square in Kiev, I had a chance to pray with people who have never prayed before. People asked me to teach them how to pray and how to live a life of a Christian. This is indeed wonderful! Being able to speak with such people is an incredible experience of God's love in action. The recent events in the country have strengthened my faith and the faith of my neighbors.
And he offered this beautiful testimony:
I hope I will successfully complete the seminary and that I will become a faithful and humble priest. I want to be a witness of God’s greatness, and I want to proclaim his Gospel. I already see how God gives us a chance to become authentic Christians. I hope we will become the people who provide care for the marginalized and the weak. …
When I realize someone on the other side of the planet is praying for me, it is very encouraging and a source of support. It’s wonderful to realize that through the prayer we are united, regardless of where we live.
Since that interview, Oleksandr has been ordained to the priesthood. He now serves in the town of Melitopol is southeastern Ukraine, not far from Crimea.
Pray for more heroic young men to answer the call to the priesthood-and please help support us in our mission to support them. Visit this page to learn more.
Tags: Ukraine Seminarians Ukrainian Catholic