7 March 2017
Msgr. John E. Kozar makes some new friends during a visit to Iraq in 2016. (photo: CNEWA)
We began our 90th anniversary series, “90 Years, 90 Heroes,” literally “in the beginning,” with a look at the life of a man instrumental in CNEWA’s founding, the Rev. Paul Wattson. We thought it only appropriate that we conclude with the man leading CNEWA today, our president Msgr. John E. Kozar.
Honestly, Msgr. Kozar would probably cringe at being labeled a “hero.” When he first arrived at CNEWA in 2011, after a decade heading the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, he described himself as simply a “happy and fulfilled priest...if there’s a title that I would put in front of me it would be ‘Parish Priest on Loan to the World.’ ” He began his ministry as a “parish priest” in his native Pittsburgh — but he has, in fact, made the world his parish. He’s logged a lot of miles circling the globe for CNEWA, paying pastoral visits to India or Ethiopia or another corner of the Middle East — often venturing into some of the most troubled and dangerous corners of our world.
He does this again and again out of a sense of mission and a desire to be present to those in need. Indeed, if he were to sum up his credo in one simple word — one first popularized by Pope Francis, in fact — it would be “accompaniment.”
This has been Msgr. Kozar’s guiding principle. “Ours is a ministry of accompaniment,” he wrote in 2014. Living out this ministry, this “happy and fulfilled priest” has sought to bring a sense of purpose, consolation and hope to suffering people around the world — through the work of CNEWA and always in the name of Christ.
His regular column in ONE magazine, Focus (a name that offers a nod to his great avocation, photography) has helped bring readers and donors along with him on his travels — and that, too, has spread that spirit of “accompaniment.”
As he wrote in 2015, following the visit of Pope Francis to the United States:
As a papal agency, CNEWA is honored and privileged to serve our Holy Father in accompanying local Eastern Catholic churches in many troubled areas of the world. In the Holy Father’s name, we humbly strive to be agents of peace, reconciliation and, especially, love of God for all.
I cherish the many such opportunities I have personally experienced on my pastoral visits to faraway places. In areas of extreme conflict, persecution and poverty, the love of God — as witnessed by the faith of those who suffer so much — rises above the dark clouds of so many ugly realities. As with Pope Francis in his pastoral visit here, the local church in those parts of the world we serve brings hope to so many souls. And CNEWA is privileged to walk with the church in the name of our Holy Father.
It is a journey that began 90 years ago — and one all of us at CNEWA look forward to continuing for many years to come!
28 February 2017
In this image from 2006, Msgr. Robert L. Stern meets in his office with Bishop Abune Menghesteab Tesfamariam, M.C.C.I., of Asmara in Eritrea. (photo: Erin Edwards)
Where do I begin? “Think small,” Deacon Greg, our multimedia editor, suggested. “Don’t overthink this.”
I laughed. The subject of this 90/90 is not a wall flower, nor is he just an average Joe. He’s a man who hired me, formed me professionally, transformed a sleepy organization into a thoughtful instrument of the church, and buried my father. He’s a man who can’t think small, and no doubt thinks through everything. Most importantly, he’s a good and kind priest who understands that to understand the other, one must place him or herself in that person’s shoes — and listen.
Reared in the Bronx, son of an Irish Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Bob Stern wanted to be a physicist, and he enrolled in Amherst College to do just that. But, he could not ignore a gnawing call to serve the Lord and his church as a priest. Eventually, he entered St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y., studied canon law in Rome and assisted as a young priest during Vatican II. It was there, as the fathers of the council sought to take on the challenges of the world by engaging in dialogue with it, that the young priest internalized this renewal of the church known as aggiornamento, and made it his own.
It is a process he has instituted in all of his services to the church, from his 25-plus years in parish and community renewal in the African-American and Hispanic apostolates to his 26 years in leadership of CNEWA. For Msgr. Stern, this call for aggiornamento is a process not just for the sake of process, but one to help the church open the way to the Lord.
“We take for granted freedom of religion and respect for conscience,” he wrote in CNEWA’s magazine in September 1990, soon after visiting the U.S.S.R. “Pluralism is our way of life.” He continued: “We speak...of the servant church that is a sacrament or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human family.
“When we ask the Catholic churches of the Soviet Union what help they need, we may be thinking of the buildings, equipment and tools we’re used to; they may be more concerned for vestments, prayer books and rosaries. Our pastoral goal may be how best to support all believers, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant; theirs may be the repossession of their confiscated churches and the defense of their rights.
“The challenge of their future is aggiornamento, to be caught up in the great renewal of the church launched by the Vatican Council,” he concluded.
“Their challenge is to transform their heroic faith of resistance into the faith that plunges into the open, unknown future with the same confidence in the Lord who promises, ‘I am with you always, until the end of the age.’ ”
Thank you Msgr. Stern for your service to the church and the world, especially in waking us up to see all that unites rather than what divides us.
21 February 2017
Refugee Agnan Adnidihad fled Iraq and settled in Jordan, but hopes one day to join his daughter in the United States. (photo: Greg Kandra)
One of the heroic figures I’ve met during my time at CNEWA is this gentleman: Agnan Adnidihad, a 62-year-old former auto mechanic from Mosul, Iraq. I met him at the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan — a facility supported by CNEWA — in the spring of 2015, just a few months after he had fled Iraq. He had barely escaped with his life as ISIS swept in and took over.
As the translator explained when I spoke with Agnan: “They gave him three choices: convert, pay a tax, or be killed.” Agnan ran away, but was caught. They took everything he owned, all his money and papers, but he managed to escape and eventually made his way to Jordan.
When I met him, he was being treated for heart trouble and high blood pressure. The invasion and his escape had taken a terrible toll on him. He was looking to begin his life over somewhere else. “There is no hope for the future in Iraq,” he said. “They destroyed our homes, our work, everything.” His dream was to live with his daughter in the United States.
The one thing that sustained him, he told me, was his faith.
“Faith helps. I pray all the time. I pray to our Father in heaven and offer prayers for our Lady,” he said.
His story, of course, is just one of many. There are countless other refugees and displaced persons like Agnan Adnidihad around the world, fleeing persecution and even death.
I often tell people about Agnan when I visit parishes to talk about CNEWA’s work among refugees in the Middle East. We need to remember and pray for him and so many others like him — unsung heroes of our time who never give up hoping and praying. Despite everything, they still hold fast to their faith. It’s hard not to leave encounters with these people without feeling inspired and grateful — and deeply humbled.
You can watch my interview with Agnan Adnidihad here.
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.”