From ONE Magazine

Focus on the world of CNEWA

Having visited many Christian villages, refugee and displacement camps and isolated settlements in the Middle East, in relatively good times and in the worst of times, I have noted three very intertwined threads of daily life: one’s faith, one’s family and the local church. And each fortifies the other.

When times have been fairly stable and there was no war, oppression or persecution, the faithful found the church to offer the fullest level of comfort and security to the individual and to the family. The church was “family” to all. And the highest expression of being family was in the celebration of the Eucharist.

It did not matter where the liturgy took place — whether in a relatively historic church, in a very “temporary” building or on a tabletop outside — it was a gathering of the Christian family, and everyone in the family was most welcome. And as a visitor, I was always warmly greeted and made to feel part of this family.

However, when persecution reared its ugly head, when the people of God were forced to flee, when the threats of war became a reality, the local church became an even tighter family. Let me explain.

In the very act of fleeing the onslaught of terrorism or persecution, the priests and sisters accompanied the faithful as they set out into the unknown — into foreign lands. Their calming presence, their encouraging words and their physical gestures of help and support kept the faithful together. Together they were the church, they were a family.

When they arrived at an encampment — where they lived first in the outdoors, then in tents, then in crude home structures — they looked to the priests and sisters to watch over them, to manage their needs, to “referee” their disputes: the church was their family.

And the greatest expression of their family unity was in the celebration of the Eucharist. Although displaced, and despite the challenges of being homeless, they were home, gathered together around the table of the Lord. I was privileged on several occasions to celebrate Holy Mass in these conditions. I was surrounded by family. I was in their “parish church.” I was part of their parish “family.”

After ISIS had been driven from some of the Christian villages in northern Iraq, and the first Christians returned, their first response was to attempt to clean up a small portion of their desecrated churches, so that a Mass of Thanksgiving might be celebrated. It was their celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.

As more of the displaced return to their villages and towns, they continue in this cycle of uniting one’s faith, one’s family and the local church. The numbers of returning villagers may have declined — many have chosen never to return and have gone to other lands — but they still gather together to give thanks and celebrate the Eucharist. The church is, perhaps more than ever before, the sign of their unity as God’s family. And here at CNEWA, we are privileged to walk with “our family” in these areas of great suffering and loss.

Your prayers and your financial gifts strengthen our solidarity with our brothers and sisters — our family in faraway places who join with us at the altar of sacrifice. My prayer for each of you is that you find unity in your faith, in your family and in your local church. May God bless you.