15 March 2017
A religious sister comforts a sick woman in 2016 at Snehadam Old Age Home in Gurgaon, India.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
An “invisible” Catholic organization celebrated 90 years of quiet service to the poor in the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said the agency maintains a low profile because it works through and with the local church.
“They know best how to represent the face of Christ. We trust their experience, holiness and knowledge about how to govern and care for their people,” he said in a 28 February interview with Catholic News Service.
The mission of the organization is to serve and accompany Eastern Catholic churches in pastoral and humanitarian activities, generally at the level of the diocese or eparchy, Msgr. Kozar said. A secondary mission is to share the needs of the Eastern churches with people in North America who may be confused about where Eastern churches fit in the larger Catholic picture.
Eastern Catholic churches have their origins in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India or northeast Africa; have distinctive liturgical and legal systems; and are often identified by the national or ethnic character of their region of origin. Members of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches enjoy the same dignity, rights and obligations as members of the Latin Church.
Msgr. Kozar said people in North America have little exposure to Eastern churches and he takes it in stride when asked if Eastern Catholics are “really Catholic” and if they are under the authority of Pope Francis. “I say, ‘Yes! We are one church with two very enriching traditions, Latin and Eastern.’”
He said Eastern Catholic churches are typically smaller than Latin churches. Many have deep historic roots and are in areas of suffering and religious persecution.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association was founded in 1926 in response to a request by Pope Pius XI to unite all American Catholic organizations providing aid to Russia and the Near East. Near East is an imprecise geographic term that encompasses southwest Asia and the Arabian Peninsula.
As a papal organization, it has a mandate from the Vatican to support the Eastern Catholic Church. Another mandate of the agency is to work for union among Catholic and non-Catholic Eastern churches, including the Orthodox churches.
In recent years, the association spent approximately $22 million annually on assistance in 14 countries.
The abiding challenge is with refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East, especially Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Msgr. Kozar said. Access in Syria has been sharply limited because of the ongoing conflict, but the organization is still helping the local churches provide milk, bedding, diapers and antibiotics to their people.
“There are heroic priests, sisters and bishops who never left. Some Catholics and other Christians have been hunkered down for more than five years,” he said.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association also is active in areas where the church has experienced persecution and retribution, such as Egypt. In one town, the agency funded the repair of a section of a burned-out orphanage so the sisters living there could continue to care for 15 children. The orphanage was one of 55 church properties damaged in anti-Christian violence during 2013.
Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA, talks with an Ethiopian woman in a village in 2015.
The agency also supports school feeding programs for children in drought-affected parts of the horn of Africa. It serves some of the 1 million families displaced in Ukraine as a result of fighting along the border with Russia.
In India, the agency supports evangelization in the remote tribal areas in the northern part of the country. “It’s very uplifting how people have a yearning to have a different experience of God or to experience him for the first time,” said Msgr. Kozar, who has visited the area several times.
“It’s the most basic form of evangelization,” he said. “Priests and sisters live in villages with indigenous peoples and share their prayer life in a very basic way.”
The two Eastern Catholic churches in India are the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara, which trace their origins to St. Thomas the Apostle.
Pope Francis is expected to travel to India this year, possibly in November. Msgr. Kozar said the visit will give hope to the people and encourage them to continue their many good works of charity and service. He said Catholics comprise only 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the population. “The Catholic Church contributes tremendously to the education environment, medical care and social services, disproportionate to our numbers,” he said.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association works to empower Eastern Catholic churches through education and formation of religious, clergy and communities, according to Michael J.L. La Civita, the agency’s communications director.
“We’re not teaching them how to be a church. We’re providing resources and sometimes know-how to build more responsive and holy churches,” he told CNS. “They start with a foundation and it has to be sustainable, so we have to be invisible.”
“These are churches rooted in the time of Jesus and the apostles, and filled with men and women doing great things,” he said. Instead of falling into despair because of extraordinary challenges in the current day, “they are motivated by the Gospel to do something to change the situation,” he said.
Although the organization’s efforts are “for, through and with” the Eastern Catholic churches, La Civita said humanitarian aid is provided to all as a witness to the Gospel. “This requires us to be in dialogue of other communities of faith,” he said.
La Civita said the agency’s accompaniment extends to Orthodox and other Christian and non-Christian traditions. It also participates in national and local Catholic dialogues with Muslims, Jews and Orthodox.
As archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan serves as the agency’s chairman.
“In this role I have visited a number of Eastern churches in some very challenging areas of the world,” he said in response to a question from CNS.
“This papal agency is focused on, as Pope Francis would say, accompaniment — reaching out in a pastoral way to demonstrate solidarity of the Holy Father and the church universal with these local churches that suffer greatly, and are even persecuted,” the cardinal said. “Our message is clear and simple: You are not alone. We are here, and we love you.”
15 March 2017
The Rev Androwas Bahus leads an early morning service at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in the city of Shefa-Amr, Israel. Learn more about A Day in the Life of an Israeli Priest in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
15 March 2017
The damaged entrance of St. Mary’s Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Wednesday 15 March marks the sixth anniversary of the conflict in Syria. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Badra, EPA)
After six years, the war in Syria drags on (Fides) Wednesday, 15 March marks the sixth anniversary of the conflict in Syria. And contrary to what is reported by international media, Syria “continues to suffer.” This is the key message that the Jesuit Refugee Service wanted to publish through a dossier that contains a lot of data related to the situation...
Pastor of Aleppo: ‘Pope’s donation will help young Syrian families’ (Vatican Radio) The pastor of Aleppo in Syria says a recent donation from Pope Francis and the Roman Curia of €100,000 will go to couples and young families in need...
Iraqi forces advance on mosque in battle for Mosul (Reuters) Iraqi government forces battling Islamic State for Mosul took control of a main bridge over the Tigris river on Wednesday and advanced towards the mosque where the group’s leader declared a caliphate in 2014, federal police said. The seizure of the Iron Bridge, linking eastern Mosul with the militant-held Old City on the west side, means the government holds three of the five bridges over the Tigris and bolsters Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s assertion that the battle is reaching its final stages...
French cabinet to vote on taking in 500 refugees from Lebanon (The Daily Star) The French Cabinet is set to vote at ElysÉe Palace for a new protocol to take in 500 Syrian refugees from Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported Tuesday...
Displaced Coptic families to receive apartments (Egypt Daily News) Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Waly is expected to start on Saturday evening the delivery of the first batch of residential apartments to the Coptic families that have arrived to Ismailia after escaping the North Sinai city of Al-Arish. This exodus came after Coptic citizens faced unprecedented threats from militants. According to the Copts United news website, there will be an official ceremony to deliver the apartments, which will see the presence of Ismailia’s governor and other high-ranking officials from the Ismailia diocese...
Russian Orthodox Church will mark St. Patrick’s Day (Radio Free Europe) The Russian Orthodox Church has said it will mark St. Patrick’s Day and more than a dozen other days commemorating saints who lived in the west before the Great Schism that divided Christianity into east and west in 1054. The move to recognize the saint days will also likely give renewed spirit to celebrations of the most recognizable of the 16 chosen by the church — St. Patrick. But there is a twist. The Russian Orthodox Church will mark the day for Ireland’s patron saint in line with the Julian calendar on 30 March, rather than the Gregorian calendar’s date of 17 March...
13 March 2017
Late last week, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar received a note from Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, along with a letter he’d written describing the situation his church in Syria is facing this Lent.
His note — written on the back of a postcard (shown above) depicting St. Paul and quoting from his letter to the Corinthians — said:
“Dear Msgr. John...Damascus church is going into Lent, time to find the peace way. Please pray for us. Thank you for all that CNEWA is doing to help.”
Please remember the men, women and children of Syria in your prayers as they continue living their own long Lent.
The text of the accompanying letter, translated from the original French, paints a grim and painful picture:
An Apocalyptic Scene
In six years of war, the face of Syria has changed quite a lot.
It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonized buildings, burned down houses, ghost neighborhoods and towns destroyed to the ground. More than 12 million Syrians, 50 percent of the population, are lacking a roof.
They form the largest mass of refugees since the Second World War. Several million have left the country in search of more merciful skies. Many are waiting for mercy in camps of misery, some of have attempting to leave and others are in line at embassies — nomads in search of a welcoming land. How can they leave this Syria of torments?
A Shattered Family
The family — which fortifies church and nation and has saved the country in the past — is heavily shaken. Seldom is a complete family found. Violence has scattered this basic cell of society. Some family members are in graves, others in exile, in prison or on the battle field. This painful situation is the cause of depression and anxiety and forces those few left without support to beg.
Young fiancées, separated by this exodus, the immigration of their partner or military mobilization, cannot marry. Crisis surrounds them. A hope for their future has crumbled. How is it possible to follow a course without a family or with a broken family?
A Sacrificed Childhood
The children are the most fragile. They have paid a great price for this merciless violence. According to UNESCO, more than three million Syrian children haven’t attended school because they have to prioritize their physical wellbeing. Those that have been to school witness the demise of the quality of teaching due to fewer faculty and students in remaining schools. Academic failure is imposed by these overwhelming circumstances.
The centers of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks. How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?
Parishes have seen the number of parishioners diminish and pastoral activities reduced considerably. The priests are deprived of the means to provide human and spiritual support. The Church of Damascus has witnessed the departure of one third of their clergy (27 priests). This is a hard blow weakening the place and role of the Christian minority already in decline.
The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.
How do we fix this alarming hemorrhage?
Can we imagine a Church without priests?
Between Pain and Freedom
The Syrian people are no longer looking for liberty. Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy. These darken nights and reduce any social life.
The search for lost brothers, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.
Finding a little room for shelter in a country in ruins has become an impossible dream for families and even more for young couples.
Fighting for liberty or searching for bread, what course should one take?
This little Syrian population lives this reality with pain visible in silent looks and streams of tears.
This bitter Lent of 2017 offers us time in the desert to take a good look at our commitment to the Church in the midst of faithful who are in distress, to lead the way towards Christ resurrected. Christ, light of the world, who knows the hearts of men and women says: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus
13 March 2017
In this image from February, Pope Francis greets an elderly nun during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican. Monday 13 March marks the four-year anniversary of his election to the papacy. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
13 March 2017
In this image from last December, debris is seen amid pews after an explosion inside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. A bomb ripped through the cathedral complex, killing at least 25 people and wounding dozens, mostly women and children. The Vatican confirmed today that Pope Francis is considering a papal visit to Egypt, but no timetable has been set.
(photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
Pope considering a trip to Egypt (Vatican Radio) The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, has clarified that the possibility of a papal visit to Egypt is being studied, but as yet there are no definite plans for such a trip, with regard either to prospective dates or to a possible program...
Coptic bishop: Egypt’s Christians set a standard of forgiveness (CNA) Despite being victims of harassment and violence, Egypt’s Coptic Christians have set a standard of forgiveness that everyone should imitate, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.K. has said. Egypt’s Christians have been loyal, peaceful, and forgiving amid a recent spate of violence that has driven hundreds from their homes, Bishop Anba Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.K., told CNA in an interview. “I take a huge pride in their witness and in their example,” he said...
Indian bishops support attempt to stop land grabs (Vatican Radio) Tribal people from the eastern Indian Jharkhand state have been campaigning for the governor to reject amendments to laws that they say adversely affect their culture and existence...
Bishops say U.S. must address need of immigrants, show compassion (CNS) While one Catholic archbishop was urging a fix to the country’s immigration laws before a Catholic crowd, another was pleading with the government not to separate mothers from their children while in immigration detention, and yet another, a cardinal, was accompanying a grandfather to an appointment that could have resulted in his deportation. Catholic Church leaders in the U.S. spent the week of 6-10 March trying to allay fears, urging compassion, not just from the government from those who are not seeing “God’s creation” when they malign unauthorized immigrants...
Landslide in Ethiopia garbage dump kills at least 35 (The New York Times) A landslide swept through an enormous garbage dump here on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital late on Saturday, killing at least 35 people and leaving several dozen missing, residents said, as officials vowed to relocate those who called the landfill home. Most of the dead were women and children, and more bodies were expected to be found in the coming hours on Sunday, said Dagmawit Moges, a spokeswoman for the Addis Ababa city government...
10 March 2017
Sister Arousiag Sajonian heads the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Gyumri. Read about her work and An Unshakable Faith in the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: Dima Chikvaidze)
10 March 2017
Pope Francis is shown beginning his Lenten retreat at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat center in Ariccia, 20 miles southeast of Rome. The pope completed his retreat on Friday 10 March. In a gesture of solidarity, he made a donation to the poor people of Aleppo.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Pope concludes retreat, sends donation to the poor of Aleppo (L’Osservatore Romano) Prayer and solidarity united Pope Francis and the Roman Curia with war torn Aleppo during the week of spiritual exercises which closed on Friday, 10 March. The Pontiff celebrated a Mass for Syria on the morning of the last day of the retreat in Ariccia. In a gesture of closeness and solidarity, and with the contribution of the Roman Curia, he donated of 100,000 Euros for the poor people of Aleppo...
Russian Orthodox Church adds names of Western saints to its menology (TASS) The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church took a historic decision on Thursday to enlarge the Russian Orthodox menology with the names of a number of saints, who bore with witness of Christian faith in the West European and Central European lands before the split of the united Christian Church in 1054...
Coptic bishop: ISIS wants to divide Christians and Muslims (National Catholic Register) Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of the United Kingdom and a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as an advocate for religious freedom, told the Register in an interview that Egypt’s Christians need the solidarity of their fellow Christians around the world...
Surge in vandalism against Jews and Muslims prompts calls for dialogue in Canada (Catholic Register) A surge in vandalism and hate speech against Jews and Muslims has prompted a call for the revival of a national platform for Christian-Jewish or Christian-Muslim dialogue...
Gaza firm making Jewish skullcaps (AFP) In the heart of the Gaza Strip’s Shati refugee camp, machines buzz as Mohammed Abu Shanab’s employees sew small, round pieces of cloth: Jewish skullcaps for export to Israel. It may seem an unlikely product to be made in the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas and hit by three wars with Israel since 2008, but with unemployment and poverty rampant, some in Gaza will take any business they can get...
9 March 2017
CNEWA donors — and newlyweds — Ralph and Dorothy met us for breakfast in Anaheim.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
A real highlight of traveling around the country and taking CNEWA’s message to the world is getting the chance to meet some of CNEWA’s friends and supporters. When I went to the L.A. Religious Education Congress in Anaheim a couple weeks ago with the Rev. Elias Mallon and Deacon Greg Kandra, I had just that opportunity. We got to break bread (or butter some pancakes) with a delightful pair of CNEWA donors, Ralph and Dorothy.
Deacon Greg and I met them over breakfast at the Original Pancake House in Anaheim (the sourdough pancakes are amazing!). Ralph and Dorothy, pictured above, were married just 20 months ago on the 4th of July. They are as happy and energetic as any newlyweds could be. Dorothy, a native Californian is a special education teacher with a M.A. in Theology — she started her teaching career at age 53. Ralph, a retired Aerospace Engineer, was born in the Bronx but moved to California after college.
Dorothy’s love for helping others was instilled by her grandmother, who would always take time to feed the hungry. Like her, Dorothy has an affinity to care for the less fortunate, and especially loves to help children and mothers in need. She joked that she has worn Ralph down to see things her way and together they have shared their love with suffering families in Iraq and Syria. For that kind of heartfelt generosity, CNEWA remains profoundly grateful.
Equally as heartwarming were their stories about their longtime friendship, recent marriage and their two beautiful families — 10 children in all, with a bevy of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
It was the perfect culmination to a weekend filled with energy, spirituality and friendship at the L.A. Religious Education Congress.
Some 40,000 people attended the L.A. Religious Education Congress, held last month in Anaheim. The Exhibit Hall, at times, was a mob scene. (photo: Greg Kandra)
CNEWA was invited to participate in the L.A. Religious Ed Congress for the first time this year. The theme of the congress was “Embrace Trust,” befitting for CNEWA, because embracing trust is the essence of our work. Each day we place our trust in the Lord to guide us on our mission — protecting our partners and the people we serve in the most troubled countries in the world. We excitedly accepted this invitation to share a celebration of God’s love and the lessons of the Catholic Church.
The Congress promised a weekend of new and renewed friendships and it did not disappoint. With an estimated 40,000 attendees, there was constant activity in the Exhibit Hall, where we enjoyed greeting participants and sharing our mission of mercy and hope with our friends on the West Coast. Youth groups, clergy, religious educators and laypersons all united by faith and kindness of heart.
Debora Stonitsch introduced attendees to the work CNEWA is doing around the world.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
One would think manning a booth for eight hours a day for three days would be tiresome. But with so much energy and personal encounters, Deacon Greg, Father Elias and I found it anything but. The time passed quickly as we connected with old CNEWA friends — like the Rev. Brian Escobedo representing the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Pheonix. Father Brian had graciously hosted us at his parish in San Diego last October to speak on the crisis in the Middle East. The Rev. James Babcock, representing the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, joined us at our booth, speaking with visitors about the Eastern Catholic Churches — he even took the survey we were conducting.
We were happy to meet up with an old friend, the Rev. Brian Escobedo from San Diego.
(photo: Debora Stonitsch)
It was an exciting and rewarding weekend, making new friends and re-connecting with old ones, and we hope to visit Anaheim again next year.
Meantime, if you would like more information about the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, or would like CNEWA to visit your group or parish to share our story, please contact our Development Director, Norma Intriago at firstname.lastname@example.org or me, Debora Stonitsch, Engagement and Partner Outreach at email@example.com.
Hope to see you in Anaheim next year! (photo: Greg Kandra)
9 March 2017
A displaced Iraqi woman prays the rosary in 2014 inside St. Joseph Church in Erbil, Iraq. The church gives refuge to thousands of people who were displaced by ISIS.
(photo: CNS/Daniel Etter, CRS)
Given the ongoing crises in the Middle East, North American, European and other Western nations will need to be more generous in coming to the aid of refugees and displaced peoples, said two prominent church leaders.
The answer is continued assistance, “not to close the gates of the countries where people are knocking for survival,” said Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, told journalists that nations like Lebanon and Jordan have been “very heroic” in accommodating large numbers of refugees, “as compared to many other countries, especially the United States, which I think is gravely at fault here.”
The archbishop and cardinal spoke about a 10-day visit to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Greece to visit refugees and church-based organizations offering aid and assistance. The 9 March media event was hosted by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
“We saw humanity at its worst and humanity at its best on this journey,” Cardinal Mahony said. The worst was seeing situations “where men could so mistreat and maltreat other men, women and children.”
“On the other side, in the midst of all this suffering and pain, we found the best in the people,” who were involved in caring and bringing relief and aid to others, such as members of Catholic charities, international volunteers and nongovernmental organizations. “It was very inspiring.”
Both Archbishop Tomasi and Cardinal Mahony noted how the current populist sentiments in parts of Europe and the United States were negatively affecting the health, lives and dignity of millions of people needing accommodation and assistance.
“I can understand that with the political development of populist movements and xenophobic groups that politicians are concerned about limiting the massive arrival of people in the (European) Union,” Archbishop Tomasi said. However, he added, the consequence is people are trapped where they are, “they cannot go back and they cannot go forward,” and families often are broken up because they find themselves stuck in different countries.
A country’s right to regulate how many people come to them for resettlement needs to be respected, he said, but human rights and legal commitments to international conventions must also be respected, he said.
Making the problem worse, Cardinal Mahony said, was an approach taken during President Donald Trump’s election campaign, which “posed people who are different from you, (as) a threat to you, a threat to your jobs” and “they’re going to harm you.”
“This generalization of people who are different as a threat just compounds the issue and the problem,” he said.
The best way to handle resettlement, he added, is for the incoming family to have local families and communities, like a parish, reach out and help integrate them into the local culture.
While the world struggles to find a solution to the refugee crisis, “we need to support the programs that are making their lives less miserable,” such as those run by Catholic Relief Services and Jesuit Refugee Service, Archbishop Tomasi said.
“Compassion fatigue should have no room at this moment,” as millions of people are still in need, he said.