4 October 2016
Constantine Dabbagh was a key collaborator with CNEWA for many years, spearheading efforts to help the poor in Gaza. (photo: Miriam Sushman)
How do you bring hope to those for whom life seems hopeless?
Constantine Dabbagh, the former executive director of the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) in Gaza, spent much of his life answering that question — helping to support clinics and other facilities backed by CNEWA in that troubled, war-torn corner of the world. “He was our greatest collaborator there for the longest time,” said CNEWA’s regional director Sami El-Yousef in a recent email.
We profiled the work of N.E.C.C. in our magazine in 2001, and Mr. Dabbagh explained his efforts to reach out to all in need, regardless of faith:
“Jesus did not help only Christians,” noted Constantine Dabbagh, executive secretary of the council’s Committee for Refugee Work. “This is the Holy Land where Jesus started his mission. It is natural for Christians to witness in this part of the world.”
Two examples of Christian outreach are the Darraj and Shajaia clinics, located in two of the most underprivileged neighborhoods in Gaza City. Both provide pre- and postnatal care as well as general healthcare to approximately 9,500 families. …
At the Darraj clinic, on Well Baby Day, dozens of mothers in traditional Muslim headscarves and long dresses entertain fidgety infants waiting for checkups. Several women have older children in tow. Pregnant women wait in another corridor. A third waiting area is reserved for patients suffering from everything from gastrointestinal distress and colds to diabetes and cancer.
Eager to teach Gaza residents the rudiments of preventative health care, the medical staff has hung posters, some hand-made, detailing the dangers of leaving small children unattended and the health risks of unrefrigerated food. They encourage breast-feeding, good hygiene, especially when handling food or changing a baby, and proper overall nutrition — not an easy task for those who live in poverty.
This heroic work continues in Gaza to this day — and we cannot forget people like Constantine Dabbagh who have helped to make it possible.
4 October 2016
Tags: CNEWA Children Gaza Strip/West Bank Education Health Care
President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Bishop Bosco Puthur to CNEWA’s New York offices. (photo: CNEWA)
Yesterday, the bishop of a young eparchy in Australia stopped by for a visit, and had a chance to share his thoughts about the unique challenges his church faces Down Under.
Bishop Bosco Puthur hails from the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Melbourne — an eparchy established by Pope Francis less than three years ago. Meeting with CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar, Bishop Puthur described a small group of faithful — about 50,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics live in a country of some 23 million people — but a group that is young and growing.
“About 85 or 90 percent of my faithful are below 45 years of age,” he said, “and almost 50 percent of those are below 15 years. It is a very young church, very promising. But unless we give proper faith formation to the children, they will get lost in the secular society.”
Bishop Puthur mentioned two primary challenges for his young eparchy: forming clergy and building churches.
“I had to bring in a lot of priests,” he explained. “We have 22 priests, but not all are fully working for me. Six are full time for our community and the others are shared with the Latin diocese. So our first challenge is to bring in priests.” He said a number of seminarians are now being formed in Kerala, and then transferred to Australia for theological training.
“Our second challenge,” he went on, “is getting facilities for eucharistic celebrations. There is a practical problem of getting time allotted in the Latin churches for our Sunday celebrations.”
But for all these challenges, he sees a church brimming with possibility and hope.
“To live a Christian life is challenging,” he explained. “My mission is to empower the people, so they live their Christian life in their families, in the parish communities, and share their Christian values with others. There is a mission dimension. There is evangelization involved.”
He added that part of his message to his flock is the necessity of giving back.
“I tell people, ‘One who only receives is a beggar.’ Unless we are able to contribute something to the society, and remain only on the receiving end, that is not a Christian human life.”
You can learn more about the new eparchy at its website. And to discover the rich history of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, read our profile in the pages of ONE.
4 October 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Eastern Catholic Churches Australia
Sister Hakinta Muradyan drives children to the Catholic church in Tashir, Armenia. Many of the children in the town are fatherless. To learn more about the challenges they’re facing, and how the church is helping them, read Armenia’s Children, Left Behind in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
4 October 2016
Tags: Children Sisters Armenia Catholic
A man inspects the damage at a wedding hall on 4 October, a day after a suicide attack targeted a Kurdish wedding party in the village of Tall Tawil in the Syrian Hassake province. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
Suicide bomber kills dozens at Kurdish wedding in Syria (BBC) At least 30 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack at a Kurdish wedding in northeastern Syria. The explosion occurred on Monday night at a hall in Tal Tawil, outside Hassake city, reportedly while the bride and groom were exchanging vows…
Report: Ten countries host half of the world’s refugees (Al Jazeera) Ten countries — which account for just 2.5 percent of the global economy — are hosting more than half the world’s refugees, a rights group has said, accusing wealthy countries of leaving poorer nations to bear the brunt of a worsening crisis. In a report published on Tuesday, Amnesty International said the unequal share was exacerbating the global refugee problem, as inadequate conditions in the main countries of shelter pushed many to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe and Australia…
‘ISIS module’ arrested in Kerala (The Indian Express) A graphic artist with a right-wing local newspaper, a Malayalee working in Oman for the last five years and an engineering student who dropped out are among the six members of the alleged Islamic State module busted in Kerala on Sunday, who are suspected to have been engaged in propagating the terror group’s ideology, according to NIA…
Israel tightens security for Jewish new year (Reuters) Israelis went to the market on Sunday for last-minute purchases as they prepared for the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown, amid tightened security and the closure of the Palestinian territories. Rosh Hashanah, the two-day Jewish new year, will conclude at nightfall on Tuesday…
Catholic, Anglican bishops seeking closer partnership in mission (Vatican Radio) Closer practical cooperation between Anglicans and Catholics in countries across the globe: that’s the primary goal of a two day visit of Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, to Rome this week. The Anglican leader arrives on Wednesday and is scheduled to join Pope Francis for Vespers at the church of San Gregorio al Celio in the afternoon…
3 October 2016
Tags: Syria India Refugees Israel Christian Unity
St. Thomas Seminary now serves as the pastoral center for the Archdiocese of Hartford in Connecticut. (photo: CNEWA)
Saturday morning, CNEWA paid a visit to the Archdiocese of Hartford. We dropped by the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut, to speak to deacons and their wives about the ongoing crisis in the Middle East — and, in particular, the plight of persecuted Christians.
CNEWA offered a presentation to about 50 deacons and their wives from the Archdiocese of Hartford. (photo: CNEWA)
The Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., offered some stark statistics about the continuing exodus of Christians from the region, and I shared some of the personal stories of displaced Iraqis — including the dedicated Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena who so selflessly serve the people in need.
Father Elias presented an overview of the hardships Christians face in the Middle East. (photo: CNEWA)
The goal was to give deacons the tools to help spread the word about what is happening in the Middle East — and let them know how people in their parishes can help. We want to extend a special note of gratitude to Deacon Bob Pallotti, director of the diaconate program in Hartford, for his warm welcome and hospitality.
We love being able to share CNEWA’s story — so if your church, clergy group or parish would like us to visit and talk about the work we do, just drop us a line. Contact our development director Norma Intriago at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re happy to tailor a presentation for your particular parish or organization!
Deacon Greg Kandra, CNEWA’s multimedia editor, Norma Intriago, director of development, and Father Elias Mallon. (photo: CNEWA)
3 October 2016
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Middle East United States
Pope Francis meets with Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Paying honor to the steadfast faith of Orthodox Christians in Georgia, Pope Francis nevertheless urged them to draw closer to other Christians and work together to share the Gospel.
Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who recently has been cautious in his relations with leaders of other churches, greeted Pope Francis when he arrived at the Tbilisi airport on 30 September, welcomed him to the patriarchal palace that evening and hosted him again on 1 October at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.
Walking into a meeting hall at the patriarchate on 30 September, Pope Francis helped the 83-year-old Patriarch Ilia, who moves with great difficulty because of Parkinson’s disease.
More than 80 percent of Georgians are Orthodox; Catholics from the Latin, Armenian and Chaldean churches form about 2 percent of the population.
In the 1980’s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was deeply involved in the process of seeking Christian unity, but its participation has waned in recent years in conjunction with a stronger assertion of Georgian identity, including its language and Orthodox faith.
When the pope arrived in Georgia, small groups of Orthodox faithful gathered on the road outside Tbilisi airport holding signs protesting the his visit. One sign called him a “heretic” and the other accused the Catholic Church of “spiritual aggression.” The same groups were present the next evening outside Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the spiritual center of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox groups most opposed to dialogue with Western Christians have expressed fear that closer ties with the West will lead to what they see as moral decadence.
Patriarch Ilia told Pope Francis that while globalization is not “a negative phenomenon per se, it contains a lot of dangers and threats,” including the possibility of creating what he described as a “homogenous mess” that erases specific cultural and moral values.
While the world has experienced progress in many ways, he said, “humanity has taken steps backward in spirituality, in belief in God.”
Nevertheless, the patriarch spoke warmly of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and practical cooperation and he welcomed the pope, saying, “This is truly a historic visit. May God bless our two churches.”
Pope Francis began his speech by making a personal, improvised comment: “I am profoundly moved by hearing the ‘Ave Maria’ composed by Your Holiness. Only a heart profoundly devoted to the Mother of God could compose something so beautiful.”
“Faced with a world thirsting for mercy, unity and peace,” Pope Francis told the patriarch and members of the Georgian Synod of Bishops, God asks Catholics and Orthodox to “renew our commitment to the bonds which exist between us, of which our kiss of peace and our fraternal embrace are already an eloquent sign.”
While the Georgian patriarchate traces its origins to the preaching of the apostle Andrew, the church of Rome — the papacy — was founded by the apostle Peter. The two apostles were brothers, Pope Francis noted, and the churches they founded “are given the grace to renew today, in the name of Christ and to his glory, the beauty of apostolic fraternity.”
“Dear brother,” the pope told the patriarch, “let us allow the Lord Jesus to look upon us anew, let us once again experience the attraction of his call to leave everything that prevents us from proclaiming together his presence.”
“The Lord has given this love to us, so that we can love each other as he has loved us,” Pope Francis said.
The love of God and love for God, he said, should enable Catholics and Orthodox “to rise above the misunderstandings of the past, above the calculations of the present and fears for the future.”
Pope Francis praised the strength of the Georgian people and the Georgian church, which “found the strength to rise up again after countless trials.”
Pope Francis and the Orthodox patriarch of Georgia met on 30 September and pledged to witness to the Gospel of peace. (video: CNS)
The Georgian Orthodox Church, like the Catholic churches, is still recovering from harsh repression under Soviet rule. In 1917, there were almost 2,500 Orthodox churches in the country, but by the mid-1980’s only 80 were open for worship. The Catholic parishes suffered a similar fate, with church property confiscated and used as museums, offices, social halls or given to the Orthodox.
“The multitude of saints, whom this country counts, encourages us to put the Gospel before all else and to evangelize as in the past, even more so, free from the restraints of prejudice and open to the perennial newness of God,” the pope said.
When differences arise, he said, they must not be allowed to be an obstacle to evangelizing together, but a stimulus to get to know and understand each other better, “to intensify our prayers for each other and to cooperate with apostolic charity in our common witness, to the glory of God in heaven and in the service of peace on earth.”
Pope Francis ended his remarks by praying that the Georgian martyrs would intercede to bring “relief to the many Christians who even today suffer persecution and slander, and may they strengthen us in the noble aspiration to be fraternally united in proclaiming the Gospel of peace.”
Vatican officials had hoped that Patriarch Ilia would an official delegation to the pope’s Mass in Tbilisi on 1 October, which did not happen, but the patriarch warmly welcomed the pope to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral that evening, explaining the importance of the site in the history of Georgian Christianity and describing it as a symbol of stalwart faith in the face of the harshest persecution.
Pope Francis responded by praising the way the Georgian Orthodox treasure their history, but he also said that Christian identity is maintained when it not only is deeply rooted in faith, but “also when it is open and ready, never rigid or closed.”
Georgian Orthodox tradition holds that a chapel in the cathedral houses the seamless tunic of Jesus, a garment the pope described as symbolizing “a mystery of unity.”
Contemplating that seamless garment, he said, should make Christians feel “deep pain over the historical divisions” among them. “These are the true and real lacerations that wound the Lord’s flesh.”
3 October 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Georgia Georgian Orthodox Church
The video above details some of the highlights of Pope Francis’s trip this past weekend to Azerbaijan, including his visit to a newly dedicated mosque. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope visits mosque in Azerbaijan, issues plea for tolerance (CNS) As the spiritual leader of a tiny religious minority in Azerbaijan, Pope Francis told the leaders of the country’s other religious communities that they share a responsibility to help people grow in faith, but also in tolerance for the faith of others. “The blood of far too many people cries out to God from the Earth, our common home,” the pope said on 2 October during a meeting with religious leaders hosted by Sheik Allahshukur Pashazade, the region’s chief imam, in Baku’s Heydar Aliyev Mosque…
Pope meets charity workers in Tbilisi (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met Catholic charity workers in the Georgian capital and encouraged them in their work, saying “the poor and the weak are the ‘flesh of Christ’ who call upon Christians of every confession, urging them to act without personal interests, following only the prompting of the Holy Spirit.” The meeting took place in the grounds of the Camilliani health clinic in Tbilisi and was attended by its director and the head of Caritas Georgia. Also present were staff and volunteers working for various Catholic charitable organizations in Georgia as well as patients and medical staff from the Camilliani clinic…
Syrian cave hospital shut down after attack (CNN) A hospital inside a cave in northeastern Syria has been forced to shut down after being hit by suspected “bunker-buster” missiles, according to an international aid organization. The hospital just outside of Hama — about 27 miles north of Homs — was hit Sunday, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations…
Al Azhar University will organize international conference on peace (Fides) The Islamic University of Al Azhar will organize in early 2017, in cooperation with the Muslim Council of Elders, an international conference on peace, coexistence and interreligious dialogue, which will also include the active representatives of the Christian Churches of the East…
Ukrainian church in Canada destroyed by fire reopens (CBC) After a devastating fire, which burned St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church to the ground in April 2014, the Brampton church has now reopened, and to celebrate the church held its opening liturgy and consecration on Saturday. Hundreds of parishioners and guests from around the world attended, including head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who flew in from Ukraine to preside…
30 September 2016
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Georgia Canada Azerbaijan
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 30 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Subtly acknowledging Georgia’s ongoing territorial dispute with Russia, Pope Francis urged greater efforts to sow peace throughout the Caucasus region.
Shortly after arriving in Tbilisi at the start of his 16th foreign trip, the pope met privately with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili 30 September and, with the president, he addressed a small gathering of civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps outside the presidential palace.
In a nation where more than 230,000 people are still displaced by the ongoing Georgian-Russian dispute over control of South Ossetia, the pope said it was time to find a way for the displaced to return to their homes and for respect for the “sovereign rights” of each nation. Only Russia and a handful of other nations recognize the supposed independence of South Ossetia.
The theme the government and local church chose for the pope’s visit 30 September-1 October was “pax vobis,” “peace be with you.”
Margvelashvili was more blunt than the pope. Georgia, he said, “is still victim of a military aggression on the part of another state: 20 percent of our territory is occupied and 15 percent of the population is displaced. Their homes were taken only because they are ethnically Georgian!”
“Only 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from here, there is barbed wire that prevents a peaceful population — neighbors and relatives — from having a relationship with each other,” the president said. “Only 40 kilometers from here, each day human beings witness violence, kidnappings, murders and offenses that deeply wound dignity.”
The return of displaced people is the government’s primary concern, he said. “Human beings should not have to suffer because of political situations and they have a right to return to their own homes.”
Pope Francis urged the people of the region to make concerted efforts to respect their cultural and ethnic differences, giving everyone a chance “to coexist peacefully in their homeland or freely to return to that land if, for some reason, they have been forced to leave it.”
“The peaceful coexistence among all peoples and states in the region is the indispensable and prior condition for such authentic and enduring progress,” the pope told the country’s leaders.
Georgia, which had been part of the Soviet Union, has been working for 25 years to build democracy and promote development. Pope Francis said he hoped the process would continue, increasingly involving all sectors of society to ensure “stability, justice and respect for the rule of law.”
Both the pope and the president emphasized Georgia’s “European” identity, but also it’s geographical location and historic role as a meeting place of Asia and Europe. Over Russian objections, Georgia has been trying to join the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it has belonged to the Council of Europe since 1999.
The formal meetings took place after a brief airport welcoming ceremony. The president and patriarch were at the airport to welcome the pope, as were a boy and girl, who offered him a basket of grapes.
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, bowed by age and Parkinson’s disease, stood next to each other as the Vatican and Georgian national anthems were played.
30 September 2016
In the video above, Pope Francis lands in Georgia and begins his trips to the Caucasus.
(video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis arrives in Georgia to begin visit (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has arrived in Georgia at the start of a three day trip to the Caucasus which will also take him Sunday for a brief visit to Azerbaijan. On Friday, Georgian government, civil and religious leaders and members of the Catholic community turned out at Tbilisi’s international airport to greet the pontiff, whose plane touched down shortly before 3:00 pm local time...
Pope Francis calls for respect of international law (Reuters) Pope Francis called for respect for international law and the sovereign rights of nations as he arrived in Georgia on Friday, an implicit criticism of Russia, which keeps troops in two breakaway areas of the ex-Soviet state. But Francis measured his words carefully, in an apparent attempt not to hurt the Vatican’s increasingly warm ties with the Kremlin-backed Russian Orthodox Church...
Archbishop expresses hope over papal visit (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Raphael Minassian hopes that the Papal visit to Azerbaijan and Georgia will promote peace in the region. The small Catholic community in Georgia, which Pope Francis is visiting on Friday and Saturday, is made up of Latin, Chaldean and Armenian rites...
Syria military says it retook hospital, refugee camp in Aleppo (USA TODAY) Syrian government forces took control of a hospital in the besieged northern city of Aleppo on Friday, a day after seizing a Palestinian refugee camp in the city from rebels, according to Syria’s military. The military said its forces captured the Kindi hospital and were strengthening their positions in the Handarat refugee camp, the Associated Press reported...
U.S. surpasses Syrian refugee goal (The Washington Post) The United States has admitted 12,500 refugees from war-
ravaged Syria over the past year, surpassing President Obama’s target, and expects to admit even more next year, a State Department official said Tuesday...
29 September 2016
Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C. worked for CNEWA in Beirut during a dangerous time in the 1980’s.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Some of our CNEWA heroes have witnessed remarkable moments of suffering, courage and grace. One who worked closely with us for many years even described her tenure in the Middle East as a time of “amazing grace.”
Sister Maureen Grady, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross, served in Beirut as the chief operating officer of Pontifical Mission, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East.
When she stepped down from that post in 1993, she wrote of her early days in Lebanon in the 1980’s:
Lebanon was in the midst of its own civil war, a war that witnessed the unlimited capacity of hatred, greed, corruption and the thirst for power. While emergency relief programs for displaced families and the handicapped were implemented, I fell in love with the people and country.
The hope of the young and the courage of the women religious inspired in me a passion for a people who were saddened and burdened by the destruction of their country by their own.
We Americans know the danger and extent of the power of hatred as it was unleashed in Lebanon. It was a very dangerous time. How I survived I do not know; and now that I think of it, I do not know why I took the risk. I know taking such a risk is something you only do once. However I made calculated decisions and took advice from those in the know.
I was protected. There are many incidents I could describe that illustrate this protection: lunching in a quiet restaurant that 30 minutes after I left became the scene of a bloodbath; boarding a ferry to travel from Cyprus to Beirut as I habitually did, only to change my mind and fly into Beirut instead — that ferry was bombed that night. It was God who invited me to begin this journey and it was God who sustained and protected me.
Not long after that, she began working with CNEWA and Pontifical Mission full time. She described meeting the agency’s chair, Cardinal John O'Connor:
[CNEWA’s National Secretary] Msgr. John Nolan arrived in Lebanon with Cardinal John O’Connor, president of the Pontifical Mission’s sister agency, Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The cardinal approached me and asked, “Could you handle this?” and I responded, “Yes.” Msgr. Nolan then formally asked me to accept the position of director.
Later at a gathering of Lebanon’s religious, male and female, the cardinal introduced me as his representative in Lebanon, saying, “remember, my last name is O’Connor, and hers, O’Grady!”
It was a perilous period. In 1989, her convent was shelled during heavy fighting in east Beirut. A report at the time noted that she spent the night in the convent basement after the windows were blown out. But she persisted:
The greatest resource of any organization is its people. I recruited a young, energetic and intelligent staff; a group of people who were interested in doing their part to bring peace to their country. And though they could profit from formation and guidance, their dynamism and energy strengthened our efforts to work with the poor. And unlike the majority of the populace, they were freer of the prejudices that have haunted their homeland.
For four years, the biggest decision each day was whether or not to call each person to the office. Every morning we communicated with one another via walkie talkie — the phone lines were almost always down. Usually we discussed the fighting in each individual’s neighborhood and whether it was relatively safe to leave the security of a stairwell or a bunker. I was responsible for the safety and lives of each staff member. Yet in those four years of fighting, we only missed two working days. In a nation that saw schools, businesses and basic social services disrupted 50 percent of the time, our staff’s desire to work was amazing and their accomplishments, astounding.
“Astounding” could well describe the heroic work of this tireless sister, whose tenacity and resourcefulness paid off — and her work reminds us still of the spirit that guides all who work among the poor and suffering of the world.