Current Issue
December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
16 June 2015
Greg Kandra

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, center, celebrates Mass for the ROACO participants. Others joining him include, from the left, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, Congregation Secretary; Menghisteab Tesfamariam, Metropolitan Archbishop of Asmara, Eritrea; and on the far right, Cardinal Berhaneysus Souraphiel, Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa. (photo: CNEWA)

The annual meeting of the ROACO opened this morning with a Mass celebrated at the St. Stefano Degli Abissini Church in the Vatican Gardens. CNEWA Canada’s national director Carl Hétu notes that the main celebrant was Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect for the Congregation of Eastern Churches:

In his homily, he reminded the ROACO participants that “we are gathered here this week following the instructions of Pope Francis that we need to listen and to serve the Eastern Catholic churches which are too often victims of modern marthyrdom, and thus witness a sign of hope as they persevere in practicing their faith despite extreme violence done against and around them.”

16 June 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrians mourn outside Al Razzi hospital after a Syrian rebel rocket reportedly struck a government-held part of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on 15 June. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had fired some 250 rockets at several districts in western Aleppo city in just four hours, causing massive damage including the collapse of an entire building. (photo: AFP/George Oufalian)

Intense rebel shelling of Aleppo kills more than 30 (Reuters) More than 30 people have been killed in the most lethal rebel bombardment of the city of Aleppo since Syria’s conflict started four years ago, a group monitoring the war said on Tuesday, an attack condemned by a U.N. envoy visiting Damascus…

Pope Francis to receive Syriac Orthodox Patriarch (Vatican Radio) From 17-20 June, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and All the East will be in Rome to meet with Pope Francis. The Syriac Orthodox Church traces its history to the first Christian communities established in Antioch…

Families of ISIS captives block north Lebanon highway (Daily Star Lebanon) Families of the nine Lebanese servicemen held hostage by ISIS blocked both sides of a north Lebanon highway Tuesday demanding to know if their loved ones were still alive. “We are standing here today to ask whether the servicemen are still there or if they were executed like some rumors said,” the brother of Army Sgt. Maj. Ibrahim Mgheit told reporters…

Patriarch Gregory: Most Lebanese think of emigrating (Fides) “According to a recent survey, 60 percent of the Lebanese are considering the idea of emigrating, and 35 percent of them are actually waiting for a visa,” said Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch in his opening remarks at the yearly synod. The meeting of the Melkite Greek Catholic bishops, underway at the patriarchal summer residence in Ain Trez, will discuss the theme of family and emergency situations experienced by communities in Syria…

Mohammed Morsi death sentence upheld by Egypt court (BBC) An Egyptian court has upheld the death sentence imposed on ousted ex-President Mohammed Morsi over a mass jailbreak. The sentence was initially passed in May, but was confirmed after consultation with Egypt’s highest religious figure, the grand mufti. The death sentences of five other leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood and 101 others were also upheld. Morsi’s supporters have described the sentence as “farcical.” The verdict is subject to appeal…

Ecumenical patriarch hosts Halki Summit II (Huffington Post) Just days before Pope Francis is due to release his long-awaited and much-anticipated encyclical letter on climate change, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I organized the second Halki Summit in Istanbul, from 8 to 10 June. Entitled “Ecology, Theology, and the Arts,” this summer’s conference aimed to incorporate the artistic senses and spiritual dimension of environmental stewardship into the broader conversation on climate change…

Tags: Egypt Lebanon Christian Unity Aleppo Climate change

15 June 2015
Carl Hétu

Pope Francis speaks to the annual gathering of Catholic aid agencies in the Vatican on
Monday, 15 June. (photo: CNEWA)

This week CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar and Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA Canada, are participating in the annual gathering of the ROACO, a meeting called by the Holy See’s Congregation of the Eastern Churches. Over 24 Catholic agencies are in Rome for his meeting, which is being chaired this year by Msgr. Kozar. Our first day started with an audience with Pope Francis, who blessed our upcoming deliberations and made some important remarks on the many crises affecting the Middle East.

“The lands of the Middle East,” he said, “marred by years of conflict, are also marked by the footprints of those who seek refuge and soaked with the blood of many men and women, including numerous Christians persecuted for their faith.”

Recalling the recent trip to Iraq by a delegation of the ROACO (including Msgr. Kozar) last May — during which they met with displaced persons from the Nineveh Plain and with small groups from Syria — the pope affirmed, “in those eyes that asked for help and pleaded for peace and to return home there was Jesus himself who looked at you, asking for that charity that makes us Christians. Every form of assistance, so as not to fall into the trap of uncompromising efficiency or mere aid that does not promote persons or peoples, must always be reborn from this blessing of the Lord who reaches us when we have the courage to look at the situations and the brothers before us.”

Nevertheless, “the world seems to have become aware of the tragedy of recent months, and has opened its eyes, taking account of the millennial presence of Christians in the Middle East. Initiatives for raising awareness and offering aid to them to to others unjustly affected by violence have flourished. However, further efforts must be made to eliminate what would appear to be tacit agreements by which the lives of thousands and thousands of families — women, men, children, elderly — in the balance of interests appear to weigh less than petroleum and weapons, and while peace and justice is proclaimed, it is accepted that the traffickers of death act in those lands. I therefore encourage you, as you carry out your service of Christian charity, to condemn all that tramples human dignity.”

He concluded by thanking all the agencies for their good work in the region.

You can read more about the pope’s remarks here. And to learn how you can contribute to our work supporting Middle East Christians, visit this page.

15 June 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2007, an 11-year-old girl named Mira pauses during a game at the Pokrov day care center in Sofia, Bulgaria. To learn more about how the center has worked to reinvigorate Bulgarian Orthodoxy, read “Under Mary’s Mantle” in the January 2007 edition of ONE.
(photo: Sean Sprague)

15 June 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Turkish soldiers stand guarded as Syrian refugees wait on the Syrian side of the border to cross Akcakale, in southeastern Turkey, on 15 June. Thousands of Syrians cut through a border fence and crossed over into Turkey on Sunday, fleeing intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and ISIS militants. (photo: Getty Images/Gokhan Sahin)

Rights group: World’s response to refugee crisis a ‘shameful failure’ (Al Jazeera) There were more than 50 million people displaced from their homes in 2013 — the highest number since World War II, Amnesty International said in a report published Monday.The report suggested that world leaders have abandoned millions of refugees to “an unbearable existence” and left thousands more to die by failing to provide basic human protections…

Syrian Kurds seize control of main road, encircle ISIS town (Daily Star Lebanon) The Syrian Kurdish militia said Monday it had encircled the ISIS-controlled town of Tal Abyad, the nearest border town to the militant group’s de facto capital of Raqqa…

Lebanese turn to faith to break political stalemate (Al Monitor) Christians in Lebanon seem to have lost hope in politics and politicians and decided to resort to religion for solace, as the Catholic churches in Lebanon have taken steps to consecrate their country to the “immaculate heart of Our Lady of Fatima.” The statue will be brought all the way from Portugal to roam the regions of Lebanon and visit four Catholic patriarchates amid various political and religious expectations…

Egypt’s Copts dig heels in over right to remarry (Al Monitor) Dozens of Christian Copts organized a protest inside the Cathedral of St. Mark during the 3 June homily of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. The protesters shouted, “We want to remarry,” while the priests tried to contain the situation to no avail, prompting Tawadros to cancel his sermon…

Egyptian president extends invitation to Pope Francis (Fides) Egypt’s ambassador to the Holy See reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi has officially invited Pope Francis to make a visit to Egypt. Regarding timing, the ambassador says no date has been set and will surely not take place in 2015…

Francis speaks at ROACO (VIS) The lands of the Middle East, marred by years of conflict, are also “marked by the footprints of those who seek refuge and soaked with the blood of many men and women, including numerous Christians persecuted for their faith,” said Pope Francis her as he received in audience the members of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO), a year after their pilgrimage and Francis’ plea for peace in the region, when all hoped that “the seed of reconciliation would have borne greater fruits…”

Tags: Syria Egypt Pope Francis Lebanon Refugees

12 June 2015
Greg Kandra

In Cairo, a young zabbaleen, or garbage picker, transports by a donkey cart his day’s scavenging to be sorted and sifted for anything useful. (photo: John E. Kozar)

The newspaper for the Archdiocese of New York, Catholic New York, features this week an interview with CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, reflecting on his recent trip to Iraq and Egypt:

Msgr. Kozar said he found the same strong faith among the Christians in Egypt. They face a different, but no less worrisome range of problems, including the perception by their Muslim neighbors that they were supportive of, if not complicit in, the military overthrow of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi nearly two years ago.

In the aftermath of that coup, mobs attacked Christians and burned their churches. “About 55 church compounds were burned, destroyed, and I visited four or five of these,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And although there is a great improvement in having this government, we feel more protected but by no means are we free of violence or free of danger.”

Unlike other parts of the Middle East where better-educated Christians are at least better financially positioned, Christians in Egypt are often at the bottom of the social strata.

Part of the reason Msgr. Kozar visited Egypt was to show CNEWA’s solidarity for this marginalized, impoverished community. On the outskirts of Cairo is a municipal dump and on the fringes of that dump live 900,000 people in a squalid shantytown. They make their living picking through the garbage. These “garbage pickers” are overwhelmingly Christian. There are no public utilities and no water, no sewers and no electricity. You won’t find the shantytown on any government map.

“They collect garbage in donkey carts or on their backs and they hand-sort it,” Msgr. Kozar explained. “Food they can’t eat, they give to the pigs. And they sort out plastic. They have crude, hand-cranked machines to mulch plastic for recycling, same thing with aluminum.”

Read more and check out additional photos at Catholic New York.

And to learn more about the plight of the garbage pickers of Egypt, read “Salvaging Dignity” in the September 2012 edition of ONE.

12 June 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Activists stage a protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in Bangalore
on 6 June. (photo: AFP/Manjunath Kiran)

Church institution says Indian government ‘abandoned’ farmers (Fides) A year after its election, the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has abandoned farmers, the backbone of the Indian economy, and granted a free hand to extremist groups who attack religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians,” says the Rev. Fusine Lobo, national director of the Pontifical Missionary Societies in India. “The government has cut subsidies and pursues a policy favorable to big interest groups and corporations,” the director said. “The increase in suicides among farmers is an alarming signal…”

Syria conflict: Al Nusra fighters kill Druze villagers (BBC) At least 20 Druze villagers have been massacred by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front in northwestern Syria, activist and opposition groups say. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said elderly people and a child were among those killed in Qalb Lawzah in Idlib province on Wednesday afternoon…

Assad meets with synodal delegation of the Syriac Orthodox Church (Al Manar) Syrian president Bashar al Assad said that the extremist aggression against the region target the diverse social and cultural fabric of the region in general and Syria in particular, SANA reported. Members of the Holy Synod stressed that Syria has been and always will be a homeland for all of the Syrians with their various affiliations and “a sanctuary” for all those who believe in the generous values of humanity in spite of the ferocious war waged against the country…

Lebanese Christian leaders focus on need for president (Al Monitor) Christian political and religious leaders in Beirut intensified efforts to address the conditions of Christians in the region and to find a solution to the stalemate in Lebanon, where the presidential vacuum has continued since May 2014…

Families outraged as Israel closes probe into deaths of four Gaza boys (U.S. News & World Report) Israel says no action will be taken against those involved in the last year’s bombing of Gaza beach that left four Palestinian children dead, saying that it was an accident. The father of one of the children expressed his hope the killings would be part of a case against Israel, which is expected to be presented to the International Criminal Court…

Egypt agrees to reopen Gaza’s Rafah crossing for 3 days (Haaretz) The head of the Palestinian Authority border agency announced Wednesday that the Egyptian government has decided to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip for three days starting Saturday. The official says the decision to open the crossing followed a direct appeal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and senior Egyptian officials to reopen the crossing, to ease the hardship of many people who have been stuck on either side of the crossing, especially as Ramadan approaches…

Tags: Syria India Lebanon Middle East Christians Palestine

11 June 2015
D.E. Hedges

In this photograph from the 1980’s, Mother Virginie shares a happy moment with the little boy she named Moussa, or Moses. (photo: CNEWA)

Name: Mother Virginie Maalouf
Facility: Maison Notre Dame des Dons pour L’Enfant Heureux
Location: Zahlé, Lebanon

In 1978, when Lebanon was in the grip of civil war, Sister Virginie Maalouf decided to leave her congregation, “and go on my way to try to make a little difference.”

The home for orphaned children that she established — Maison Notre Dame des Dons pour L’Enfant Heureux — began in a modest four-room apartment in the Lebanese city of Zahlé. “It wasn’t much,” she recalls. “But we made sure to surround all the children with all the warmth and care we could provide them with.”

By 1984, more than 50 needy children — many of them former street kids — had lived at the home for varying periods, with more arriving every year. Encouraged by generous supporters, Mother Virginie began to consider buying a plot of land for a new, larger house for the children.

“On the night of July 24th 1984, I heard a knock on the door,” she remembers. “I opened the door, and there I saw a baby in a basket just like Moses. He was very weak and it was a miracle that he was saved. I named him Moussa (Moses). I decided to go forward in buying the land we needed — and then found that next to the land was a place where people visit and pray, and where a holy painting of the prophet Moses was placed. I was at peace, knowing I was on the right track, and thankful that God was with us.”

Since moving into the new house in 1987, Mother Virginie explains that she and her staff have continued to provide children with “an embracing family atmosphere.” Every child attends school in the neighborhood, many study music and theater, and also sing at churches across the region.

As for the orphan left in a basket on Mother Virginie’s doorstep long ago: Moussa eventually attended Christian schools and university, where he graduated with a degree in Graphic Design. “Now he has been married for five years,” she says with pride. “He loves what he does, is very successful at it, and still comes home and helps me every day.”

Lebanon has strict laws regarding the naming of abandoned children, but Mother Virginie has won permission to give her family name “to the children of my heart. Today, seventeen children with unknown parents, including Moussa, bear my last name, Maalouf.”

Over the years, more than 1,400 girls and boys have been nutured by Maison Notre Dame des Dons pour L’Enfant Heureux. “I look back now from where we started,” Mother Virginie says. “And I am beyond grateful for what we have been able to achieve. I pray that God gives all the children graceful lives and happiness.”

In light of all the good she continues to do, she deserves solid support for her hard work. As Mother Virginie admits, “the last few years have been very difficult to us because of the wars surrounding us. People cannot help us a lot anymore like the old days. But thank God, we are able to survive.”

Thousands of sisters. Millions of small miracles.

To support the good work of sisters throughout CNEWA’s world, click here.

11 June 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2012, students at St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle Catholic School in Addis Ababa line up for Morning Prayer with their teacher. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

With the school year drawing to a close in many parts of the world, we were reminded of the classrooms we’ve visited in CNEWA’s world — including some remarkable ones in Ethiopia, where Catholic schools are thriving in a country that actually has very few Catholics:

Catholics — Latin and Ge’ez combined — make up less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s roughly 85 million people. Forty-three percent of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox; 32 percent, Muslim; and 19 percent, Protestant. The Catholic Church plays a disproportionately influential role in the lives of many Ethiopians, however, especially through its schools, clinics and other social service institutions.

More than 350 Catholic schools operate around the country, enrolling some 120,000 Ethiopian students each year.

...Ethiopia’s Catholic schools generally provide the ideal learning environment. The grounds are well maintained. Books, computers and other equipment are plentiful. Class sizes are small. And the value of discipline is palpable. “Don’t underestimate the importance that in Catholic schools you have religious people around,” says Father Asfaw Feleke, director of the Lazarist School in Addis Ababa.

“They’re consecrated people — men and women — who are bound by vows for a lifetime. They do the work from the bottom of the heart, not because there are rules and directives. They set a tone.

They’re full-time workers. When you’re full time, focusing on the job and facilitating everything, that also makes a difference.”

Read more about how Catholic schools are “Making the Grade” in Ethiopia. And to learn how you can help support these institutions, check out this giving page.

11 June 2015
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis greets Russian President Vladimir Putin as he arrives for a private meeting at the Vatican on 10 June. At center is Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household.
(photo: CNS/Gregorio Borgia pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis meets with Vladimir Putin (Vatican Radio) Russia’s President Vladimir Putin met Pope Francis Wednesday evening in a private audience in the Vatican. It was the second meeting between the Pope and the Russian President...

Police probe death threat against Indian cardinal (Vatican Radio) Indian Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, the archbishop of Ranchi, the state capital, received a threatening letter on 8 June, allegedly from the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India (CPI Maoist). The letter contained a demand for 50 million rupees (about 691,844 euro or US$780,000) to be paid within 15 days. Claiming that the Church has financially prospered through evangelism, the letter states: “You have made money [moolah] spreading the religion, which is why you should give a cut to the organization...”

Hundreds pour into Turkey from Syria (Al Jazeera) Hundreds of people have fled from Syria into Turkey as moderate fighters and Kurdish forces battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group holding the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. Activists on the Turkish border said that Turkish authorities allowed Syrian refugees in Raqqa province to cross into Turkey on Wednesday after another group of hundreds crossed over to Turkey on 4 June...

ROACO meeting to address plight of suffering Christians (VIS) ROACO (Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches) will hold its 88th annual plenary assembly in the Vatican from 15 to 17 June. The assembly will begin on Monday morning with an audience granted by Pope Francis to the representatives of the various aid projects to the Oriental Catholic Churches. As in previous years, it will be a session dedicated to the situation in Syria with attention also given to Iraq in view of the recent tragic developments in that region which also affect the faithful of the Eastern Churches. The results of the recent visit to Iraq made by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, during which he and a delegation from ROACO met with refugees, bishops, priests, and religious in Baghdad, Erbil, and Dohuk, will be presented...

Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Russia Turkey

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