21 May 2014
As the Holy Land prepares for the visit of Pope Francis, hate crimes leave Christians feeling vulnerable. (video: Al Jazeera)
Pope picks one of dueling baptism sites in visit to Holy Land (Washington Post) Christians believe that Jesus was immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who wore a cloak of camel’s hair and lived on locusts and honey in the desert wilderness. But the Gospels are not precise about which side of the river the baptism took place on — the east bank or the west. Although it might not matter much to a half-million annual visitors who come to the river for sightseeing or a renewal of faith, it matters very much to tourism officials in Israel and Jordan, who maintain dueling baptism sites, one smack-dab across from the other, with the shallow, narrow, muddy stream serving as international boundary. On Saturday, on his first papal trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis will visit the baptism site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan — on the eastern, or Jordanian, side of the river…
Pope Francis prays for flood victims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia (VIS) At the end of today’s general audience, the pope launched an appeal on behalf of those citizens who have lost their lives, for the many still missing and for those affected by the great damage caused by the serious floods which have occurred during recent days in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. “Unfortunately the situation has worsened, and I therefore invite you all to join me in prayer for the victims and for all those afflicted by this disaster. May the solidarity and concrete support of the international community be forthcoming…”
Syrians return to rebuild lives in Homs’ war-ravaged Old City (Los Angeles Times) Wary of looters and anxious to get back home, the displaced residents of the war-battered Old City have been filing back into their bombed-out neighborhoods. They push baby strollers and drag suitcases to be used in an ongoing salvage operation. At times, it is hard to distinguish between ex-residents gathering what little is left of their belongings and those picking the ruins clean of others’ possessions…
Syrian refugees in Lebanon face health care crisis (BBC) Amnesty International says a shortfall in international support has left many Syrian refugees in Lebanon unable to access crucial medical care. A new report says some refugees have resorted to returning to Syria to receive the treatment they need. The U.N. says there are now 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees and the number is still rising…
20 May 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Holy Land Christians Serbia
Archbishop Kundukulam greets the children at St. Christina’s Home in Trichur.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Writer Jose Kavi reports on the legacy of India’s “Father of the Poor” in the spring edition of ONE magazine. But he notes here that he approached the assignment with skepticism.
Each writing assignment for CNEWA makes me think about the many blessings God has given me and my family. The assignment to study the legacy of a Catholic archbishop in Kerala was no exception. However, this time Jose Jacob, the photojournalist who takes pictures for the articles, also said the experience was profound—and I had my own epiphany, as well.
I knew the late Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam had done lots of philanthropic works in Trichur, his archdiocese in southern India. Several of his priests and former seminarians often told of incidents where the genial prelate went out of his way to help the poor and marginalized. I had also heard that he was a great orator who spoke for hours without boring his listeners. However, let me admit I was not a fan. I could not support a protest he led in 1986 against a drama that allegedly ridiculed Christ and his teachings; the drama was eventually banned, but I believed the artists have the right to freedom of expression. Also, the archbishop’s reported association with some political leaders of Kerala also did not go down well with me.
So, it was with a critical mind I went to see various institutions the archbishop had established during his 27 years in Trichur. I didn’t expect that the three days I spent observing the institutions and people working there would make me a die hard admirer of Archbishop Kundukulam. The first eye-opener was the visitor’s room of the Society of Nirmala Dasi Sisters, a congregation the archbishop set up to manage his institution. The small room doubled as the office of the superior general and included a dining table for visitors. Simplicity was writ large on every corner of the place.
Sister Kochumary Kuttikatt accompanied us on our tour. The first place we visited, Pope John Paul Peace Home, bowled us over. Jose and Bineesh, our driver, later shared the same insight: we never expected some 150 people there suffering various types of handicaps to be so content. Some have been there for more than a quarter century and still had no complaints. With all our limbs in proper order, we felt like cripples because we complain about little inconveniences in life. Bineesh, a Hindu, said he had run out crying from the hall where he was talking to a youth, who could not move his limbs. The young man was more interested in Bineesh’s welfare than his problems. Jose said he had a tough time holding the camera steady because he was so overwhelmed by emotions.
The place was spotlessly clean, no smell and no dirt, something remarkable for such a place in India where filth and squalor are common in institutions like this.
Adding to my surprise was the behavior of the nuns and their coworkers attending to the patients. They knew the names and histories of all residents and responded with love and kindness. “We come to them after Mass in the morning and we never know how the time passes,” said one of the sisters.
We concluded our visit in a slum near the Trichur railway station where two of the sisters are spending their lives serving the poorest of the poor. The stench was overwhelming; the huts there have no septic tanks or running water. But the smell and dirt hardly bothered Sister Elsy and Vimala who were all smiles as they served tea for us seated on a cement platform inside their one-room convent. The platform, we learned, also served as their sleeping place at night. The sisters joked about how they had spent several damp nights there in the last rainy season, water seeping down the walls and filling their “cots.” “We walked around carrying our sleeping mats,” they said.
After leaving the slum, we could breathe normally only after we reached the main road, where the belching smoke from the vehicles smelled much better than the air the nuns and their companions breathed round the clock.
What makes those nuns continue to stay there? Love for Christ and the poor can help you overcome any difficulties in life. That is what Archbishop Kundukulam taught and what the sisters now experience.
And I have had my epiphany in Trichur.
Read more about Remembering India’s “Father of the Poor” in ONE magazine. And if you’d like to learn more about supporting Archbishop Kundukulam’s legacy among the poorest of the poor, visit this page.
20 May 2014
Hired vans bus students home from the Good Shepherd Sisters’ community center in Lebanon. Read more about the inspiring work of the sisters with refugees in Syria, Shepherds and Sheep from the spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
20 May 2014
In this 2012 image, people gather at a mass burial for victims of an artillery barrage from Syrian forces in Houla, Syria. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network handout via Reuters)
Nearly 60 states back referral of Syria conflict to International Criminal Court (BBC) Nearly 60 countries led by Switzerland have expressed support for a proposal to refer the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court. They are calling on the I.C.C. to investigate possible crimes against humanity and war crimes…
Some 10,000 people in Ukraine now affected by displacement, U.N. says (U.N. News Center) The United Nations refugee agency estimated today that 10,000 people, most ethnic Tatars, but also Ukrainians, Russians and mixed families, have fled Crimea and restive eastern Ukraine to other parts of the country, out of fear of insecurity or persecution…
Religious tensions deepen Ukraine splits (Reuters) Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine’s crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, a senior official of the Moscow-based church said on Friday. Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian church’s foreign relations department, said other churches had clearly lined up behind the Kiev government and he cited religious differences for its decision to refuse him entry to Ukraine last week…
Fears grow over Bulgaria’s Russian dependence (Der Spiegel) Concerns are growing within the German government that the European Union’s most impoverished member state, Bulgaria, could fall into the grips of Moscow’s influence. Internal reports, including those of the German foreign intelligence service, warn that Moscow may seek to expand its relations with the country in order to use Bulgaria as a political beachhead into the E.U., and then use that power to divide the block…
Pastoral visit to a detention facility in the Negev desert (Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel) Holot is an open detention facility in the Negev for Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who have arrived in Israel. On Thursday, 15 May 2014, the Latin Patriarchate sent a group of thirteen priests and sisters — including the Latin patriarchal vicar, the Rev. David Neuhaus — to pay a visit to the facility. Many inmates expressed confusion over their internment, asking what crimes they had committed…
Pope hopes to strengthen interfaith relations in Jerusalem visit (Al Jazeera) Fifty years after the historic embrace between the heads of the Catholic and Christian Orthodox churches, Pope Francis will become the fourth pope to visit the Holy Land…
19 May 2014
Tags: Ukraine Syrian Civil War Ecumenism United Nations Migrants
An image of Pope Francis is displayed at a shop in Jerusalem’s Old City. The pope will visit Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel during his 24-26 May trip, his first to
the region as pope. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
19 May 2014
Yesterday, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej visited Obrenovac, southwest of Belgrade, Serbia, and met with those providing aid to flood victims. (photo: Serbian Orthodox Church)
Worst deluge in a century inundates Serbia, Bosnia (Christian Science Monitor) Soldiers, police, and villagers battled to protect power plants in Serbia from rising floodwaters on Sunday as the death toll from the Balkan region’s worst rainfall in more than a century reached 37…
Caritas Serbia: situation still ‘chaotic’ (Vatican Radio) As large parts of the Balkan region remain under water, the coordinator for Caritas Serbia said people have begun to suffer from waterborne diseases. The situation is “still very chaotic” and it is “extremely difficult still to coordinate” aid, Darko Tot told Vatican Radio on Monday…
Unity is a difficult mission for Christians in Israel (NPR) Pope Francis visits the Middle East next week, including Israel, where Christians make up just 2 percent of the population. But since the last papal visit to the Holy Land five years ago, the number of Christians in Israel has increased, and the makeup of the Christian population has continued to shift…
Putin orders troops near Ukraine to return home (Al Jazeera) Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops deployed in regions near Ukraine to return to their home bases, the Kremlin said on Monday. The move appears to indicate Putin’s intention to de-escalate the crisis over Ukraine, the worst in Russia’s relations with the West since the end of the Cold War, although previous pledges to withdraw troops have gone unmet…
Russian church the absent player at pope-patriarch summit (Reuters) When Pope Francis meets the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians next week, the speeches and symbolism will focus on how these ancient wings of Christianity want to come closer together. After almost a millennium apart, however, the key to the elusive unity they seek does not lie in Jerusalem, where the Catholic pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will embrace on 25 May. If anywhere, that key lies in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church, by far the largest church in the Orthodox world and increasingly influential at home and abroad, has long been wary of these closer ties…
16 May 2014
Tags: Ukraine Middle East Christians Christian Unity Holy Land Christians Serbia
This weekend, the Canadian Catholic TV station Salt + Light will air a documentary about the Middle East, focusing explicitly on the work of CNEWA. The documentary, “Living Stones: Walking Humbling in the Land We Call Holy,” draws from material gathered during a special pilgrimage to the Holy Land for journalists that CNEWA helped sponsor four years ago.
As the station notes:
We often forget the Holy Land is more than just a place of shrines and pilgrimages. This is a land where people live, and millions of them are Christian. In 2010, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) sponsored several trips to the Holy Land for journalists. It was a different kind of pilgrimage, one where they visited people, the living stones of this land we call holy. Join Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann as he travels through Jordan, Palestine and Israel meeting Christians, learning about the work they do and sharing their stories.
Check out the trailer for the program above. It can be seen on Salt + Light Sunday 18 May at 9 pm ET / 6 pm PT. You can view it online at this link.
16 May 2014
At the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Ader, Jordan, girls celebrate receiving their
First Communion. (photo: John E. Kozar)
CNS recently paid a visit to the site where Jesus was baptized—and where Pope Francis will visit later this month—and looked at efforts to preserve Christian identity in Jordan:
During a recent visit to Jordan Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said strengthening support of the Christian community is one way to stop Christians from fleeing the region. He pointed to the work of organizations such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, for which he serves as chairman of the board, as vital to ensuring that the presence of Christians remains in the region.
“CNEWA can give a booster shot to the effort it has been doing for decades to support the Christian community in the Middle East,” he said during a break from observing CNEWA’s efforts.
“When you look at what the tiny Christian community is doing in terms of health care, education, feeding the poor, and keeping people together, you can see why Jesus said, ‘By their fruits, you shall know them,‘” he told CNS.
“Muslims have come to respect the magnificent and charitable work of the sisters and other Christians. So religious respect, friendship and dialogue is a result of that,” the cardinal said.
Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA president, who accompanied Cardinal Dolan, agreed.
“Whenever we can work with the local church, that’s what CNEWA does, accompany the local church to be stronger, to cultivate people’s roots, to make them deeper and join in solidarity of prayer, that’s where we need to be,” he told CNS.
16 May 2014
Tags: CNEWA Jordan Melkite
A medic treats a boy who was injured after what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad at a hospital in Idlib, Syria on 15 May.
(photo: CNS /Rasem Ghareeb, Reuters)
Rocket attack kills 13 in Aleppo (AP) A rebel rocket attack killed 13 people Friday in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, the latest shelling to strike the country’s largest city, Syria’s state news agency reported. State news agency SANA said the rocket attack in Aleppo also wounded 17 people in the city’s northern neighborhood of Achrafieh. The agency said the attack was carried out by “terrorists,” the term the government uses to refer to rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad. It said the shells also damaged two houses in the area...
U.N. cites rising human rights violations in Ukraine (The New York Times) Armed groups are increasingly undermining the rights and basic freedoms of people in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations said Friday, expressing concern at the rising number of killings, abductions, beatings and detentions of journalists, politicians and local activists. “Primarily as a result of the actions of organized armed groups, the continuation of the rhetoric of hatred and propaganda fuels the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, with a potential of spiraling out of control,” the United Nations said in its second report on the issue in a month, which was released simultaneously in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and in Geneva...
Rabbi and Muslim leaders to accompany pope to Holy Land (Religion News Service) Pope Francis will be accompanied on his first visit to the Middle East by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud — two friends from Buenos Aires. It is the first time a pope has made an official visit accompanied by members of other faiths, and it underscores the interfaith focus of Francis’ trip to the Holy Land, the Vatican said on 15 May. “This dimension of interreligious dialogue has great significance,” the Vatican’s official spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, told the media...
Christian group in India calls for limits to extremist groups after election (Fides) While the official outcome of the Indian elections marked the victory of the nationalist “Bharatiya Janata Party,” its leader Narendra Modi—likely to become the next Prime Minister—announced “a new era for India, free from corruption and a strong economic recovery”. Modi has urged unity for the entire Indian population: “We put the people above politics,” he said, “hope over despair, healing over evil, inclusion over exclusion, development over divisions”. In a note sent to Fides Agency, the Christians of the “Global Council of Indian Chrsitians,” an organization that includes believers of different faiths, said that this will be possible if the government limits the violent action of Hindu extremist groups”...
15 May 2014
Tags: Syria India Ukraine United Nations Pope
On a visit to Mount Nebo, Cardinal Dolan points out a landmark in the distance to Msgr. John Kozar, president of the CNEWA. (photo: CNEWA)
Catholic New York, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of New York, has just published a comprehensive wrap-up of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s pastoral visit to Jordan last week.
An excerpt, from editor John Woods:
On his pastoral visit to Jordan last week, Cardinal Dolan witnessed firsthand the work and presence of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), which supports projects assisting refugees from other countries in the Middle East as well as the small, native Christian community and others in that part of the land of the Bible.
The three-day itinerary, packed with stops at a number of health clinics and refugee support programs operated by a total of five congregations of women religious, gave Cardinal Dolan a greater appreciation of CNEWA’s approach of assisting projects already providing good service.
Work such as the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, an Iraqi congregation serving a refugee population including Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians. The clinic-on the property of a Latin Rite parish, St. Pius X, built in the 1950s with support from CNEWA benefactors-also is subsidized by the agency.
The same day, the visitors also toured the Italian Hospital in Amman, known as the Hospital of the Poor, administered by another Iraqi community, the Dominican Sister of the Presentation. CNEWA subsidizes a daily clinic for the poorest of the poor, mainly Iraqi and Syrian refugees, along with poverty-stricken Jordanians, who travel from the entire country for the quality care it offers.
The next day, they visited with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, who provide support to hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, especially young women, with the help of CNEWA, right in their convent, the House of Mary. They celebrated Mass in the convent chapel, and then had dinner with the sisters and refugee families.
“It’s not that we come in from above. We help them from below,” said the cardinal, speaking of CNEWA’s approach in an interview at its offices in the New York Catholic Center on 9 May. He had come that day to greet CNEWA’s staff the morning after his return to the archdiocese.
“I was so edified at the great work CNEWA does there.”
The cardinal traveled to Jordan as part of his responsibilities as chairman of the board of CNEWA, a papal agency that provides humanitarian and pastoral support by working with and through Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and elsewhere across the globe. He was joined by Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, another CNEWA board member, and Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s president. Also taking part were Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, and Father James Cruz, the cardinal’s priest secretary.
The 4-8 May trip, which took place following the canonization ceremonies in Rome for SS. John Paul II and John XXIII, actually felt like “a dry run” for the visit that Pope Francis will make to the Holy Land later this month, Msgr. Kozar said.
“There is a tremendous excitement about the pope’s coming,” he said, adding that the positive feelings generated by the papal visit translated to warm greetings everywhere the group went. The pope’s visit to the Holy Land is schedule to begin in Amman, Jordan’s capital, on 24 May.
The visit to Jordan was Cardinal Dolan’s first. Three years ago he visited CNEWA’s projects in Syria and Lebanon, a trip that would be impossible today because of the continued unrest in Syria, he noted.
Read the whole report and see more pictures here.
Check out our archive of the “Journey to Jordan,” too, with more photographs by CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar.
Meantime, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre has also written his own reflections of the trip. Read more at his blog.