12 April 2018
Seminarians at St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary in Vadavathoor, a small village in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, study on campus for an exam. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
While the word “formation” may not be familiar to most Catholic Christians — at least, not as an educational term — it is very familiar to seminarians and members of religious orders. The current edition of ONE is focused (as the cover notes) on the subject of “Forming the Future,” so this is a good opportunity to explore just what that means and how “formation” figures in both the Church and the mission of CNEWA.
Since Vatican II there has been a lot of discussion about the word “formation” — not the concept — questioning whether it is the best expression of what it is trying to convey. For many members of religious orders “formation” seems to imply too much passivity. A young priest or religious just sits back and “gets formed.” Unfortunately that has sometimes been the case, producing people who are often lacking in initiative and openness. In one of his talks, Pope Francis — who, in his many years as a Jesuit, has witnessed both the strengths and weaknesses of religious formation — spoke of formation sometimes creating “little monsters.” I think many of us who spent years in religious life can recall some of the “little monsters” in our past. While the discussion about the appropriateness of the word formation goes on, the concept behind it is accepted by all.
Although CNEWA does not engage in actual formation — we do not staff or run seminaries, novitiates, etc. — we are, nevertheless, deeply involved with it in the areas where we work. This week and next, we will look at two different but related types of formation: the formation of clergy and religious and the formation of lay people. We will also see how CNEWA is involved in both.
When a person enters a seminary or a religious order, there is a long process of formation which extends anywhere from four to ten years. The religious goes through different stages of membership in the community; the seminarian has increasing involvement in the diocese where he will serve. Formation involves personal growth, spiritual discernment and learning. For seminarians and most religious there is a lengthy, multi-year program of academic studies in philosophy and theology with required courses and electives. For most seminarians, this program covers a minimum of four years.
While academic studies are extremely important — a primary principle of pastoral practice is to know what you’re talking about-- they are not the only element. Members of religious communities learn about the “charism” of their order. The “charism” is, among other things, the special spirituality of the community and the special aspect the community brings to the people it serves. Both seminarians and religious have to learn how to live authentically and as adults among the people we are called to serve.
Among other things, the formation of seminarians and religious helps them to deal in a healthy way with celibacy and how one serves credibly and with sensitivity in a community where most believers are not celibates. They learn how to be what St. Paul calls “all things to all people so that they may be saved” (1 Cor 9:22-23).
While the word “formation” may or may not be the most appropriate, the goals it seeks to achieve are extremely important. Formation programs provide the service corps of the Church. They produce clergy and religious who are educated, articulate, pastorally committed and authentic. While clergy and religious are not the only people involved in the Church’s mission (as we shall see next week), they form a critical part.
It should be obvious that formation programs require that local churches and religious communities commit a great deal of resources to them. Somewhat crudely put: good formation programs are not cheap. They requite residences, faculties — people who teach and inspire — and books, to name just a few. In all the regions from southern India to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and northeast Africa, CNEWA helps the local church educate, train, prepare — in a word, form — the leaders of the Church of the future.
It is a long-term investment that literally takes years to bear fruit. However, the future of Christianity depends upon it.
12 April 2018
Tags: Seminarians Vocations (religious)
A statue of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides stands in a courtyard in Córdoba, Spain, the city where he was born. (photo: Jerzy Kociatkiewicz/Wikimedia Commons)
Sometimes things come into my mind and I have no idea what triggered them. Today is Yom HaShoah, the day remembering the murder of six million Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. For some reason, this day reminded me of the famous “Ladder of Maimonides” or “Ladder of Justice/Righteousness.” Maimonides (1135-1204) was born 800 years before the Holocaust, and so I do not know how or why my brain would have made that connection.
Nevertheless, Maimonides is an example of many things. Living in Moorish Spain, he was part of an extraordinarily open and tolerant society. In what is called convivencia, literally “living together,” Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in mutual respect. Each faith tradition made its unique contribution to the overall good of society.
Moses ben Maymun (in Arabic Musa bin Maymûn, and Greek Maimonides) was born in Córdoba, one of the most important cities in the world in his time. Maimonides is affectionately known as Rambam (from Rabbi Moses Ben Maymun) by Jews to this very day. Like many of the great figures in the Middle Ages, he was a man of many skills. He was a physician, a rabbi and a philosopher.
He engaged in the theological and philosophical discussions of his day. His book, “Guide for the Perplexed,” is an attempt to show that religions — in his case, Judaism — were not merely superstition but were built on reason.
However, it was Maimonides’ famous “Ladder of Justice/Righteousness” (sometimes called the “Eight Levels of Charity”) that came into my head this morning. In eight simple steps, he described how humanity climbs from injustice to justice, toward a greater spirit of charity. It is a model for building a more just and compassionate society. In a world of suffering, injustice, displacement and dehumanizing poverty, people of good will are struggling to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings. CNEWA works in many parts of the world — the Middle East, Africa, India — where these issues seem overwhelming and almost insoluble.
Perhaps today, Yom HaShoah, a moment when we reflect on one of the greatest injustices of modern history, is a fitting time to recall this great Jewish philosopher, as he reminds us what comprises justice and righteousness — and challenges us to better reflect that in our world today.
Maimonides’ “Ladder of Righteousness”:
- The person who gives reluctantly and with regret.
- The person who gives graciously, but less than one should.
- The person who gives what one should, but only after being asked.
- The person who gives before being asked.
- The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives, although the recipient knows the identity of the donor.
- The person who gives without making his or her identity known.
- The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives. The recipient does not know from whom he or she receives.
- The person who helps another to become self-supporting by a gift or a loan or by finding employment for the recipient.
12 April 2018
Tags: Jewish Holocaust
A Syrian child evacuated from Douma reacts upon arrival 11 April in Aleppo, Syria. Lebanese Cardinal Rai appealed to world leaders to stop the war in Syria and to work for comprehensive peace through diplomatic means. (photo: CNS/Aref Tammawi, EPA)
Maronite Catholic Patriarch and Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Peter appealed to world leaders to stop the war in Syria and to work for comprehensive peace through diplomatic means.
“As the great powers are beating the drums of a new war against Syria, we regret the absence of a language of peace from the mouths of senior officials in our world today,” he said, in an address 12 April directed to the international community.
In reference to the stance of world leaders toward Syria, the cardinal said, “Most tragically, their hearts are devoid of the slightest human emotion toward the millions of innocent Syrians who have been forced to flee their land under the fire of war, its crimes, destruction, terror and violence.”
“We appeal to the conscience of the great powers and the international community to work to end the war and to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace through political and diplomatic means — not military,” the church leader stressed.
“The people of the Middle East are entitled to live in peace and tranquility. The declaration of war is very weak,” he said, adding that peacebuilding is the ultimate in heroism. “Among the great powers, you will remember that we all know how to start wars, but we do not know how they end.”
Noting that Lebanon has hosted more than 1.1 million refugees, or nearly half of its population, “at a time when most European countries have closed their doors,” Patriarch Bechara Peter continued: “We ask today, did these countries which are beating the drums of war bear a fraction of the hardship due to the displacement of the Syrian population?”
The patriarch’s appeal came amid threats of military retaliation against Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the Ghouta region.
U S. President Donald Trump has said that “missiles will be coming.” But on the morning of 12 April, Trump tweeted, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
Opponents of unilateral U.S. action schedule an emergency closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council 12 April, and Britain also scheduled an emergency Cabinet meeting, the Associated Press reported.
12 April 2018
Tags: Syria United States Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Syrian Conflict
Bishops Samuel Mar Irenios and Yoohanon Mar Theodosius have been elected coadjutor bishops for the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in India. (photo: Vatican News/Syro-Malankara Catholic Church)
Two co-adjutor bishops elected in India (Vatican News) The Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, headquartered in India, has elected two coadjutor bishops. Auxiliary Bishop Samuel Mar Irenios of Trivandrum has been elected Coadjutor Bishop of Pathanamthitta, while Bishop Yoohanon Mar Theodosius, the Curial Bishop of the Major Archdiocese of Trivandrum has been elected the Coadjutor of the Diocese of Muvattupuzha, both in the southern state of Kerala…
U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem stalled (Haaretz) The conversion of the American consulate in Jerusalem into an embassy was exempted from needing a building permit, and a contractor has been chosen to do the work, but the chances of it being completed by Independence Day are slim, TheMarker has learned. The reason is that no funds have been committed for building a wall around the embassy, one of the main safety precautions demanded by the Trump administration…
‘Greater Jerusalem means no churches and no mosques’ (Al Jazeera) Palestinian interfaith officials have warned against monopolizing the city of Jerusalem by the Israeli government and the effects that would have on Christianity and Islam. Hanna Issa, secretary-general of the Palestinian Authority’s Muslim-Christian Committee said that more than 95 percent of Jerusalem had already been “Judaized” by Israel, and that “Greater Jerusalem” would alter the city’s identity and importance to Christians and Muslims…
Syria’s refugee children: futures lost to war (Al Jazeera) Muzoon Almellehan would be an ordinary Syrian girl from Deraa, south of Damascus, dreaming of a future as a journalist, if war hadn’t forced her family of six to flee her home country in 2013. But Muzoon, 20, is no ordinary girl. For the past five years, living as a refugee, she spearheaded a campaign to promote the right of refugee children to an education. She kicked her mission off at the age of 14 in a refugee camp in Jordan, after several of her schoolmates dropped out of school to be married off as child brides…
Syrian refugee describes his flight from ISIS (CNS) A middle-of-the-night phone call — then another — alerted Gabriel Jabbour to the threat. Reluctantly, he packed a few belongings and $3,000 in cash, and fled from Syria with his wife to avoid being publicly executed by Islamic State militants. Now living in Omaha, Jabbour shared the story of his narrow escape and the Catholic faith that sustains him…
The last Greeks of Addis Ababa (Al Jazeera) “Did you know that Ethiopia gets its name from the Greek word Aethiopia, first used by Homer?” Greek Ambassador to Ethiopia Nikolaos Patakias says proudly. Sitting in his office in the capital Addis Ababa, Patakias shows an ancient Greek romantic novel, The Aethiopica. It’s a love story about the relationship between the daughter of the queen of Ethiopia and a Greek descendant of Achilles…
11 April 2018
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Jerusalem Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Sister Noora Sabah prays with children preparing for First Communion in a church in a displaced persons camp in Ain Kawa, near Erbil. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
In the March 2018 edition of ONE, Sister Clara Nacy, superior general for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, writes of life among the displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan:
During the years of displacement, our sisters worked at every camp for internally displaced persons. We led Christian catechism programs and activities. With the help of CNEWA and other organizations, we were able to distribute different items — such as clothing, mattresses, milk and diapers, etc. We felt that it is our responsibility to help our people. We ourselves were displaced, also, which helped us understand the needs of displaced families; we knew what they were going through.
Through it all, we drew strength from prayer, both individually and as a community. Believing God is always with his people, we trust he will never leave them alone, no matter what happens. We never felt abandoned, seeing the hand of God in all the organizations that have helped us care for the displaced families. People of good will were always around, showing God’s loving care. Our sisters appreciated very much this support and encouragement as we carried on our ministry…
We sisters have our own struggles, of course. We have asked different speakers to help us cope with the situation, spiritually and psychologically. We are grateful to all those who have risked their lives and have come to show solidarity and offer their knowledge.
Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help.
Read more of her Letter from Iraq in the current edition of ONE.
11 April 2018
Tags: Iraqi Christians Sisters
Relatives of the victims of a school bus accident in India’s Himachal Pradesh mourn their dead. (photo: Vatican News via ANSA)
Indian bishops offer prayers, condolences following school bus accident (Vatican News) India’s Catholic bishops have expressed their condolence at a school bus accident in the Himalayan foothills in the north, in which at least 30 were killed, mostly children. The tragedy occurred about 200 miles from Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh state, when a school bus carrying home some 40 students from their school in Nurpur in Kangra district, plunged some 60 meters into a gorge…
Trump promises strike on Syria (The New York Times) President Trump announced that missiles fired at Syria “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ ” After the threat, the president said in a separate tweet that relations between the United States and Russia are worse than ever…
Egypt sentences 36 to death for church bombings (The National) Thirty-six people were sentenced to death on Tuesday by an Egyptian military court for their role in a number of deadly church bombings and attacks on security personnel. Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek referred the accused to an Alexandria military court last May after at least 80 people died in a series of shootings and bomb attacks on Coptic churches in Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta between 2016 and 2017…
Jordan and Lebanon are going broke and Israel should worry (Haaretz) By Middle East standards, Jordan is a citadel of stability, and even though the threat of war with Hizbollah is ever-present, Lebanon has been a placid place since its own civil war ended in 1990. That may be about to change. Jordan and Lebanon have been living on borrowed time economically, which has left them saddled with unsustainably high levels of debt. Now they have little choice but to take unpopular measures like tax hikes and subsidy cuts…
Women religious share stories of being on the frontlines (Vatican News) Women religious, working in some of the world’s worst conflict zones, are sharing their stories on Wednesday at a seminar organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. Jointly sponsored by the International Union of Superiors General and Solidarity with South Sudan, the encounter will highlight the vital, yet often unseen, work of sisters serving in some of the most deprived communities in countries across the globe…
Vatican urges Buddhists and Christians to work together (Vatican News) The Vatican is inviting the world’s Buddhists and Christians to work together to combat and prevent the “heinous crime” of corruption by eradicating its underlying causes. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue made the call in a message released on Wednesday in view of the upcoming Buddhist festival of Vesakh…
The sweet traditions of Russian Orthodox Easter (NPR) Abby Slater is forming a dough of milk, sugar, yeast and flour. It’s Slater’s first time making Easter bread. She’s observed and helped her Aleut family make it many times before though. “My earliest memory of Easter bread was actually later in life, because we didn’t reconnect with my aunt until I was a little bit older,” Slater said. “She was the one who had the recipe for the Easter bread. My grandma died before I was born, my native grandma, my kukax. So she didn’t get to pass that along to us grandkids.” The recipe her aunt uses is the same the family has been using for generations…
10 April 2018
Tags: Syria India Egypt Lebanon Jordan
A wounded Syrian receives aid at a hospital 7 April in Damascus after a suspected chemical weapon attack in Douma. (photo: CNS/SANA via EPA)
On Sunday, Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical weapons following reports of a deadly attack in Syria:
“There is no good and bad war, and nothing, nothing can justify the use of such instruments of extermination against defenseless people and populations,” the pope said 8 April before concluding Divine Mercy Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
A suspected chemical weapon attack occurred late 7 April when Syrian army warplanes allegedly flew over and bombed the eastern town of Douma, located 15 miles north of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to the Reuters news agency.
The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation reported 42 victims were killed in the attack while hundreds of people, “the majority of whom are women and children, were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.”
Pope Francis prayed “for all the dead, for the wounded, for the families who suffer” and called for world leaders to abandon the use of war as a means of gaining peace and stability.
“We pray that political and military leaders choose the other way: that of negotiation, the only one that can lead to a peace that is not that of death and destruction,” the pope said.
We join our prayers with the Holy Father’s — holding close in our hearts the suffering people of Syria, who have endured so much for so long. We recall the words of the Rev. Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas, patriarchal vicar for northeastern Syria, who wrote in our magazine last year:
Our faith always calls for peace, but politics and bad politicians are always setting fires and disturbing the situation. I try to stay away from political discussions. My mission is to take care of my parish, to help my parishioners and to try and enrich the parish with fruitful spiritual activities.
While Syria’s many Christian communities face many and varied challenges right now, there is only one thing we all truly need: peace.
During this Easter season, a time of renewal and hope, we pray to the Prince of Peace to uplift and console the Syrian people, and bring them the peace they so urgently desire.
To learn more, and offer your prayerful support, please visit this page. Thank you and God bless you.
10 April 2018
Tags: Syria Syrian Conflict
In the video above, Pope Francis blesses a statue of the Armenian St. Gregory of Narek in the Vatican Gardens. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Trump pledges ‘forceful’ response following Syria attack (BBC) U.S. President Donald Trump has promised a “forceful” response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria, as Western leaders consider what action to take. “We have a lot of options militarily,” he told reporters. He added that a response would be decided “shortly”…
Iran-Israel conflict escalates in shadow of Syrian civil war (The New York Times) Israel on Monday appeared to have escalated its shadow war in Syria against Iran, with a predawn airstrike against a military base that coordinates Iranian-backed militias, killing four Iranian military advisers. The dead included a colonel who served as a senior officer in Iran’s drone program, according to Iranian news reports…
Residents of Jerusalem neighborhood petition high court against new embassy (Times of Israel) A group of residents whose homes overlook the American consulate in Jerusalem submitted a petition to the High Court on Sunday against plans to open the new U.S. Embassy there on 14 May…
Outcry as religious leaders become state ministers in India (UCANews.com) Muslim and Christian leaders in India have slammed Madhya Pradesh state government for according “minister of state” status to five Hindu religious leaders in what many called a deadly mix of religion and politics in an election year. The central state’s government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), last week gave minister status to the leaders even though they have not contested or won any election…
Indian faith leaders condemn exploitation of religion (Vatican News) Leaders of six major religions in India came together last week and called for an end to branding people as patriotic or unpatriotic based on religion, region or community, amid increasing attempts to exploit religious sentiments for political gains. Leaders of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Sikh communities gathered on 5 April in Margao in the western state of Goa to express their dismay at communal tension building in states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Odisha, ahead of crucial elections…
Pope blesses statue of Armenian saint (CNS) During a brief ceremony in the Vatican Gardens, Pope Francis blessed a new statue of a tenth-century Armenian monk he had declared a “doctor of the church” in 2015. Blessing the bronze statue of St. Gregory of Narek on 5 April capped off a series of morning meetings with Armenian political and religious dignitaries, beginning with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan…
9 April 2018
Tags: Syria India Jerusalem United States
Sister Sana Samawi, left, hosts a group of women who meet regularly for study, prayer and discussion in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)
After reporting on the inspiring work of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Jordan for the March 2018 edition of ONE, journalist Dale Gavlak here offers some additional impressions:
I was amazed to see how many Iraqi youth came out on a cold, dark night in the dead of winter to engage in worship and meaningful spiritual dialogue and teaching with two Lebanese religious sisters. One sister was perhaps just a few years older than the young people, yet greatly admired; the other was a now much-beloved mother figure.
They do this at least twice a month at the home of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
There, they experience warm fellowship and the opportunity to express themselves freely as they grapple with the still-fresh wounds of being forced out of their ancestral home by ISIS militants.
They also have the opportunity to transform their pain and open their spirituality to God’s plan for their lives. They seek to grow by engaging in the spiritual formation and catechesis activities the Franciscans offer in a very natural atmosphere.
One of the young people, Ra’ed Omar says the program facilitated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary involves prayer, teaching, discussions, spiritual exercises, meditations and fun. At times, there may also be a Mass and a talk by a priest.
“They have influenced me a lot,” he says. “I’ve learned so much. It’s a great atmosphere. I was far away from the church in Iraq, but in Jordan I came closer to the church, to God and His people. It’s been a spiritual encounter providing an opportunity, too, to learn how to love others without expecting anything in return,” he says of this youth group’s outreach to Iraqi children, orphans and others in desperate situations.
That same conviviality is found among a group of young-to-middle-aged Jordanian women, many of whom are professionals, meeting every Tuesday at the sisters’ home for Bible study and a discussion of spiritual topics.
There, a Jordanian Franciscan religious sister oversees the activities while encouraging the women to engage actively in learning about God’s love and the tenets of the Christian faith that they hold so dear.
Sister Sana served with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Syria’s trouble spots of Raqqa, Aleppo and Damascus before taking up her post in Amman last year.
“The goal for these women is to take responsibility for their discovery and learning along their spiritual walk. I want to see them following Jesus, enjoying a deep relationship with him in a profound way and understanding,” says Sister Sara. “This depth of spirituality will also impact and benefit the lives of their families and others they interact with and for whom they are responsible. At the end of the day, they should take hold of their spiritual growth because they, too, are the Church,” she says.
Read more about Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan in the March 2018 edition of ONE.
9 April 2018
Tags: Refugees Sisters Jordan
The Rev. Jaison Koonamplakkal leads the Mary Matha Major Seminary in India. Read about The New Priests in that country — and the challenges facing the seminaries — in the March 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
Tags: India Priests Indian Catholics