5 April 2012
Christian pilgrims sing during the this year’s Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Dr. Bernard Sabella is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a works with the Near East Council of Churches, a frequent partner of CNEWA. He sent the message below to a number of friends and associates, and we reproduce it with his permission. He writes from Jerusalem.
The act of crucifixion and resurrection is that of a relationship most personal and general, at the same time. On a personal level, each one of us sees in the crucifixion and resurrection a narrative that speaks to one’s situation, affiliations, afflictions and expectations; on a more general level, Easter summarizes relationships and their history with the divine, faith within the church and the city and ways in which we reciprocate with others. Essential in both the personal and general relationship is the sense of hope that Easter engenders. Jesus Christ’s transition from life to death to life again is not only symbolic, as it takes on practical consequences — one of which is how the resurrection brings people together in faith, community and the hope for the life beyond.
Easter is celebrated in early spring, when Jerusalem and its environs are alive with a rich assortment of wild flora on the hills and valleys that surround the city. After a winter that has seen more than average rainfall, a blessing in a land afflicted by draught for a number of years, celebrating Easter is even more of an act of faith that transcends the mundane. The association of spring with Easter is an old one that is discovered again and again by younger generations as they marvel at the beauty of the wild colors of the hills.
In the city of Jerusalem, Easter celebrations take on communal expression. The Palm Sunday procession, which winds down from Bethpage on the Mount of Olives to St. Anne Church, just inside St. Stephen’s Gate, is religious in its nature. But seeing Palestinian Christians in the procession from Jenin, Zababdeh, Nablus, Ramallah, Aboud, Ein Arik, Bir Zeit, Jifnah, Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala as they chant Arabic hymns of praise and carry placards with the name of their locality combined with the name of Palestine is also a reflection of the communal nature of the procession. This affirmation of Palestinian Christian presence highlights the fact that, in spite of the dwindling numbers of Palestinian Christians and of the dire political situation, we Palestinian Christians remain part of our society and of the Palestinian landscape. This affirmation adds variety, steadfastness and hope.
Good Friday is another celebration in which personal reflection and prayer is joined to the communal outpouring of emotions on this holiest of days. As the Palestinian Christian faithful carry the heavy wooden cross on the 14 stations of the Via Dolorosa on the road to Golgotha, they are commemorating not only the road taken by Jesus himself to Golgotha but also generations of local Christians who have carried the same cross successively year after year. Some of these Christians have left and they made Sydney, Chicago, La Calera, Santiago de Chile, San Pedro Sula, Montreal and other distant cities and towns their new homes.
And yet Easter Sunday restores both faith and hope. Whoever is in Jerusalem celebrates. The joy that shines forth in the egg hunt, in the special sweet delicacies of Ka’ek wa Ma’mul prepared and baked in family, in the new dresses and shoes worn by children and in the Easter Dinner that gathers the whole family is a sustaining joy. May this joy sustain also relationships between our Diaspora communities and those of us who remain steadfast in this land of the forefathers.
Blessed Easter — and as the Palestinian Christians greet each other: Christ has risen! Indeed he has! Al Masih Qam! Haqqan Qam!
4 April 2012
Tags: Palestine Unity Palestinians Easter
At the N.E.C.C. workshops in Gaza City, students learn to sew dresses. (photo: Eman Mohammed)
Since 2001 Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, preventing humanitarian aid and supplies from entering the territory. In 2010, Israel eased the blockade. But severe damage has already been done. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure still lies in ruins, the unemployment rate is astronomical and most residents rely on humanitarian agencies for the basics.
In the current issue of ONE, journalist Fares Akram profiles Christian-run social service institutions, such as the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.). The N.E.C.C operates several vocational training programs in Gaza including an 11-month course in dressmaking. Many of the women who participate in the program go on to find work in the field:
Among this year’s students is Umm Musbah. In 2006, the mother of five graduated from a college in Gaza with a diploma in elementary education. For five years, she hunted for a job in her field without success.
“I decided to join this program to help my husband, who is a tailor,” Mrs. Musbah explains, as she sews a mauve dress at a wooden table in one of the workshops. “My husband can bring me the wives of his clients so we can do business together, improve our lives and guarantee our children’s future.”
She cites the program’s low cost as another factor in her decision. “The fees are not high, only 350 Shekels [$100], and they can be paid throughout the course.”
For more, read Behind the Blockade.
3 April 2012
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel Palestinians Women
Egyptian protesters hold up a Coptic Christian cross in one hand and a copy of the Quran in the other hand in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.
(photo: epa european pressphoto agency b.v. / Alamy)
During Holy Week, CNEWA Canada has launched an appeal to support Egypt’s Christians who are experiencing a difficult period of transition. Their homeland is in turmoil and anti-Christian violence is on the rise. Yet, just as Christ persevered through his passion and death, they are not giving up.
Egypt’s Christians are determined to remain in the country and contribute to its renewal and resurrection. It is important that their message of peace and forgiveness is heard in the Egyptian landscape, especially during this time of unrest.
As a minority in Egypt, they are still playing an important role. CNEWA Canada invites you to be part of the efforts to strengthen the Christian community, especially their schools, seminaries and social service works, like health care clinics.
2 April 2012
Tags: Egypt Africa Easter CNEWA Canada
In this photo taken in 1988, a woman reflects prayerfully in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
(photo: Paul Souders)
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” - John 12:13
Yesterday, Christians around the world observed Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem, in the final days before his passion, death and resurrection. It begins a somber week of reflection that culminates with rejoicing on Easter. Hosanna!
29 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Jerusalem Easter Holy Sepulchre
Girls and boys take dance lessons at the Caritas center in Georgia. (photo: Molly Corso)
In the current edition of ONE, Molly Corso reports on the issue of child homelessness in Georgia and the people and instiitutions that are in place to help tackle this problem:
In the case no parent or extended family member can care responsibly for a child, social workers now decide between two new government programs: foster care, in which the child is placed with a qualifying family, or a small group home, similar to the church-operated ones in Bediani. Typically, government-run group homes accommodate eight to ten children and two trained professionals.
The government also encourages charitable organizations operating homes for homeless children and youth, such as Georgian Orthodox Church, to expand their services. Orthodox religious already have agreed to open group homes in Achara — a semiautonomous region in the country’s southwest — and other areas.
The Catholic humanitarian agency Caritas Georgia (a partner of CNEWA) is one of several nongovernmental organizations that manage the government’s new small group homes. A leader in providing care to Georgia’s vulnerable children, it currently operates four government-built group homes.
For more, read A Child’s Rights Restored. Check out the rest of the March edition on our website!
28 March 2012
Tags: Children Georgia Orphans/Orphanages Caritas
Msgr. Kozar captured this image of a sister at the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan, during his visit to the Holy Land last December. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In his short time as CNEWA president, Msgr. John E. Kozar has lent his photographic eye to the agency. From his first pastoral visits to the Holy Land and India, we have gained a trove of beautiful images that help tell the stories of the regions and people we serve. Recently, the National Catholic Reporter interviewed Msgr. Kozar regarding the work of CNEWA. Here’s some of what he had to say:
So what have the first several months been like?
I came onboard on Sept. 15, 2011, I had meetings with Msgr. Stern and then I had an intense week of meetings with key personnel. These meetings allowed for the big picture to be brought down a little bit and it allowed me to ask a lot of questions. I was only here one week when I hosted a plenary meeting with my international directors, which had been scheduled the year before. I really felt more than anything else that I was supposed to be here. When I connected the dots of my life, this was where I was supposed to be. We had five wonderful days of stepping outside the box in order that we all could look inside the box together. We are one CNEWA even though we have offices in eight different countries. We are one family, as we are one in Christ.
Read more of the interview here.
28 March 2012
Tags: CNEWA Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar CNEWA Pontifical Mission
A Syrian boy and other refugees who fled the violence in Syria are seen at a temporary shelter in a school in the Wadi Khaled area of northern Lebanon 7 March.
(photo: CNS /Jamal Saidi, Reuters)
Yesterday, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has decided that the Holy Thursday collection at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, will be used to offer humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. The situation in Syria has resulted in the exodus of Christians from the region. Many are finding refuge in surrounding Middle East countries like Turkey and Lebanon. Earlier this month the Catholic News Service interviewed Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq, about how what's happening in Syria reflects a changing Middle East:
“The same pattern like in Iraq is re-emerging, as Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians in Syria,” said Issam Bishara, vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon and Syria. “Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians.”
“We lost Christians in Iraq; if we lose (them) in Syria what will happen to Christians in the Middle East?” said Ra’ed Bahou, the Pontifical Mission’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. “Christians are leaving the region, and we have to work to reduce this loss. Time is not with us. (Syria) is the last castle of Christianity in the Middle East. If they start emigrating from Syria, it is the beginning of the end of Christianity in this area.”
In a March 7 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Bahou said there are no official statistics, but an estimated 200 Christians were among the recent wave of Syrian refugees entering Jordan. He said many of those same refugees earlier had fled Iraq for Syria.
“They are refugees from one country to another. It is everywhere now, not just in Jordan. Also in Lebanon and Turkey. This population movement is also creating a changing Middle East,” Bahou said.
For more read, Syrian Christians Fear Persecution. To learn how you can help Syrians, visit our website.
26 March 2012
Tags: Syria Refugees Middle East Pope Benedict XVI
In this photo taken in 2010, a farmer rides through Wadi al Nasarah (Arabic for Valley of Christians), near Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Though much of Syria is in turmoil and many Christians are fleeing, we reflect today on Wadi al Nasarah, a group of about 40 Christian villages. In the January 2011 edition of ONE, Sean Sprague told the story of a flourishing valley of Christians holding onto its ancient Christian roots:
“We were traditionally farmers, harvesting our olives and growing grain crops and keeping animals. But these days, very few of us Christians are involved in that kind of work. We have prospered and have received a good education, going to university in the towns, so we either work in tourism or are professional people,” she continues.
Ms. Nehme’s generation is not the first to have left its rural roots: Her father is an electrician; her mother teaches at a local school.
Syria is a cradle of Christianity. The word Christian was first coined in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch — which has been a part of Turkey since the borders were redrawn in 1939. The apostles Peter and Paul settled there, nurturing a church that eventually emerged as the center of Christian thought in the eastern Mediterranean. Antiochene theologians, from both the Greek– and Syriac–speaking communities, played leading roles in the Christological controversies that eventually divided the early church, differences that are now understood as cultural and linguistic.
For more, read Syria’s Christian Valley.
23 March 2012
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Farming/Agriculture
Palestinian Joseph Hazboun, 46, poses at the piano with his daughters, Layal, 16, Yazan, 14, and son, Lene, 12, in their apartment in East Jerusalem 28 Feb. For 17 years Hazboun, who is from Bethlehem, West Bank, has been living with his family in Jerusalem without a permanent Israeli residency permit. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
If anyone needs to know what it is like to live in a divided city like Jerusalem, a member of our CNEWA family can tell you.
Catholic News Service recently chatted with one of the long-time staffers in our Jerusalem office:
Joseph Hazboun remembers when he could hop into his car in Jerusalem and drive the few miles to the nearby West Bank city of Bethlehem to see his family. It was easy enough, even passing through mandatory checkpoints, that he and his Jerusalem-born wife and children would make the trip at least twice a month.
It has been years, though, since the Hazbouns, who are Catholic, could make the 25-minute drive on their own. Now the family must take light rail, two taxis and walk across a checkpoint to get from their home in East Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The venture takes at least 90 minutes. The result: The Hazbouns have curtailed their visits to once every several months.
Israeli laws on the book since 2003 strictly limit who can obtain permanent residency status and thus enjoy the related benefits, including driving privileges. The Supreme Court recently upheld the law.
Although he is the spouse of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who holds an Israeli permanent resident ID, Hazboun is prohibited from becoming a permanent resident of Israel because he is from Bethlehem. Only those with permanent residency can enjoy benefits of Israeli society, including coverage under the health care system and social security benefits.
Every year the couples keep close track of their rent receipts, utility bills, school tuition payments and vaccination records. They trek to the Ministry of Interior and then to the Civil Administration in the West Bank to get the piece of paper that allows them to live together legally as a family.
They are among thousands of Palestinian couples who continue living in a state of limbo and uncertainty because they must apply for a temporary residence permit annually. “That puts us at their mercy as, at any given moment, they can rebuke our residency permit and tell us to go away somewhere. But I have nowhere else to go. Here is where my work is, here is where we have our home,” said Hazboun, 46, who has worked in the Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine for 18 years. He has lived in the city since he married his Jerusalem-born wife, Rima, 17 years ago.
“I can’t understand what the security threat is to Israel if we drive,” Hazboun said. “This is just another prohibition to make our life in Israel difficult. It is a demographic war. (They think) that if they make it difficult for us we will say, Why live such a life in Jerusalem when we can move about freely in the West Bank?”
There’s much more. Read the rest. And for more on life in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel, check out Msgr. Kozar’s posts on his Journey to the Holy Land, and for some history of the sacred city, read The Holy City of Jerusalem.
21 March 2012
Tags: CNEWA Jerusalem Palestinians
From left, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, Dominican Sister Maria Hanna and CNEWA Regional Director for Jordan and Iraq Ra’ed Bahou gather with Dominican Sisters outside the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Jordan. (photo: CNEWA)
Last December, during his pastoral visit to the Holy Land, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar had a chance to visit with Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena at their clinic in Jordan. These sisters — whose provincial house is in Iraq — staff hospitals, orphanages and schools for those still in Iraq and those Iraqis displaced throughout the Middle East. They do not turn their backs on the people, and the dire circumstances in Iraq seem to drive them to want to do more. Last August we were able to catch up with a few Dominican Sisters visiting the U.S. and gain some insight into this fearless congregation of sisters:
Your community lost its mother house to the violence.
Sister Diana Moneka: Yes, it was bombed several times. But God was with us. When they bombed our mother house the first time, the missile fell on a bedroom where four sisters were sleeping. It was 1:30 a.m. They couldn’t escape. Pressure from the fire prevented them from opening the door. A sister sleeping down the hall eventually got them out. The sisters were so shocked, but after a while they felt the presence of God. They realized, “We’re still alive because of God.”
How is morale among the sisters?
Sister Maria: They are very down and frustrated. Whenever there is some activity and work, and they’re busy and producing, they are happy. But sometimes, they get very frustrated.
Sister Diana: We’re walking with people step by step, every day. Wherever there is a bomb, we’re with the victims. Caring for traumatized people is a very difficult task, because their trauma wears off on you. Coming back home, if you don’t have a big community that supports you, the spiritual and psychological parts are very hard.
We’ve lost lots of family. I lost my brother. Five years ago, he was shot. One sister, two of her nephews were kidnapped and disappeared. Another, her nephew disappeared and they have heard nothing about him. It’s been almost five years now. We’re trying to help people and at the same time dealing with our own trauma.
Sister Maria: In the past six years, we have not had one meeting with all the sisters together. We used to have them at the mother house. This is very difficult for the sisters, because we can’t unite together. We want to build a new mother house. We have the property and the blueprints, but we do not have the money.
Click here to read more of our interview with the sisters.
Tags: Middle East Jordan Health Care Dominican Sisters