7 December 2011
An altar server stands near a statue of the Virgin Mary in greater Stockholm’s
Syriac Catholic church. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
According to the Latin calendar, tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Roman Catholics celebrate 8 December as the day that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother free from original sin. Many churches in CNEWA's world, meantime, observe the feast on the following day. You can find out more by visiting the online Catholic Encyclopedia.
6 December 2011
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Syriac Catholic Church Sweden
Msgr. Kozar is greeted by a girl at the inauguration of Saint Moura multi-purpose hall, a CNEWA-supported project in Kobayat, Lebanon.
Msgr. John E. Kozar is the president of CNEWA.
Here is a report on a wonderful day of activities, centering on the longtime agricultural assistance given by CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, to the Catholic community in Kobayat, a village in the northeastern part of the country.
After a full night of sleep, we headed out for a three-hour trip to the northeastern part of the country. As we traveled along Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast, our host, Issam Bishara, took us on a mini pilgrimage to an ancient shrine carved out of the rock.
Dedicated to Our Lady of the Light, the shrine is the fulfillment of a promise made in the fourth century to a pagan captain, whose ship was caught in the troubled seas. One of his sailors told him to pray to the Virgin Mary and she would intercede to God that he and all his shipmates might be saved.
And so it happened ... his prayers were answered, he embraced the Christian faith and built a shrine to Mary to honor the great gift bestowed on him.
We left our car in the parking lot of a more modern monastery and began walking to the shrine down a path carved into the rocky surface of this mountaintop. We arrived at a heavenly site: Far in the distance stood Lebanon’s snow-capped mountains, below us a beautiful sea with clarity and a blue to feast the eyes, and best of all a magnificent little chapel literally carved into the stone like a cave. We paused and prayed. In just a few minutes, we had made a mini retreat. [You can read more about this shrine in an article profiled in our magazine in 2000.]
On to Kobayat. Our first stop here was the olive processing mill that was running at full tilt, even though the olive season has just about ended. We were warmly greeted by the president of the cooperative association that oversees the pooled efforts of hundreds of farmers as well as by friends and coworkers.
As the machinery hummed along, our hosts took us on a simple tour. They demonstrated how bags of olives brought in from outlying farms were sent through a series of machines and ended up a high quality olive oil. Needless to say, we had to each try a sample of the work.
What touched me the most about this operation and all the workers involved was their pride and appreciation to CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission for the abiding confidence placed in them and in their hard work. And, as Maronite Catholics, they expressed their gratitude that work such as this helped keep their faith-filled community alive.
Msgr. Kozar visits a local market in Kobayat, Lebanon.
Our next stop was an impressive market center. This multipurpose center, built with the assistance of CNEWA, gives area farmers a well-situated venue to sell their produce, to store it in a clean and refrigerated environment, and a meeting area where agricultural and business professionals offer the farmers classes and presentations on new techniques of farming and management and marketing for their products. It was a special treat to witness customers coming in from the highway and buying local produce, and what a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables! Fresh has taken on new meaning — eat your hearts out supermarkets back home.
After visiting, we went to the parish church in the village of Martmoura, which is dedicated to an early Christian martyr named Moura. There, the parish priest and his parish committee warmly greeted us and escorted us into church to concelebrate with him the Divine Liturgy. For me, it was a special honor to concelebrate the Maronite eucharistic liturgy, or Qorbono in ancient Syriac, which was conducted in French, with some elements in Arabic and Syriac.
Now this is important: Perhaps the most impressive moment of the day during this pastoral visit with my farming friends was how important it was that we gather at the altar. The Eucharist was the focal point of their lives, and defines who they are as Maronite Catholics.
The underlying support of CNEWA all these many years has preserved this Catholic Christian farming community in the heart of the Middle East. Without the seed monies shared with them, and the abiding moral and technical support given to them, many would have fled, abandoning all that they knew in order to remain good farmers and good Christians.
They are grateful that we — and by this I mean our CNEWA family worldwide — have helped them to maintain their ancient Christian community.
After the liturgy we had a brief tour and a formal opening of a newly constructed parish multipurpose hall. Wouldn’t you know that the ladies had some delicious sweets ready for us and we toasted this “grand opening” and happy occasion with our glasses in hand.
But our hosts had one more treat for us: A never-ending meal with too many courses and plates to count. The food was superb, but the company was the best. Now that I have family in Kobayat, I promised to return. And, dear friends don’t forget, they are also part of your family.
Tomorrow, we travel East for another rural visit and more families to meet.
Below is a short video with a few highlights from our day.
5 December 2011
Tags: Lebanon CNEWA Middle East Msgr. John E. Kozar
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, meets with Ignatius Joseph III, Syriac Catholic
patriarch of Antioch.
Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s president, began his pastoral visit to the Holy Land today. His first stop: Lebanon. He met with Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Joseph III, who assured Msgr. Kozar of his continued prayers and support as he begins his first journey to the Holy Land. Late today, Msgr. Kozar e-mailed us his first impressions of his trip:
What a wonderful first day in Lebanon — hard to believe this is my first visit to this part of the world. I say this because everyone thus far has made me feel so much at home and as part of the Lebanese church.
I think Father Guido Gockel, Issam Bishara and I set a Guinness Record by visiting four patriarchs in one day.
We began by meeting the Syriac Catholic patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Joseph III, who had spent many years in our region as a bishop in New Jersey. He warmly welcomed us and showed us some very poignant reminders of the ugly civil war that had gutted this small nation. This was evidenced by the remnants of shelled buildings standing in the shadows of newly constructed buildings. He told us how as a young priest he would run between the chancery and the cathedral, hoping not to be shot by snipers armed and ready to kill.
He also sends special greetings to all his many friends in the greater New York area.
On to a visit with the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX, who invited about a dozen chancery officials, clerical and lay, to share with us their roles in the administration of the Armenian Catholic Church. It was a good time for sharing and for me personally to continue to get a fuller picture of the political and religious realities in Lebanon.
On our next stop we visited with some religious women who represented congregations that are especially active in collaborating with CNEWA: These are the women on the “front lines” in offering help to the poor. The discussions were very open and frank, and I especially appreciated how they portrayed the significant and very frustrating challenges in giving service to the poor. The government does not have any public child care institutions and relies on the Catholic Church to fulfill this need, promising to reimburse it for her service. But there is no reimbursement. The need for assistance is most compelling, and this also applies to clinics and hospitals and services to special needs groups.
Our visit with Aram I, the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia, was very warm. He is a graduate of Fordham University in New York and speaks glowingly of his time in New York. Father Guido and I each received copies of his recently authored books and he promised to visit us next October when he comes to the United States.
The crowning jewel of the day was a dinner with the Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Bechara Peter Rai. Before being greeted by His Beatitude, I was interviewed by members of the press. Afterward, we were taken to the chapel to greet the patriarch. There, we had a big surprise: With him was a line of special ecclesial dignitaries that included the patriarch emeritus, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir; the bishop of Beirut; the patriarchal vicar general, Archbishop Paul Sayah, a good friend from the recent visit of the patriarch to New York and five other bishops.
We were all warmly escorted to the dining room to join the patriarch in a lovely dinner. The mood was totally upbeat and the patriarch was in rare form. After dinner, we retired to the formal receiving room for tea. The patriarch noted that in the very chair in which I was sitting he sat when he was called in to be told that he had been elected patriarch of the Maronite Church. Cardinal Sfeir was also in good humor and I made a point of brushing off his comment that he is now old and invited him to come to New York, where he would feel young again.
Considering Father Guido and I only arrived at 2:30 this morning, we certainly had a full day, and a very happy one. I already feel at home in Lebanon.
Tomorrow, I want you to join us as we go on a long trip to the countryside to meet some special farmers who are part of our CNEWA family.
*Editor’s Note: Msgr. Kozar is in the Holy Land as part of his first pastoral visit to the region as president of CNEWA. Traveling with him is CNEWA’s vice president for the Middle East, Father Guido Gockel.
In Lebanon, he is joined by CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon and Syria, Issam Bishara. They will be joined by Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq, while in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In Israel and Palestine, the team will be joined by our regional director there, Sami El-Yousef.
Also today, he met with the Pontifical Mission staff in Beirut, and with a number of sisters, lay people and religious who are carrying out CNEWA’s work. Below is a brief audio clip from the meeting in which he shared his enthusiasm and excitement:
29 November 2011
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Msgr. John E. Kozar
Nasrin Abdul-Ahad Aziz, 53, and her husband Tali Mati Nasser, left, have lost several family members as a result of ethnic and sectarian violence in Iraq. They now reside in Hamdaniya, Iraq. (photo: Safin Hamed)
Iraqi Christians are now calling the Kurdish-controlled northern region of Iraq home, as we report in the November issue of ONE:
“I saw injustice in Mosul. I want to start a new life here,” says Salam Talia, a 23-year-old Iraqi Christian. The young man sits on a sofa between his middle-aged parents in their newly built apartment in Hamdaniya, a historically Christian town about 20 miles southeast of the city of Mosul. On one of the living room walls hangs a large image of Jesus surrounded by photos of family members killed in the war and the sectarian violence that has ravaged the nation for the past eight years.
Despite the trauma they suffered in their native Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city and capital of the Nineveh Governorate, the Talia family considers itself fortunate and even expresses a measure of happiness with their new lives in Hamdaniya. They no longer fear practicing their faith and attend church regularly. They have made friends and are settling into their new home.
For more from this story, see A New Genesis in Nineveh by Namo Abdulla.
28 November 2011
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians
Five-year-old Alexi, a member of the mostly Filipino Sacred Heart Latin Catholic parish in Amman, Jordan, loves to dance. (photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
In the current issue of ONE we feature a story on the Filipino migrant community in Jordan and the work of those who offer its members support and comfort:
A congenial 67-year-old Jesuit priest from Boston, who wears slacks and sandals under his vestments, Father O’Connell, looks and acts the part of a wise, friendly grandfather.
He helps the choir and he holds the lease on a house where the choir rehearses and other church groups gather. Father O’Connell also oversees the Sacred Heart youth basketball team and helped a group of youngsters from the church secure a space in the Jesuit Fathers’ center where they can breakdance.
Most important, Father O’Connell spends much of his energy responding to the spiritual, emotional and material needs of his predominantly Filipino congregation and other Filipino migrants in the country.
“I understood that the first task was to give people a place where they could be at home,” says Father O’Connell. “For these people, just the ongoing, regular liturgy — with Filipino music, with people reading, with them being able to participate in whatever way they want — gives a strand of consistency and continuity. It’s their home. It’s their place. In most cases, there’s no place else they can gather.”
For more from this story, see Far From Home by Nicholas Seeley.
23 November 2011
Tags: Middle East Jordan Cultural Identity Emigration Teresian Association
Earlier this week, our own Father Guido Gockel, Vice President for the Middle East and Europe, appeared on “Catholic Matters,” a program on the Guadalupe Radio Network, to talk about the prospects of peace in the Holy Land — a subject he discussed at length during a recent talk in Washington.
The audio of his interview appears below.
18 November 2011
Tags: CNEWA Holy Land
Each of these three women lost family members in Chechnya’s Second Chechen War in 1999. They came to Georgia along with other refugees. Most of them live in Pankisi Gorge — where Kisti-Georgians settled about 150 years ago after migrating from present day Chechnya.
(photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
Photographer Justyna Mielnikiewicz has spent many years documenting the people of the Caucasus and Georgia in particular. Using images like the one above, she’s helped capture the storied history and dynamic culture of this diverse region. In our November 2009 interview with Mielnikiewicz she shared her goal of documenting life in Georgia.
You can read more about the Caucasus region in Where Europe Meets Asia.
16 November 2011
Tags: War Georgia Eastern Europe Caucasus
An altar server stands near a statue of Jesus in a Syriac Catholic church
outside Stockholm, Sweden. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
Yesterday, two U.S. Bishops suggested ways Americans and Catholics can help the people of Iraq during a press conference at the USCCB’s annual fall meeting in Baltimore:
Bishop Murry said that to aid Iraq he envisioned a “modern-day version of the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.”
“When something comes up that our country and other countries consider important we do find the money,” he said. “Iraq is suffering from the results of the war. The United States and the nations that joined with it in the war can help Iraq rebuild their infrastructure and rebuild their country.”
Bishop Murry added, “We have to be open to Iraqi refugees coming to this country, and to countries in Western Europe.”
For more from this Catholic News story, see Bishops Urge Catholics to Help Iraqis.
In the May issue of ONE, we featured a story on Iraqi refugees in Sweden and the challenges they face.
However, it is the mass repatriation of Iraqi asylum seekers that has panicked Sweden’s Iraqi Christian community, especially in light of the recent string of attacks against Iraq’s Christians — including the massacre in a Baghdad Syriac Catholic cathedral that left 52 dead last October. Currently, some 2,600 Iraqi asylum seekers in Sweden await deportation. Many are Christians with well–founded fears of persecution back home in Iraq. Last October, the European Court of Human Rights issued a statement urging Sweden to suspend the deportations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, church leaders and human rights activists have also sharply criticized the policy.
For more from this story, see A Nordic Refuge No More by Anna Jonasson. To learn how you can support Iraqis in need, visit our web site.
9 November 2011
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Emigration
Students have lunch at St. Charles School in Achrafieh located in east Beirut. 784 students, Muslim and Christian, attend St. Charles. (photo: Sarah Hunter)
In the July 2008 issue of ONE Spencer Osberg explored the role of Catholic Schools in Lebanon during and after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war:
The war is over, but Lebanon’s Catholic educators continue to provide a well-rounded education to all, regardless of creed. Today, the country’s 365 Catholic schools instruct some 200,000 students — about 22 percent of Lebanon’s school-age population — from all of Lebanon’s 18 officially recognized religious communities. Over 25 percent of the total student body is Muslim and, in many schools, Muslim students are the majority. Likewise, the approximately 12,800 teaching staff and 900 administrators employed by the Catholic school system represent every confession.
At Notre Dame College, a school of the Antonine Sisters in the southern village of Nabatieh, most students are Muslim.
“Our students in Nabatieh are as dear to us as our students in Ghazir,” said Sister Dominique. “Muhammad, Hassan, Ahmed, Tony, Joseph or George, it’s the same thing. We do not distinguish between them. We love them all.”
For more from this story see Pillars of Lebanon.
8 November 2011
Tags: Lebanon Beirut Catholic Schools
In this unpublished 2003 photo from our archive, a woman prays at an Orthodox church in
Kamishly, Syria. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
With all of the news of violence and unrest coming from Syria, we want to remind you all to keep the people of Syria in your prayers and thoughts:
The death toll from Syria’s revolt was reported on Tuesday to have mounted significantly as government troops pursued a bloody assault to retake Homs, the country’s third-largest city, where loyalists are facing armed defectors who have prevented the government’s forces from seizing it as they did other restive locales this summer.
The confrontation may stand as one of the most violent episodes of the eight-month uprising.
For more from this story see Death Toll in Syria Mounts as Government Assault Continues on NYTimes.com. To learn more about Syria’s Christian community, check our our feature from last year’s Special Edition on Christians in the Middle East.
Tags: Syria Middle East Syriac Orthodox Church