6 June 2016
A group of Maronite Catholics from the United States traveled to Rome last weekend with their Lebanese bishop, who spoke of his country’s challenges during the present refugee crisis.
(video: Rome Reports)
US-backed force in Syria closes in on ISIS-held city (Reuters) U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have surrounded the Islamic State-held city of Manbij from three sides as they press an offensive against the jihadists near the Turkish border, a spokesman for the fighters said on Monday. The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), including the powerful Kurdish YPG militia and Arab allies, launched the attack last week with the ultimate aim of dislodging Islamic State from its last foothold at the Syrian-Turkish frontier...
World’s Muslims mark beginning of Ramadan (Al Jazeera) Millions of Muslims around the world are marking the start of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday, a time marked by intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and good deeds . Religious authorities in most Middle Eastern countries announced the new moon of Ramadan was spotted on Sunday evening...
Syrian children are breadwinners in Lebanon (Associated Press) More than 1.1 million Syrians have sought refuge here since the start of the 2011 uprising, more than half of them children. The U.N.’s children agency, UNICEF, says there are 2.8 million children out of school in the region, and child refugees are particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse, with large numbers having no choice but to go to work...
Synagogue hosts welcome dinner for Syrian refugees (The Washington Post) In Syria, Mostafa Hassoun was told that Jews were the enemy of Syrians and that Israel was out to occupy and oppress his people. But then he fled his country — and he gained access to the Internet. One of the first topics he read about online was the Holocaust. And his attitude shifted drastically. On Thursday, Hassoun found himself in a building he might never have thought he would enter — a synagogue — to speak to people he had been taught to hate — Jews...
Thousands attend memorial for Ethiopian Jews who died on way to Israel (The Jerusalem Post) At a ceremony Sunday memorializing those who perished en route from Ethiopia to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to eradicate racism in Israeli society. “This is an alarming phenomenon among us. It’s something that is unacceptable,” he said at the national memorial ceremony held on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl. “We are against this with all our might, and it has no place in Israel. You are the flesh of our flesh, an integral part of our nation, equal among equals...”
Vladimir Putin visits Mount Athos (BBC) Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the monasteries at Mount Athos, in northern Greece, one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites. Mr. Putin joined celebrations at the monastery of St Panteleimon to mark 1,000 years of Russian monks at Mount Athos. He was accompanied by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church...
2 June 2016
Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu helps administer a church-funded school food program for children who lack the means for daily lunch. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
If you want to find a real CNEWA hero, consider looking in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, where a woman named Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu oversees nearly 1,000 children at the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School.
A member of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Ayelech has a special mission to “serve the poorest of the poor.” This includes making regular visits to 30 poor families, whose children attend the school. Some of the parents have tested positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
She told us some of her story several months ago:
My work brings me satisfaction. The children continue studying, and some of them go to university. But it is first the will of God that is most important to me. God is very good to me. He made so many things happen to me in my life, so many things that I couldn’t have done by myself. God is always with me. Every day, he is with me.
I think God has given me the gift to lead. But I have struggled to lead, to reach this place. I have made a lot of mistakes, many times. Every day is a struggle. Every day we are trying to change. We are trying to live for God. We fail on a daily basis. We argue with the sisters. We argue with people in the work place. In spite of all this, forgiveness is there — we forgive each other. We are trying to do our work for God. We try to help each other in our spiritual life and in community life, too.
Her commitment and love for the people she serves is heroic — and, we think, even holy.
To help support Sister Ayelech, visit this link. And please keep her and her people in your prayers.
31 May 2016
Tags: Ethiopia Children Sisters Catholic education
Pope Pius XI, CNEWA’s founder, was born 159 years ago today. (photo: CNEWA)
The man we know as Pope Pius XI — Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti — was born on this date, 31 May, in 1857.
From 1919 to 1921, he served as papal nuncio to Poland, where he gained extensive firsthand knowledge of the Eastern churches —knowledge that would later help guide one of his most important moves: establishing the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in 1926.
Elected pope in 1922, he witnessed some pivotal moments of 20th century history, including the rise of Mussolini, the signing of the Lateran Treaty (which created an independent Vatican City state) and the growing threat of totalitarianism. Encyclopedia Britannica notes:
Pius XI, a student of Hebrew, was responsible for the three major encyclicals against the totalitarian systems that challenged Christian principles: “Non Abbiamo Bisogno” (1931; [We Do Not Need to Acquaint You]) against the abuses of Fascist Italy; “Mit Brennender Sorge” (1937; “With Deep Anxiety”) against Nazi Germany, and “Divini Redemptoris” (1937; “Divine Redeemer”) against the ends of atheistic communism. Under his leadership the Vatican challenged the extreme nationalism of Action Français in France and the anti-Semitism of the Reverend Coughlin in the United States.
But for us at CNEWA, a critical decision he made 90 years ago would leave an indelible mark and launch a new era:
On 13 March, Pope Pius XI merged The Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Catholic Union into a new pontifical association with Father Walsh as its President. Catholic Near East Welfare Association was retained as the name of this new pontifical organization. The Board of Trustees agreed to continue to use the original civil charter.
The new CNEWA incorporated the purposes of both groups, including emergency relief in Asia Minor, the Balkans, Greece and Russia; religious welfare; education and the needs of the Eastern Catholic churches.
On 15 September 1926, the American Catholic bishops formally endorsed the new organization at their meeting in Washington, D.C., and named CNEWA as the sole instrumentality authorized to solicit funds for Catholic interests in Russia and the Near East.
His commitment to missions was total:
Surpassing his predecessors in support of overseas missions, he required every religious order to engage actively in this work, with the result that missionaries doubled their number during his pontificate. Most significant was his consecration of the first Chinese bishops, in 1926. He equally encouraged historians and liturgiologists to study Eastern Christianity, inaugurating the work of codifying Eastern canon law. In 1930 he witnessed the reunion of the Syro-Melankarese Christians (of southern India) with Rome.
Pope Pius XI died in 1939, but one of his enduring legacies remains the ongoing work of CNEWA around the world. He helped clarify and define the Catholic Church’s teaching on social justice, and made concern for one another a cornerstone of that teaching. As he wrote in his encyclical “Divini Redemptoris”: “It is the essence of social justice to demand from each individual all that is necessary for the common good.”
May he rest in peace.
26 May 2016
Tags: CNEWA Pope
Brother Donald Mansir and Bishop Denis Madden stand outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, circa 1997. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
One of the many unsung heroes in CNEWA’s story is a man who helped give new life to one of Christianity’s holiest sites. Four years ago, learning of his passing, Michael La Civita paid tribute to Brother Donald Mansir, F.S.C.:
A brother of the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools and a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Brother Donald joined CNEWA in 1989 as the field projects coordinator for the Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office. In 1990, he became its associate director, and later that year, he was named office director. As such, Brother Donald supervised the expansion of the agency’s programs and services in Palestine and Israel, earning respect for his balanced but strong advocacy for justice and peace issues throughout the Holy Land. In 1993, he succeeded Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C., as chief operating officer and vice president of the Pontifical Mission.
Brother Donald was instrumental in the restoration of the dome of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Working with CNEWA’s Msgr. Robert Stern and (then) Father Denis Madden, he brought together the shrine’s Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic custodians with concerned donors in the United States anxious about the dome’s structural integrity. To learn more about this “Turning Point for Christendom,” read Brother Donald’s own account published in CNEWA’s magazine in 1996. A year later, Father Denis Madden (now an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Baltimore) reflected on this historic moment engineered by this agency of the Holy See.
In 1996, reflecting on the restoration of the dome, Brother Donald offered his simple hope:
As the scaffolding is disassembled and the luminous cloud appears on the great dome … may God’s grace penetrate to the core of [pilgrims’] hearts.
24 May 2016
Tags: CNEWA Art Historical site/city Architecture
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets Sister Diana Momeka on a visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, in northern Iraq, last year. (photo: CNEWA)
Last year, a tiny powerhouse made headlines for her passionate witness on behalf of the suffering people of Iraq:
The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.
But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.
Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.
“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.
“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”
We chronicled the remarkable work she and her order have undertaken in the pages of our magazine:
“People came with fever, dehydration, diarrhea,” says Sister Diana. “They were sleeping on the ground with no tents in the beginning. After some days they got tents, but there was no clean water, and so no proper bathing. Diseases like scabies started to increase.” It became clear some sort of health service was essential, and thus was the Martha Schmouny Clinic born — first in tents donated by French charity SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, and later transformed into a cluster of three prefabricated containers donated by CNEWA.
As time has passed, and the reality of the Christians’ displacement has become more and more entrenched, the Martha Schmouny Clinic has continued to grow, its capacity and range of services expanding to provide a better safety net for the vulnerable community.
“We often talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in our work,” Sister Diana said as she made her way to the clinic early one recent morning. “We started the clinic like a small grain of yeast and now it has steadily increased like dough.”
Sister Diana remains a hero to those who fled their homes — and remains a great advocate for their cause. To learn how you can support suffering Christians in Iraq, visit this giving page.
20 May 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters
Most of the parishioners of St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral near San Diego emigrated from Iraq in the last 20 years. To learn more about this vibrant faith community, read East Goes West from the January-February 2004 edition of our magazine. (photo: Lyon Liew)
20 May 2016
The video above explains how Syrian bishops, religious organizations are seeking to stop sanctions on Syria, as a new report reveals countries are not delivering on aid they pledged to the war-torn country. (video: Rome Reports)
Israeli defense minister resigns (The New York Times) The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, announced on Friday that he was resigning, an abrupt move that comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly conducts negotiations with a far-right party to join his government. As part of those negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu is believed to have offered the position of defense minister to Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party...
Air disaster adds to Egypt’s litany of woes (NPR) The cause isn’t yet known, but the loss of an Egyptian plane into the Mediterranean has already delivered a new round of trauma to a beleaguered country struggling on several fronts. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s hardline rule faces mounting criticism at home and abroad. An ISIS-linked group is waging an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. The tourist industry has been in the doldrums for years. And the EgyptAir plane that vanished early Thursday marked the country’s second aviation disaster in just over six months...
Report: Countries not fulfilling pledges to help refugees (The Guardian) Countries who attended a London summit to help Syrian refugees have so far only committed a sixth of the money they pledged for 2016, a report shows. The money is due to be allocated to help countries in the region surrounding Syria, primarily Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, with a focus on Syrian children’s education and improving the chances of refugees finding paid work...
Over 100 reported killed by floods, landslides in Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) About 100 people have been killed by floods and landslides across Ethiopia that started last month, government officials say. At least 20,000 families have been made homeless, according to the UN, while local officials say there are a number of people still missing. Meteorologists have blamed this year’s particularly powerful El Niño weather phenomenon for the country’s high rainfall...
Aid from UAE headed to Iraqi refugees (Fides) The eleven Iraqi Christian refugee families in Mosul who found hospitality in Naur, western urban area of the municipality in Amman, will also receive this year material aid reserved for them from the United Arab Emirates...
Commission says suicides on the rise in Gaza (Gulf News) Independent Commission for Human Right’s (ICHR) figures show six suicides in Gaza since the beginning of this year whereas five Gazans took their lives in the entire 2015. The commission urged the situation in Gaza be addressed by the entire society which must establish a national mental health committee to tackle the suicides. The ICHR said there is a sharp increase in the rate of suicide attempts, too...
19 May 2016
Carol Hunnybun served CNEWA in the Middle East for nearly two decades.
(photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
“A dauntless dame” is how CNEWA’s Michael La Civita described the indefatigable Carol Hunnybun in 1994. She joined CNEWA in Beirut in 1963, and eventually served with Helen Breen as administrators of our Jerusalem office from 1966 until 1982.
In an interview, she was asked about one corner of that world that has become a flashpoint for war and suffering, Gaza:
“I used to go down to Gaza once a week. I hated the place. It’s a horrible place. So much human misery; so much dirt; there are no drains in the camps. In the summer it’s not so bad; everything dries up. But in winter when the sand becomes muddy and greasy, you can imagine what it’s like.”
Before the troubles, she added, Gaza had fertile soil, beautiful orange groves and abundant vegetable gardens. But this changed “when all you have is thousands of refugees and ghastly living conditions.”
Over the years, Carol Hunnybun contributed several articles to the magazine, always writing about CNEWA’s world with candor, compassion and grace. In 1979, she captured the essence of CNEWA’s mission, as she described one facility in Bethlehem which CNEWA supported:
Three groups have joined together, and they have achieved great things. Each group brings a gift. First there are the committee members and the staff: their gift is dedication. Then there are the patients: their gift is courage. The donors are next: their gift is love. The gifts form a triple bond that unites all three and fires the Home with a special spirit. By these gifts and with God’s help, miracles still happen in Bethlehem.
Thanks to Carol Hunnybun and countless other heroes like her, miracles still happen in every corner of our world. Visit this link to learn how you can be a part of our mission.
19 May 2016
Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus care for orphans at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa. To learn about this orphanage, read Where Every Child Has a Name in the September-October 2001 edition of our magazine. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
19 May 2016
In the video above, a priest from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum explains the pope’s project for refugees in Jordan. Today, Pope Francis spoke to diplomats at the Vatican and encouraged them to work on behalf of migrants and those caring for them. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope to diplomats: do not give in to fear in helping migrants (CNS) While the international community should continue working for peace in war-torn countries, it also must work to help migrants escaping violence and persecution as well as those caring for them, Pope Francis said. In a speech 19 May to six new ambassadors to the Holy See, the pope said that while fears of terrorism and changing a nation’s culture cannot be dismissed lightly, the concerns must “be addressed in an intelligent and creative way so that the rights and needs of all are respected and upheld...”
Search underway for missing EgyptAir flight (CNN) EgyptAir Flight 804 vanished from radar on its way from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard, the airline said Thursday. The plane was flying at 37,000 feet when it lost contact overnight above the Mediterranean Sea, the airline tweeted. French President Francois Hollande said he was told the flight crashed, but Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi said he preferred to classify the flight as missing...
New bishop in India vows to evangelize (Crux) In what could seem simply Vatican business as usual, Pope Francis last month created a new diocese in the Indian state of Odisha and named its first bishop. It’s anything but ordinary, however, because Odisha, formerly known as Orissa, was the setting for the worst anti-Christian pogrom in the early 21st century. In late 2007 and again in the summer of 2008, mobs of radical Hindus left 100 people killed, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 Christians taking refuge in a nearby forest, where more died of hunger, thirst and snakebite. Bishop Aplinar Senapati of the new diocese of Rayagada says the main thrust of his mission in this battle-scarred territory will be evangelization...
How a 100-year-old agreement made the modern Middle East (America Magazine) The Sykes-Picot Agreement, one of the most fateful pacts in modern history, was signed 100 years ago on 16 May 1916. It is not an anniversary to be celebrated...
The suffering of Syria’s Christians taught him how to be a priest (CNA) Father Rodrigo Miranda is a priest from Chile. But it was in Syria, among the oppressed Christian community, that he learned what it really meant to be a priest. “They wake us up to the essential and important things in life,” he told the Spanish daily ABC. The witness of the persecuted Christians in Syria is “an antidote for the mediocre and decadent world of our societies...”
Metropolitan Tikhon congratulates Patriarch Kiril on DECR anniversary (OCA.org) In a letter dated 17 May 2016, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon offered congratulations to His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on the 70th Anniversary of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations [DECR]...