7 June 2016
In this image from the 1970’s, Msgr. John G. Nolan greets the children at the Pontifical Mission Orphanage in Bethlehem during one of his frequent visits. (photo: CNEWA)
“A rascal for God” is how longtime CNEWA president Msgr. Robert Stern described Bishop John G. Nolan, who served CNEWA for 25 years as National Secretary and then President. Bishop Nolan had “a fantastic imagination,” Msgr. Stern wrote, and loved a good story. But above all, this “rascal” had a special commitment to orphans, particularly those CNEWA helped support in Bethlehem.
As Msgr. Stern wrote not long after Bishop Nolan’s death in 1997:
His heart was always in the Holy Land. As did his predecessors, he spent every Christmas there. He always shared in the ceremony and splendor of Midnight Mass in Bethlehem. Then, Christmas morning, he would go to the Pontifical Mission Girls’ Orphanage and offer Mass for them. After, with the children gathered around him, the celebrant would become Santa Claus, giving each of them her gift.
“This is my parish,” he would say with deep feeling. “This is my family.”
His background and experience were far-ranging and far-reaching:
The youngest of six children, John Nolan was born in Mechanicville, N.Y. He entered the former St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville, Md., and completed theological studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and at Theological College of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Ordained for the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., on 11 June 1949, Bishop Nolan served in parishes and held a number of teaching positions, including a post at the College of St. Rose. In 1956, Bishop Nolan earned a doctorate in theology from Catholic University.
Appointed to CNEWA in 1962, Bishop Nolan succeeded Archbishop (then Msgr.) Joseph T. Ryan as National Secretary in 1965. Bishop Nolan initiated a number of fund-raising programs, including an Annuity Program in 1968. Children were dear to the heart of Bishop Nolan and he started CNEWA’s Needy Child Sponsorship Program during his tenure. An expert on Middle East affairs, he visited the region often and was regularly consulted by the Holy See. In 1974, Bishop Nolan established Catholic Near East magazine. In 1985, he initiated a reorganization of CNEWA to expand its services.
Ordained by Pope John Paul II in Rome on 6 January 1988, Bishop Nolan was responsible for the chaplaincy program for U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe. Among his many awards was the Gold Cross of the Council of Rhodes, presented by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1967. Bishop Nolan was the first Catholic to receive this award.
In 1976, our magazine described his great commitment to the care of orphans of Bethlehem:
Monsignor John Nolan, President of the Pontifical Mission and National Secretary of Catholic Near East, has spent many a Christmas with “his children.” His greatest wish is that each child in need will find a home here as these happy youngsters have, and that no child in Bethlehem need ever hear the words, “There is room...”
But perhaps it was Msgr. Stern who best captured his character and personality:
Wherever he went, whomever he was with, he would spin them a fascinating tale...His imagination was so great that he always imagined others would respond with the same love he had.
At Bishop Nolan’s funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, when all the tributes were paid and prayers said, his former boss and good friend, John Cardinal O’Connor, fondly reminded the congregation that, besides everything else, John Nolan was a rascal!
The world needs more heroic “rascals” like John Nolan — and we’re grateful his legacy lives on in CNEWA’s care for children around the world, care made possible through generous donors who help to give these little ones a place to call home.
To continue Bishop John G. Nolan’s work and help care for needy children, visit this page.
7 June 2016
Women from Manhari, Egypt, weave religious articles in a program supported by the eparchy. For a closer look at the challenges facing some Christians in that corner of the world, read Upper Egypt’s Copts in the July-August 2002 edition of our magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)
7 June 2016
Police officers secure the area near the scene of a bomb attack in Istanbul, Turkey,
on 7 June 2016. (photo: Defne Karadeniz/Getty Images)
At least 11 killed, dozens injured in rush hour car bombing in Istanbul (Chicago Tribune) Rush-hour car bomb attack targeting a bus carrying riot police killed 11 people and wounded 36 others Tuesday, Istanbul’s governor said. Speaking at the scene of the blast in the district of Beyazit, Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the dead included seven police officers and four civilians. At least three of the wounded were in serious condition. The explosion was caused by a bomb placed inside a car and was detonated as the police vehicle was passing by, Sahin said...
Assad vows to “liberate” Syria (Associated Press) The Syrian president vowed on Tuesday to “liberate” every inch of the country in the same way his troops earlier this year recaptured the historic town of Palmyra from the Islamic State group. Bashar Assad’s speech in front of the newly-elected parliament came as government forces pushed ahead in their offensive in the northern province of Raqqa, which is home to the de facto capital of IS and the seat of its self-proclaimed caliphate. Government forces have also almost encircled rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city...
Chaldean patriarch calls for an “exceptional Ramadan” (Fides) “The month of Ramadan offers a propitious time for fasting, prayer, repentance and to change mentality and behavior, in order to live in peace with oneself and others.” These are the first lines of the letter that Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I addressed to his Muslim compatriots, on the occasion of the holy month of Muslims, particularly characterized by the practice of fasting combined with prayer...
Ethiopia’s Christians mark Ramadan alongside Muslims (Andalou Agency) The sun had already sunk below the blood red horizon in Addis Ababa’s neighborhood of Semien Mazegaja as Jemal Ahmed and his wife Kebedech Aliyu prepared for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Sitting in their neat one-bedroom home with their year-old twins Ismael and Issac sleeping nearby, Jemal, a Muslim, and his Orthodox Christian wife Kebedech explained how their different faiths did not prevent them from honoring each other’s religions. “Thanks God, we lead a happy and cheerful marriage,” Jemal, 31, told Anadolu Agency. “We are faithful to our beliefs and a marriage that made us one...”
Restoration work begins on Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre (Fides) A major restoration project has begun at the shrine inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is said to have been buried before his resurrection. The experts involved in the work started yesterday, Monday 6 June. Greek architect Antonia Moropoulou, professor at the National Technical University of Athens, scientific coordinator of the project, said in some statements released to the media that the Aedicule structure is stable, but it needs urgent restoration, after years of exposure to environmental factors such as water, humidity and smoke candles...
6 June 2016
Students in Ethiopia examine their report cards for their final grades and evaluations for the year. To read more about schools in Addis Ababa, check out It’s Not Just Talk and Chalk from the Summer 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
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)