27 October 2017
Yesterday, the Catholic Guild at John F. Kennedy International Airport honored Deacon Greg Kandra, CNEWA’s multimedia editor, with the title of Clergy of the Year. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)
Being on the development team at CNEWA means my colleagues and I take to the road frequently to visit donors, parishes and the areas we serve. While the joys are numerous — meeting new people, discovering new places and being able to share stories of our work — we also deal with the foibles of travel, not the least of which are New York’s three ubiquitous airports. But at Terminal 4 at J.F.K., there’s a special place that makes things a bit more bearable. Our Lady of the Skies Chapel, serving Catholics at the airport since 1955, is a welcome solace, a space for Mass or quiet prayer. Notably, I’ve discovered, it’s one of the few spots in the airport where one is not subjected to the constant din of announcements about the perils of leaving luggage unattended.
It’s also special to us at CNEWA as this year, the chapel along with J.F.K.’s Catholic Guild and their affable chaplain, the Rev. Chris Piasta, honored our own Deacon Greg Kandra, as their “Clergy of the Year.” Yesterday, I was privileged to attend the chapel’s Annual Luncheon with Deacon Greg, a frequent traveling companion of mine, along with his wife, Siobhain, and several parishioners from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, Queens, where Deacon Greg serves.
In his brief remarks at the luncheon, held at the Cradle of Aviation museum in Garden City, NY, Deacon Greg mentioned that he was the first deacon to be honored by the chapel, noting that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate. He also noted that his ministry and the chapel’s are quite similar — meeting people wherever they are in their journey of life. Quoting the hymn “The Servant Song,” he concluded: “We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road. We are here to help each other — walk the mile and bear the load.”
The Rev. Antonin Kocurek, parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs; Siobhain Kandra; Bishop Nicholas DiMarzo of Brookyn; Deacon Greg Kandra; and the Rev. Francis Passenant, administrator of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, stand outside the Our Lady of the Skies Chapel Annual Luncheon. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)
21 September 2017
Last weekend, students and clergy from the Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays, New York presented CNEWA with a big check for a big amount. (photo: CNEWA)
I had the privilege this past weekend to return to the cheerful Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays, New York. For the third year in a row, CCD students collected funds for CNEWA and other charities, as part of their Lenten “Mite Box” activity, which was arranged by Religious Formation Director Eileen McPhelin and Marion Boden of the parish’s Committee of the Common Good (Marion gets a special thank you for greeting me with a hot cup of coffee after my long train ride from Penn Station!) During the 9:30 Mass, I gratefully received a check for $1,000 and was able to briefly thank the CCD students who made this all possible.
The funds will go to our work in the Middle East, especially for refugees in the region. The children for whom our partners are providing healthcare and education, I noted, are the same age as the students who raised this extraordinary amount.
Special thanks also to the pastor, the Rev. Edward Sheridan for his support each year, and the Rev. John Wachowicz, the newly-ordained assistant pastor, who I knew when we were both students at Fordham. (Go Rams!)
If your parish would like to make an impact for children and families in the Middle East and beyond, let me know. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
31 March 2017
The sun sets over the Mediterranean. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Yesterday, our last and most time-intensive day here in Lebanon, began as all of our days have, in the traffic-choked Beirut rush hour. But this morning, we were in for a dramatic change of scenery as we headed east over the mountains and into the Bekaa Valley. The fertile, flat landscape is where the majority of Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees reside and where, in some villages, they outnumber the native population. From deep in the valley, you can see the last mountain of Lebanon and see a guard post where Syria begins.
Accompanied by our Beirut regional director, Michel Constantin, and programs manager, Kamal Abdel Nour, our first stop was the Community Center of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Deir-al-Ahmar, run by Sister Amira Tabel. Over Lebanese coffee (which has become a standard of all of our program visits) she explained the center’s multifaceted, holistic approach to the Christian and Muslim Syrian refugee population it serves.
Sister Amira explains the Lebanese curriculum. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
“If a child asks what a nun is,” she told us, “I explain that a nun is someone who loves and serves everyone and doesn’t distinguish between their nationality or religion or anything else.” In addition to education following the Lebanese curriculum, the center also offers vocational training to young men and women and psycho-social training to parents and children. She has also worked to build a culture of peace and understanding, ensuring that the teachers are trained by social workers to utilize positive reinforcement to encourage every student.
Hearing Sister Amira describe her efforts was awe-inspiring. To ensure that children weren’t exploited by local farmers, she added classes to keep the kids at the school for longer hours. In another instance, Sister used cultural opportunities — such as how to remove henna — as a health lesson on how to wash hands. And when a student stopped coming to class for several days after a bad grade on a quiz, Sister invited the mother to sewing classes to encourage the family to remain involved in the school.
A student takes a break during his studies at the Good Shepherd social center.
(photo: Chris Kennedy)
We were able to visit a few classes and saw firsthand how Sister Amira’s ideals have been put into action. Students of all ages warmly greeted us in English, Arabic and French — all of which are taught in the Lebanese curriculum. Their commitment to their education is a commitment to the future of Lebanon. It’s no surprise that the Fratelli Association we visited on our first day modeled their work in southern Lebanon after the Good Shepherd Sisters.
After a delicious lunch with Bishop Hanna Rahme of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Baalbek-Deir El Ahmar, and with much more to see in the region, we ventured south to the city of Zahle, the economic center of the valley. There, we visited a Syrian refugee camp supported by CNEWA through the local Melkite eparchy. Over the last year, we’ve provided heating supplies and hygiene kits to over 1,200 refugee families, both Muslim and Christian. The warm welcome we received was overwhelming. The residents, who have been there since 2012, were quick to show us their tents, with makeshift kitchens and sleeping quarters. Children, most of whom have never known any other lifestyle, joyfully ran among the alleys — while oblivious to the omnipresent tripping hazards. Women and girls gathered scallions from a nearby garden. A few men sat sipping cups of afternoon tea before resuming work on a concrete walkway, a vast improvement over the gravel that quickly turns muddy in the rain. With the help of the local church, families have adjusted to their new normal. While we’ve encountered joyful people throughout the week, here we saw the most resilient.
A young girl stands in a Syrian refugee camp. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Saying several goodbyes to new friends of all ages, we drove up narrow lanes and steep hills to a diminutive apartment shared by two Catholic families from Homs, Syria. They clutched the rosaries around their necks as they explained that they had left behind everything amid the destruction of the city. The fathers are desperately seeking employment, and one explained that his wife is expecting a child. Through the work of the archdiocese, these families cannot be left behind.
After a long day, we climbed the mountain again in time to see the sun setting over the Mediterranean. We pray in a special way for the families we met, hoping that each day dawns brighter than the last.
Given the good work we’ve seen today, we know it will.
30 March 2017
A boy rolls clay in an art class at Father Robert’s Institute in Roumieh, Lebanon. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Our ears pop as we climb up the mountain in the car on our way to another site visit — this one near Roumieh, Lebanon. Out the window are herders and their sheep, olive and pine trees, and a view worth writing home about. From this height, we see that there are even higher mountains due East, and the next range over is topped with snow. A light sea breeze on this sunny day guides us along. On a day like this, you could enjoy swimming in the Mediterranean and then drive an hour to ski — a testament to the geography’s diversity. Everything here is diverse: the land, the food, the people, the church.
While much of CNEWA’s work in Lebanon and beyond is centered around some very basic humanitarian needs — schools, hospitals and refugee camps, for example — our specific mandate from the Holy Father to accompany the Eastern churches means that all our humanitarian work carries with it a crucial spiritual component. That is, the work that we do is an extension of the hands of Christ, and while we offer support to all — regardless of creed or background — our love for all comes from our pastoral roots.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter meets with Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, left; Michel Constantin, CNEWA regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, center right; and Chris Kennedy, development associate, right. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
That has been especially evident in today’s pastoral visit as we continue to accompany Msgr. Kozar in meeting the papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia; Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter of Antioch, the head of the largest church in Lebanon; and finally Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III. Not only was it an honor to meet them, but it was also touching to hear of their genuine, profound concern for Christians and all people throughout the Middle East.
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III chats with Msgr. Kozar outside of Roumieh. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
Their pastoral perspective was enlightening, as were the views of the Basilian Chouerite Sisters, a Melkite order, who kindly fed us a traditional Lebanese lunch. These sisters run Father Robert’s Institute, which serves over 100 students with hearing impairment, autism, cerebral palsy or other special needs, offering each an education and vocational training in a way that equips these students to confront a world that may not understand the challenges they face.
Father Robert’s has seen students go on to university and gainful employment. One recent graduate is, in fact, currently tutoring students at his university. We observed several classes: an auditory training where students were practicing on percussion instruments, a physical therapy class where students no older than 7 made their way through an obstacle course, and one-on-one special education for a young girl with autism. In each class, the enthusiasm and care of the instructors was palpable and contagious.
A girl attends an auditory training session at Father Robert’s Institute. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Our final visit of the day was to St. Ann’s Greek Catholic Seminary where 17 young men from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria are preparing to serve the church as priests. It’s one of hundreds of seminaries CNEWA supports throughout the areas we serve. We asked how their vocation applied especially to caring for people who are suffering, and their answers were deeply moving. They explained that, on a practical level, the focus of their dioceses was to continue to provide educational programs — but above and beyond that, the seminarians all desired to ensure that the faith of their ancestors was passed down to youth in their community, even amidst ongoing turmoil.
One seminarian spoke of returning to his hometown of 500 people — a town that once held 65,000. Another seminarian, a deacon, acknowledged the real and present danger that his community might resort to violence as an answer to violence. For him, his hope was to offer a third way: that, through education and example, they can instead build a culture of forgiveness, understanding and, someday, peace. At the end of our meeting, they sang an ancient Melkite chant in Arabic, “God Is With Us.” We could hear the faith and resilience as their voices filled the hall, and it moved us to tears.
Seminarians from Jordan and Syria chat with visitors at St. Ann’s Greek Catholic Seminary. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Back down the mountain, we prepare for our final day in Lebanon — a trip to the Bekaa Valley. We’ll be carrying some of the courage and hope the resilient people we’ve met have shared with us.
29 March 2017
Tags: Lebanon Children Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Seminarians Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch
The view from atop the Shrine of Our Lady of Mantara presents a stunning vista of the cathedral, village and surrounding countryside. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
Something about being in a place so different from the one you call home can, at first, overwhelm your senses. It’s the smells of the manakeesh, a Lebanese pizza of sorts. It’s the church bells mingled with the call to prayer. It’s the green mountains against the calm sea — a much different sight than the stone-cold steel and concrete of New York City. And of course, it’s the laughter and joy of refugee children — smiles born out of hope they found as they were accompanied by the love and support of CNEWA.
All of it can be a lot to take in, so on our third day of reviewing CNEWA-sponsored programs, we sat over a simple but delicious meal of Lebanese mezze (various small snack dishes) in Beirut to jot out a few thoughts and process a little more of our trip together. We’ve visited four institutions thus far: Monday brought us to the St. Antoine Dispensary run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Angels of Peace School run by the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate. Tuesday’s visits included the Fratelli School for Syrian refugees run by the Marist and Lasallian Brothers, as well as a visit to the Joint Christian Committee School for Syrian refugees of Palestinian origin.
A student enjoys a snack at the Fratelli School. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
We both agreed, immediately, that the programs exude overwhelmingly beautiful warmth of spirit. Despite each person we met having endured unimaginable suffering in his or her own way, their joy was contagious.
At the St. Antoine Dispensary, judiciously overseen by Sister Antoinette Assaf, Iraqi refugees who have settled in the neighborhood, along with poor Lebanese, receive much more than medical care. There is a strong focus on education and awareness, especially because many of the refugees were unaware of the hygienic challenges of living in a dense urban setting. New waves of refugees, from different parts of the country, have brought new challenges, and Sister Antoinette, with help from CNEWA, has responded quickly. Currently, the clinic offers services in ophthalmology, dermatology, dental services and gynecology, which, thanks to our support, are available for just $12 for each patient — a cost the clinic sometimes covers when the poorest of the poor cannot.
The Angels of Peace School, which Chris wrote about yesterday, hosts almost 500 Iraqi Christian refugees. With the support of our Beirut office, the Rev. Youssef Yaacoub has rented out a private school that his students and teachers can use each afternoon. Every student had a smile for us.
And, of course, visiting the Fratelli School, near Saida, was a real treat. Run jointly by the Marist and Lasallian Brothers at the request of Pope Francis for congregations to join together to tackle the challenges facing refugees, this institution hosts 270 Syrian students, both Muslim and Christian. We met the dynamic Brother Andres Gutierrez, who oversees the school along with Brother Miquel Cubeles, a Marist from Barcelona. When we arrived, the students were at lunch and recess, and eagerly approached us on the colorful playground. Many even offered us their food, an act of charity that moved us deeply.
The spirit of generosity is evident in the Fratelli School. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
Brother Andre explained that he had rebuilt the school when he arrived, as the structure had sat abandoned for over 25 years prior to his arrival. The school has been open for just a year, and in that time they’ve completed several classrooms, a kitchen, a residence for the brothers and a computer lab. As it focuses on acclimating refugee students to the Lebanese curriculum, which is taught in French and English as opposed to the Arabic Syrian students are used to, the school will function as a remedial program of sorts, easing students into the Lebanese school system to improve their likelihood of success.
A Fratelli School student greets visitors. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
We also visited a nearby high school in Saida for 213 Syrian students of mostly Palestinian origin. It focuses on training students who aim to take the Syrian national examinations, which are recognized worldwide and required for students before they can go to college. We dropped by a few classes, where young men and women were busy studying and taking practice tests. Someday, we pray, they will return to Syria to help rebuild their country.
A view from the entrance of Our Lady of Mantara Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
On the way back to Beirut after a full day, we stopped at the impressive Shrine of Our Lady of Mantara in the Melkite village of Maghdouche. According to tradition, Mary waited in a cave here while Jesus was preaching in Tyre and Sidon, known today as Saida. The spot is marked by an ornate Melkite Greek Catholic church and a tower offering beautiful views of Saida and the Mediterranean. We were struck by how many refugees have been “waiting,” perhaps wondering where their lives might lead. So many are in limbo, but with CNEWA’s support, there is a path forward. As Msgr. Kozar told students we visited, “There is a bright future” awaiting these students who prepare now for the hard road ahead. It won’t be easy, but hope is always a light in the dark.
Msgr. Kozar addresses a classroom in the Joint Christian Committee School. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
As we cross the halfway point in our journey, we’re constantly reminded of the light CNEWA brings to many. Hope is in the face of everyone we’ve met. The mission is alive — we’ve seen it!
27 March 2017
Tags: Lebanon Refugees CNEWA Catholic Reflections/Inspirational
Some of the young students — Iraqi Christians who have found refuge in Lebanon — greet visitors at the Angels of Peace School in Nabaa, Lebanon. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Today, we paid a visit to the Angels of Peace School in Nabaa, established in 2013 by the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate and run by the Rev. Youssef Yaacoub.
Nearly 500 children, Iraqi Christians, receive math, science, Arabic and English instruction, and thanks to CNEWA, computer instruction in a new lab. This is part of our outreach to the at least 1,500 Syriac Catholic families living in and around Nabaa, on the outskirts of Beirut, near the Armenian Quarter.
We had an exceptional visit, and were greeted very warmly in all the classrooms we visited. Some even sang songs for us!
A few things stood out: the joy and positivity of the students, who were all smiles despite the suffering their families have had to endure for their safety. They were so joyful to be able to learn. Grades and classrooms were of mixed ages — the highest having ages 16-20 — and many students had clearly been practicing their English. Father Youssef’s personal story, of course, was inspiring and deeply moving — especially considering that he had been ordained just a few months before being held under house arrest by ISIS.
Lynn Constantin, from CNEWA’s Beirut office, says that with CNEWA’s help, the school hired a psychologist to help the children. Initially, she told me, Father Youssef wasn’t sure of the value of this, but after seeing the results he’s certain of its importance. It’s this kind of guidance, I think, that makes CNEWA’s work so valuable in this troubled corner of the world.
We also met the staff of the Beirut office this morning, many of whom have been working there over 20 years. Their rich experience in a variety of fields, and their diverse backgrounds (including civil engineering, finance, and journalism) ensures that the right questions are being asked and good advice is being given.
CNEWA development associate Chris Kennedy, Father Youssef Yaacoub and CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar. (photo: CNEWA)
27 March 2017
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar poses with some new friends he made Sunday at St. Elie Church in Antelias, Lebanon. Many of those attending Mass were from the Filipino migrant worker community. After the liturgy, they greeted Msgr. Kozar and eagerly posed for pictures. Msgr. Kozar will be visiting Lebanon all week; check back here regularly for updates.
(photo: Chris Kennedy)
24 March 2017
Syrian refugee children find hope at the community center founded by Sister Micheline Lattouff — and administered by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd — in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Greetings from Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. I’m about to depart for Lebanon, where I’ll be accompanying CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar on a pastoral visit, along with my colleague Philip Eubanks. We’ll be visiting a number of programs and projects that CNEWA supports, including a school in Beirut for Iraqi refugees, a Melkite seminary where a new generation of priests is being trained to minister to the poor and needy, and a school in the Bekaa Valley for Syrian students.
Philip and I will be posting updates daily here on the blog, as well as on CNEWA’s Facebook and Instagram pages. We invite you to join us digitally as we see firsthand how CNEWA and our donors, through the local church are bringing the gift of hope to children and families who might otherwise have none. It’s an opportunity we’re blessed to have, and blessed to share.
22 December 2016
The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, Massachusetts, features thousands of lights and a life-size nativity scene. (photo: Greg Kandra)
“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” These words, spoken frequently around CNEWA’s development department, are a good reminder that we, through our donors’ support, can bring the light of hope to children and families in some of the world’s darkest places.
The phrase, however, can also be interpreted literally. Nowhere is this more evident, perhaps, than at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, in Attleboro, Massachusetts, where over 300,000 Christmas lights shine brightly, illuminating a nativity scene, Stations of the Cross, and just about every tree and bush in sight.
The lights adorn almost every tree and bush on the large grounds of the shrine. (photo: Greg Kandra)
Deacon Greg Kandra and I were invited to speak at the Shrine on 10 December, for an Advent reflection appropriately titled, “Let There Be Light: Bringing Healing and Hope to the Middle East.” Together, we shared stories of our remarkable partners in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon — people such as the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, and Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil. Attendees included deacons from the Dioceses of Worcester and Fall River making a retreat, as well as members of Knights of Columbus councils from the area.
Christopher Kennedy speaks about CNEWA’s work in the Middle East. (photo: Greg Kandra)
We were there at the kind invitation of the shrine’s director, the Rev. Ted Brown, M.S., who was eager to welcome people from the area to learn more about CNEWA and how they can get more involved in our work. We were deeply gratified by the response — especially from those who promised to tell their parish families about our work.
The chapel and welcome center at the shrine are adorned with blue lights, evoking their patroness, Our Lady of La Salette. (photo: Greg Kandra)
With Father Ted’s kind hospitality, we also had time to tour the Shrine grounds. The lights turn on at 5 p.m. each evening, preceded by a recitation of the “Our Father” and the singing of “Silent Night.”
The shrine’s Crèche Museum displays thousands of nativity scenes from around the world. (photo: Greg Kandra)
The Shrine also includes the International Crèche Museum, a display of hundreds of crèches of a variety of sizes, materials, and countries of origin. Most notably for this writer of Québecois descent, the cafeteria featured Tourtiere, a meat pie of French-Canadian origin.
Overall, like every chance to bring CNEWA’s mission to new people, it was a wonderful visit. Each and every time I travel the country to share our work is truly a blessing and a reminder from God to keep lighting candles in the darkness.
The shrine grounds attract thousands of visitors every winter to see its light and Christmas displays. (photo: Greg Kandra)
If you want to bring CNEWA to your parish, and indeed help to light candles of hope, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly at email@example.com.
The shrine’s director, the Rev. Ted Brown, center, hosted Christopher Kennedy and Deacon Greg Kandra, who gave presentations on efforts to help Christians in the Middle East. (photo: CNEWA)
22 November 2016
Tags: CNEWA United States
CNEWA visited two parishes in Groton, Connecticut, last weekend, including St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer Catholic Church, where multimedia editor Deacon Greg Kandra preached at all the Masses. (photo: Christopher Kennedy)
Being at CNEWA for just over two years now, I often look back at my journey to working here as a development associate. You could say the journey began at any number of places — perhaps with my undergraduate degree in theology, or my year of service after college with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. But I’d say it truly began at my childhood parish of St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer in Groton, Connecticut, where I was fortunate to visit this past weekend with CNEWA multimedia editor Deacon Greg Kandra as part of our Parish Hope and Awareness Program.
The recent expansion of our Hope and Awareness program has literally taken us from coast-to-coast — as close as Long Island and as far away as California. But it was an honor to return home to the Connecticut coastline, where we were graciously welcomed by the Rev. Darius Dudzik, the pastor of St. Mary’s and its sister parish across town, Sacred Heart. Deacon Greg preached at all five weekend masses across both parishes, and I manned a table in the vestibules between Masses, offering more information about our work and some copies of ONE Magazine.
We set up a display table with information in the back of the church at St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer in Groton. (photo: Greg Kandra)
Parishioners were invited to sign up for CNEWA’s mailing list after Mass.
(photo: Catherine Hoffman)
Deacon Greg’s homily for the Feast of Christ the King began and ended with the plea of one of the men who was crucified next to Jesus, and who asked him, “Jesus, remember me.” This is the plea, Deacon Greg explained, of Christians across the Middle East who have fled violence and terror. Fortunately, their call for help is being answered by people like Sister Maria Hanna, mother superior of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. With CNEWA’s support, the Dominican Sisters have set up a primary school for displaced children in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, a health clinic serving remote villages, and an orphanage — and 400 young boys and girls recently received First Holy Communion under the sisters’ care.
Deacon Greg preached about remembering forgotten, suffering Christians at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Groton. (photo: Christopher Kennedy)
On a personal level, it was quite meaningful for me to be able to bring the good news of CNEWA’s work back home to Groton. A number of parishioners remembered me from my days as an altar boy and lector and occasional substitute organist, and were happy to see me again. Many had wondered what I had been up to since leaving home for college eight years ago. When they heard about CNEWA, they told me just how blessed I am to be working for such a worthy cause. I wholeheartedly agree.
If you’re interested in bringing CNEWA to your parish, please do let me know. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (212) 826-1480, ext. 504.
The Rev. Darius Dudzik, left, serves as pastor for two parishes in Groton, and hosted Deacon Greg Kandra and CNEWA development associate Christopher Kennedy on 19-20 November.