29 March 2018
Children play in the St. Rachel Center, a church institution that primarily serves the community of migrant workers in and around Jerusalem. CNEWA supports a variety of programs such as this, designed to help children around the world. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
I grew up in Tennessee and I’d often hear people say, “Blood is thicker than water.” But as someone who had been adopted, I sort of took on the mantra that “Love is also thicker than blood.”
Perhaps because I was adopted, my sense of family was always as widened — almost as though “family” was those I learned to love and those who loved and nurtured me, especially my church family.
Recently, CNEWA spoke with a donor who shared that wide sense of family in his support for our work and mission. Malcolm Donalson, professor emeritus of the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, had this to say about his own very personal experience with his family:
That CNEWA carries an outstanding credential, as a relief organization associated with the Holy Father, there can be no doubt. Certainly, to participate in CNEWA‘s programs for children in the Middle East is a blessing and can have long-lasting, positive consequences. In my own experience, assisting children in Ethiopia through CNEWA was an inspiration to take the further step and adopt children from overseas. When I lost one of my biological children in an auto accident, having considered adoption previously led to my active pursuit of an adoption from India. My acquaintance with other adoptive parents during the process easily lead to a second adoption, in this case, from China. Without question, the adoptions of my two daughters were some of the signal events of a lifetime. Now in their 20’s, they have been nothing but blessings to one another and to our family. I will forever be grateful to CNEWA for the opportunities it has afforded me, including the inspiration to adopt two of my children.
Our president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, often likes to refer to the work we do — whether that’s in the field overseas or here in the United States meeting with friends and supporters — as a matter of caring for our one “CNEWA family.” We’re grateful to consider Malcolm Donalson and his own as part of that big family.
If you’d like to support our children-in-need programs, and be a part of the CNEWA family, you can do so by visiting this link. Thank you!
28 November 2017
This little girl in Lebanon reminded us what generosity is all about — offering to share what little she had with a visitor. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
This #GivingTuesday is a special one for me. I spent some time this year reviewing our work on a pastoral visit in Lebanon and near the Syrian border. I saw firsthand the children we serve, many of whom — thanks to the local schools we support — are given not just an education and a safe place to better their future but also a warm meal they might not have had otherwise.
I wrote about one of these schools in particular in March:
“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, [the Fratelli Association] 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. [...] Brother Andres 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.”
As we visited during the lunch hour, the children were enjoying manoushe, a kind of Lebanese pizza, along with chips and a drink. One little girl, noticing I had nothing to eat, approached me and offered me one of her chips. I was caught entirely off-guard: a little girl who likely knew what it is to have nothing to eat wanted to make sure she shared what little she had.
As it says in the Gospel of Luke, “to whom much has been given, much will be required; and... to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” What of those to whom almost nothing has been given, even those to whom much has been taken from them, and yet they still give eagerly the little they have? When I come into our office hoping to give back — to give of my time and from my heart — I do so with that little girl in mind.
So, this #GivingTuesday is, indeed, a special one for me, because I know how much every gift is appreciated and that what’s shared from your heart is shared also in the actions, prayers, witness, and love of all those children of God we serve.
Whether in Lebanon or elsewhere among CNEWA’s global family, we hope you’ll help us make this #GivingTuesday one of sharing, whether you’re sharing our blog, our #GivingTuesday video, sharing your prayers and intentions, or sharing from your pocketbook. Thank you for helping us #filltheirplates, hopefully to overflow in abundance.
To make a gift, visit this link. Thank you!
15 May 2017
College freshman Christopher O’Hara greets CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar during a fundraiser hosted last week at Gallagher’s Steak House in New York City. Joining him are Christopher’s parents, Kelly and Chris O’Hara. (photo: CNEWA)
A little over a month ago, I was blessed to travel with CNEWA president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, on a pastoral visit to Lebanon. While there, we toured schools, medical clinics, a seminary, and refugee camps to see just how CNEWA accompanies the poor, suffering, and displaced throughout the Middle East. For me, it was a humbling trip — one that made me eager to return home and share with our donor family stories of the real need facing this community, as well as my own first-hand accounts of the tremendous good our donors have made possible.
With thanks to the O’Hara family and, in particular, their son Christopher, we were able to share a little about that trip recently at Gallagher’s Steakhouse in midtown Manhattan. Christopher is a freshmen with Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service who, as a junior at Chaminade High School on Long Island, wanted to reach out to help people in need. (Coincidentally, Father Walsh was CNEWA’s first president). Last year, Christopher organized a special evening to raise awareness and support for the Christian community in the Middle East and the people they serve.
During this year’s gathering, Msgr. Kozar not only shared stories from our trip to Lebanon, but also about his recent trip to Iraq as one of the first Westerners to visit some of the liberated towns on the Nineveh Plain.
Msgr. Kozar also spoke of a convent and a church he toured where extremists had used the buildings as target practice and ransacked every icon and liturgical book. He spoke of the courage of a group of parishioners who came with brooms to clean the church so that they could celebrate Easter Mass — with hardly any parishioners present.
The need has been particularly great across the Middle East lately, and that’s why an evening bringing together some of CNEWA’s friends and supporters in the greater New York City area was a real opportunity to provide an update of what’s happening — and make a difference at the same time. More than that, is exciting for us at CNEWA to know that we count young people among some of our most faithful supporters.
Christopher O’Hara’s efforts to raise awareness was inspiring to another group of youth, a volunteer initiative calling themselves “Relief United,” who recently held a Battle of the Bands concert to help Syrian refugees. (You can read about their efforts here.) Together, the students were able to show that the youth of today can offer powerful and faithful acts of generosity and mercy. All of us here at CNEWA could not be more thankful for their cheerful and enthusiastic service on our behalf.
If you’d like to support Christopher in his efforts to make an impact in the lives of this struggling community of faith in the Middle East, you can make a donation here.
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!
28 March 2017
Tags: Lebanon Refugees CNEWA Catholic Reflections/Inspirational
The sun sets over Beirut. (photo: Philip Eubanks)
At dusk, the tired sun slips behind the Mediterranean seeking rest, and as she goes, she leaves her imprint on the beige buildings of Beirut due East. The orange hues she paints are a way of welcoming in the night: the coming darkness isn't so ominous if, at day’s end, it’s ushered in with such ease.
Flying in to this ‘Paris of the Middle East,’ you can make out from the air already what’s below: a world of achingly beautiful, painful contradiction. The way the sun-kissed buildings are etched into the high hills above sea level make you feel as though the concrete structures grew up from the ground like trees. Though planned, there’s a seeming randomness to their presence. Imagine San Francisco with streets too narrow for a trolley. And there is, of course, a sharp shift from the flat blue of the Mediterranean to the sudden, green incline leading to Mount Lebanon.
The faster we descend toward the tarmac, the more those square buildings look like steps for a giant to make his way up and over the mountains all the way to Syria.
Before landing, you already feel welcome to Lebanon. The country’s Special Olympics team is also on our flight and these students chatter in excited Arabic, their medals clanking. An elderly gentleman wearing a blue cardigan sits next to me and offers his blueberry cake. We don’t share a common language, but that doesn’t prevent us from breaking bread together with a nod and a smile. The pushing and shoving to get off the plane doesn’t carry with it any animosity: it’s just what you do to get off the plane here. And as soon as you step off, you are greeted by the warm Mediterranean breeze.
On the ground, we drive through the city center, which is a collection of quiet, pristine apartments and government buildings — a post-war ghost town of sorts. There is one, clear road in Lebanon; it runs south to north and back again, and we’re on it all the way to Jal El Dib, where we settle into our hotel with a busy week ahead.
St. Elie Church was built as a labor of love in the late 1800’s. (photo: Philip Eubanks)
The first day on the ground, in many ways, depicts the diversity of this land. We celebrate Mass in the morning at St. Elie Church. The stone structure was cut by monks who built this sanctuary out of a labor of love in the late 1800’s. The inside of this Maronite parish is inviting in a powerful way, and as the pews gradually fill with Filipinos, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and a few Lebanese, this is the making of an unexpected family. They are nearly all migrant workers.
I am struck even now that when we tend to talk about our work in Lebanon and talk about accompanying the poor of the Eastern churches, the nature of the trending news means we generally think first of those displaced by the violence of war-torn regions, of refugees fleeing harm’s way. With so many refugees having done so, however, there are many migrants who have been pushed even further to the margins of society: they are, perhaps, the forgotten family, and to be with them is a sacred experience for me.
As the parish family sings loudly a Taize song that echoes off the stone walls and reverberates through your skin, I am moved by their faithfulness, their resilience. “Sing glory, honor, and praise,” the chorus goes, and something about it feels genuine and warm. These are a people who know precisely what these words mean, what it is to cherish the fragility of life and be grateful for what you have.
At the end of Mass, crowds rush to greet CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar, to hug him with gratitude, and we are met with smiles. I can think of no better way to have been welcomed to this beautiful country.
In the coming week, I can only hope to show and share that same spirit, a spirit of prayerful gratitude for everyone I encounter.
2 November 2016
Last Friday, Philip Eubanks, a development associate for CNEWA, visited a parish in Whiting, New Jersey to speak about the association’s work in the Middle East.
(photo: courtesy St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church)
Driving South on the Garden State Parkway last Friday, I noticed that even the autumn air feels like summer the closer you get to the beaches. That’s an excitement I’ve noticed anytime I’ve come near the Jersey shore. Close by are pristine sands, the cool waters of the Atlantic, cedar shake homes, and gulls riding the waves of the air. Yet, what I was most excited for was a chance to meet the good people who call Ocean County home, those brothers and sisters looking to make a difference in the world.
One of those good people is a high school sophomore — a 15-year-old young woman named Gianna Brucato — who got in touch with us in an effort to raise awareness about the plight of persecuted minorities in the Middle East. In working toward her Girl Scout Gold Award, Gianna wanted to know what she could do to spread the word of what is happening some 6,000 miles away. That’s what brought me to her parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Whiting, New Jersey.
When I stepped into the large parish hall, I was greeted almost immediately with questions from eager parishioners who wanted to know: are the people safe? And what is CNEWA doing that’s making a difference?
It gave me an opportunity to share about our work with, for, and through the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq whose heroic resilience has kept displaced children and families educated and healthy on the Nineveh Plain. Or, how in Syria, we are working to ensure infants have something as crucial as milk, so that they are sustained through the ongoing crisis.
It gave us a chance to connect the family of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and its community with the many families abroad we work daily to uplift and support.
And all because a young woman committed to making a difference gave us a call! The truth is, when I was 15, I was a Boy Scout about to earn my Eagle. I’d learned CPR and how to tie knots and how to camp. But for the life of me, I must confess it wasn't until much later that raising awareness for people hurting in another country was on my radar as something anyone my age could or would want to do, let alone something I could have thought possible as a teenager. I remain deeply grateful for the witness of Gianna and for the support of our donors in Whiting, New Jersey.
We’re always looking for new parishes to visit and spread our message. If you and your parish are interested in having us visit, simply drop us a line. You can contact me, Philip Eubanks, at firstname.lastname@example.org or our development director, Norma Intriago, at email@example.com.
The Rev. Pat Papalia and Gianna Brucato welcomed Philip Eubanks to the parish.
(photo: courtesy St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church)
29 April 2016
An estimated 200 people gathered at the United Nations yesterday to hear presentations on the topic of “Defending Religious Freedom and Other Rights: Stopping Mass Atrocities Against Christians and Other Believers.” (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
As I walked down First Avenue in New York City yesterday, I had my umbrella in tow; the clouds were threatening rain and none of the 193 flags of the United Nations were flapping. The skyscrapers nearby reflected the dreariness of the morning in their windows, and I wondered how the day’s story might shake out.
On occasion, my work with CNEWA takes me here to the UN building, where I’m able to encounter firsthand what’s happening in our world and how it affects those we serve.
The meeting this particular morning concerned the persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians and Yazidis — the very population CNEWA serves in the Middle East and elsewhere. As is normal for a meeting of this nature, we were to hear from academics and “experts in the field,” but what I didn’t expect were those who came to share their very personal stories.
The elevator to the chamber where we were meeting was packed. A man standing next to me looked somber and was wearing a shiny silver lapel pin that said, “KAYLA.” A man standing next to him assumed that KAYLA was the name of a non-governmental agency and asked in good networking fashion, “What’s KAYLA exactly?” The gentleman sunk a little and said, “My daughter.”
Suddenly, everyone in the elevator knew exactly why this father was here. He was there to tell the story of Kayla Mueller — a story that needed to be told here and across the world.
In fact, both Carl and Marsha Mueller had come to speak about their daughter, Kayla, her work with Doctors Without Borders, and her Christian faith, which had been the foundation for her passion to serve the people of the Middle East. In the summer of 2013, Kayla was captured by terrorists in Aleppo, Syria and held captive for some 18 months.
At the meeting yesterday, her parents spoke of her uncompromising faith — how, her integrity would not allow her to convert from Christianity, even in the face of death. In fact, in the face of the notorious terrorist “Jihadi John,” who had assumed she’d converted, Kayla turned and calmly stated, “I need to correct you; I have not converted.”
In the spring of 2013, before her capture the Muellers had pleaded with Kayla to come home. “This isn’t your fight,” they told her, “These are not your people.” Kayla responded in a long letter that there should be no “my people/your people’ mentality in this world,” that God’s love made us one people obligated to care for one another in solidarity and empathy for all.
This was the spirit of Kayla. She spoke extensively of the importance of using our “hands as tools” to alleviate suffering of these people. She lived that out with her own hands and her own life. In a letter smuggled out just prior to her death, she wrote to her parents, “I have surrendered myself to my Creator... there is no one else,” and she signed the letter, “All my everything.”
Indeed, the Muellers spoke to the “everything” Kayla had given and that we as a world must give to care for those suffering at the hands of terrorism. “One thing we can do,” Kayla’s mother told us, “is call the world to act.”
When I left the meeting, I stood by the window and noticed the green lawn at the United Nations building — perhaps an odd sight among all the brown and grey, the steel and glass. In the Muellers I saw my mother and father. In Kayla I saw the raw, unconditional love for all God’s people, a love I aspire to and one that informs why I do this work.
But in solidarity with Kayla I had to ask, “Have I done enough?” Had I given all my everything yet?
The sun had come out peeking from behind the clouds of earlier and the flags were waving as I walked back uptown. There was a light breeze. Much work is yet to be done. We’ll go on doing it, giving each day a little more of everything we have to offer and hoping it answers that call to act — the same call that Kayla answered with her life, and that her parents have answered with their commitment to this cause.
27 April 2016
CNEWA’s Director of Development Norma Intriago speaks to the Rosary Altar Society at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey last weekend. (photo: CNEWA)
The closer you get to the Jersey Shore, the more idyllic everything seems. If it’s not the cedar shake siding on the quaint homes, it’s the little ice cream shops or perhaps even the way the pine trees could almost masquerade as palm trees as they sway with the wind.
A recent visit to Point Pleasant Beach, in fact, sent us from New York down the parkway and into the heart of this idyllic community. Norma Intriago, CNEWA’s Director of Development, and I were privileged to offer a presentation to the Rosary Altar Society at St. Peter’s Catholic Church — a bedrock of the Point Pleasant community and a beautiful church and school at that.
Our presentation highlighted the suffering and the hope of the people of Iraq who have fled ISIS — often not just once, but two or three times as the terrorist group gained territory, forcing migration farther east across the Nineveh Plain. Not all who have fled to places like Erbil made it there safely, such as the Yazidi father and son who are now without mother and wife, daughter and sister. Their stories have become important, but difficult for us to hear and share.
That said, while much can and should be told of the tragedy these Iraqis are facing, our work there for, with, and through people such as the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena means that we can focus on sharing stories of faith and hope. They are stories about the start of a makeshift school that sees 500 eager students daily. They are stories of clinics and pharmacies offering much-needed healthcare. They are stories that would never have been told had the people here not been connected with the people there.
Bringing our program to the parish level is, for me, all about supporting those connections and saying, “This is what’s happening; these are the brothers and sisters it’s happening to, and here’s the hope you’re bringing them.” The people of the Point Pleasant community so understood and appreciated that message and they were eager to be even more connected.
Indeed, at the end of our presentation, a kind gentleman in the audience shared that his young daughter had brought home a flier about our event. He knew he had to come, he said. After all, he’s a Christian from Baghdad who knew well the plight his people are facing. And this work is so very important to him. Norma and I couldn't have been more thankful for our time there and for the people we met.
If you’re interested in having CNEWA visit your parish and spread our mission of hope, please do not hesitate to contact Norma Intriago, Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philip W. Eubanks is a Development Associate for CNEWA in New York City.