25 June 2013
A young girl completes a class project at Meki Catholic School. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Over the years, we’ve done a number of stories about the dramatic impact Catholic education is having in a country that is predominantly non-Catholic: Ethiopia. In 2005, photojournalist Sean Sprague visited one town to report on the diverse student body:
At 25, Lemi Meta is the oldest of Grabafila elementary school’s 170 students. At well over 6 feet tall, Mr. Meta dwarfs his classmates, some of whom are as young as 7. And yet, Mr. Meta does not feel uncomfortable in this setting — a Catholic school not far from the southern Ethiopian town of Meki.
“I had a dream about going to school but I never had the chance,” Mr. Meta said. “I live in a remote area where there is no school. In my village only three people out of 600 have ever been to school.”
Each day, Mr. Meta walks two and a half hours each way to attend class and, despite his advanced age, he talks about becoming a doctor.
The Grabafila elementary school is one of two area Catholic schools supported by CNEWA (the agency also provides support to many of its students, who are enrolled in the agency’s needy child sponsorship program). The school consists of four classrooms and a single office for the staff. It lacks electricity, running water, computers and a library. Cows and goats wander nearby. Primitive by Western standards, the school nonetheless fulfills a need not yet addressed by the government.
“Ethiopia is a rural society, where 80 percent of the population depends on subsistence agriculture,” said Abune (Bishop) Abraham Desta of Meki. “Droughts, famine and war have devastated this country. Only recently have we seen the government, and some religious organizations, build schools.”
Though Ethiopia’s Catholics number only 500,000 (the total population is 70 million), the Catholic Church has built more than 230 schools and vocational centers throughout the country. “Education is the church’s priority in Ethiopia,” asserted Abune Abraham.
Read more about schools in Meki in Never Too Late to Dream in the July 2005 issue of ONE.
24 June 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Catholic education Ethiopia’s Catholic Church
In Egypt, a Zabbaleen man takes a break from operating a plastics grinding machine. This photo accompanied the story Salvaging Dignity in the September 2012 issue of ONE. The story, by Sarah Topol, on Friday was honored with First Place in the category of Best Personality Profile at the 2013 Catholic Press awards in Denver. (photo: Dana Smillie)
21 June 2013
Tags: Egypt ONE magazine Copts Egypt's Christians
An elderly refugee from Azerbaijan languishes in an unsanitary government housing project in Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 2008, Gayane Abrahamyan reported on the tragic state of seniors in Armenia:
[Azerbaijani refugee] Sonya Sargsian resides in a dilapidated government-owned building housing impoverished pensioners and the homeless — one of three clustered in a forgotten suburb of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Built as a student dormitory after World War II, the building has not been renovated since its construction. Residents share a common bathroom, which barely functions. Decrepit plumbing supplies water at irregular intervals.
“We can’t take a bath for months. We walk a district away to get water. Those unable to make the trip try to forget they have basic human needs,” Mrs. Sargsian said, pointing to the sewage leaking through the ceiling. …
For many elderly Armenians such as Sonya Sargsian, a normal life is but a memory. …
Prior to independence, Armenia had only one nursing home and it operated at 50 to 60 percent capacity. Today, seven nursing homes are scattered throughout the country. Overcrowded, these facilities have long waiting lists with as many as 100 or 200 persons waiting for a room.
“Attitudes about bringing elderly family members to nursing homes have changed,” said Artur Markosian, deputy director of a government-run nursing home in Yerevan. “It used to be shameful to do so; no child would bring a parent to such a place. But today, everything is seen from a different point of view.”
The growing demand for nursing homes is not the sole indicator that Armenia’s traditional family-centered values are deteriorating. The children of aging Armenians are not only admitting their parents into nursing facilities in record numbers, they are also in large part abandoning them in the process.
To read more about the plight of the elderly in Armenia, as well as efforts by the Armenian Apostolic Church and charity groups to help, check out ONE’s January 2008 cover story, Pensioners in Crisis.
20 June 2013
Tags: Armenia Caring for the Elderly
In this photo from April, Eritrean children under the care of religious sisters gather to meet visitors. Eritrea itself is an extremely young nation, having gained independence only in 1991. However, its spiritual roots are quite ancient. To learn more about the Eritrean Orthodox Church, check out the profile from the January 2005 issue of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
19 June 2013
Tags: Children Orthodox Church Orphans/Orphanages Orthodox Eritrea
Santa Lucia staff member Iman Bibawi Iskandar helps a resident practice writing Arabic Braille in preparation for an exam. (photo: Holly Pickett)
Almost half of Egypt’s population survives on less than $2 per day. According to the United Nations, poverty in Egypt has risen sharply over the past three years. And when economic conditions worsen, those with special needs often suffer disproportionately.
In the neighborhood of Abou Kir, northeast of Alexandria, the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross provide critical services to many of society’s most vulnerable members:
Home to some 300,000 people, Abou Kir is named for an important Egyptian early Christian martyr, St. Cyrus. Today, the city has a large Christian minority (about 30 percent of the population), most of whom follow the Coptic Orthodox or Catholic traditions. …
The Franciscan School dominates Abou Kir’s main thoroughfare, which is lined with mobile phone shops, vegetable stands and idling taxis. The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, a Lebanese congregation whose members run the school, know their facility is the most prominent institution in town. …
Next to the school, the sisters operate a pioneering project that, since the early 1980’s, serves one of the country’s most disadvantaged groups: blind children.
“This is a special Franciscan apostolate committed to caring for the blind,” explains Sister Souad with pride. “Their food, their drinks, their sleeping, their health care — from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to sleep at night — the Franciscans take care of everything.”
The Santa Lucia Home — named in honor of the patron saint of the blind — was built with funds from CNEWA’s donors and houses ten girls and eight boys from ages 8 to 18…
Most of the residents at Santa Lucia come from poor Christian communities in and around Alexandria or from impoverished areas of Upper Egypt, which lie south of Cairo. Many have experienced the stigma associated with being blind before coming into the sisters’ care.
To read more about the Santa Lucia Home, check out Liam Stack’s Blind to Limitations, from the May 2010 issue of ONE.
18 June 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Sisters Poor/Poverty ONE magazine
The sisters at St. Mary Monastery in Bediani keep bees to supplement their income. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
Georgia’s rich tradition of monasticism stretches all the way back to the sixth century. In the September 2007 edition of ONE, Paul Rimple provided a glimpse into the active lifestyles of women religious in the former Soviet nation:
The seven sisters of St. Mary Monastery in Bediani, a remote village in the southern mountains of Georgia, begin their day with communal prayer at 4 a.m. Three hours later, they are tending the gardens and the bees, milking cows, making cheese, embroidering vestments and cleaning the chapel.
Georgia’s religious houses are expected to be self-sufficient, which requires ingenuity on behalf of the sisters. But the sisters of Bediani also care for six single mothers and their children, who live near the convent and have little means of earning a living.
“So many girls came for advice,” said the ubiquitous Mother Mariam, who claims her effort to care for these women and their children was unplanned. “They want to keep their babies, but either their families, or the fathers of the babies, are against it.”
For one such mother, Ketevan, the sisters’ help has been a godsend. “If it wasn’t for this place, my life would be miserable,” she said holding her 16-month-old daughter.
“My family doesn’t accept me — I’d be on the street.”
These young women face a difficult road ahead: Georgia is poor, it lacks social service programs and it holds on to a non-Western concept of traditional relationships. Most single mothers are banished by their families.
Read more about Georgia’s Alternative Lifestyles.
17 June 2013
Tags: Sisters Georgia Monastery Monasticism Monastic Life
In this image from 2008, an Iraqi mother holds her child near her new home in Syria. (photo: Spencer Osberg)
In 2008, we looked at the wave of refugees moving from Iraq, hoping to find sanctuary in Syria:
Iraq’s Christians have paid a high price for the war. Prior to 2003, about a million Christians lived in Iraq, accounting for some 5 percent of the country’s 23 million people. But as violence intensified, reaching a crescendo in 2006, extremist groups began targeting Christians. Living in small pockets within predominantly Muslim communities, and without organized militias to protect them, Christians proved especially vulnerable. Moreover, extremists increasingly viewed Iraqi Christians as collaborators with the Western “Christian” occupying forces.
Fleeing the sectarian violence that has engulfed Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and areas where Christians have lived for centuries, an estimated 400,000 of Iraq’s Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries or further afield. Of the roughly half million who remain in Iraq, more than half are internally displaced, many having migrated north to the autonomous Kurdish region, which remains relatively stable.
Now, of course, many Iraqi refugees are on the move again, fleeing the civil war in Syria.
You can read more about them in two stories in the current issue of ONE: a look at Iraqis making a new home in Jordan and Syrians fleeing to Lebanon.
14 June 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, and Pope Francis attend a prayer service during a private audience at the Vatican on 14 June. (photo: CNS/Stefano Spaziani, pool)
Pope Francis met for the first time the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury today, and in his prepared remarks spoke about the desire for Christian unity:
Today’s meeting is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father. Hence the prayer that we make today is of fundamental importance.
This prayer gives a fresh impulse to our daily efforts to grow toward unity, which are concretely expressed in our cooperation in various areas of daily life. Particularly important among these is our witness to the reference to God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently.
Then there is the effort to achieve greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good. Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers.
Read more of the pope’s remarks, and those of the archbishop, at this link.
13 June 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Ecumenism Christian Unity
Arya Raghavan tends the cows at Mother Mary Home for Girls in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2008, we visited an orphanage in Kerala that was transforming the lives of its young residents:
Arya Raghavan is a 12-year-old girl with a big grin and sparkling eyes. Athletic, she loves to climb trees, pick fruit and toss them to her friends waiting below. Arya lives with her younger sister, Athira, and 40 other girls at an orphanage founded by a Catholic community of sisters in Chamal, a village in India’s southwestern state of Kerala.
The future for both Arya and Athira looks bright, but that was not always the case.
Four years ago, the girls’ father committed suicide, leaving their mother, Mini, homeless and destitute, unable to support herself and her four children. Eventually, Mini found a job working as a live-in caregiver for the sick and elderly. Though she manages to support herself, she cannot provide for her children — nor can they move in with her.
Mini would have preferred to keep her family together, but she reasoned her girls would be better off in a nearby child care institution. A Hindu, she had no doubts that her girls would be well cared for by the sisters at Mother Mary Home for Girls.
In a state where the rate of suicide is two and a half times the national average, Arya and Athira’s story is all too familiar. Many correlate Kerala’s high suicide rate with the state’s unemployment rate — a staggering 20 percent — which ranks among the highest in India. Underemployment is significant as well. Families largely get by with funds from family members who work abroad; foreign remittances account for more than 20 percent of Kerala’s gross domestic product. And though the economy in India has been booming, radically transforming this incredibly diverse and complex nation of a billion people, poverty is widespread among Kerala’s 31.8 million people.
Mother Mary Home for Girls lies in the remote and beautiful valley of Wayanad, nestled between hills covered in dense tropical vegetation. To Arya, Athira and the other girls, all of whom were born to poor, broken families, the orphanage must have first appeared as an oasis.
Read more about A Place to Call Home from the March 2008 issue of ONE.
12 June 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Indian Catholics Homes/housing
Pope Francis is presented with a leather Harley Davidson jacket during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 12 June. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
It’s not unusual for Pope Francis to receive gifts from people during his weekly audience. It is unusual for him to receive gifts like this:
Harley Davidson has given Pope Francis two of its classic motorcycles to mark the brand’s 110th anniversary and on Sunday hundreds will be allowed to park along the road leading to St Peter’s Square while the pontiff recites the Angelus prayer.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 bikers are expected to fill St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s blessing — the highlight of a four-day event in Rome to celebrate more than a century of Harley Davidson.
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Pope Rome