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Volume 44, Number 1
27 June 2013
Greg Kandra

With direction from the sisters, women at Queen’s Garments have a chance to better their lives. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Can a needle and thread change a life? We saw evidence of that a few years ago in India:

Inside a large house in the wooded hills of Kottayam, a district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Sangeetha Pushpam crouched over a sewing machine, stitching fabric. She is 19, and has been working for four years to help support her family, which her father had abandoned.

After dropping out of school at 15, Sangeetha was hired by a cashew factory. She was getting paid practically nothing, however, and the factory conditions were taking their toll on her health. She suffered chest pains. Sangeetha wanted to move on and enrolled in a tailoring course. She did not have enough money to complete it, however, and she dropped out.

Fortunately, Sangeetha was invited to Kottayam to join Queen’s Garments, a sewing shop run by the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, a religious community for women of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Founded in 1866, the community includes 6,000 sisters who run charities, schools and hospitals throughout India and abroad.

In a converted novitiate, Sangeetha works with 20 other young women from poor, often broken, families.

“Our mission is to promote plain living, high thinking and selfless service to eradicate poverty and suffering,” said Sister Suma Rose, who started Queen’s Garments in May 2004.

There is a special need for helping women in India, Sister Suma said. They are “undervalued, underrecognized, underrepresented and marginalized in society.”

Read more about Queens Garments in the September 2006 issue of ONE.

Tags: India Sisters Education Poor/Poverty Indian Catholics

26 June 2013
Greg Kandra

Sister Katharina helps a young friend at Maison du Sacre Coeur, a home for children with severe physical and mental challenges. (photo: CNEWA)

As we noted yesterday, CNEWA staffers are visiting the Holy Land this week, along with members of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, to see first-hand some of the places and projects supported by CNEWA’s generous donors.

One of those places is Maison du Sacre Coeur, which our magazine profiled several years ago:

“We try to give good care to the children,” explains Sister Katharina Fuch, D.C. “We try to assure good health and good food. We try to make life as agreeable for them as we can. We try to find what each child likes — music, play, laughter, television, radio, video. We want these children to feel good.”

The children are some 60 severely mentally and physically handicapped boys and girls, aged from newborn to 16 years. The place is the Maison du Sacre Coeur — the House of the Sacred Heart — in the Israeli port city of Haifa. The care-givers are Sister Katharina, three other sisters, a number of local specialists and other staff.

Sister Katharina is the Austrian-born superior of the House of the Sacred Heart, established by the Daughters of Charity, the religious community founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul.

In addition to caring for the resident children, the sisters also maintain a day-care center with 240 children, assuring working mothers that their children are well cared for during the workday.

Sister Katharina outlines all these activities as we sit in her neat office. Administrative responsibilities, keeping track of the staff and all the activities, are in efficient hands.

But it is when we go down to see the children that she really comes alive. It is with them that Sister Katharina feels most at home. As we walk between the cots she greets each child in turn, stroking their heads lovingly and talking to them affectionately. As she walks past, some grab at her hands, wanting to feel her touch.

Read more in Heart to Heart in Haifa from the December 1997 issue of the magazine.

Tags: Children Jerusalem Holy Land Health Care Holy Land Christians

25 June 2013
Greg Kandra

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.

Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Catholic education Ethiopia’s Catholic Church

24 June 2013
Greg Kandra

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)

Tags: Egypt ONE magazine Copts Egypt's Christians

21 June 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

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.

Tags: Armenia Caring for the Elderly

20 June 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

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)

Tags: Children Orthodox Church Orphans/Orphanages Orthodox Eritrea

19 June 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

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.

Tags: Egypt Children Sisters Poor/Poverty ONE magazine

18 June 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

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.

Tags: Sisters Georgia Monastery Monasticism Monastic Life

17 June 2013
Greg Kandra

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.

Tags: Syria Refugees Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees

14 June 2013
Greg Kandra

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.

Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Ecumenism Christian Unity

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