8 September 2011
I was sitting at my desk at about 8:30 on the morning of September 11, 2001. Having worked in the Catholic/Christian-Muslim dialogue for almost 20 years, I had been recently hired to set up a new interreligious education program for a seminary in New York City. Our friary is in Greenwich Village. The loud noise of a jet flying over the house startled me enough to stand up from my desk and say, “Wow! That was low!” There was no further noise and I did not think any more of it. I returned to working on my plans for the education program.
At around 9:00 I left the house and noticed a crowd on the corner of Sixth Avenue. Although I normally would have walked in the other direction, I gave in to my curiosity and walked to Sixth Avenue. The Twin Towers, which everyone in the neighborhood used to give tourists and visitors directions, were enveloped in red flames and black smoke. From where I stood I thought the heat of the fires was making the windows of the buildings blow out. I soon realized that the shapes plummeting to the ground were not windows; they were human beings.
As I stood on Sixth Avenue just before witnessing the collapse of the South Tower, it was clear that it was an attack and not an accident. At that early hour, no one knew who was responsible. People were too stunned to think about anything other than what they were witnessing. I saw a young woman wearing a hijab, the scarf many Muslim women wear. I remember being filled with a terrible sadness. I hoped that Muslims were not responsible for this terrible act. But if Islamic terrorists were responsible, I prayed that she and other innocent Muslims would not end up “collateral damage” to what was going on before my eyes. Would the hatred that brought the World Trade Center down be directed at this young woman and my other Muslim friends and colleagues?
In the ten years since September 11, 2001, I have been to “Ground Zero” only once. I was part of a team that put together an interfaith service on a bitterly cold January night in 2002. Surrounded by Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim friends and colleagues, we prayed in remembrance, we prayed for healing. The prayer service ended on a platform overlooking the gaping hole where recovery operations were still going on. The night was cold, moonless and dark; the hole was unnaturally bright, illuminated by countless work lights around the site.
We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the attack. I do not plan to visit Ground Zero. I am not ready to do that. I do not personally know anyone who died on September 11, 2001, although most of the men in the firehouse around the corner from where I live lost their lives. If I cannot bring myself to go to Ground Zero, I can barely comprehend the anguish, pain and, yes, anger of those who lost relatives and loved ones. That loss can never be undone, never be made right.
One of the most difficult aspects in Christianity — and also one its foremost characteristics — is the challenge of Jesus to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly” (Luke 6:28 and elsewhere). Paul repeats the command “bless those who persecute you; never curse them, bless them. … Never repay evil with evil. …” (Romans 12:14, 17).
Looking ahead to the liturgical readings for the upcoming month, I was struck by the first reading for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which falls on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:
The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance,
For he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
Then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
And expect healing from the Lord? ...
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
Who will forgive his sins? (Sirach 27:1-9 passim)
The reading for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Latin Rite was not chosen because of 9/11. It just happens this year to coincide with the tenth anniversary. After the reading is proclaimed, the lector will say “The Word of the Lord” and the congregation will respond “Thanks be to God.” The Word of the Lord? What does that mean to me? And what does this particular word mean to me on this particular and painful occasion? Will I choose to ignore what I have just acknowledged as God’s Word? Or will I reject it outright?
In a way that is almost eerily prophetic, this reading is challenging us Christians to give witness in a way we rarely have the opportunity to do. The Word is not calling us to minimize or forget our pain and loss, much less the pain and loss of others. Nor is it calling us to call evil “good.” It is, however, challenging us in a most disturbing way to give witness to our conviction that love is more powerful than hate, forgiveness more God-like than vengeance and healing more powerful than death.
Rev. Elias Mallon is CNEWA's Education & Interreligious Affairs Officer.
8 September 2011
Tags: Christianity Unity Christian-Muslim relations Multiculturalism
Trinity Monastery now functions as the primary theologate of the Russian Orthodox Church. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In the September/October 2001 issue of CNEWA World, Sean Sprague reported on Trinity Monastery — believed to be the first religious house named after the Trinity in Russia — and the powerful influence of St. Sergius on generations of religious seeking spiritual guidance at Trinity.
Today, Trinity Monastery is once again a beacon of faith to the Russian people. Pilgrims seeking their cultural roots and religious identity flock to the newly renamed town of Sergei Posad (two hours north of Moscow by commuter train) that surrounds the monastery’s fortified walls. Now free of Communist restraints, Trinity Monastery welcomes the faithful. They come to revere their beloved saint, whose remains lie within the monastery walls, to pray and to reestablish their Christian faith, wounded but not destroyed by 70 years of Communist rule.
For more about this Russian spiritual house and St. Sergius read, A Saga of a Saint.
Meanwhile, Russians — like many Americans — are gearing up for a presidential election next year. And one of the Russian candidates has a resume that is Orthodox — but decidedly unorthodox:
While the Putin-Medvedev tandem remains silent on who will be the main candidate for president in 2012, in the last days first official challengers in the race to the Kremlin have emerged. The one creating the most buzz is the director and temporarily suspended Orthodox priest, Ioann Okhlobystin, whose become the protagonist of discussions on forums, blogs and social networks in Cyrillic. Today artistic director of Euroset, Okhlobystin announced his candidacy on Sept. 5 as an independent.
Learn more about this unusual candidate.
7 September 2011
Tags: Russia Orthodox Church Monastery
Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle founded an organization that was the prototype for CNEWA.
(photo: CNEWA Archives, Graymoor, NY)
If you spend a little time with the book about CNEWA now available online — John Gavin Nolan’s “Catholic Near East Welfare Association: The Foundational Years” — you’ll find a few surprises.
One is the agency’s unexpected link to the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, thanks to a relative of “Sir Arthur,” Monsignor Richard Barry-Doyle, a guiding force behind CNEWA who, it turns out, had a rather colorful history:
Most of the biographical details about this interesting man can be gleaned only from newspaper clippings of the period, and Monsignor Barry-Doyle himself appears to have been the source of many of these details. In telling his own life story, he sometimes contradicted himself, and his contributions can never be faulted for being too modest. For example: that he was made a domestic prelate by the Holy See is perfectly accurate; however, that he was given the title of monsignor in response to an unusual, if not unprecedented, request from the Protestant government of Great Britain to the Holy See in recognition of his services to British soldiers who had been blinded during the war has yet to be verified. That he had been active in England in a movement to reunite Anglicans with Rome, as he told a Canadian reporter in 1923, may have been true. However, the implication that his efforts had resulted in the conversion of 16,000 Anglicans, including three bishops, is certainly open to doubt; the three bishops have not been identified. His addition of “Barry” to his family name of Doyle in order to commemorate a kinsman, Commodore John Barry, one of the founders of the American Navy, may well have had a basis in fact; on the other hand, it may simply reflect the coincidence that his mother was named Jane Barry. At times he claimed that the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a cousin, and at other times an adopted half-brother. Obviously, both could not be correct. (Research undertaken in England appears to establish that the Monsignor’s father and Sir Arthur’s grandfather were brothers, which would make the two dignitaries first cousins once removed.) He also claimed as an uncle Lord North of Roxham Abbey, Banbury.
Later, the manuscript reveals that one of the people who signed the original charter for CNEWA back in 1924 was a young lawyer by the name of Alexander Meigs Haig — the father of the general who became Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan.
The manuscript is full of small surprises like that. Take a look for yourself. We’re continuing to post new chapters every week.
7 September 2011
Saint Mary’s Port Church in Kollom, Kerala, India, one of the eight founded by St. Thomas, features a mural of Christ and St. Thomas. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Journalist Sean Sprague explored St. Thomas’s influence on southern India's Christians in the March 2010 story, In the Footsteps of St. Thomas.
Culled from the communities he founded, Thomas ordained priests and deacons to minister to their spiritual and temporal needs. Eventually, the heirs of St. Thomas became dependent on the Church of the East — an Eastern Syriac church founded by Thomas and centered in the Persian Empire. The catholicos-patriarch of the Church of the East regularly sent bishops to southern India to ordain priests and deacons and regulate ecclesial life.
Check out more of Sean Sprague’s photos from St. Thomas’s path in the image gallery from the same story, St Thomas’s Influence.
Over the weekend two dozen Indian bishops visited the Vatican and had “heart-to-heart” talks with Pope Benedict XVI regarding, the religious nature of Indian people, discrimination against Catholics, interreligious dialogue and evangelization, as reported by the Catholic News Service today:
“The Holy Father was particularly interested in our efforts at interreligious dialogue,” [Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai] said. While there have been acts of intimidation and violence against Christians in India, the church is building bridges with members of other religions and “collaborating together to build peace, to build a better India, to see how we could bring God back into society.”
Read the rest of this story in the “News” section of our web site.
6 September 2011
Tags: India Pope Benedict XVI Interreligious Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Father Pejic is the only full-time staff member at St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church located in Hanover, Germany. (photo: Andy Spyra)
In the July 2009 issue of ONE Joachim Dethlefs reported on the diversity within the parish of St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Germany’s Orthodox Serbs.
Following tradition, Father Pejic celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic, but pauses at several points to repeat select passages first in Serbian, then German. Readings from the Gospel, on the other hand, are chanted in Serbian and then read aloud in German.
For more about this community of Orthodox Christians, read the story, Germany’s Orthodox Serbs.
Meanwhile, just today the Catholic News Service reported on Pope Benedict XVI’s message to Catholic and Orthodox scholars at a meeting in Salonika, Greece, Aug. 30-Sept. 2.
In many countries, Catholics and Orthodox face the same challenges in strengthening Christian life, and an important part of that effort is working together with love and respect, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Read more of this story in our “News” section.
6 September 2011
Tags: Orthodox Church Serbian Orthodox Church
Pope Pius XI founded CNEWA 85 years ago. (You can read about how the agency started right here – and also read the first chapters of John Gavin Nolan’s memoir about CNEWA’s early years at this link). Well, last week, I heard from a donor who has been supporting our work for 70 of those 85 years!
If anyone deserves the title of Most Dedicated Donor it just might be Clarence B. of Minnesota!
In a letter, he shared the story of his decades-long devotion to Christ’s poor and to CNEWA:
I was born on 8 December 1918. Guess who my patron saint is? The Blessed Virgin Mary. I just celebrated my 70th wedding anniversary. My wife Lorraine and I have 11 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and more coming. I think we are doing God’s plan.
I had a brother who had 12 children. Times have changed. Not all of them attend Mass. I had another brother who was a Protonotary Apostolic of Dallas, Tex., in the 60’s. He would have had them going to church!
I’ve given to your agency since my marriage... I’m sorry I can’t give you thousands of dollars, but charity starts at home, and with 31 grandchildren I try to do my best. I pray for your agency. God bless us all.
If you’d like to follow in Clarence B.’s footsteps, there are lots of ways to support the work of CNEWA around the world. Visit this page for more information.
2 September 2011
Tags: CNEWA Funding
Every now and then, we hear stories of how CNEWA has been able to help people in surprising, sometimes unexpected ways. This week, we heard about one case — involving three countries, one young woman and one generous family.
Eighteen-year-old Zeina Nasraween from Jordan suffers from cerebral palsy, which severely impaired her legs and hands.
In October 2010, her family approached CNEWA’s regional office in Amman for help in securing affordable housing in Germany, where she would undergo several months of medical treatment. In response, Father Guido Gockel, CNEWA’s vice president for the Middle East, contacted a family in the Netherlands, who paid for the family’s stay in Germany.
After arriving in Germany, Zeina underwent reconstructive surgery on both her legs and received nearly six months of intensive physical therapy.
The result: last month she was able to return home to Madaba, Jordan able to walk without a cane and use her hands fully for the first time in her life.
Family, friends and colleagues greeted her when she came home, and were astounded by the improvements. “We didn’t realize how tall Zeina was before because she could never fully stand on her own. Now that she can stand and walk, we have discovered that she is quite tall,” said her sister, Nisreen.
2 September 2011
Tags: CNEWA Jordan Amman
Young students at an assembly at the Abou Kir Franciscan School in Egypt.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In the May/June 2002 edition of CNEWA World (now known as ONE), Sean Sprague reported on the Abou Kir Franciscan School which was revitalized by the Lebanese Franciscan Sisters of the Cross.
Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.
To learn more about the work of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Egypt read Blind to Limitations, by Liam Stack, in the May 2010 issue of ONE. To learn more about the Abou Kir school read Sean Sprague’s story, Bringing Learning to Life.
1 September 2011
Tags: Egypt Africa Catholic Schools Franciscan Sisters of the Cross Northeast Africa
Children pray during liturgy in the small village of Santhithadam, Kerala, India.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Santhithadam means “Valley of Peace” in Malayalam, the language of Kerala.
Not far from the border with Tamil Nadu and set on the high Attapaddy plateau, the area was thinly populated by scattered tribes for centuries. Then, about 30 years ago, 76 families settled in Santhithadam from the crowded south, including 40 Syro-Malabar Catholic families from Kottayam, Kerala’s Christian heartland.
Journalist Sean Sprague reported about this small village in Kerala back in 2003 in the July-August edition of ONE (which was then known as CNEWA WORLD).
Today the Catholic News Service reported on a parish in Kerala offering financial incentives to large Catholic families, in the midst of worries over the shrinking Catholic population:
The plan to increase family size runs counter to a previous initiative by the federal government, which encouraged residents to make two children the norm for families.
Read more of this story on the CatholicNews.com
Tags: India Children Syro-Malabar Catholic Church