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December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
17 September 2012
John E. Kozar

Pope Benedict XVI looks on as dancers leave the stage during his meeting with young people in the square outside the Maronite patriarch's residence in Bkerke, Lebanon, 15 September.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Saturday was a dramatic and long day — all shared with the youth of Lebanon. What an amazing day it was.

Issam Bishara and I arrived well before all the cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and dignitaries. But the venue was already teeming with young people — thousands of them. Part of the treat in arriving early was to have the opportunity to walk around with my camera and to meet so many of these terrific youth. They were so happy that I came from the United States to be with them and with the pope. Many of them wanted to be photographed with me, and I also enjoyed getting photo shots of many of them with their smiling faces and their spirit of joy and high energy in welcoming the pope.

The setting was itself exciting, located in front of the Maronite patriarchate in a large plaza next to a lovely new open-air chapel used for special ceremonies. The patriarch told me there were 13,000 rented chairs, but there were many more people than that present for this epic event.

Eight musical choirs and singing groups entertained and prepared the crowd for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. Everyone wore a cap with the papal insignia in the blistering sun. And many wore t-shirts with “Benoit 16” printed on the back — French is perhaps the most widely used Western language among Lebanese Christians.

After “warming up the audience” for more than four hours (and no one seemed to complain), the Holy Father arrived to a thunderous welcome as he approached the stage in his “popemobile.” The place went wild and he seemed to love every minute of it.

He was met by the president of the republic, who chose to sit down below the stage with the people, even though a special chair was reserved for him in front of the patriarchs; a nice touch for a man who seems very well thought of by the citizens of Lebanon. He himself is a Maronite Catholic, so this was on his “home turf.”

Speaking of patriarchs, they were all there with beaming smiles. Seeing them side by side, with the major Orthodox hierarchs immediately behind, it really presented a remarkable display of unity occasioned by the visit of this messenger of peace, Pope Benedict XVI.

Prior to the pope addressing all the youth assembled, we heard from two young people. One young man gave an impassioned plea to the Holy Father to bring unity to the church. He even offered a practical suggestion to the pope: “Holy Father, as a first step could you please consider having all the churches celebrate Easter on the same date?” He promised for all the youth present and all the Catholic youth of Lebanon that they would work hard to bring peace and unity to the world.

The pope seemed to be touched by his remarks and gave him a hug and held his hand and spoke to him for a minute or so, which is very unusual.

And how about the pope’s remarks? Well, he gave a very heartfelt talk to the young people reminding them how they are the future of Lebanon and how their efforts toward peace can have great impact for the entire Middle East. He encouraged the young not to be afraid. He also mentioned Syria and said: “The pope has not forgotten our brothers and sisters in Syria. They are in our hearts and are with us here.” We must pray for them and for the Syrian people. He also mentioned working with our Muslim brothers and sisters to make the world a better place. This seemed most timely as there were some ugly acts of violence and destruction on Friday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

An especially beautiful performance followed: A group of about 20 youngsters, all hearing- and speech-challenged kids, did a most expressive dance, using the reverberating beat felt on the stage floor to synchronize their delicate moves. Everyone, including the pope himself, was in awe of these beautiful young people.

I was very fortunate to be given better a better than I deserved, among a group of bishops. Seated next to me was Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop George Bakhouny from Tyre in southern Lebanon. He had hosted me during my previous visit last December and had himself visited us in our CNEWA office in May of this year. We had much to talk about and he introduced me to many bishops, especially Melkite and Maronite bishops. I also enjoyed some conversations with a number of patriarchs I had met and some Orthodox bishops.

To close the program, a famous Lebanese singer brought the crowd to their feet in a rendition of one of her classic hits. She seemed to be so honored to sing for the Holy Father, and the crowd was thrilled that she had been asked to do so.

It was an exhausting day, but one filled with so much joy and hope. And of course, the call to be peacemakers resounded at every turn.

On the way out of the venue, Issam and I had a huge challenge of navigating the crowd of thousands, all trying to fit into a rather narrow exit conduit. Two young girls insisted on being my “bodyguards,” and kept trying to open up the crowds for us, even though we were not in a hurry.

The church in Lebanon is very dynamic, and God rewards it with vocations and very committed youth. We need to pray for them, as they do for us, for we are loved as special friends — CNEWA was on the lips of many bishops and patriarchs. Thanks to all of you for allowing our good works to make a difference in this part of the world.

Tags: Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Msgr. John E. Kozar Patriarchs

17 September 2012
Greg Kandra

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the popemobile to celebrate an outdoor Mass on the Beirut waterfront 16 September. (photo: CNS/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

Pope pleads with Lebanon’s Christian youth not to leave the country (National Catholic Reporter) In a speech to at least 20,000 Lebanese youth tonight, both Christian and Muslim, Pope Benedict XVI tackled the elephant in the room during his fourth trip to the Middle East: Despite decades of papal appeals, so far nothing has stopped a steep decline in the region’s native Christian population. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Foaud Twal, recently warned that the Holy Land is on the brink of becoming a “spiritual Disneyland,” full of glittering spiritual attractions but empty of flesh-and-blood Christians. Many observers wonder if a similar fate awaits the entire region.

The pope addressed those concerns, almost pleading with Lebanon’s Christian youth not to taste the “bitter sweetness” of emigration. “I am aware of the difficulties which you face daily on account of instability and lack of security, your difficulties in finding employment and your sense of being alone and on the margins,” the pope said. But those frustrations, he said, should not prompt them to choose “an uprooting and a separation for the sake of an uncertain future.”

Pope meets with religious leaders and patriarchs in Lebanon, offers “fraternal closeness and prayers” (VIS) Sunday evening Pope Benedict XVI met with Orthodox patriarchs, representatives of Protestant communities and Catholic patriarchs of Lebanon. The encounter took place at the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate in Charfet, Beirut, famous for its library, which contains more than 3,000 manuscripts in Syriac and Arabic.

Having listened to some welcome remarks addressed to him by His Beatitude Ignace Youssif III Younan, patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, the Holy Father expressed his thanks to those present who, he said, “represent the diversity of the Church in the East. ... My thoughts also go to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt and to the Ethiopian Orthodox who have had the recent sadness of losing their respective patriarchs. I wish to assure them of my fraternal closeness and of my prayers.”

Pope departs Lebanon, prays that “she may live in peace” (VIS) The Holy Father’s apostolic trip to Lebanon came to an end yesterday afternoon with the departure ceremony at the international airport of Beirut. Among those present to bid him farewell were Michel Sleiman, president of Lebanon, the country’s four Catholic patriarchs, various Lebanese bishops and representatives of the civil and religious authorities. In his address, the pope expressed his thanks “to the entire Lebanese people, who form a beautiful and rich mosaic and who have shown the successor of Peter their enthusiasm by the efforts, both general and specific, of each community. I cordially thank our venerable sister Churches and the Protestant communities. I thank in particular representatives of the Muslim communities. Through my stay here, I have noticed how much your presence has contributed to the success of my journey. In these troubled times, the Arab world and indeed the entire world will have seen Christians and Muslims united in celebrating peace.”

U.N. panel says human rights situation in Syria deteriorating (Voice of America) An independent panel of U.N. investigators says the human rights situation in Syria has sharply deteriorated, with “gross violations” growing in number, pace and scale. The panel’s Brazilian chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday that “egregious violations” happen so often that his team has not been able to investigate them all.

Patriarch Kirill visits Japan (Interfax) Dozens of Russian expatriates accorded a warm welcome to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who visited the Russian Orthodox Church’s embassy parish in Tokyo on Sunday. After conducting a service at the Church of St. Alexander of the Neva, Patriarch Kirill said that, “a parishioner’s last will has been fulfilled and an Orthodox church was dedicated in Tokyo four years ago after 40 years of incessant work.” “I remember how excited all of us were as the church was being sanctified and prayers said. Many of you remember the entire drama, which only proves that the truth is always right and that God hears the righteous prayer. This church is an example that must edify us all,” he said.

Tags: Syria Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI United Nations Patriarch Kirill

14 September 2012
John E. Kozar

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, left, addresses Pope Benedict XVI and other church prelates at St. Paul’s Basilica in Harissa, Lebanon, 14 September. During the ceremony at the basilica, the pope signed the document summarizing the conclusion of the 2010 Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Today is the day that millions of people in Lebanon and the Middle East have been waiting for: The arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. He was scheduled to touch down at 1:45 in the afternoon and the excitement was building. Earlier this morning, there were already many military officials on the highway and at most of the intersections, getting in place for traffic control for the transfers of the pope from the airport to his residence at the nunciature perched high on a hill above Beirut.

I took advantage of the free morning to visit with Issam and CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission staff. We had a wonderful two-hour exchange that afforded me a great opportunity to share with them some of what I have experienced in my first year at the helm of CNEWA. They listened intently and offered some great insights and questions.

Since it is a very special time in Lebanon, I invited the staff to join me for lunch at a nearby restaurant — in honor of Pope Benedict XVI. We walked up the street to a nearby lunch place and enjoyed a meal together and continued with our sharing and telling of stories.

But we enjoyed a real bonus: While we were eating, the pope arrived at the airport and it was being broadcast live on a big screen television (in Arabic) on several local television stations. What a treat to eat and watch as his plane inched its way to the specially constructed reviewing stand. There, he was met by the president of Lebanon and his wife, the parliament’s speaker and his wife and the prime minister. And of course, the first to welcome the bishop of Rome to Lebanon was his own representative to this country, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia.

There were plenty of dignitaries representing all the major faiths and all the political parties and office holders. And there were plenty of excited and vocal youth with their colorful yellow and white matching outfits and hats.

The pope made his way along a parade route to his temporary residence high atop a hill overlooking Beirut, passing multitudes of waving and welcoming crowds. There were Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, Muslims, Druze — it seemed like everyone was on the streets to greet Benedict XVI.

The first major event took place this evening at 6, the formal signing of the Apostolic Exhortation on the Middle East. Issam and I were privileged to be invited to this grand event, which took place at St. Paul Basilica, which is staffed by the Melkite Greek Catholic Paulist Fathers. The Byzantine-style church offered a beautiful and solemn setting for this formal signing of the exhortation. The Holy Father entered amidst a very strong welcome of applause and shouts in Italian of “Viva il Papa”!

He was surrounded by all the Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East, as well as the major archbishops of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches. Though based in southern India, these two churches of St. Thomas have large numbers of Catholics in the Persian Gulf, and their pastoral needs are considerable. Also prominent were leaders of the Orthodox churches and Druze, Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders. Also near to the pope were about two-hundred bishops from a number of countries in the Middle East. Yours truly was honored to be here representing all of you for this historic gathering with the Holy Father.

Introducing the Holy Father with a very energetic welcome was His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregory III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. This beautiful church did justice to the solemn occasion as it is adorned with gorgeous mosaics with stunning detail and vivid colors.

Issam informed me that 31 years ago he was married at this lovely basilica, even though then it was not yet finished and lacked the luster of these priceless mosaics. So, this was indeed a special setting for him to join the Holy Father.

The pope did not speak long, but he invited those present, especially the church leaders, to put everything into the context of faith in God. More than his words and more than the document was the visible sign of unity by being in the presence of Peter. The vicar of Christ calls all of us to be one with Jesus and to share that love with all others. God is love, as we were reminded.

Given some of the violence during the past few days in Syria, Libya, Egypt and other neighboring countries, his call carries more meaning than ever. And the Catholic Church has much to contribute to the good of humanity. We do not need to think of ourselves as minorities against majorities, but as peacemakers who have much to contribute.

Joining the pope were some friends and great collaborators of CNEWA: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern churches, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem (who will be visiting us at CNEWA in New York next week) and some other bishops in the region. I had the opportunity to chat with them and Patriarch Gregory after the festivities. Security is really tight and multilayered. Issam and I have been given the highest level of clearance, but there are still many checkpoints. The Lebanese are doing a wonderful job in all the planning and executing for this visit.

Tomorrow will be a super day for youth. We will gather in the early afternoon for a program by youth and then the pope will join us for the “Big Show” at 6. There will be dramatic music, lighting and lasers, filling the sky and many surprises I am sure — I can’t wait for tomorrow.

You are in my prayers, and I tell everyone that you send your love and good wishes to them and pray with them for the pope and for peace in the Middle East.

God bless Lebanon.

Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Interreligious Msgr. John E. Kozar

14 September 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita

Sister Georgette Foukey works with a student at the Franciscan Sisters orphanage school in Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Pope Benedict XVI — who is now traveling in Lebanon — is being received throughout the Middle East as a herald of peace and hope. The pontiff has a busy schedule, meeting with youth, celebrating the Eucharist, meeting with Christians of all varieties, as well as Muslims and Druze. He will also release an apostolic exhortation, which is “addressed to everyone” and “is intended as a roadmap for the years to come.”

Yet the chief audience for the exhortation, which concludes the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held in the Vatican in 2010, are those Catholics of the many Eastern churches who live throughout the Middle East, from Egypt to the Persian Gulf. Often these Catholics, who have been emigrating in significant numbers in the last few decades, are the bridge-builders in Middle Eastern societies.

This role is unique to them for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant, however, is the role social service efforts of the local churches play throughout the region. Here are five examples of Christian works of mercy. Thanks to friends and benefactors, all these works are supported by CNEWA through our operating agency in the region, the Pontifical Mission. These works are making a difference in the Middle East, and with no distinction of race or religion:

  1. Bethlehem University is the only Catholic institution for higher learning in the occupied West Bank. Founded by Pope Paul VI and administered by the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools, Bethlehem University is an oasis of hope in a land burned by fear and violence.
  2. Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, provides the best in pre- and post-natal care to impoverished Palestinian refugee families. Subsidized by CNEWA and administered by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, an Iraqi community based in Mosul, the clinic serves some 30,000 annually, almost all of whom are devout Muslims.
  3. Franciscan School in Abou Kir, near the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, enables Christian and Muslim children to receive the finest education is one of the poorer districts of the area. Run by the Lebanese Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, the school also offers the best of care for blind children at its Santa Lucia Home.
  4. Oum el Nour, or “Mother of Light” in Arabic, is a substance abuse rehabilitation and prevention center in Beirut. It began as an act of faith in a tent some 20 years ago, and today Oum el Nour is one of Lebanon’s most successful rehabilitation centers for substance abusers.
  5. The care of Iraqi refugeesand now the displaced from Syria — is not the exclusive work of any one community or institution. But throughout the Middle East, Christians are rolling up their sleeves, helping refugee families find housing, temporary employment, schooling, clothes and food. Bishops, priests, sisters and the laity are working together to help stabilize families driven from their homes by ignorance, hate and violence.

The real work will take place after the pope leaves Lebanon. Join CNEWA and make a difference in the Middle East with a gift.

Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Iraqi Refugees Interreligious

14 September 2012
Erin Edwards

A dance group from Mumbai’s Syro-Malabar Catholic eparchy rehearse a traditional Keralite routine backstage at an annual festival. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

In the January edition of ONE, we featured a story about generations of Thomas Christians from Kerala who have built a community of their own in Mumbai:

“Because the Eparchy of Kalyan was formed exclusively for the Syro-Malabar faithful, a lot of re-evangelization has taken place, meaning people who were on the fringes now started coming forward,” he explains.

“Otherwise, what happens? In the Latin Church, they were unknown. The Latin parish in Vikhroli has 10,000 people and seven Masses every Sunday. Nobody was bothered if they were there or not. But now our parish is very small: a hundred families. We have one liturgy. So if somebody doesn’t come for it, we ask: ‘Where has he gone?’ There’s much more community now that we have the eparchy.”

Mrs. John waits patiently for her husband to finish his thought before speaking. Humble and articulate, she is the perfect blend of the gentility characteristic of rural Kerala and Mumbai’s cosmopolitanism.

“With time, our roots in Kerala have diminished,” she says. “But we still follow all the traditions we learned from our parents. Like when mom passed away, we called everybody over on the 40th day. We follow all the rituals we learned to the core. All the celebrations we do in Kerala are also celebrated here in Mumbai. Basically, we just want to keep our culture alive. We don’t want our kids to lose out on that front — in the home or in the church.”

For more, read A Church of Their Own.

Tags: India Cultural Identity Kerala Migrants

14 September 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita

Pope Benedict XVI greets officials during a welcoming ceremony at Rafiq Hariri International Airport in Beirut, 14 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

“Lebanese Hope Pope’s Visit Will Reduce Tensions and Promote Peace” (Vatican Insider, La Stampa) The civil war in Syria is having a terrible effect on the Lebanon and people in Beirut say they fervently hope Pope Benedict XVI’s visit can help to reduce tensions in the land of the cedars, stop the war in Syria, and advance peace throughout the Middle East.

“Maronite Patriarch Calls for a Christian Spring” (Vatican Radio) “The language of hatred and violence, both regionally and internationally, will never bring about a new Spring, only the opposite” says Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai.

“Pope Arrives in Lebanon” (Vatican Information Service) “The successful way the Lebanese all live together,” said the pope, “surely demonstrates to the whole Middle East and to the rest of the world that, within a nation, there can exist cooperation between the various Churches, all members of the one Catholic Church in a fraternal spirit of communion with other Christians, and at the same time coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions.”

“Pope Calls for a Halt to Weapons to Syria” (The New York Times) On the airplane to Lebanon, the pope called for a halt to weapons to Syria, calling the import of arms a “grave sin,” according to a Reuters report on the pope’s remarks to reporters. It was not immediately clear whether the pope was faulting the Syrian government or its opponents, or condemning in general terms, the rapid militarization of the conflict.

“Lebanese of all Faiths Hope Visit Heralds Peace” (The Daily Star Lebanon) “The pope can try to ease any religion’s collective tension,” said Sawsan Darwaza, a theater and film director who said she was very supportive of the visit even though she is not Christian.

Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Middle East Pope Benedict XVI Middle East Synod

13 September 2012
John E. Kozar

Maronite Patriarch Bechara, left, walks with CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar at the patriarchal seat of the Maronite Catholic Church in Bkerke, Lebanon, 13 September.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Maronite Patriarchate)

I arrived at the Beirut Airport yesterday afternoon, where I was warmly welcomed by Issam Bishara, our regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. It was good to see Issam, and good to be back with my Lebanese family.

Along the route from the airport — which included passing through some obviously Hezbollah-friendly neighborhoods — there were many vivid reminders of Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit, which is both pastoral and state, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Many papal flags adorn buildings and hang from poles, while huge banners featuring the pope’s portrait are seen everywhere. Front-page stories feature him, accompanied by glossy photos of the pope and major religious and political leaders. The press seems excited to welcome this messenger of peace.

And even at my hotel, located some 50 meters from our CNEWA offices in Beirut, I am welcomed and immediately asked as they see my Roman collar: “Are you here to be with Pope Benedict?” At breakfast, several waiters struck up a conversation, eager to hear more about this man of peace; they could not contain their excitement about his visit!

Issam had arranged a morning visit to a health dispensary in Rouweissat Ideidet, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. This very humble health care clinic is located in a very poor neighborhood, which is a microcosm of Lebanon — it has every religious and political group living in proximity, but not together.

Sister Hanan Youssef, who directs the dispensary, showed us a simple sign above the entrance of this facility that states: “Religion is for God; this facility is for everyone.” And that is the warm and loving tone set by these sisters, who care for the more than 100 refugees a day. About half of them are Iraqis. The others are mostly Syrians who have fled the violence there. Some of the Iraqis have been routed and victimized twice: once from their original homeland of Iraq after the persecution of Christians began following the 2003 war in Iraq, and now since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, where many took refuge. They come as exhausted strangers and refugees.

I was very touched by the gentle manner of the two sisters there and a cadre of doctors, 16 in total, who work mostly pro bono. Their priority is to determine those in greatest need and assist those with chronic mental or physical needs. There are also social workers, who specialize in mental health concerns. They help sort out the types of psychological trauma that typically affects many displaced people. There is also special care given to pregnant women and newborns and young children, as they are so vulnerable.

There is also a new wave of refugees coming from Syria. Technically, they are in Lebanon illegally. They have no rights and are even afraid to register. They pay outrageously high rents to live in extremely poor conditions and are not on anyone’s radar. So the church offers them a warm welcome and the compassion of Jesus. CNEWA’s national office in Canada has recently offered some financial assistance to this clinic, for which the poor are so humbly thankful.

In the early afternoon, Issam and I had a delightful visit and did an interview with some of the Catholic press corps based in Rome. One of the writers is doing some pieces for Our Sunday Visitor and they were both very interested in learning from Issam some of the background leading up to the pope’s pastoral visit. They were delighted with his knowledge and insight and were very interested in hearing all about how CNEWA partners with the churches in Lebanon and Syria.

We explained to them how our “extended family” offers us the most reliable conduit for assistance — that is, through the local eparchies (dioceses) and then through local parishes. Issam shared with them how parish priests in Syria, for example, are in the best position to know who are those most in need and how to reach out to help them.

I have just returned from a family visit with the head of the Maronite Catholic Church, Patriarch Bechara. He had invited us to join him and a few archbishops for a delightful dinner. But what a surprise greeted us as we arrived at the patriarchate: hundreds of young people working into the night on construction, sound systems, lighting and rehearsals for the big youth event with the Holy Father on Saturday.

Before visiting with some of these wonderful young people, we enjoyed a meal with His Beatitude. He was in rare form. I told him I was surprised by the scale of the setting for this youth event in his front yard. He said it was like New York, and then let out a hearty laugh.

After dinner, we went outside to get the flavor of excitement from the hundreds of young people working hard in preparation for the pope’s visit. I took some photos, and they were honored and were so happy to greet me, especially when they heard I was from New York. Always, the patriarch proudly introduced me as the president of CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission. He holds all of you — members of this family — in highest esteem and is so grateful for your solidarity and generosity.

Before saying goodnight, I gave him a big hug and thanked him for such a warm welcome. I assured him, too, of the prayers of our entire CNEWA family that all will go well over the next three days. As president of the episcopal conference in Lebanon and head of the largest Catholic Eastern church in the Middle East, he is the chair of the organizing committee. It is through the kindness of his invitation that I am here, representing all of you.

I will close for now on the eve of this historic visit by Pope Benedict XVI. Please keep him in your prayers and pray for all in the Middle East. May our Holy Father inspire us to be effective peacemakers and may the Holy Spirit guide us always.

God bless all of you for your generosity to those in need in this part of the world.

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Msgr. John E. Kozar

13 September 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita

Workers hang a poster of Pope Benedict XVI in Beirut 12 September in preparation for his
14-16 September visit to Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Beirut tomorrow, among those greeting him will be CNEWA’s own president, Msgr. John E. Kozar.

Msgr. Kozar will be participating in the pontiff’s pastoral visit to Lebanon, where he will deliver his “apostolic exhortation,” a document that concludes the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which was held in the Vatican in October 2010. Before he left for Lebanon, Msgr. Kozar sat down with the National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher to discuss the papal trip to Lebanon, the situation of Christians in the Middle East and CNEWA’s role in the volatile region.

“I want be there,” Msgr. Kozar said, “as this exhortation unfolds, as he [the pope] shares his insights. I would imagine that he really wants to show not only to Christians in the Middle East and others there, that the presence of the church is something to be cherished. To be cherished not only by its own membership, but by others of other faiths, such as Muslims, that the church historically has great gifts to share.”

Read the entire interview here.

And stay tuned for more on the pope’s trip to Lebanon. ONE-TO-ONE will feature news from the journalists traveling with the pope, as well as firsthand accounts from Msgr. Kozar, who will be blogging as the trip unfolds.

Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Msgr. John E. Kozar Beirut

13 September 2012
Erin Edwards

CNEWA has been a longtime supporter of the Kidane Mehret Children's Home and School in Ethiopia. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)

At CNEWA, we understand the importance of investing in children and young people. It’s an investment in a better world. In Ethiopia, much of our work supports schools and child care institutions, such as the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home and School. We have shared many stories about Kidane Mehret, whether it be that of a recent graduate’s gratitude or Msgr. Kozar’s visit there earlier this year.

Interested in helping the children of Ethiopia? Find out more on our website.

Tags: Ethiopia CNEWA Education Africa Orphans/Orphanages

13 September 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro

Workers hang a Vatican flag 11 September near the main airport in Beirut in preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Sharif Karim, Reuters)

With World on the Brink, Can Benedict Be a Firebreak? (NCR) Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming trip to Lebanon will be the first visit of a major Western leader to the Arab world after the attacks in Egypt and Libya. Big questions loom: Will the pope’s presence inflame extremist Islamic sentiment even further? Or, will the visit act as a firebreak, offering a counter-narrative of Muslim-Christian harmony? In either event, this 24th foreign journey by Pope Benedict XVI, and his fourth to the Middle East, could potentially be among his most consequential. A Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, says that the pope will bring a “message of dialogue and respect for all believers of different religions” to Lebanon.

Christian Presence in Sarajevo Fading (Kuwait Times) The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church has warned that Christianity is under threat in Sarajevo, as Muslim and Christian clerics argued during talks meant to promote reconciliation. “The most tragic [thing] is that many who might want to, do not have the opportunity to return [to Sarajevo],” Irinej said on RTRS television, calling on Europe to “put right a great injustice.” A census taken in 1991, before the war in Bosnia, recorded Serbs as about 30% of Sarajevo’s population; though no official census has been taken since then, Serb presence is estimated to have fallen to half of that.

Many Christians Join Protests Against Film Mocking Islam (Fides) In Egypt, Christians are joining Muslims to protest against the film that denigrates the Prophet Muhammed. Father Rafic Greiche, director of the communications for the Catholic Church in Egypt, says: “Right now, demonstrations are in progress in the center of Cairo to protest against the American film which insults the Prophet Mohammed, with several clashes with the police. The situation is tense in the area around the U.S. Embassy, which is very close to Tahrir Square. It should be noted that among the demonstrators there are also many Christians, the Copts in particular, together with Muslims are protesting against the film. Also on Facebook and other social media, Christians and Muslims are united in the protest.” Additionally, even the leaders of the major Christian denominations in Egypt have made their voices heard. “The Catholic Church, the Orthodox and Protestant churches issued a statement in Arabic against the film in question,” Father Greiche says.

In Syria, Christians Take Up Arms for the First Time (The Telegraph) The Christian community has tried to avoid taking sides in the civil war, at first seeking only to protect churches. However, as the war moved into the city and spread across its suburbs, they have begun to accept weapons from the Syrian army and join forces with Armenian groups to repel opposition guerrillas. “Everybody is fighting everybody,” said George, an Armenian Christian from the city. “The Armenians are fighting because they believe the F.S.A. are sent by their Turkish oppressors to attack them, the Christians want to defend their neighbourhoods, Shabiha regime militia are there to kill and rape, the army is fighting the F.S.A., and the [Kurdish militant group] P.K.K. have their own militia too.” For the past six weeks up to 150 Christian and Armenian fighters have been fighting to prevent Free Syrian Army rebels from entering Christian heartland areas of Aleppo.

Armenian Primate Visits U.S. (The Armenian Mirror Spectator) Archbishop Avak Asadourian who has been the Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Iraq for the past 33 years, during some of its most traumatic periods, is considered a hero among his people. He is currently visiting the United States for a special celebration to be accorded him by the large Iraqi-Armenian community in Glendale on 16 September, in honor of his 35 years as a clerical leader. On this trip, the Primate also visited the St. Vladimir’s and St. Nersess’ Seminaries in New York, from which he graduated in 1976. During an exclusive interview, the Primate spoke about the insecure condition of the Armenian and Christian communities since the time of the Iran-Iran war, which started in 1980, and the “ill-conceived war perpetrated by the NATO coalition against Iraq” in 2003.

Tags: Lebanon Syrian Civil War Christian-Muslim relations Armenian Apostolic Church Coptic Christians

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