18 July 2018
The video above shows how some religious sisters in Ukraine are doing more with less, and praying for an increase in vocations. (video: Ivan Chernichkin)
In the June 2018 edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz shows how religious sisters in Ukraine are doing more with less and Giving 200 Percent. Here, he offers some additional thoughts.
Doing more with the less is the central theme of the convent story. At the outset, I found the topic for this reporting assignment difficult to wrap my brain around because I had never been exposed to religious sisters beyond cursory encounters at church.
I researched the different orders and the charisms that define them. In Ukraine, some orders are more than 100 years old. They have storied traditions that are rooted in serving both God and vulnerable groups of society. Some are devoted to education, others to health care, and more to well-rounded child development.
In a country of more than 40 million, yet the size of Texas, Ukraine only has about 850 religious sisters serving in different capacities at 21 communities.
They’re clearly not in a position to scale up — and it soon because obvious, over three days of reporting, that they’re overwhelmed.
Sister Natalya Melnyk, who heads the council of superiors of women communities, said the female cohort risks “burnout.”
There’s only so much they can do that is humanly possible.
Their numbers are dwindling so the communities are drawing upon the talents that each sister possesses. Some have two or three degrees of higher learning, including medicine and biological genetics. There are also trained lawyers and psychologists, some of whom have studied abroad in Rome.
While the pool of incoming sisters brings women with richer pedigrees than those who entered convents en masse after the church emerged from underground in 1991, they’re no longer clamoring to join an order.
Various reasons were given for this — and the church is still doing a deep-dive analysis. The main reason, perhaps, is that youth have more choices than in the past. Temporal values like materialism, consumerism, and individualism take precedence over deeper spiritual values — and they aren’t conducive to that lifestyle.
The church is also battling the stereotype that entering a convent is the equivalent of incarceration. It’s simply not attractive to people, so efforts are being taken to change messaging and how people are introduced to the church.
Despite everything, the sisters are optimistic.
“It’s about quality not quantity” now, said Basilian order superior Mother Danyila Vynnyk, quoting a French truism.
To adapt, sisters meet weekly to exchange thoughts on lessons learned — what works and what doesn’t in their communities. This saves time, improves efficiency and avoids duplication of mistakes and waste of human resources.
The church also utilizes outsourcing when possible. Lay people are being used to augment the sister’s work — such as teaching the catechism to children.
And there is well-grounded hope. Aside from the orders that will inevitably die out because they couldn’t sustainably replenish their numbers after the rebuilding phase of the 1990s, other communities could see their numbers swell again, once the new generation brought up in church life grows of age.
Sister Teofania of the Basilian order is one of these. She grew up immersed in church life. Entering a convent seemed like a natural decision to her.
“It will be very interesting to see what will become of this generation,” Sister Nataliya said.
Read more in the current edition of ONE.
24 August 2012
Tags: Ukraine Sisters Ukrainian Catholic
In this photo from 1998, novices of the Bethany community pray in their chapel near Kottayam, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Sisters are often the people on the ground carrying out the work CNEWA supports. With tireless effort and loving dedication, these women give the sick and poor the care they desperately need. Earlier this year, Msgr. John Kozar met a group of dedicated sisters in India — the Bethany Sisters. Sean Sprague also wrote about the Bethany congregation for the May/June 1998 issue of the magazine:
The Bethany Sisters’ motherhouse in Kottayam is a spiritual powerhouse where temporarily professed sisters spend a few years in prayer, study and work before taking their final vows. Pure and virtuous, the sisters are nevertheless wholeheartedly human and very Indian. They are fully aware of the outside world and eager to go and serve the poor and sick.
“Bethany is the church within the church,” Sister Philomena explained. “Its role within the Syro-Malankara Church is like that of the heart in the body. Its charism is the spiritual renovation of the Syro-Malankara Church, particularly through its apostolic activities. One of our main apostolates is education.”
Today the Bethany community operates some 100 lower and upper primary schools, 65 nursery schools, 28 secondary schools, 3 university colleges, a teacher-training college and several other vocational training centers. Mar Ivanios University in Trivandrum is one of the premiere institutions of higher learning in Kerala, educating more than 3,000 students per year.
Ecumenical activities, family visits, catechism, preaching, mission work, care for the sick (the Bethany community runs several hospitals, leprosy eradication projects and preventive health care programs) and care for the handicapped, the elderly and orphaned children are all important apostolates.
For more, read Following Christ in an Indian Way.
15 June 2012
Tags: India Sisters Kerala
A resident of the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, studies.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
It’s a fair question any donor might ask: “Where does my money go?” Well, this Friday, we offer a few answers. Here are five things that happen when you give to CNEWA:
Your gift ends up on the table of a family fleeing the violence of Syria.
About 240 Christian families have fled the embattled city of Homs, as the situation deteriorates by the day. A parish priest and religious sisters are sheltering them away from the violence. But for as little as $108, you can give a month’s worth of lifesaving aid to one family — aid that offers food and medicine to people in dire need right now.
It ends up helping support a sister in India.
Maybe she’s a novice, prayerfully awaiting her final vows. Maybe she’s working with orphans and needs textbooks or supplies. A gift from you will go into her hands, and be an investment in a more hope-filled future. In 2011, your generous gifts sponsored the formation of 507 novices studying in India! And for the next 60 days, one of our benefactors has agreed to match any gifts to sisters, dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000. Such a deal!
It will give schoolbooks and a warm meal to a child orphaned by AIDS.
Countless children have been left abandoned or alone by disease or war. CNEWA helps provide them with hope, and a future. Maybe it’s medical care. Maybe it’s food or shelter. Whatever the circumstances, your sponsorship invests in their future — and invests, really, in our future, too.
It helps bring an end to conflict by actually getting people to talk to one another.
Part of CNEWA’s mandate by the Holy Father is to encourage ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Your gift can support local churches in CNEWA’s world, bolstering their good works, building bridges and fostering understanding and closer ties with all believers.
Maybe best of all: somebody, somewhere, will pray for you.
And who doesn’t need prayers? All the people you help, and even the Holy Father himself, will raise grateful prayers to God for you. Also, on Christmas Eve, Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, will travel to Bethlehem on your behalf and celebrate Midnight Mass at the Basilica of the Nativity for your special intentions.
Giving to CNEWA is an investment in a better, more peaceful world. We connect you to your brothers and sisters in need. Together, we build the church, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue, affirm human dignity and inspire hope.
13 June 2012
Tags: CNEWA Children Africa Donors Sponsorship
Novices pose for a portrait at the mother house of the Daughters of Mary in India.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
When you give to CNEWA this month, your gift will be doubled to support sisters in the regions we serve. Your generosity not only provides support to the sisters working in the field, but it supports the formation of these women. While in India earlier this year, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar had an opportunity to meet with novices at the mother house of the Daughters of Mary:
After a plentiful breakfast and more wonderful conversation with the major archbishop and his chancery officials, we headed out to the mother house of the Daughters of Mary, one of the larger congregations of women religious in the Trivandrum Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
Waiting at the doorway was our host, Mother Roselin, D.M., the superior of the community. After a coffee with Mother and other council members, she proceeded to give us a mini tour of the facility and to introduce us to a lovely, smiling group of novices, postulants and aspirants — about 50 in total. The joy and happiness of these young girls and sisters was infectious. They greeted us with songs and kind expressions of welcome. And I was invited to share with them about my own life and the work of CNEWA.
Visit our website to learn how you can double your gift to sisters.
10 May 2012
Tags: India Sisters Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Vocations (religious)
At the Galilee Retreat Center outside Addis Ababa, a sister enjoys a traditional Ethiopian meal with the country’s staple starch, injera bread. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Last month, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar visited Ethiopia. While there, he had the opportunity to meet with many local church leaders and religious, like the sisters he encountered at the Galilee Retreat Center:
Today, we headed about one hour out of Addis Ababa to the Galilee Retreat Center located on a cliff overlooking a beautiful crater lake. The setting is idyllic and filled with peace. I was privileged to concelebrate Mass with the Jesuit who directs this center, Father Joseph Pollicino, S.J., a Maltese national who has worked here and in Sudan for many years. A special treat was to be in the presence of about 20 sisters who were finishing their weekend retreat. Mass was particularly stimulating with the devotion of the sisters, their lovely singing and the peaceful manner of Father Joe. Coupled with this ambience was the captivating rhythm of the drumbeats of the young sister who put her whole heart into her percussion instrument, a beautifully decorated native drum. People come from all over to seek the tranquility of this retreat center. Many different types of spiritual programs are offered for youth, for religious men and women, for priests, for bishops and lay groups and interreligious groups.
After Mass, we enjoyed a wonderful meal with Father Joe and all the sisters.
Read more about Msgr. Kozar’s visit to Ethiopia in his blog series, “An Ethiopian Odyssey.”
3 May 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Sisters Africa Cuisine
Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon pick fruit. (photo: Marilyn Raschcka)
The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon care selflessly for the sick, disabled and orphaned individuals in Lebanon. Last December, during his pastoral visit to the region, CNEWA president Msgr. Kozar witnessed the work the sisters do first hand.
Marilyn Raschka wrote one of our first stories profiling the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of the magazine:
“Love — thats what they need,” my guide asserted as we walked into a room flooded with sunshine and colorful quilts. What looked like four- and five-year-old children in this room were actually teen-agers whose bodies were robbed of growth and whose minds had failed to develop. The room provided a safe, secure playing area for these residents. Toys were often used to stimulate those who could respond. But nothing worked better than a smile and a hug from nuns and staff.
The energy required of this community is replenished by young novices, three of whom I met during my visit. All three young women have sponsors from the United States who, through CNEWAs sponsorship program, contribute to their education and living expenses. Studies are strenuous, separation from family is painful and a future of difficult work could take its toll. But these challenges have created a bond that helps the women persevere. And youth, with its built-in buoyancy, provides extra time for some basic “nunsense.”
For more read, Bearing the Cross in Lebanon.
14 February 2012
Tags: Lebanon Sisters Beirut Franciscan Sisters of the Cross
Seminarian Philip Chasia and his wife, Mercy, stand outside their one-room house near the campus of the Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School in Nairobi, Kenya.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
On St. Valentine’s Day, we not only remember the Roman martyr, but we often think of the powerful emotion of love. For Kenyan Philip Chasia, love is not only what he feels for his wife. A seminarian at the Orthodox ecclesiastical school in Nairobi, he also feels love for God and his vocation:
All seminarians receive a stipend during the nine months of the year they are enrolled in classes. The sum is paltry, especially for the married seminarians who must support wives and children in addition to themselves. (Orthodoxy permits married priests on the condition they marry prior to ordination.) Because the school does not offer seminarians any part-time job opportunities — something many would like to see changed — the stipend serves as the only source of income for most of them during the academic year.
The administration “should try and find a way to assist married seminarians, or they should just take single men,” suggested Mr. [Philip] Chasia, who pays 2,000 shillings (about $29) a month in rent for the thin, metal house he shares with his wife. Utilities are extra.
“Because once you have a wife or child at home, you are the one who has to do everything for your family. My wife just finished high school. To work, she needs more education or a profession, which we can’t afford. Why does my wife have to suffer?” Mr. Otieno agreed. “So even though I’m going to be a priest,” he added. “I am still going to do whatever I was doing — fish and grow crops — to survive and make my life and my home happy.”
Despite these hardships, the archbishop’s words continued to hit high notes. “Again, I repeat, this is the great miracle for me. They know what they’re doing and they don’t do it because we pay them a lot. We don’t. You understand? It’s because they love what they are doing. They believe in the fruits. They are doing it with all their hearts and minds.”
To learn more about this seminary in Nairobi, check out Kenya’s Orthodox Miracle from the September 2008 issue of ONE.
4 November 2011
Tags: Africa Priests Orthodox Seminarians Seminaries
Seminarian Sleiman Hassan, 24, from Fuhais, Jordan, prays after lighting a candle before mass in St. Joseph Parish in Jifna, West Bank. (photo: Debbie Hill)
Today, according to the Latin calendar, is the feast day for Saint Charles Borromeo, a man sometimes called the "Father of the Clergy," and the patron saint of seminarians. In the the March issue of ONE magazine, Michele Chabin reported on the the challenges facing young seminarians in the Holy Land:
“I plan to do pastoral work and I’m preparing myself for the needs of the people,” says Mr. Hassan, a native of Jordan, who attends the Latin Patriarchal Seminary in Beit Jala, a town adjacent to Bethlehem.
“I’ve learned that life isn’t easy here, but the fact that it’s complicated challenges me to find new ways to help people and address their suffering.”
Not until shortly before noon does Mr. Hassan take a break from his duties and rest a little before tackling the three–hour drive back to the seminary.
For more from this story see, To Be a Priest in the Holy Land.
20 September 2011
Tags: Middle East Jordan Holy Land Seminarians Vocations (religious)
Near Tibilisi, Georgia, Mother Ephemia plays with a dog belonging to the St. Tornike of Athos Monastery. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
In 2007, journalist Paul Rimple visited the nuns carving out Alternative Lifestyles in Georgia:
Joining a monastery or convent is an arduous process, which discourages the casually interested or the naïve and gullible. “First a woman must agree to live by the monastery’s rules,” said Mother Ephemia, abbess of St. Tornike of Athos Monastery in Mtskheta. “She pledges obedience. Then she goes through a period of character evaluation.”
Each night, Mother Ephemia meets with members of the community in an examination of conscience that is “more of a dialogue and soul-sharing” experience, she said. The informal meeting “helps me know at what stage of development each sister is in.”
The process can take as little as five months or as long as 15 years — there is no set period. But three years is typical, Father Giorgi said.
“Generally, the better educated the woman and her family are, the easier the process is,” Mother Ephemia said. “But modesty in every aspect is absolutely necessary. There is no room for pride.”
But, as the picture shows, there is room for pets. Read more at this link.
14 September 2011
Tags: Monastery Vocations (religious)
Msgr. Robert Stern greets an elderly woman on a trip to Kerala, India in 1991.
(photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Today marks Msgr. Robert Stern’s last day as president of CNEWA, after almost a quarter of a century leading the agency. We asked another CNEWA veteran, and longtime colleague, Sister Christian Molidor, to share a few thoughts.
I’ve been asked to write a brief profile of Msgr. Stern... but how can it be brief?
Three days after I was hired by CNEWA, I was sent to India. When the cardinal appointed Msgr. Stern to CNEWA, he was told to begin immediately to reorganize, renew and revitalize the agency. Was this favoritism by the Holy Spirit?! I asked myself: Who is this Jewish-Irish fellow from Harlem’s parishes?
Oh, just a physicist educated at Amherst (and honored as an archimandrite before I even knew how to spell the word), an experienced traveler and linguist (the ability to speak several languages is an asset, but the ability to keep your mouth shut in one language is priceless), a skilled diplomat (he will accept “probably,” but never “perhaps”), a wise manager (he never thinks of CNEWA more than 19 hours a day), a creative and generous mentor (“I always listen carefully to everything you say, Christian, then don't do it,”)... Okay, so he’s a genius, but you’ll have to admit his puns are terrible.
“Sterno” and I have been colleagues for years too numerous to mention (my old age erases numbers) and in truth, we’ve been friends for twice that long. (Are we really that old?)
But the highest, the most significant compliment I offer is that Bob Stern is a good priest.
And that’s why gratitude is my heart’s memory!
Tags: CNEWA Msgr. Stern