19 May 2016
Carol Hunnybun served CNEWA in the Middle East for nearly two decades.
(photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
“A dauntless dame” is how CNEWA’s Michael La Civita described the indefatigable Carol Hunnybun in 1994. She joined CNEWA in Beirut in 1963, and eventually served with Helen Breen as administrators of our Jerusalem office from 1966 until 1982.
In an interview, she was asked about one corner of that world that has become a flashpoint for war and suffering, Gaza:
“I used to go down to Gaza once a week. I hated the place. It’s a horrible place. So much human misery; so much dirt; there are no drains in the camps. In the summer it’s not so bad; everything dries up. But in winter when the sand becomes muddy and greasy, you can imagine what it’s like.”
Before the troubles, she added, Gaza had fertile soil, beautiful orange groves and abundant vegetable gardens. But this changed “when all you have is thousands of refugees and ghastly living conditions.”
Over the years, Carol Hunnybun contributed several articles to the magazine, always writing about CNEWA’s world with candor, compassion and grace. In 1979, she captured the essence of CNEWA’s mission, as she described one facility in Bethlehem which CNEWA supported:
Three groups have joined together, and they have achieved great things. Each group brings a gift. First there are the committee members and the staff: their gift is dedication. Then there are the patients: their gift is courage. The donors are next: their gift is love. The gifts form a triple bond that unites all three and fires the Home with a special spirit. By these gifts and with God’s help, miracles still happen in Bethlehem.
Thanks to Carol Hunnybun and countless other heroes like her, miracles still happen in every corner of our world. Visit this link to learn how you can be a part of our mission.
17 May 2016
The Rev. Roy Mathew Vadakkel initiated several construction projects to help the poor in India. In the photo above, he visits one of the projects CNEWA funded, which supplied harvesting tanks for rainwater. (photo: CNEWA)
Four years ago, we interviewed a remarkable Syro-Malabar priest in India who was working tirelessly to care for the poor and the outcast. The Rev. Roy Mathew Vadakkel had launched several construction projects, including one that has built harvesting tanks for rainwater.
Our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, wrote: “He makes it a point to see that nobody is deserted in the streets or at homes nearby. He feeds and looks after them by collecting help from local residents. Father Vadakkel gets help from everyone, and gives help to everyone, regardless of religion and caste.”
In his interview with us, Father Vadakkel said:
My mother, who died when she was just 46, was a very pious lady, and her great wish was that I should become a priest. She sent me to church every day for Mass. She taught me prayers and showed me by her own actions how to live for the poor and the needy. So I always had the urge to become a priest and to help the poor.
While I was in the major seminary, I used to visit prisoners, beggars, the sick and other forsaken people.
As for his work today:
I want simply to be a source of “hope to the hopeless.” There should not be any person with no one to look after them. I hope to do the most good for the greatest number of people by supporting them — by deeds more than words. Thus each life is to be dignified. As a priest, I have no other option but to dedicate my whole life in service to the poor. As it is said in the Bible, “Wash each other’s feet ... do good ... and be merciful.”
12 May 2016
Sister Sophie Boueri, D.C., with one of her young friends at the Creche in Bethlehem.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Sister Sophie Boueri, D.C., spent much of her life caring for the tiniest and most helpless: young orphans who found love and care at the Creche, a home for unwanted children in Bethlehem. In 2011, CNEWA’s Msgr. John Kozar caught up with this spirited sister and, like everyone who meets her, was in awe:
The director of the facility is named Sister Sophie and she is something special. This sister is the embodiment of the protector of little babies and the unwanted. She loves each and every one of the 91 childen cared for at the Creche.
She took us to a room with little ones ranging in age from a few days old to about nine months. One of the babies was left at a big garbage dump, another at Sister Sophie’s doorstep. Some children were dropped off for various reasons. There is no legal system for adoption in Palestine and Muslim tradition does not allow for it, so this is a big challenge. But Sister Sophie, her staff and her many volunteers still present loving smiles to all who visit.
But at an age when most people are trying to take it easy, 83-year-old Sister Sophie then took on one more tough job in a tough corner of the world. After nurturing young orphans in the West Bank for decades, she turned her attention to another group of orphans: abandoned elderly women in her native Lebanon. Her order, the Daughters of Charity, has a worldwide charism to help the poor and the marginalized.
She spoke with us last year about her new mission:
ONE: Tell me about your work in Lebanon.
Sister Sophie: We have 40 elderly women who live in our home. Some are sisters and others are women who have no families or who have been abandoned by their families. We have one doctor and ten staff members. I am the only sister. All the women are Christians, and we accept all rites — Maronite, Orthodox, Latin. We ask only that they be Christian because we take them to Mass every day.
ONE: What kinds of activities do you provide for your residents?
SS: I take them to daily Mass and to receive the sacraments. I walk with them and I am present with them all the time. Once a patient gets better and they can move, I take them on little field trips to places such as the Marian shrine in Harissa or St. Sharbel Monastery.
ONE: What keeps you strong enough to help the elderly when you are elderly yourself?
SS: Only him! I promised Jesus a long time ago I would help all people. This is a promise I cannot break. All my life I have seen the poor and I cannot see them without helping them. Do you see how poor they are? And Sister Sophie also is very poor.
To support heroic people such as Sister Sophie, serving the poor in Lebanon, visit this giving page.
10 May 2016
François Moniz, left, takes a break with his wife, Edith, during a 2014 rally in Ottawa to show support for Iraq’s persecuted Christians. (photo: CNEWA)
One year ago today, CNEWA lost a beloved member of our family, François Moniz. We asked CNEWA’s national director in Canada, Carl Hétu, to reflect on this unsung hero.
François Moniz isn’t known to most people outside of the CNEWA family. He was CNEWA Canada’s first office administrator from December 2004 until his death on 10 May 2015.
Back in 2004, François had a full time job in the private sector in administration. But he was out on sick leave, fighting a vicious cancer. After several treatments during the winter and spring of 2004, he was told that nothing had worked and his days were numbered. Knowing this, I brought him back some oil from the tomb of Saint Sharbel in Lebanon. Sharbel was a 19th century monk who was canonized in the 1960’s. Many miracles have been attributed to him.
A couple of months later, after using the oil and with many prayers, François learned some amazing news: the tumor was gone. The doctors were shocked. A real miracle! Before he went back to his job, I asked François if he could give me a hand with his free time in laying out the plan to start CNEWA Canada. I had known him for over 25 years, and I knew I could take advantage of his administrative expertise.
As we sat discussing how to proceed, it became obvious that he was the perfect person to join me in this new challenge. So I offered him the job and I remember his words that day: “I’ve never worked for the church, but I guess I owe one to God.” He turned out to be a superb fit.
The years passed by and CNEWA Canada grew. François was an important part of that growth, and we shared many exciting hours of planning, debating, and evaluating. But then, his cancer reappeared in 2013. This time, we knew that the chances of survival were slim; he needed an operation to remove the tumors. Yet, six months after the surgery, in July 2014, he was back on the job. “You’re back too early,” I told him. He replied, “Not early enough.” He couldn’t stand to be away.
In October of that year, the cancer returned in full force. But even then, François came to the office. He missed some days, but remained very committed. I would say to him, “Stay home, we can manage.” And he would reply, “Carl it’s not from home that I can make a difference.”
Finally, in February 2015, he told me that he would be leaving his job. Heartbroken and sad, we hugged each other, both of us knowing he would never come back. I visited him in the hospital during his final days, and he told me, “You know, working for CNEWA was God’s plan, not mine. And I am privileged that he allowed me to help so many people all over the world.”
François cared. To the end, he was committed to CNEWA’s mission.
He did such a good job that I believe God needed François for other purposes. God called him home on 10 May 2015, Mother’s Day. He was 56.
François left behind his wife, Edith, two children and three brothers.
Thank you, François, for your honesty, objectivity, professionalism and, above all, your friendship.
3 May 2016
Sister Micheline Lattouff stands in her office in Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon. “I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation,” she says, “my mission is to show him the spark and light it.”
(photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In a corner of the world facing increasing desolation and despair, Sister Micheline Lattouff is a true hero. She has devoted her life to helping provide healing and hope to Syrian refugees in Lebanon:
“There is an ancient saying, ‘The candle that is just smoking, not lighted, still has a life in it, still has hope in it,’ ” says Sister Micheline. “I have no right to turn it off. I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation, my mission is to show him the spark and light it.”
She began this journey at the age of 17. While on a high school retreat, she met a Lebanese sister of the Good Shepherd who had lived in Sudan and worked with women prisoners.
“These women were in bad shape — no toilets, no sanitary napkins — losing their dignity with no one to help them,” she says. “I was inspired that these were not nuns who just prayed; they were nuns who helped the poor. That is when I decided to become a Good Shepherd sister,” she says. “The mission of the Good Shepherd Sisters is to defend the rights of women, children and families — to help them regain their dignity.”
...She arrived in the Bekaa Valley in 2004, seven years before the war in Syria began, and soon began teaching in nearby Deir el Ahmar.
“I felt this region needed support, like sheep without a shepherd,” says the 44-year-old sister, citing concerns such as high rates of illiteracy.
According a 2009 study by the United Nations Development Program, some 16.8 percent of adults in the Bekaa region cannot read — the highest rate in Lebanon. Many students drop out, drifting away from school to focus on farm work. Worse still, many become embroiled in the drug trade, which thrives in the region due to the cultivation of cannabis crops.
“The children were watering the hashish,” she says. “So, I started thinking: ‘What can I do for the children in this area?’ ”
Wasting no time, the nun sought resources — faculty volunteers, a public space and basic materials — and in late 2005 started an after-school program. It opened for just two hours each afternoon, but those two hours allowed for healthy socializing, study and play. It gave students another choice in how to spend their time, and provided an incentive to stay in school.
Read the rest of her story. She summed this up beautifully and reflected on her vocation in a 2015 interview:
ONE: What have been some of your more rewarding moments?
ML: The best moment for me is when I see the children happy, successful in their studies and their life, when I see them able to pass through the difficulties and continue to achieve.
ONE: What have been some of your more difficult moments?
ML: The more difficult moments are when I have nothing to give the refugees. It is so difficult for me.
ONE: What thoughts sustain you during difficult times?
ML: I believe in human beings and God. I believe that God is capable of changing a person, when I see people improving from work, when I see success of people and developing.
28 April 2016
Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios oversaw a period of explosive growth in the Syro-Malankara church in India — and was dubbed “India’s Renaissance Man” for his wide-ranging interests
and tastes. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
A figure who had a profound effect on the people of India was Benedict Mar Gregorios, the Syro-Malankara Archbishop of Trivandrum. Profiling him in 1992, Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M. wrote of India’s “Renaissance man”:
Mar Gregorios is the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, a community that achieved full communion with the Church of Rome in 1930. Ordained a bishop in 1955, his efforts to renew the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context has led to the Church’s tremendous growth. Today more than 300,000 people are baptized members. When the archbishop was ordained in 1955, the Syro-Malankara Church numbered just over 70,000 members.
Mar Gregorios has initiated programs with the Tamils in the south, and with the dispossessed — the so-called “untouchables” — in his own state of Kerala.
We met the archbishop on several of his visits to New York and were certainly familiar with his projects funded by the benefactors of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Now we were seeing him for the first time on his own turf.
We came to see what we might do. We left feeling he had done much for us.
This simple priest/erudite scholar insists, “Our Lord didn’t come to save souls alone, but to save people! We must realize that the God who gave us a body and who himself assumed a body, cannot be thought of as indifferent to our material needs, for he made us to live in human dignity — dignity that presupposes a certain material well-being.”
After his death in 1994, our magazine noted:
An agricultural expert, the Archbishop started model farms and experimented with various plant forms to bolster the lives of his people, most of whom live on farms. Many of these small plots are supported by our Association.
As Archbishop, Mar Gregorios encouraged the renewal of the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context, enabling this small community, which numbered just 70,000 members in the 50s, to grow at a tremendous rate. Today the Syro-Malankara Catholic community numbers more than 300,000 people.
We mourn “the loss of this great and good man of God,” wrote Msgr. Robert L. Stern in a letter of condolence, “...the boldness of his vision and the strength of his trust in Almighty God will ever be an inspiration and a consolation to me.”
His extraordinary vision and outreach to the dispossessed helped transform India and spread the faith — and his legacy lives on to this day in schools and institutions. This is heroism in action. As Sister Christian wrote all those years ago:
It is this reservoir of respect and good will that enables Mar Gregorios, religious men and women, and the laity, to demonstrate their love and concern for the people — the power of Christian charity in action, not just words.
26 April 2016
Anna Hafeli, 97, has been supporting CNEWA for decades through a variety of programs.
Every now and then, we have the good fortune to meet some of the generous donors who have supported CNEWA faithfully for many years — sometimes, for decades. They remind us of the spirit that has uplifted and guided CNEWA for 90 years. One of those people is Anna Hafeli, who is just seven years older than CNEWA. We met earlier this year on a visit to California:
Anna is a marvel: a 97-years-young powerhouse who exudes such joy, you can’t help but be uplifted in her presence. She has been contributing to CNEWA for decades — supporting our seminarian programs and work in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. She also has four annuities through CNEWA.
Touched that we took the time to drop by, she shared with us stories of her journey from her youth in Switzerland, to Canada, and then finally to California, where she worked a variety of odd jobs — mostly as a waitress — to make ends meet.
...To me, Anna represents the heart and soul of what CNEWA is about: faithful, committed people who quietly and selflessly give whatever they can to help those in need. Their generous spirit so often goes unnoticed. But today, I’d like you to notice Anna Hafeli. Thank you, Anna, for all you’ve done to make a difference in the lives of so many.
Want to join Anna and others like her in our mission? Visit this link.
21 April 2016
Sister Rosily Karuthedath works among the poorest of the poor at Grace Home in India.
In India, there is a thriving and devoted order of sisters committed to caring for those who have been forgotten, tossed aside, or neglected. The Nirmala Dasi sisters — Servants of God, in English — often care for the poorest of the poor, especially the sick:
Working with a strong but gentle faith, the Nirmala Dasi Sisters bring love and healing to people otherwise overlooked by society. Irrespective of caste and creed, all those whom the sisters care for are welcomed and accepted as children of God.
For all their energy and effort, they do not consider taking any remuneration for their services. Poverty is stipulated in their constitution.
“We eat, pray and work, everyone together, all the time,” said a sister who works at the Damien Institute, a hospital for people with Hansen’s disease staffed by the religious and supported by Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
One of the heroic women leading this great work is Sister Rosily Karuthedath, whom we profiled during our celebration of the Year of Sisters:
In sprawling cities and tiny villages across India, millions of people endure lives of struggle and abuse. For the poorest of the poor who also live with HIV and AIDS, that struggle can be totally overwhelming.
Sister Rosily Karuthedath knows how much they suffer. In the village of Peringadoor, she and four other Nirmala Dasi Sisters have run an oasis of hope called Grace Home since 1999. On a slender budget bolstered with funds from Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the sisters provide shelter, food and medical support for sixty-five HIV infected patients, including thirty children.
For the poor and ill who arrive at Grace Home, the door is always open. And the caring sisters are always inside. “We believe in giving acceptance and dignity to the patients, even if they are socially isolated and discriminated against,” Sister Rosily says. “We attempt to fill the emptiness experienced by the patients with love, concern and care.”
Sister Rosily is offering a home to those who suffer — a home, literally, of Grace.
19 April 2016
Msgr. Thomas J. McMahon, left, served simultaneously as the first head of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and secretary general of CNEWA. In the image above, he is visiting a refugee camp in Gaza. (photo: CNEWA archives)
One figure who had a great impact on CNEWA — and who played a critical role in our growth and evolution — was Monsignor Thomas J. McMahon. As our online history notes:
From 1943 to 1955, Monsignor Thomas J. McMahon, National Secretary of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, directed the Association through a period that witnessed the horrors of World War II, the division of Europe, the creation of the State of Israel and the ensuing Palestinian refugee crisis.
...A priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. McMahon was appointed assistant national secretary to Msgr. Bryan McEntegart in June 1943. In August 1943, Msgr. McEntegart was selected as Bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y., and McMahon succeeded him as national secretary.
Five turbulent years later, one act by the United Nations on 29 November 1947 would have a significant impact on Catholic Near East Welfare Association and its erstwhile national secretary — the partition of Palestine.
After this partition, which created the State of Israel, McMahon traveled to the Holy Land under the instructions of Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches. The monsignor intended to study the situation created by the establishment of Israel and the subsequent Arab rejection of the partition. Refugees swarmed the new state’s neighbors and Pope Pius XII was anxious about this new group of exiles. Palestine was the Holy Land, the “hometown” of Christianity. The pontiff was concerned about the status of the holy places; Muslim caliphs had brokered a delicate balance of power among the rival Christian groups in the Middle Ages. Would this change? Also, many of these new refugees were Christian Arabs. What would happen to the indigenous Christian communities in the land of Jesus’ birth?
Recommendations for action were sought by the Holy See — Rome valued the insight and judgment of McMahon, and his analysis and opinions were accepted and followed.
One of McMahon’s recommendations was to create a pontifical organization that would coordinate the church’s diverse efforts in the region on behalf of the Palestinian refugees.
In April 1949, the Holy See announced the creation of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. Msgr. Thomas McMahon was named its president while retaining the position of national secretary of the Association, hence the development of the unique “sister” relationship between Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Pontifical Mission. To date, the secretary general of the Association has always been the president of the Pontifical Mission as well.
A man of great compassion and vision, Msgr. McMahon was deeply moved by the suffering of all people. He once noted: “Misery did not discriminate among its victims in Palestine. Neither does the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.”
When Msgr. McMahon died in 1956, at the young age of 47, a cardinal who knew him wrote, “He literally was on fire for the cause of Christ.”
In CNEWA’s ongoing mission to serve the poorest and most vulnerable, Msgr. McMahon’s flame continues to burn.
14 April 2016
New York’s Cardinal Edward M. Egan presents CNEWA’s Peg Maron with the prestigious Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award in January 2002. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Some of the heroes in our CNEWA family have walked the halls here in New York. One of them was Peg Maron, a woman who worked in our communications department. Three years ago, on learning of her death, Michael La Civita wrote about a woman he described succinctly as “indomitable”:
Peg joined CNEWA in 1990 and quickly became known for her dogged determination to track down every fact, not leave any participle dangling, have every verb and subject agree and check my tardiness — despite the fact I was the “boss.”
Edith to my often cantankerous Archie, Peggy’s tenacious attention to detail and accuracy earned her the respect of all — even if her nimble ballerina stretches stunned patriarchs and prelates alike.
I never heard Peggy utter an unkind word. Her years of service to the church — as a member of Pax Romana and its successor, Pax Christi; involvement with the Grail and the liturgical movement of the 1950’s; friend and colleague of Eileen Egan, a founder of Catholic Relief Services; service as a Catholic school teacher in Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Kennedy Child Center; participation in the life of the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri at St. Boniface Church in Brooklyn and lastly as my partner in arms at Catholic Near East, CNEWA World and ONE magazines — will undoubtedly earn her a place with Providence. Her years as a dancer with Martha Graham, however, earned my respect.
I remember when I first realized what an unsung hero she was: the funeral Mass of her husband, circa 1992, in Brooklyn’s church of St. Jerome. As she followed his casket down the center aisle after the Final Commendation, she cast her eyes down, wrapped her arms tightly around her person and hunched her shoulders. She lumbered down that aisle as if the weight of the world would have crushed her. But it did not.
She was a woman of few words, little emotion and complete self-control. She had many credentials and enormous talent. The only way I could show her my affection was to tease — and she loved it. Whether it was accusing her of bathing in gin or mooning a patriarch, she would laugh so joyously, but rarely would a sound escape from her lips.
In 2002, she was honored for her work for the Church with the Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, and she received it with characteristic generosity and grace:
On learning of her award, Mrs. Maron stated: “I am extremely grateful to be so honored for my small part in the work of the church. But I was never alone; I was always part of a community whose members worked side by side to improve the lives of those who had been entrusted to them. I would hope this award recognizes their contribution no less than mine.”