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on the world of CNEWA

by John E. Kozar

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Bringing our 90th anniversary to a close, I pause to share some personal reflections with you about who we are and what we do as Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

My first observation is that in general the Catholic Eastern churches — which CNEWA is privileged to accompany — are not well known or are mischaracterized in the West. It is common to hear people refer to them as “Orthodox” or “non-Catholic” or “not in union with the pope” — all of which are wrong. In fact, these churches only reinforce the “catholic” nature of our church, demonstrating how universal we are as we celebrate the variety of communities, rites and traditions that make up the Catholic Church.

In my pastoral visits to many areas of the world, I am humbled by the richness of these Eastern churches — in their liturgical celebrations, their cultures, their ancient traditions, their strong desire to persevere in the faith and their abiding sense of hope. Although small in number in most instances, and regardless of the political and geographical challenges that dominate their surroundings, they endure.

One remarkable feature with these churches is that, despite all odds, they continue to be blessed with vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Some are so blessed that they reach out in a universal missionary spirit and share their wealth of priests and sisters with countries and continents, such as North America, lacking in their own priestly and religious vocations.

And their missionary presence in their home countries is often heroic. They are fearless in sharing the presence of Christ in war, in horrible conditions of suffering, and even in the face of persecution. They reflect so well the face of Christ to all. And here I emphasize “all.”

In the best of our Catholic tradition, these churches reach out to everyone. And at CNEWA, as we seek to accompany them, we assist these Catholic Eastern churches in extending the arm of Christ’s love and mercy to all — to our Orthodox family members, to other Christians, to Muslims, to Hindus and to all peoples of good will.

In the West, we can learn by the good example of our Eastern brothers and sisters how important it is to pray, especially in a liturgical context. Their sense of dignity, serenity and holiness, as demonstrated so well in their Eucharistic celebrations, is a reminder for us that the actions taking place in our liturgies are not merely symbolic, but intimately link us with Christ.

In so many of my visits I have experienced the power of the cross — and how those who suffer and are persecuted find such consolation in it. For me, their veneration of the crucified Christ heightens my celebration of the resurrected Christ at Easter. In such a profound way, they are the embodiment of being “Easter people.”

Here in North America, the roots of our churches and countries are very young compared to the Eastern churches. Imagine: Many of these churches were founded by the apostles in the very early years of the church! Languages and cultures are dramatically different than ours. We tend to forget the world is larger and older than McDonald's and Starbucks; but our Eastern siblings remind us that the church has deep roots and extends over all the earth.

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