Page 1


March 2019

God • World • Human Family • Church

A New Start Helping Faith Grow in Georgia Surviving the Storm in Kerala Reviving Hope in Syria Building Up Families in Ethiopia



A Letter From Georgia by Benyamin Beth Yadgar with photographs by Zviad Rostiashvili



The Hope of Syria Men and women religious reach out to survivors of war by Joseph Ahmar Dakno


Family Matters Church-led efforts center family life text by Emeline Wuilbercq with photographs by Petterik Wiggers


Seeing the Face of Jesus Three communities of sisters change lives in the Holy Land text by Diane Handal with photographs by Samar Hazboun


When the Rains Came Amid floods, people in Kerala find strength by Anubha George


4 36

Connections to CNEWA’s world Focus on the world of CNEWA by John E. Kozar

t Family photos decorate the home of Adanech Sebro and Belay Tesema in Wonji, Ethiopia.


Visit us at Read our blog at Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Subscribe to our YouTube Channel Follow us on Instagram


Volume 45 NUMBER 1



Their days are happier Tomorrow has never looked brighter 30 Front: Assyro-Chaldean youth attend the Divine Liturgy in Tbilisi, Georgia. Back: Altar servers pray at Mar Shemmon Bar Sabbae Church in Tbilisi. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 3 (upper left), 18-23, back cover, Zviad Rostiashvili; pages 2, 3 (upper right), 12, 14-17, Petterik Wiggers; page 3 (top): CNS photo/Paul Haring; pages 3 (lower left), 33, Meenakshi Soman; pages 3 (lower right), 24, 26-27, 29, Samar Hazboun; page 3 (far right), Tamara Abdul Hadi; pages 4, 30-32, 34-37, CNEWA; pages 6-9, Saint Vincent De Paul Society – Aleppo; page 10, George Ourfalian/ AFP/Getty Images; page 11, Bulent Kilic/AFP/ Getty Images; pages 38-39, John E. Kozar/ CNEWA. Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar Editorial Staff Paul Grillo Deacon Greg Kandra Michael J.L. La Civita Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. J.D. Conor Mauro Timothy McCarthy

24 ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 CNEWA Founded by the Holy Father, CNEWA shares the love of Christ with the churches and peoples of the East. CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to identify needs and implement solutions. CNEWA connects you to your brothers and sisters in need. Together, we build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope.

It’s all because of people like you #WeAreCNEWA

Officers Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Chair and Treasurer Msgr. John E. Kozar, Secretary Editorial Office 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195 1-212-826-1480 ©2019 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

In the United States: In Canada:


to CNEWA’s world

Pastoral Care of Migrants Responding to the call of Pope Francis to “help those who … are forced to live far from their homeland and are separated from their families,” CNEWA has expanded its outreach to migrant workers in the Middle East. Partnering with the Teresians (a secular institute of the church), CNEWA has recently developed a program to help the thousands of Filipinos who live in Jordan, working as nurses, caregivers and domestics. Several times each month, the Teresians host gatherings at the CNEWA-Pontifical Mission Community Center — which the Teresians administer — for workshops that range from catechesis and preparation for the reception of the sacraments to open discussions addressing social and family problems. The response thus far has been very enthusiastic, says CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, Ra’ed Bahou. “Hundreds participate in the meetings, liturgies and excursions, strengthening the relationships within the community,” he says, noting that for many, the gatherings are the only opportunities for the migrants to rest and socialize outside of work.

Bread in Lebanon “Lebanon is now witnessing a growing phenomenon,” writes Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon. According to the sisters who run the Socio-Medical Intercommunity Dispensary north of Beirut, “families and the elderly are approaching the dispensary for bread.” “‘I just came back from the dispensary in Naba’a … to follow up on the health project CNEWA has been supporting,’” Mr. Constantin quotes a staff member in his letter. “‘I was shocked at the sight of elderly women and men as well as families approaching the center asking for bread. Many wellknown workshops in the area of Naba’a and Bourj Hammoud are closing down and laying off workers. It is forcing families — who were barely able to cover their living expenses — to seek bread.’”



The sisters first became aware of the problem a few years ago, and turned to CNEWA for assistance. “For the last two years,” Mr. Constantin continued, “CNEWA has supported the poor of the area with food and medical aid. In 2018, 309 families were provided with nourishment for five months.” Mr. Constantin described the situation of one family in particular. Mr. Hanna Issa lost his job when the shoe workshop where he worked went into bankruptcy. He approached the dispensary to help him feed his wife and 13-year-old daughter. “Thanks to CNEWA,” Mr. Constantin wrote, “Hanna and others supported by CNEWA are not drowning in despair.” Year of Hope for Ephpheta We received an inspiring year-end report from the Paul VI Ephpheta

Institute for the Deaf in Bethlehem, which CNEWA has supported since its foundation by St. Pope Paul VI more than 50 years ago. Among the highlights: At last count, there were 182 students at the institute; several initiatives were begun, including classes in dance and cooking; students learned how to express themselves with art; and both teachers and parents took part in workshops designed to raise awareness and enhance understanding of the needs of deaf children, offering them support encouragement. All in all, it was a fruitful and promising year. “All operators, teachers, speech therapists and specialists,” the report concluded, “continue to demonstrate commitment in carrying out their role with the aim to accompany and help students toward a positive assimilation into Palestinian society.”

OUR WEBSITE OUR BLOG Improving Ethiopia’s Schools With a $68,000 grant from generous CNEWA donors, the lives of 4,653 children in Ethiopia have been significantly impacted by the education offered at their local Catholic schools, notes CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu. In particular, he reports, seven schools in six eparchies of the church have benefited with the installation of new furniture and desks, a refurbished science lab, the provision of school uniforms, additional reference books and stationary supplies, among other things.

refurbished rooms of Terra Sancta High School. Generous grants from CNEWA and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Holland enabled the Franciscan friars to replace the old and well-worn furniture with hundreds of new desks, teachers’ tables and chairs.

As Sister Askalemariam of St. Markos Catholic School in Emdibir, central Ethiopia, put it: “In gratitude, we offer many prayers for the blessings of our Lord to you, CNEWA.”

From Paris to Philadelphia In February, Pope Francis named Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Parisbased Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of St. Volodymyr the Great as metropolitan archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

Training Women in India “The Catholic Church, a pioneer of educating the young, has helped bring revolutionary changes to India by providing basic education to the poor and to Dalit children,” writes CNEWA’s M.L. Thomas, regional director in India. “CNEWA has helped thousands of young women in their studies … giving them a secure footing for the future and helping them support their families.” In one program alone, Mr. Thomas reported that last year, some 352 women benefited from job training skills that included computer course work, nursing classes and commercial sewing. Terra Sancta Renewed Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of Eastern Churches, visited the Holy Land recently. While in the Old City of Jerusalem, he blessed the

The grant enabled the school to improve its facilities and support individual and group efforts to benefit the students. The vast majority of those who study at Terra Sancta enter universities from the Holy Land to abroad for further study.

A native of Syracuse, New York, the new archbishop had chaired the Greek Catholic commission in 1993 to re-establish the Lviv Theological Academy in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, which the Soviets had shuttered when they repressed the Greek Catholic Church in 1946. As its first vice rector and later its rector, he transformed the noted theological academy into Ukraine’s first Catholic university. From its beginnings, CNEWA has supported this fine institution established to build a modern and open Ukraine. In 2014, Archbishop Gudziak wrote an award-winning essay for this publication, “Prayer and Protest,” about his experience in Kiev during the violent uprising at the Maidan, a square of the city. He wrote, “I trust in the Lord’s presence and work amid these long-suffering people and in their witness to the world.”

Only on the Web


__ __ __ __ __

There is more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • See powerful images from the Kerala flooding and hear a first person account from our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas at web/floodstory • Read an analysis of the groundbreaking document signed by Pope Francis and the grand imam of Sunni Islam during the pope’s visit to the United Arab Emirates at • Watch a compelling video featuring Msgr. Kozar as he shares his thoughts about the promise of hope and new life in places of despair at




Care for Marginalized

The Hope of Syria The Society of St. Vincent de Paul reaches out to survivors of a brutal war by Joseph Ahmar Dakno



Editors’ note: For nearly a decade, war has devastated much of Syria. Some of the fiercest fighting was fought in Aleppo, Syria’s economic capital, once home to some three million people and a flourishing and diverse Christian community. For much of the war, the city was divided. Rebels occupied a portion of eastern Aleppo — including its ancient and historic center — with some 300,000 remaining citizens. The Syrian army controlled a larger portion of the city, home to an estimated 1.5 million inhabitants, many of whom were Christian. Into this arena stepped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the oldest charitable organization in Syria. We asked the head of the Aleppo section of this lay international Catholic charity, Joseph Ahmar Dakno, to describe some of its work to bring light and life to a place too often shrouded in darkness and death.


leppo was a city under siege. For nearly four years, access to basic needs was almost impossible. The only road linking Aleppo to the rest of the country wound through the desert, exposing travelers to extremist groups which controlled the area. People lived in fear of shells falling on them and their children. Adding to the fear was economic hardship. The prices of goods and food increased as incomes fell, unemployment rose and the economy collapsed. Students of Al Inaya al Khasa School in Aleppo celebrate on a lunchtime trip to a playground across town.




CNEWA Connection

For decades, CNEWA’s work in Syria was modest: As a protected minority — making up 10 percent of the population — the nation’s Christian community flourished. War changed everything, placing the churches of Syria on the front lines of the violence. Despite the destruction, the displacement, the persecution and the deaths of many, Syria’s Christians have responded to the hate with love. Congregations of religious sisters, most notably, the Good Shepherd Sisters, have sought to help some of the millions who have been displaced and who may be facing unemployment, sickness, famine or trauma. The Sacred Heart Sisters, based in Lebanon, have reached out to assist the suffering peoples of Syria, especially the children, through activities that give meaning and hope to young lives, along with shelter, health care and education. The Marist Brothers in Aleppo are working tirelessly to provide health care and education through the brothers’ social center. CNEWA is assisting them by funding medical services for those in need. Conditions in Syria have been dire; countless people are living with chronic diseases, children have not been vaccinated and young women often lack basic obstetric care. These efforts and more are helping change that. Other critical partners of CNEWA are the many jurisdictions of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishopric of Homs, Hama and Yabroud. We are helping the archbishop rebuild the church, providing support for catechesis and counseling to some 5,000 families in 17 parishes. As with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, these efforts succeed in large measure because of “boots on the ground” — the religious and lay people who live and work among the people they serve and stay with them long after the crisis has passed. To continue supporting this vital and invaluable work, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).



“Stand with us. Nevertheless, through its charities, institutions and nongovernmental organizations, the Christian community played an invaluable role in helping Aleppines cope with the horrors of war. The volunteers of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul dedicated themselves to helping the wounded and transporting them to hospitals. People whose residences were destroyed — innocent families who found themselves suddenly homeless — were offered safe places, along with moral and spiritual support. Local parishes and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have tried to help the wounded in a number of ways: facilitating the hospitalization process, locating dispensaries for treatment and providing medical

We ask not just for your financial support, but … your prayers.” supplies to ensure the wounded may recover fully. In addition, representatives of local parish groups of the society were present to support the most critical cases, including those victims who had lost hands or legs. They have provided prostheses for the patients along with the rehabilitative help of physiotherapists, so they may return to their lives and cope with their new situation. This social and humanitarian work requires great effort and coordination, significant funding, strong will and psychological encouragement. And the crisis is far from over. Fears of high rates of unemployment continue to spread through the region. People have tried to find alternative jobs and adapt to the new life to secure a decent living

for themselves and their families. St. Vincent de Paul has rushed to visit these families to listen to their fears and to help alleviate them. We have worked to help people find work even as we support them with physical, medical and education assistance. We coordinate this always with local clergy — bishops and priests — who have also been with them to offer spiritual help and support. Although the fighting has eased, Aleppo still suffers. Until peace returns to Syria, it will be necessary to provide returning refugees, the internally displaced and fragile local communities with all the support we can give. This includes maintaining emergency programs, along with other initiatives aimed at helping the Syrian people maintain

St. Vincent de Paul’s work varies, and includes addressing needs as obvious as medical care and as nuanced as safe places to play.

their resiliency, so they can share in rebuilding their country and restoring their communities. Yet, in the midst of these fears and struggles, in spite of everything, there are stories of healing and signs of hope.


ntoine is a 70-year-old man whose hopes and dreams have evaporated. His wife died a few years ago. And as the civil disturbances that marked beginning of Syria’s descent into hell became violent, his three children and their families left home in search of stability, fearing the



hunger that was afflicting their country. Antoine suddenly found himself alone, trying to fend for himself in the middle of a war. He cared for himself as best he could. One day, as he was carrying his groceries home through the streets of Aleppo, a bomb hit the neighborhood and destroyed everything around him. He was left lying in the street in a pool of blood. Antoine was rescued and sent to the hospital, where surgeons had to amputate his leg. As he lay there, recovering, the men and women of St. Vincent de Paul learned of his case. They sent young people to visit him. He shared his story, describing his loneliness after his children had left him, and his eyes

welled with tears. The society decided they had to step in, taking care of the hospital and rehabilitation expenses, including the cost of his prostheses. St. Vincent de Paul continued supporting Antoine, even after he returned home. He received counseling and moral support, and as a Christian, spiritual direction. He is enormously grateful for the good work done by those the society, and those whose generosity enables the work to happen. He keeps praying for them because they brought back his life and restored his faith in what the future holds for him. “The Lord’s work is always with us,” he says. “It’s always thanks to him.”


our years ago, 6-year-old Roula was living in a small room, alone. Her parents, shell shocked, had locked her away to protect her from the constant barrage of shelling and stray gunfire. Alone, her fears intensified and she became a terrorized prisoner. Having lost everything, her parents failed to enroll her in school. Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul learned of Roula and the situation of her parents and sought to intervene. They visited her parents twice a month and saw the extent of their own trauma. Little by little, they offered counsel and help, finally getting them the treatment they needed. The society also promised to cover the expenses

“Do not forget us. All parties involved in this crisis have faith, and this is what sustains us.”

for Roula’s schooling, including providing her with school supplies and clothes. Today, Roula is living a healthy, normal life, grateful for the opportunities offered to her by the society. So many other children in Syria have never received the support and assistance they needed. Some still cannot read or write, and many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. Their future is far less promising. The sad reality is that there are many cases like Roula’s, but it is difficult to screen and reach them, especially those who are still living in dangerous areas. Changing a child’s future — especially by providing education and a secure home life — is critical to help build a better society and give hope.


uzanne was full of life and hope. She had many dreams for her and her fiancé, Fady; they planned to marry and build a family. She was looking for a new job to secure their future when the war started. Her dreams were shattered when a shell struck her house, landing in the room where she was sitting. Suzanne was critically injured, fighting for her life. Her neighbors rushed to save Suzanne and her family. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was able to step in and provide assistance, but Suzanne’s condition was critical. Her skull was fractured, her jaw and face seriously disfigured. Suzanne underwent several operations and spent weeks fighting to recover. In the midst of this heartache, her fiancé abandoned her. He could not face a future with a wife who had been scarred and deformed by war. t A Syrian Armenian woman lights a Christmas votive candle at the Church of the Holy Mother of God.

We stand with survivors of war, so they may begin again. #WeAreCNEWA

In the weeks that followed, members of the St. Vincent de Paul family visited Suzanne frequently. These visits, along with support from her family, helped Suzanne to heal emotionally and spiritually, while doctors have helped her heal physically. In the course of nine months, she underwent 18 operations — funded, to a great extent, by the society. In time, Suzanne began to venture out again. Young women involved in St. Vincent de Paul persuaded her to start working. They bought her materials such as beads so she could develop her skills and help sharpen her ability to focus to sell her jewelry in order to feel independent and productive. Suzanne is one of many whose wounds from the war are lasting and deep. But thanks to Aleppo’s diverse Christian community, and works of that community such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, she is healing and growing stronger. We believe the loving hands of Christ will accompany her, allowing her to continue her journey with faith and gratitude.



hat will the future bring? There is much work to be done. The international community, major development organizations, the private sector and the Syrian diaspora will have to work together to help rebuild the country’s devastated infrastructure, ravaged economy and nearly destroyed people. This needs to happen in a secure manner and under secure conditions that defend human and national rights. Therefore, we send our message to people of conscience everywhere: Stand with us. We ask not just for your financial support, but also for your prayers. Do not forget us. All parties involved in this crisis have faith, and this is what sustains us. We believe in helping one another and also believe in our duty toward our brothers and sisters. And as members of the ancient Syrian Christian community, we will continue to support them and care for them without regards to color, race or religion. Stand with us. Hope with us. We will not lose hope, because we believe tomorrow will be better than today. n



Fortifying the Local Church

Family Matters Church efforts to strengthen Ethiopia’s families begin with listening and mutual respect by Emeline Wuilbercq with photographs by Petterik Wiggers




he first thing that catches the eye in Belay Tesema’s comfortable living room is a big poster. Hung in a corner, it features pictures of him and his wife, Adanech Sebro, and their two sons, both wearing the mortar caps of graduation. Above the photographs two simple words are inscribed: “good family.” When one pays them a visit, the truth of these words is plain. “We have a strong family,” says Mr. Tesema, 48, adding that there is only one person missing in the picture: Samrawit, their daughter and youngest child, who is the leader of the local Catholic youth prayer group. The couple has enjoyed 26 years of marriage. They have spent those years living in Wonji — a town in central Ethiopia located about 60 miles southeast of the capital of Addis Ababa — the site of the country’s oldest sugar factory, which was established in the early 1950’s. The area used to be home to thousands of Catholics, when the Consolata Missionaries were active locally, but the population of all peoples plummeted in the region with the sociopolitical and economic policies of the Derg regime in the 1980’s and early 90’s. “We’re a bit unique here,” Mr. Tesema adds, referring not only to their faith tradition, but also their harmonious marriage. In the neighborhood, he often sees couples wrangling, with shouting matches and worse. “The husbands are intolerant for minor cases,” Mr. Tesema laments. Adanech Sebro and Belay Tesema chat with visitors in their home in Wonji.

“They poison the situation. They are disrespectful to women and they sometimes beat their spouses.” Mrs. Sebro gives a nod of confirmation. In Ethiopia, women are often subject to abuse. According to the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey, nearly a quarter of women surveyed have suffered physical violence, and one in ten surveyed was raped. Other surveys have reported even higher figures among their sampled population segments — notably, a 2005 World Health Organization survey reported that 59 percent of respondents in a rural district south of Addis Ababa had experienced sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. Despite governmental attention to the matter, and more women gaining important roles in political office, spousal abuse continues unabated. In their neighborhood, Mrs. Sebro tries her best to console the wives. “We intervene as shimagele,” Mr. Tesema sums up with a smile — a word for wise elders who are supposed to reconcile people and resolve conflicts in the community. They provide perspective from their own relationship, where they work to resolve any disagreements through dialogue, and take care not to argue in front of their children. “We actually don’t do this so much as Catholics — just as a family,” Mrs. Sebro says. “We try to share who we are. And now, whenever we see difficulties in a couple, we have the courage to help, to confront sometimes and to support the others.”

The couple gained this confidence during a six-day workshop they attended at the Capuchin Franciscan Research and Retreat Center in Addis Ababa last December. Established a year and a half ago by the National Pastoral Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia, this training is dedicated to Catholic couples and families throughout the country. Some 42 people, representing each of the 13 Catholic eparchies and dioceses in the country, have participated in the program thus far.


nspired by “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation that proposes a new pastoral approach for the family — one grounded in “patient realism” — the workshop seeks to promote healthy relationships and a better understanding of the values of the Christian faith. “What is the meaning of ‘family’ according to the word of God?” asks Abba (Amharic for “father”) Daniel Assefa, O.F.M., who directs the center. “God blesses the family, which is the pillar of society. It is crucial not only for the spiritual aspect but also for the education and the formation of an individual,” he says. “It is important to invest in families, which can also create vocations for the priesthood and religious life,” he adds. For the center, this workshop on marriage and conflict resolution is a way to connect to Ethiopian society through its oral and literary traditions, by collecting and synthesizing a variety of teachings, proverbs and works related to families.




CNEWA Connection t Mr. Tesema stands with his son, Biruk Belay; his wife, Adanech Sebro; and his mother, Bezunesh Moghesha. u Zewdunesh Negese, Samrawit Tekle and Tsedale Mola discuss their Catholic faith. y Abba Daniel Assefa heads the Capuchin Franciscan Research and Retreat Center in Addis Ababa.

Our regional director in Addis Ababa, Argaw Fantu, explains that family issues are a primary concern in Ethiopia. “CNEWA, being a partner in determining the needs of the local church, supports family formation programs nationally and locally,” he writes. “These programs are aimed at forming families morally and spiritually.” He adds that CNEWA’s support extends also to easing poverty and uplifting the poor, particularly mothers. One initiative is the Meki’s Kidist Mariam Center, a vocational program to help alleviate poverty for rural families. Poverty, he emphasizes, is a critical issue for families in Ethiopia. It is driving many children to the streets, so there are efforts underway to help empower mothers economically, with skills training and education. The decline in formal marriages is another concern, so CNEWA is supporting initiatives to strengthen families and give young people the support that comes from a good home life. The benefits, Mr. Fantu writes, are immeasurable. “These programs,” he writes, “are aimed at forming families in which Christian values can be lived, shared and witnessed in the wider society. Young people need to have model Christian families.” To support this invaluable and uplifting work, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).



“In the center, we combine study, research and spirituality — it’s economical,” Abba Daniel explains with a laugh. During the first days of the workshop, the organizers ask each individual to answer questions separately. They discuss the challenges each participant has been through, the positive role of dialogue, the harm of intolerance and envy in a relationship, and more. Every challenge is put on the table — the sharing of chores and responsibilities, the handling of money, and issues, such as addiction or the absence of a common spiritual life. Participants read their answers and hold group discussions in tandem with meditation and prayer. “They can criticize themselves but they are not allowed to criticize their partner,” Abba Daniel explains. The priest has been impressed by these group conversations — not in the least because of the insights the participants themselves often bring forward. “Sometimes, their word is a fruit of wisdom. To listen to them, to pray with them, to discuss with them is a lesson. I share from what I read from the Bible, but they live it. I learn from them,” he says with a smile. “There are areas where I’m not as competent; I’m a facilitator, not an instructor.” For instance, during the workshop, one man spoke eloquently and candidly about a personal struggle

“A good family foundation contributes to the good of the society.”



with jealous impulses — which could flare up irrationally, even for something as simple as seeing his wife dress up to meet people at church. This led to a dialogue with reflection and depth. “The comments, questions and advice given by different people were positive,” Abba Daniel says. Apart from being an opportunity to reflect on contemporary family challenges, the priest sees this workshop as a wonderful occasion for participants to enjoy a beautiful environment full of lush trees — to enjoy a restful retreat in a productive way, to learn and comfort one another. “Some are angry and down when they arrive but they learn and then

they are happier after sharing with others their sufferings,” he says. For the couples, it can be a way to indirectly renew the promises of the sacrament of marriage. Back in Wonji, Adanech Sebro, elegant in her traditional cotton dress, says the six days in Addis Ababa flew by, as if they were only one. “It was very insightful. I learned a lot on how to live … as husband and wife, how to love and support each other, how to help people in the neighborhood,” she says. “Our daily routine is to run everywhere because of our job, but it’s important to give time for the family,” adds her husband, Mr. Tesema. “As a Christian family,

we have to pray together, to share the word of God together. We also try to exercise once or twice a week.” At the center, couples learned “how to connect the spiritual aspect with the practical life,” Abba Daniel sums up.


he workshop’s teachings are invaluable given the rapid changes afoot in modern-day Ethiopia. “Secular postures and outlooks are growing in our traditionally religious nation,” wrote Abba Teshome Fikre Woldetensae, who Mr. Tesema updates the announcement board outside St. Mary’s Church in Wonji.

“I learned a lot on how to live … as husband and wife.”

directs the national pastoral commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia, in the last edition of ONE magazine. The priest described “a particular crisis in families and in the life of young people.” Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia, likewise reports an erosion of family bonds. “Traditional Ethiopian and Christian family values are being challenged increasingly, especially in our swelling urban centers — as if family life conflicts one’s personal interests. This is a serious issue for forming a family and living in one,” he says. “People tend to follow an easy way to live. Exposure to social media promoting an individualistic life has an influence.” On the other hand, he says, influences for formation within the church have not kept pace — hence the purpose of the workshop. After six days of exchange and learning, the participants have a mission: When they return home, they must transfer their newly acquired skills and promote values such as patience, tolerance, dialogue, respect, spirituality, generosity and admiration. “We didn’t want the participants to be passive,” Abba Daniel explains. “We wanted to help them think about their own experience, be aware of it and then share it.” Thus, even with limited financial resources, within four to five years the church’s program will have created a strong network of role model families. Participants “must be vibrant and model couples who are educated, have a great knowledge of the Bible, and capable of teaching in their locality,” says Abel Muse, program officer for the pastoral commission of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat. In each and every jurisdiction of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, Ge’ez and Roman rites, pastoral

You help us strengthen families. #WeAreCNEWA

coordinators along with local directors and bishops facilitate the recruitment of motivated participants. “We believe that if the practice of the workshop would be owned and shared by those participating families and beyond, the Catholic faith will be sustained through strong families whose values the children pick and endeavor to live accordingly,” says CNEWA’s Argaw Fantu.


ewdunesh Negese, Tsedale Mola and Samrawit Tekle are now part of this network of strong families. Ms. Mola is not engaged yet but promises to apply the advice absorbed during the workshop in her future married life. In Addis Ababa, the three enjoyed the discussion of traditional Ethiopian and local family cultures and their integration with Christian family values. They were impressed by the story of a couple with 61-year marriage whose experience was better than just theory. Now back in Mendida, 100 miles from the capital, they are eager to share information to the few other Catholic families of the parish community. “A good family foundation contributes to the good of the society,” Ms. Tekle says. “After five or six years of marriage, many couples are separating,” says


her friend, Mrs. Negese, a devoted wife with three daughters. “Unfortunately, the most common cases in the area are divorce cases.” The three women hope to show the right path and to help Catholic couples and young people acquire common values. “The Catholic faith requires living an exemplary Christian family life in the society,” says Mr. Fantu. “This means living Christian values concretely and consistently. Preaching has to be substantiated by authentic Christian living,” he adds. “That is the teaching of Pope Francis.” Emeline Wuilbercq is a French journalist based in Addis Ababa, where she serves as a correspondent for the African edition of Le Monde. Her work has appeared in Jeune Afrique and The Guardian, among other publications.


__ __ __ __ __ ethiopiafamily



Building the Church

A letter from


by Benyamin Beth Yadgar with photographs by Zviad Rostiashvili



Editors’ note: The author of this article pastors the Assyro-Chaldean community in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, which is geographically in Europe, yet lies only 382 miles from Mosul in northern Iraq. In addition to caring for the souls of his parish, Chorbishop Benyamin Beth Yadgar serves as president of Caritas Georgia, the charity of the Armenian, Chaldean and Roman Catholic churches and a major partner of CNEWA.


he Assyro-Chaldean Christians of historical Mesopotamia — modern Iran, Iraq and Turkey — have been used as pawns in political games by powerful states for centuries. But nothing prepared us for the tragedy of World War I, which decimated our people and our churches: the Church of the East, the Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches, and my own Chaldean Catholic Church. We were dispersed, as many of our people fled to other corners of the world. The numbers tell the story. According to the Soviet census of 1939, there were some 20,000 Assyro-Chaldeans, most of them postwar refugees, living in what is now the Republic of Georgia. In 1990, that figure fell to 7,000. According to the census of Chorbishop Benyamin Beth Yadgar meets with members of the AssyroChaldean community in Tbilisi.


p Chorbishop Beth Yadgar seeks to strengthen bonds of community through parish events. z Children from Tbilisi and Gardabali attend dance classes at the AssyroChaldean parish complex. zz Young parishioners gather at the center for lessons in Aramaic.

2001, only 3,000 people identified themselves as Assyrian or Chaldean. It was into this difficult situation that I arrived in 1995, tasked with beginning an Assyro-Chaldean Catholic mission in the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi. I was entering a world of tremendous challenges. The view from my window of the airport below as I first approached Tbilisi startled me. It was totally dark. The landing strip was barely illuminated. It looked like a yawning abyss, gloomy and bleak. The picture didn’t get any brighter as I made my way through the city.



Dilapidated houses in the central square still preserved traces of a brutal civil war, with bullet holes that pockmarked the walls. The roads had collapsed. Armed guards stood at nearly all the crossroads. The city was living up to its reputation as a place of hardship, fear and misery. It seemed as if time had frozen. I stayed at the home of a parishioner, Genadi Ivanov, who made me feel most welcome. The following day, I met and spoke with Assyrians. My first impressions of the city — of the despair and the sense of defeat — only became worse. People were absolutely exhausted by endless daily, social and political problems. Everyday living was a struggle. Water and heat were scarce; the electricity was always failing. We tried to take some comfort from the Gospel of St. Luke: “One does not live by bread alone.” The mission of talking with people about spiritual food,

while they strived hard to find daily bread, was not easy. But in the midst of so much strife, I found inspiration from those who came before us — namely our dear grandmothers and grandfathers who attended church in any weather, under any circumstances, with great love and enthusiasm. Their devotion was so great! The generation who followed them, a generation of agnostics and atheists, could not grasp how much their elders suffered for faith and truth. These people in the most difficult years of Soviet regime risked everything. When it was fearsome to speak about God even in a whisper, and when churches were bulldozed or dynamited and priests were executed, they continued to visit the churches that survived, giving moral and financial support to priests to preserve the word of God and to keep hope alive.

Today, many of them are no longer with us. But they live on in memory. For me, they remain steadfast examples of courage and devotion. It is a courage and devotion deeply rooted in our history. Above all, they are survivors.


ost of the Assyrians and Chaldeans living in Georgia are descendants of refugees from Iran. They came to Georgia at the beginning of the last century, as life had become very difficult for them. People died of hunger, exposure, and unbearably difficult conditions. In spite of the obstacles, however, thousands of refugees managed to reach Transcaucasia. I know how important faith was for them. My long-suffering people proved it with their lives and sacrifices. In the life of every Assyrian and Chaldean, wherever they find themselves, no matter what fate has thrown at them, there has always

been something unshakable. These strong people resisted pressure, oppression, violence, cruelty and injustice. And what made them survive, what enabled them to endure, was something far stronger than a sense of national selfpreservation. It was — and it remains — their Christian faith. They have prevailed because of the Gospel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Assyrians and Chaldeans in the revived and independent Georgia were grateful to live in a country with deep Christian traditions, and they gradually regained hope for a peaceful existence. But these hopes were sobered by the realities and results of life after 70 years of Soviet rule, during which society was in a severe informational vacuum. At that time taboos and prohibitions were an integral part of life. These extended to all spheres of social and state activity, including the practice of religion.

Information about religion was scarce and, in most cases, unreliable. While the Communist Party no longer openly persecuted the church, it mocked clergy and actively discouraged religion and the practice of faith. Decades of this numbing activity made clear the priority of our mission: to reaffirm, reassure and support those holding on to their Christian faith. We learned that it was vital to hold frequent meetings, conversations on religious topics and to help explain Christian doctrine, so that the faith did not remain something distant or merely a part of history. And so we began working to make Christianity an integral party of daily life — a code of conduct, a way of living rooted in love.


he primary objective for our mission has always been, and will continue to be, to live and witness the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ, through



The Divine Liturgy at the AssyroChaldean Parish of Mar Shemmon Bar Sabbae draws wide participation from the community.

All these efforts are working toward one beautiful goal: to destroy indifference and build a temple of love in our hearts. Scripture; we draw together communities for the celebration of sacraments and feast days; we foster love and charity among the people; we teach the faith, ethics and morals of the church; and we support the practice and preservation of our cultural heritage. Through all this and more, we prayerfully work to keep the Gospel alive and deepen the faith of the people. We seek to spread the hope of Christianity, and bring light to those who spent so many decades in darkness, with humanitarian and education projects, along with spiritual activities. To this day, the work goes on at what is now the Assyro-Chaldean Parish of Mar Shemmon Bar Sabbae, which was consecrated in Tbilisi in October 2009 by the late Cardinal Emmanuel III, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans.

What a blessing this has been! Our parish complex is now our religious and cultural center. It is a multifunctional building, with a beautiful church, classrooms, a conference center, a theater, banquet halls and different workshops for young people. It is a place where Assyrians and Chaldeans of all ages and confessions from different districts of Tbilisi and nearby villages gather to meet each other for prayer or socializing. They celebrate religious and state holidays, organize meetings and different events, and joyfully take part in religious traditions and their historic culture. By offering different programs and activities, we endeavor to animate and enrich the community. Our parish goal is to create a safe, friendly and welcoming atmosphere for the young, introducing children to their historic Assyro-Chaldean

culture; share the beautiful and timeless teachings of Christianity; and promote a healthy and useful way of living — offering an alternative to street life, drugs and gangs. We try to give them tools to build a better, happier future. I cannot help but feel all these efforts are working toward one beautiful goal, the goal of our savior, Jesus Christ: to destroy indifference and build a temple of love and charity in our hearts. The doors to this church will always be open for those in need, regardless of their ethnic and religious background, regardless of differences and disagreements. It is important to help people realize that, only by our good deeds, can we be the living example of the eternal principles of Christianity — the infinite love and care for our neighbors and those in need. n



Accompanying the Church

Seeing the Face of Jesus How three communities of sisters are changing the lives of the young — from newborns to teenagers — in the Palestinian West Bank by Diane Handal with photographs by Samar Hazboun




ot far from Bethlehem’s ancient Church of the Nativity, which marks the site of the birth of Jesus, cribs line the wall of a nursery. Within them lie infants swaddled in pink and blue blankets; their names are displayed on stickers. Colorful mobiles dangle above their heads. Most of the babies are asleep, but not little Nadia; she lies on her stomach while her big brown eyes seem to dance around the room. She is alert and beautiful, and she was found abandoned on the street. Administered by the Daughters of Charity, the Holy Family Children’s Home, also known as the Crèche, is a humble site unknown to the thousands of tourists who flock Bethlehem, especially during the Christmas season. The sisters, who belong to the St. Vincent de Paul family of religious men and women, came to Bethlehem in 1884 with a mission to care for the poor, the sick and the marginalized. They founded a hospital and later, in 1905, set up an orphanage to house the babies abandoned on their doorstep. The Crèche has grown since, now offering shelter to expectant mothers and a home for children. At the Crèche, the mission of the sisters and their team is to serve the most vulnerable children and mothers in Palestine. Many of the home’s mothers are single and are victims of sexual and physical abuse, often at the hands of their brothers, fathers or uncles. Many have serious health problems due to lack of prenatal care, unsafe deliveries or both. Most have yet to turn 18. In the nursery’s center, just across from the corner with a pair of 10-day-old twins, rests an infant wrapped in a pink blanket. Her mother is just 14 years old. A Daughter of Charity cares for orphans at the Crèche in Bethlehem.

Sister Denise Abou Haider, who serves the sisters in Bethlehem as their superior and directs the Crèche, hails from Batroun in northern Lebanon. Her role requires confronting many challenges in this deeply patriarchal society, but her belief in her mission and her steadfast faith provide her with the strength she needs. “Faith plays a major role, faith in Jesus and God in the faces of those who come here,” she says of her community’s commitment. We celebrate Christ every day and the birth of the Savior in the children we save.” In such a traditional culture, sexual relations outside of marriage, particularly in the case of women, are taboo. Unmarried mothers flee their homes in fear of “honor killings,” which in the eyes of many in the region are preferable to bringing shame upon the family. No matter what has been done to these girls, even if by members of their own families, they are always the guilty party; family honor is paramount. As a result, “women who were able to conceal their pregnancy, either die trying to abort the baby, have to abandon the baby or are killed by their families,” says Andon Iskandar, 49, a social worker who has been with the Crèche for 20 years. The sisters work to guarantee safe shelter and safe delivery. “We don’t judge people,” says Sister Denise. “We see the face of Jesus in them.” Today, their efforts have expanded to include children from broken homes, divorced parents, substance abusers and others, says Mr. Iskandar, who studied social work and psychology at Bethlehem University and received his master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh. The sisters maintain a hidden shelter for vulnerable expectant

women or those who suffer domestic abuse. A similar shelter in Beit Sahour run by the government has much stricter entry rules, which exclude those with addictions or emotional illnesses, as well as suspected prostitutes. Oftentimes, such individuals face cruel condemnation from the local people. At the end of 2018, 42 children were living at the Crèche; nearly all were from Muslim families and ranged in age from newborn to 5 years old. “We are proud and happy to save lives,” says Mr. Iskandar, his kind smile tinged with sadness. For while the Crèche saves the lives of at-risk women and their babies, the outlook for the children’s future is murky. Unless a mother can prove she is a Christian to the Ecclesiastical Court, abandoned newborns are identified automatically as Muslim. And “adoption of children is forbidden under Sharia family law,” says Mr. Iskandar, indicating that only kafala, a kind of Islamic adoption, is available. But “it is not permanent; there are neither papers nor services provided later for the children,” he says. “Babies stay for six years and then go to different places,” Mr. Iskandar summarizes. “We are sad with what is waiting for them.”


long the winding St. George Street in the Old City of Jerusalem, just a few steps from Jaffa Gate, one can find the Terra Sancta School — an institute of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land but administered by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. “Our educational objectives have not changed since our community first came to Jerusalem in 1848,” says the school’s principal, Sister Frida Nassar. We are “rearing




CNEWA Connection t Sister Lucy Jadallah serves as principal of the Rosary Sisters High School in Jerusalem. u Sister Frida Nassar addresses students at the Terra Sancta School.

Since its beginnings, CNEWA has been a part of Palestine and Israel, and we have worked closely in caring for the most vulnerable of persons in the land we call “holy.” An important part of that work has involved the schools profiled in this story. Most recently, at the Crèche, we have provided a grid solar panel system and are buying new washing machines; at Terra Sancta, we recently remodeled the bathrooms and renovated the heating systems; and at the Rosary Sisters High School, we support the model U.N. program, which is helping to create young community leaders. CNEWA is privileged to have supported so many of the initiatives of the many religious congregations present in the Holy Land. These apostolates, and many more, are just a few of the ways CNEWA is able to “accompany” the church in a place rich with sacred history — literally, the cradle of Christianity. To ensure that this work goes on, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). children through education — moral, scientific and spiritual,” her dark eyes sparkling with a welcoming cheer. “Our mission is the participation in the work of God’s salvation of humanity,” she adds. Founded in 19th-century France by St. Emily de Vialar, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition operate in five continents and 26 countries. In the Middle East, they are active



in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. “We arrived in Palestine from France responding to the Franciscan Fathers’ call,” Sister Frida says, her wavy salt-and-pepper hair peeking out of her charcoal gray veil. Their mission was to support the Christian girls of the Old City of Jerusalem. They began with 30 girls, teaching Arabic and French, as well as sewing and embroidery.

At Terra Sancta, there are about 300 students — 150 boys and 150 girls — evenly divided between Muslim and Christian, with around 26 students to a class. Until the autumn of 2018, this site was known as St. Joseph’s, an allgirls school. With declining enrollment — the emigration of Arab Christians from the Holy Land continues — and other financial concerns, however, the sisters merged St. Joseph’s with the allboys Terra Sancta School under the latter’s name. In the exchange, elementary students of both genders now attend the sisters’ campus near Jaffa Gate, while middle- and highschool students attend the campus near New Gate, which is staffed by the Franciscans of the Custody. Sister Frida is still getting used to having boys in her school. She notes that it has not been an easy transition. “They need more space for running and jumping.” Today, four of the community’s sisters teach in the school. The remaining 22 teachers are lay women, many of whom attended the school. But, Sister Frida adds, “we share with the lay teachers the sisters’ spirit.” Monthly faculty meetings often focus on sharing the charism of the community — their vision of faith and service. At 7:45 every morning, students line up and pray together. Catechism is taught in all classes. Those students who are Muslim accompany the three Muslim teachers to pray and discuss the Quran. The curriculum is Palestinian. Arabic, English and French are taught, as well as Hebrew.

A year’s tuition costs about $740$760, varying slightly by grade. Occasional funds are secured in the form of donations — the United Nations gives some money for students’ lunches, and CNEWA recently remodeled the bathrooms and improved the school’s heating system. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land covers remaining costs. “Students come from modest families; they work in hotels and restaurants, or as drivers,” Sister Frida says. A rapidly changing society poses another challenge to the school. “This is a new generation, one that has changed,” Sister Frida says, expressing concern. “We don’t feel the same belonging as before. The

relationship and friendship is not the same.” “Technology now has a big role in their lives. Families cannot control everything. The children don’t listen; they’re too occupied with cell phones, and computers. They are more absent minded.” In the reception room, Sister Frida has four baskets full of cell phones that are collected each morning before school starts. Most families of the students live in the Old City or on the way to Bethlehem. Thus, Identification Cards are an issue. “With blue ones, you have to live in Jerusalem, pay national insurance, and you receive health insurance. All West Bank residents have a green ID, which means they do not

have access to Jerusalem or Israel without permits from the Israeli authorities. And with green IDs, there is no health insurance, no pension, nothing,” Sister Frida says. These differences can pose problems in terms of access, as well as in the health and well-being of students and their families. Yet despite these challenges, the students’ performance is encouraging. “After graduating from Terra Sancta, students go to Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, Birzeit University in Ramallah or Hebrew University in Jerusalem,” Sister Frida says. “Few leave the country unless they get scholarships.” Some work at the French or Belgian consulates.



The U.S. Consulate, a former favorite of the students, has now closed. “When I hear the students are succeeding in their lives and are happy, this is my consolation,” Sister Frida says. “School is beautiful, fantastic,” says 11-year-old Sandra Katanasho. Sandra lives in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. Her mother is Filipina and her father, an electrician, is Palestinian. Her 8-year-old brother attends a Greek Orthodox school. Sister Frida says integrating the sexes has been more difficult in the higher grades. Sandra agrees. “We’re having fun with the boys but it was better before. Me and my friends play together. Some boys are not polite and sometimes boys don’t appreciate me,” says the sixth grader, her long jet-black hair falling over her pink down jacket. Sandra’s dream is to go to university to become a teacher. “I like teaching right and wrong,” Sandra says confidently. “I escape to pray to God. I don’t care what everything is happening outside. “I pray for peace.”

Her cousin, Sister Alphonsine, 26, serves as vice principal and takes care of administrative work, and also teaches religion. In 1880, the two founders of the Rosary Sisters Congregation, Mother Marie Alphonsine from Jerusalem — who was canonized a saint in 2015 — and Father Yousef Tannous from Nazareth, aimed to serve the people through schools, cultural centers and hospitals, as well as training in trades such as tailoring. The community works throughout Palestine and Israel, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. The sisters established their high school in Jerusalem in 1964. Its mission was to provide a strong education to Arab women —

The children range in age from 3 months to 17 years. “The school serves Jerusalem and Ramallah — poor, rich, middle income,” Sister Lucy says. The Israeli Ministry of Education provides 60 percent of operating costs. The school must raise the remaining balance, largely through tuition fees that range from $1,300 to $1,900. Neither the sisters nor the students receive money from the Palestinian Authority or the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The school day begins at 8 in the morning with 2,250 students — about 400 of whom are Christian. While buses begin to pick up the students as early as 5:30 a.m., most arrive at least 30 minutes late, depending on the situation in the West Bank. Sometimes, it takes them an hour or more due to the checkpoints, Sister Lucy says. Moreover, she needs to gain permission from the Israeli authorities every six months for teachers who live in the West Bank, Bethlehem and Ramallah so they may travel to Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. “It is a struggle and sometimes takes a month to get,” says Sister Lucy. “It makes me frustrated and angry and sad for the students and sad for the teachers.” It’s a perpetually stressful situation. When the sister finds time, meditation, prayer, music and evening walks make it all more manageable. “I have to balance between two authorities every minute of every day,” she says. “I need Israeli funding. I need the Palestinian Authority because of curriculum and certification.” The school utilizes both the Palestinian standard examinations, known as Tawjihi, and the British

“We are serving the people, not ourselves. It’s God’s way. We believe God is working more than us.”


lasses have ended for the day at the Rosary Sisters High School. Outside, teenage girls with cell phones in hand, some with their long hair hidden underneath their hijab, laugh and chat. This scene from Beit Hanina, a neighborhood in Palestinian East Jerusalem, could have been a girls’ high school anywhere in the world. Sister Lucy Jadallah, 48, the principal for both the primary and the secondary schools, is from Ajloun, in the northern highlands of Jordan near the traditional site of the birth of the Prophet Elijah.



spiritually, academically and socially. Tolerance, coexistence and above all respect for the other were paramount. The school’s primary objective remains the same: “We are serving the people, not ourselves,” says Sister Lucy. “It’s God’s way. We believe God is working more than us.” Sister Lucy has an undergraduate degree in music from Yarmouk University in Jordan and a graduate degree from Birzeit University in the West Bank, where she studied democracy and human rights. Despite her advanced studies in political science, she still plays the piano and the flute; classical music remains her favorite. “This is my school; I graduated from here,” she says. “I love my mission.”

With your gift, we keep the young connected to Christ. #WeAreCNEWA

International General Certificate of Secondary Education. “As a nun and as a principal, I have to deal with that and I sympathize with the people,” she adds. But her main focus is educating women. “I am always looking to make the school the best in Jerusalem. Ninety-nine percent of the girls start early and go through 12th grade. “The sisters have invested in them since they were 3 years old,” she adds. “Few come just for high school. Most girls who graduate from Rosary go to universities. They become professionals — doctors, lawyers, journalists.” About 5 percent go abroad to England, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Turkey and the United States. “We encourage them to be prepared for higher education, to engage in extra-curricular activities and to volunteer at organizations for the elderly and disabled,” Sister Lucy says. Such activities include the Dabke (an Arab folk dance), ballet, modern dance, music,


taekwondo and gymnastics. Of particular note is the school’s Model United Nations Program, which interfaces with other schools to learn about diplomacy and U.N. procedures through hands-on conferences. Sister Lucy says Jerusalem’s society is changing. “Women are able to be more independent. Jerusalem is open and modern while the general atmosphere is conservative and, therefore, complicated,” she says. Local nongovernmental organizations, especially those in health and advocacy, are working to educate women as leaders through health education and gender mainstreaming programs, which are done in coordination with the Ministry of Health and Education. But it is a struggle in the present male-dominated culture. “As a Palestinian girl, Rosary has made me focus on the need for education,” says Nicole Hazou, 17, her dark oval eyes and high cheekbones framing her sweet smile. Her mother and father are

from Bethlehem and Jerusalem, respectively. Her younger sister, Julie, is in the eighth grade. Nicole describes the school as competitive and strict. “One needs to work hard to get good grades. But, it offers lots of opportunities.” At a sociopolitical art museum not far from the school, a banner ripples in the wind. It reads: “Raise boys and girls the same way.” Sister Lucy offers both girls and boys the same advice: “Your weapon is your education. Don’t accept only a high school education.” Diane Handal is a frequent contributor to ONE, focusing on the Middle East.


__ __ __ __ __ palestinesisters



Emergency Relief



W hen the Rains Came Amid floods, the women and men of India’s southwestern state of Kerala found strength in their faith and in one other by Anubha George


t began while many still slept. Annamma remembers it vividly. It was about 4 a.m. on 16 August 2018. She had woken up early to make coffee for her husband in the kitchen of their home in the village of Kanjikuzhi, in the high ranges of the Idukki District. A heavy rain was falling outside. It had been that way in Kerala for much of the month. But people had adjusted to it. Life went on as usual. “My husband, Thomas, wakes up early in the morning,” she says, recalling his daily routine. “He then reads the Bible, prays and then goes to church. “He has done this since he was a boy, every single day without fail. This was like any other morning: He prayed. I made him coffee.” Then, everything changed. Without warning, life as usual was shattered. A coconut tree crashed into the house. Water poured in; the walls crumbled. It was a landslide. Rescue officials assist villagers out of a flooded area near Cochin following heavy monsoon rainfall.

“I fainted,” Annamma says. “My son and husband had to carry me to safety.” As with many in her village, Annamma was stunned. “We’ve lived here for generations,” she says. “It is so safe. I have no idea what happened.” The monsoon rains hammered the state for days on end, causing heavy flooding throughout. Dams burst. More than a million people were affected; most of them were displaced from their homes. Across Kerala, at least 400 people died. Many of the higher villages such as Idukki were crippled by landslides. “The landslide destroyed the house,” Annamma says. Along with the house, the storm also swept away Annamma’s livelihood. “Most of us here grow cocoa, coffee, coconuts, plantains and black pepper. The landslide destroyed it all.” Annamma was forced to leave her home. The Kerala government declared it unsafe. It was decided the residents would have to buy land elsewhere, for which the




CNEWA Connection t Rescue personnel evacuate a flooded area in Muppathadam in Cochin’s Ernakulam district. y Father Sebastian meets with Joy Kannatt and his son.

CNEWA has a long history of accompanying the church in India, principally with the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches. When disaster struck last summer, these partners turned to CNEWA to help them alleviate the suffering as it occurred. As our regional director, M.L. Thomas, wrote at the time: “Hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, banks, government offices, shops, cattle, crops, food materials, household items — everything was destroyed and people had to depend on relief supplies. There were no supplies coming in, as the flooding was so heavy that no one could move from one place to another; the people in relief camps had to struggle without food and water. Then, the helicopters dropped food materials and the military vehicles tried their best to bring necessary items to the people gathering in camps.” The work is far from over, and thousands are struggling to rebuild their lives. CNEWA remains there, by their side. To support this mission of accompaniment, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). government would provide financial assistance. “We’re looking for land. So at the moment, we’re renting a house nearby,” Annamma explains. “But it is expensive — about $42 a month. It means we can’t buy medicines for high blood pressure and diabetes, which my husband and I both need.” Annamma cannot hold back the tears. She cries while telling her story. But she is not alone; the Rev. Sebastian Kochupurackal has been there to console her — and



along with his presence and support, the church has been able to offer resources, guidance, prayers and, most significantly, hope. Father Kochupurackal is the executive director of the High Range Development Society (H.R.D.S.), the social welfare arm of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Idukki, founded in 2008. “We work for the development of communities here, to help and educate them,” says Father Kochupurackal.

“The landslides here really showed that more work needs to be done to create eco-awareness and natural disaster rehabilitation.” Putting such advocacy on hold for the moment, members of the local church rolled up their sleeves and went to work. In addition to raising 4.8 million rupees, or more than $67,000, to support those who lost their homes and their livelihoods, “the church staff decided to donate a month’s salary to the flood victims,” Father Kochupurackal says. “This idea was later adapted by the Kerala government, if people wanted to donate to flood relief.” The church’s immediate assistance was not just monetary; during the floods, the eparchy set up 105 rescue and relief camps. “We helped about 7,000 families, keeping them safe in the camps set up in the church premises around Idukki,” the priest adds. “We collected things like bedsheets and blankets from people. The bishop, vicar general, everyone from the eparchy helped out.” The first priority was to give people a safe place to stay, where they would have food and a bed. Now, several months after the devastating floods, the Eparchy of Idukki has set up a committee called Santvanasparsham (translating to “the touch of compassion and empathy”) to strategize and determine how to best help those still affected. “It is comprised of priests, men and women from the area, volunteers. We get together to discuss how best to use the money we have collected,” he says.

But the work is only just beginning. “Rehabilitation of this area,” the priest explains, “is a long process.”


hat same August morning, Shaji George was also awake, working his shift as a driver in Dubai, nearly 2,000 miles northwest of Kerala. The news came by way of a text message. “Basically, the message said my mother, father and sister had died in a landslide. That was it,” Shaji says. His parents and sister had been buried under the rubble. Only later did he learn the full story. As they carried the bodies to the local hospital, someone realized Shaji’s sister was still alive, but barely. “There was a chance of saving her,” he says. “There’s a well-known local doctor. His house was 100 yards away. But the roads were blocked by the landslides and water. They couldn’t get my sister to the doctor because of that,” he explains. “They tried so hard.” Eventually, the rescuers reached the bishop’s house, where a morning liturgy was to begin. “They asked if there were any nurses around,” Shaji says. “You know, a lot of the time sisters and nuns are also trained nurses in rural areas.” But that morning, there was not a soul who could help. “My sister breathed her last at the bishop’s house. She couldn’t be saved. “People tried their best. It wasn’t to be.” Shaji has since left Dubai and returned to his native village of Vazhathope in the Idukki District. “I just couldn’t go back to the Gulf,” he explains. “My heart wasn’t in it at all. Words can’t explain how I feel.” Father Kochupurackal and H.R.D.S. are helping Shaji cope with his great loss. It is not easy.

“It’s too early,” the priest says. “Shaji will take a long time to recover and heal. But we are here for him. We visit every other day if not every day.” Faith has played a significant part in helping people come to terms with the natural disaster that took away everything and everyone they once knew. During a tragedy like a flood, Father Kochupurackal explains, people often turn to God and reevaluate their priorities. “If they lose material things, such as a house or jewelry, they thank God that it wasn’t their loved ones whom they lost,” he says. “The other thing is that we begin to understand that everything is

temporary. No one, nothing is safe; anything can happen in a moment. Also there is a third thing: Natural disasters bring people together. We show concern for each other; we share and care, irrespective of dividing factors such as class, caste, color and creed.” While people were brought together by tragedy, long-term challenges still remain. “The biggest challenge is rebuilding the homes of those who lost them,” the priest says. “We asked our parishioners if they could donate some of their land to those who lost their homes. They donated 170 plots of land, which was beyond anything we expected.”

“We show concern for each other; we share and care, irrespective of dividing factors.”



Landslides left roads destroyed in the district of Idukki.

“I had absolutely no idea what to do. I just stood there speechless and shocked,” he says. A group of ten men came to his rescue, led by a local media celebrity. “They’d bring their cars here for repair. When they heard about my garage, they got together and collected more than $5,000,” says Mr. Kannatt. Another local man leased him a new plot of land. “These guys are helping me set up my garage again and restart my life,” the mechanic says. “I had no idea how to move forward. I’d lost every single tool. But people were there for me. I’d never expected that.” Joy Kannatt’s life has returned to something resembling normal. “This has taught me to help others when they’re in need,” he says. “We shouldn’t care about someone’s religion or caste.”

O The Eparchy of Idukki is also helping people reconstruct their homes. “We’ve been helping 100 families with rebuilding,” says Father Kochupurackal. “We’re giving them money on top of what they’re entitled to get from the government — in installments, so there’s accountability. We’re also helping people pay fees for their children’s education. We need to make sure no child misses school.”



“We’re a close knit community here,” says Joy Kannatt. He offers his own story as proof. His automobile garage had been the place to go to in Vazhathope should you have a problem with your car, scooter, truck or van. “When I came to the garage that morning, it was as if it had never existed,” Mr. Kannatt recounts. As with so many others in the area, he found his life and livelihood destroyed by the landslide.

n a warm, humid and tropical morning in January, months after the flood, Father Xavier Kudiamssery sits in his office in Alappuzha, a small coastal town in Kerala. He is the executive director of the Alleppey Diocesan Charitable and Social Welfare Society of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alleppey. It is also the largest nongovernmental organization in this coastal region, one of the ministries of which played a significant role in reaching out to those affected by the flood. “We run a radio station called Radio Neythal,” Father Kudiamssery says. In Malayalam — the local language of Kerala — “neythal” means “seashore,” as the FM radio station was established to help with the educational and social development of the coastal communities.

Radio Neythal is also India’s first and only radio station that is run solely on solar power. The station broadcasts from 6:30 to 10:30 every morning. “This is a secular radio station; we broadcast to and about every religion and community,” Father Kudiamssery says. In the middle of last August, all of those factors combined to help the radio station not only transmit warnings, but also save lives. The coastal families in Alappuzha are mostly from the fishing community. “This area was severely flooded,” Father Kudiamssery says, “more so because it is farther below the sea level than other places in Kerala. “Flooding is a constant problem during a normal monsoon. But the relentless rains last year made it worse.” It was because of Radio Neythal that the fishermen in this area came to the rescue of those stranded in their homes. “Our station has a presence in pretty much all homes in Alappuzha. So when the first warning came, we broadcast it to make people aware of what was going on,” Father Kudiamssery says. “We also have a mobile app for the radio so everybody in the area can access it one way or another.” On 15 August 2018, Radio Neythal aired a warning from the local government authority about the declining situation. Over the next 24 hours, the diocese was asked to send boats to evacuate families. “We sent in 211 vessels. Later on, fishermen from other parts of the state started coming in to help,” the priest recalls. “Eventually, we were also running 25 relief camps, providing food and shelter to more than 6,000 people.” The church in India has donated millions of rupees toward relief. “It wasn’t just the Alleppey diocese,” he notes. “The Archdiocese of New

When storms come, we deliver help and hope. #WeAreCNEWA

Delhi also contributed about $20,000,” Father Kudiamssery says. Despite these promising strides, much work remains. “Houses and sewage systems were destroyed. Thousands of people lost their livelihoods. Families lost their livestock, such as hens, ducks and cows. All these are major sources of income for people in Kuttanadu,” Father Kudiamssery says. Organizations such as the United Nations have also come forward with offers of help for those lacking sources of income. “We need rehabilitation through reconstruction. The Catholic churches of Kerala have been helping women by donating sewing machines to them,” Father Kudiamssery says. “We’re also giving people livestock and helping them to rebuild their homes. “Life needs to get back on track as soon as possible.” But, he adds, “the most touching bit was that all communities — whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian — came to help each other during the crisis. There was such a camaraderie.” Father Kudiamssery is proud of the role Kerala’s Roman, SyroMalabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches played during and after the floods. The presence


and outreach of the church touched thousands and not only saved lives, but sustained hope. “People here know how much we did and how we helped. They looked to us for help,” he says. “We did all that we could — and more. The church led the rescue operation. All these months later, we continue to do so.” Anubha George is a former BBC editor and writes on Kerala culture. Based in Cochin, her work has been published in and The Good Men Project, among others. She also teaches journalism at India’s leading media schools. THERE’S MORE ABOUT THE DEVASTATING FLOODS IN INDIA ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:


u web/floodvideo




on the world of CNEWA


uring a number of my pastoral visits, not only have I witnessed firsthand the extreme sufferings of war, famine, natural disasters and the like, I have witnessed and been uplifted by the resilience of the human spirit. The survivors of these disasters not only survive, they thrive — oftentimes as a result of their profound faith and, among Christians, their support of the church. CNEWA is honored and humbled to witness this in our role of accompaniment of the local church.



I think of the large numbers of refugees of every age who had to flee the ravages of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But I especially recall the courageous women who carried their babies and clutched the arms of their elderly mothers and grandparents as they fled persecution to an unknown land — and a very uncertain future. But, inspired by their faith and nurtured by the church, they carried with them an abundance of hope, which has led them to a new life. Even if “new life” has meant living in a refugee camp or a cramped apartment, they have maintained

Msgr. John Kozar visits the Holy Family Church in Gaza in January 2016.

their hope and have joyfully expressed it in their prayers and liturgical celebrations. I have had the great joy of participating in some of these liturgical events and have come away uplifted and renewed in my own faith. The prominence of the cross of Jesus has been visible everywhere: on the fronts of tents or humble shelters, worn around their necks, painted on the exteriors of gathering

places or displayed in some other ways. It proudly proclaims their identity and their sense of hope. When the monsoon rains in Southern India turned into deadly flooding last year, CNEWA was among the first church-based organizations to respond as millions of poor people were displaced and left without shelter, without food, without even the most basic necessities of life. The local church served these poor in a very admirable way and provided not only material relief and supplies, but — even more importantly —

the church provided spiritual comfort and encouraged the people to hope and seek new life. Despite the uncertainty of their future, these humble people of faith not only accepted their fate, but reached out to serve the church by serving the needs of others. Religious men and women were especially courageous and often served as the only lifeline to those in remote or inaccessible areas. Some of these religious were themselves displaced and had lost everything in the floods, but they worked untiringly to serve those in

need. The church was at its best, not just in providing material needs, but in sustaining the faith of the survivors and inspiring them to maintain their hope. Holy Family Parish in the Gaza Strip is a beacon of hope and new life. Shortly after the last conflict between Hamas and Israel, in the midst of much suffering and destruction, Holy Family Parish opened its doors and its hearts to all — to the hungry, to the elderly, to people of every faith tradition. It was an oasis surrounded by a desert of despair and destruction.



The local pastor and his energetic parish team exuded a sense of hope and shared that with the thousands who sought comfort there. I was privileged to visit there and to experience the love that radiated within this small parish. When I celebrated Mass, I could not help but smile when I realized that tradition tells us that the Holy Family stopped here for comfort and refuge on their flight to Egypt. And today this holy place reverences that tradition through the ministry of giving refuge and by hosting so many who suffer and are in need — providing them with an environment of welcome and hope. In Ethiopia, drought has been a stinging reality for many years, resulting in the starvation of many, especially infants and other vulnerable groups within their societies. Despite their hunger and uncertainty, despite the empty grain containers and their



emaciated bodies, they endure and they maintain their sense of hope. I have been especially humbled by those suffering from hunger as they have reached out to me, as a brother from far away, and gave me food, even in their want. One particular time, a poor mother whom we were visiting in her stone hut brought me some milk from her goat. Milk. Politely, I declined and asked her to give this milk to her children. She never complained about the drought, which had dramatically diminished her cactus crop; she never brought up her own uncertainty of how she would continue to feed her children. She demonstrated only a sense of joy and hope. And with the help of Almighty God, I prayed, she would endure. CNEWA so often is blessed with examples of faithfulness of the poor

and their sense of hope in the midst of so much despair. Some might suggest this is heroic, but the poor would reject that word and say they are accompanied by Jesus and his church. And thanks to your prayers and your generous gifts, CNEWA walks with the church in reaching out to those in need. Thanks to all of you for your Christlike love and concern.



tt A mother holds her child in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, in May 2015. p Children greet visitors to a refugee camp in Zahleh, Lebanon. t An Ethiopian mother generously offered to share her goat’s milk with Msgr. Kozar on his 2016 pastoral visit.



CNEWA a papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195 • 1-212-826-1480 • 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K9 • 1-866-322-4441 •

Profile for ONE Magazine

ONE Magazine Spring 2019  

The official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)

ONE Magazine Spring 2019  

The official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)

Profile for cnewa