God • World • Human Family • Church
FINDING A HOME Migrants create a sense of family in Lebanon Foreign workers find welcome in Jordan Iraqi Christians resolve to rebuild their homeland
one COVER STORY
A Home for Migrants Foreign workers build a sense of family in Lebanon text by Doreen Abi Raad with photographs by Tamara Abdul Hadi
Resolve Iraqi Christians struggle to hold on to their homeland text and photographs by Raed Rafei
In a Land of Refugees Filipino migrants build community in Jordan text by Dale Gavlak with photographs by Nader Daoud
A Letter from Bethlehem by Peter Bray, F.S.C.
Breaking Free The church helps Ethiopians battle khat addiction text by Emeline Wuilbercq with photographs by Petterik Wiggers
Connections to CNEWA’s world Focus on the world of CNEWA by John E. Kozar
t Eugene and Apple, now engaged to be married, first met at the migrant center at St. Joseph’s Church in Beirut.
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OFFICIAL PUBLICATION CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION
Volume 45 NUMBER 3
Leave a gift that lasts generations
6 Front: Sudanese migrant Adut embraces her son, Martin, in Beirut. Back: Filipino migrants pray after Mass in St. Joseph’s Church. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 2, 15-19, back cover, Tamara Abdul Hadi; page 3 (top): CNS photo/Paul Haring; pages 3 (upper left), 24-29, Ilene Perlman; pages 3 (lower left), 6-9, 11-13, Raed Rafei; pages 3 (lower right), 20, 22-23; Nader Daoud; pages 3 (upper right), 3 (far right), 30-35, Petterik Wiggers; page 4, Greg Kandra; page 5, CNEWA; pages 36-39, 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
20 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 reasonable 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. 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 www.cnewa.org ©2019 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
When you remember CNEWA in your will, poor children, families and the elderly will never be forgotten And the kindness in your heart lives on Thanks to you, we are making a difference #WeAreCNEWA
In the United States: www.cnewa.org In Canada: www.cnewa.ca
Connections to CNEWA’s world Msgr. Kozar Honored The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada honored CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, with its prestigious Bishop John England Award. The award was presented at the association’s annual media conference held this year in June in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Bishop England Award — named for the bishop who in 1822 founded the first Catholic newspaper in the United States, The Catholic Miscellany — honors a publisher who has been a staunch defender of the press and its freedoms. “During his eight years as president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association and as publisher of CNEWA’s magazine, ONE, Msgr. John E. Kozar has been a champion of journalism, promoting accountability and transparency in reporting, affirming a commitment to excellence and promoting the church’s evangelical witness throughout the world — especially in some of its most embattled corners,” his nomination noted. “More than a publisher, he is in his bones a journalist who relishes getting a good story and sharing it.” Receiving the award, Msgr. Kozar said, “I’m deeply humbled by this recognition. It’s really a reflection of the work of everyone in the CNEWA family. It’s a great privilege to serve God’s people in this way and to carry out this mission entrusted to us.”
ONE Wins CNEWA’s flagship publication, ONE, was named Magazine of the Year (Mission Magazine category) at the annual media conference of the Catholic Press Association, held in June in St. Petersburg, Florida. The magazine took home an additional 26 Catholic press awards, including writing, photography, blogging and design.
The judges included faculty from Spring Hill College, Loyola University, Marquette University and media professionals and journalists from around the country.
Citing the overall quality of the magazine, the judges praised the “great work” of the staff, cited the “excellent” layouts, singled out the “beautiful, informative coverage” and made a point to underscore the “exceptional journalism” that has been a hallmark of the publication.
India Emergency In August, responding to urgent requests for aid from three eparchies of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, CNEWA launched an emergency appeal for people in flood-ravaged southern India.
You can find a full list of ONE’s awards, and links to the winning stories, at www.cnewablog.org/ web/cpa2019.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Palghat reported that torrential rains had triggered landslides in the hilly areas of the Palakkad District, burying houses, people, livestock and patches of agricultural lands in mud several feet deep. CNEWA’s regional director in Kerala, M.L. Thomas, added that flash floods ravaged the lower regions of the district, destroying houses and fields located along its rivers and streams. CNEWA is asking for help to aid our brothers and sisters in southern India in their hour of need. In the United States, urgent donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org; by phone at (800) 442-6392; or
by mail: CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195. In Canada, visit www.cnewa.ca; write a check to CNEWA Canada and send to 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K9; or call toll-free at 1 (866) 322-4441. Welcoming The Shepherd In August, Bishop Ruperto C. Santos, who chairs the Episcopal Commission of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples for the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines, made a pastoral visit to Jordan and Lebanon, where he spent time with the Filipino migrant population. “They were days of joy, hope and encouragement,” wrote CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, Ra’ed Bahou. During his visit, the bishop celebrated Mass for Filipino migrants at various locations in Jordan, baptizing and confirming adults who had received their instruction from the Teresians, who operate CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission Community centers in Amman and Bethlehem. In all his Masses, the bishop encouraged those present to “turn to Jesus when the journey becomes rough and challenging.”
To learn more about the Teresians and how CNEWA supports their work among Jordan’s Filipino migrants, read In a Land of Refugees on Page 12. Seeking Peace in Ethiopia For more than a year, violence between communities in several regions of Ethiopia has claimed hundreds of lives, devastated villages and forced millions of people to flee their homes. CNEWA has rushed funds to assist the local churches there, especially the south central Apostolic Vicariate of Hawassa, where the vicariate has helped resettle more than 800,000 people in emergency shelters built with funds in part from CNEWA.
Bishop Ruperto C. Santos celebrates Mass for Jordan’s Filipino community.
CNEWA is also assisting the vicariate’s efforts to bring healing to the families traumatized by the violence, sponsoring workshops on peace and reconciliation arranged by the vicariate’s Peace and Justice office. CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, describes the fears of the people and how their faith has sustained them after attending a recent meeting: “Amid the broad darkness of ethnic conflict and destruction of properties,” he writes, “there appears the small but powerful light of faith. … We find real Christianity in such terrible times.”
There is even more on the Web
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Visit cnewa.org for daily updates. And find videos, stories from the field and breaking news at CNEWA’s blog, ONE-TO-ONE, at www.cnewablog.org.
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Accompanying the Church
Two years after ISIS, Iraqi Christians fight for their homeland text and photographs by Raed Rafei
Qaraqosh residents attend a funeral at Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which still bears damage from ISIS’ occupation.
he tangy smell of dried lime saturates the cramped living room. Issam Matti, 43, is brewing the fruit into an herbal tea known as noomi basra chai. To sweeten the popular Iraqi beverage, he adds a spoonful of homemade wildflower honey produced by bees he keeps in the mountains outside of the city of Dohuk. Dohuk, in the Iraqi autonomous region of Kurdistan, with its nearby suburbs and villages, remains a refuge for thousands of Iraqi Christians displaced from their homes by ISIS five years ago. “I lost everything, but gained my family,” says Mr. Matti of his displacement. On this typically hot August afternoon, he passes the tea to his guests, two clerics from the Church of the East. The memories are written on his exhausted face: a destroyed home, a ruined business, a past that can never be reclaimed. His face brightens momentarily; he hears the joyful voices of his two boys playing outside and the squeaking sounds of their bicycles filtering through the thin walls of his two-room caravan home. Mr. Matti’s story is all too common among Iraqi Christians — a story of relentless instability and recurrent displacements in the past five years. For years, Mr. Matti, a graduate of a vocational college, had lived in Sinjar in a small Christian community on the border with Syria. He made a comfortable living distributing water to the town, running a print and copy center and producing honey. But when the regional violence became local, he hastily left with his then-pregnant wife, Aline, and their two boys, Aram and Oline. “After our church was blown up, we were in a state of constant anguish,” he says. “We wanted to live among our people.” For a while they moved between temporary homes with relatives in a village near Mosul, a major city
CNEWA Connection t CNEWA Regional Director Michel Constantin discusses challenges facing Iraqi Christians with Syriac Catholic Bishop Nathanael Nizar Semaan. y Children participate in a group activity at the St. Paul Center for Church Services.
Security in the Nineveh Plain remains dicey: While ISIS no longer occupies Mosul, Qaraqosh or any of the other towns and villages of northern Iraq, members of the terrorist group — and their extremist sympathizers — remain hiding in plain sight. Competing militias, representing conflicting interests and parties, jealously control their territorial gains, hindering the movement of people and trade. Such insecurity thwarts not only the return of displaced families to their homes — dampening dreams of life revived — but also impacts the flow of aid to assist in reconstruction efforts. CNEWA’s assistance to the peoples of northern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan remains constant, however. This is largely due to its targeted nature, sound planning and the discretion of our partners as they accompany their people. These efforts include: health care to displaced families, care for the elderly and those with special needs, school fees for students, nursing formula and milk for infants and their mothers, support of catechetical and formation programs for children and young adults, and various agricultural projects for families living in more stable areas. To learn how you can help, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). home to centuries-old churches and monasteries. But soon after, ISIS invaded Mosul and the entire Nineveh Valley in August 2014, displacing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis. Fleeing north, the family was forced to stay in a tent in a makeshift refugee camp near Dohuk. Finally, they were able to relocate to a caravan tucked behind a group of new apartment buildings on a hill overlooking the city. Containing
eight apartments each, the four structures were built by the church to accommodate some of the many internally displaced people sheltering in Dohuk. Today, Mr. Matti relies on a meager income from the small amount of honey he produces yearly and sells to relatives, a few odd jobs and support from the church. Despite the routing of ISIS two years ago, and a relatively stable
security situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, many displaced Christians are wary of returning to their homes. For some, their homes have been destroyed outright; for others, there exists no guarantee of employment or services; others still are held back by a lingering sense of mistrust toward their Muslim neighbors. “The future is lost,” says the Rev. Afram Philipos, who helped provide medical services during the years of displacement in Dohuk. “We used to preach the importance for Christians to remain in their ancestral lands. But now we simply nod our heads in silence when people express their wish to leave Iraq.” From a population of 1.5 million — Assyro-Chaldean Catholics and non-Catholics, Syriac Catholics and Orthodox, and other minorities — before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians today are estimated around a quarter million, or just over half of 1 percent of the overall Iraqi population. Throughout a decade of targeted killings and kidnappings in Baghdad and Mosul, emigration continued to impact the Christian population of Iraq. Many who remained chose to relocate to their ancestral communities in the Nineveh Valley, turning these once rural villages into thriving towns with shopping malls, cinemas and restaurants. However, the two-year occupation by ISIS — and the ensuing destruction and looting of these towns — drove many to leave for Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and, from there, to seek asylum in
Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States. To visit Iraq today is to encounter a people struggling to rebuild — and struggling, as well, with the question of whether they should even remain in Iraq.
oughly 65 miles away from Dohuk, church bells ring to mark the beginning of another Sunday Divine Liturgy in Qaraqosh, currently the largest Christian enclave in Iraq. The main church tower of the fourthcentury Syriac Catholic Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah lies in pieces to the side, attesting to the brutality
of the conflict that had left much of the town burned and destroyed. But the sight of hundreds of people of all ages and walks of life neatly dressed and flocking into the church — vibrant amid the scorched walls, broken statues and ruined icons — shows a returning population determined to revive their town. Heavily armed security members of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, a Christian militia formed after the invasion by ISIS, have blocked the streets with military trucks to protect churchgoers, reflecting a heightened sense of vigilance and alarm. The presence
of security cameras on lampposts near churches is another sign people fear they are being targeted. Safety aside, people seem most preoccupied with pressing financial needs. “Giving should be regarded as an act of sharing and not of charity,” says the Rev. Awfi Ignatius in his homily, alluding to the economic difficulties faced by the people of Qaraqosh since their return a couple of years ago. The Divine Liturgy is being held in a makeshift tent adjacent to the church, which is still undergoing restoration. Outside the church, three 30something men with groomed beards
“The reconstruction and return of our people has been a testimony of heroism.”
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and elegant, tightly pressed shirts stop to talk. Despite their appearances, they say that even after returning from displacement, they have been struggling to make ends meet, doing odd jobs as salesmen or working in construction. They all express the desire to leave Iraq. Two are hoping that their relatives will help sponsor their immigration to France. The other says he jumped on a boat in Turkey a few years ago to try and cross to Europe, but was caught before reaching Greece; he was returned to Iraq. He says he may try again, but this time through legal channels. “We [Iraqi Christians] are like a scattered pearl necklace,” says Hanaa Ibrahim, 53, a mother who spends her free time knitting and gardening. Mrs. Ibrahim’s home is undergoing repairs with the help of the church, so she currently lives with her four sons and husband in the house of a relative who immigrated to Australia. She attributes part of the problem to an ongoing “psychological warfare” to demoralize Christians, and explains that her children cannot find stable jobs. Despite that, she hopes she can find a way to stay in Iraq. “I don’t like to think about leaving,” she explains. “My whole life has been here.”
trolling through the streets of Qaraqosh evokes the ambivalence of the current situation. Busy restaurants serve grilled meat, while freshly painted homes and active construction sites reflect a people struggling to return to normality. But, on the other hand, abandoned, burned and destroyed homes; unpaved roads; and piles of rubble and tangled wires on the sides of streets are a constant reminder that nothing is truly normal, that the wound is still fresh. And there is a pervasive feeling among many in the city that those who left will never come back.
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Nathanael Nizar Semaan of HadiabErbil says that roughly half of Qaraqosh’s 45,000 inhabitants have returned. “The reconstruction and return of our people has been a testimony of heroism,” he says. “But the situation remains shaky.” Even though damaged homes have been undergoing reconstruction with the support of the church and international organizations, many people remain too discouraged to return until better conditions prevail — such as some guarantee of services, job opportunities and, most importantly, safety. With very little representation in political and administrative institutions, many Christians here say they do not feel they have a place in the country. Yet some also express a deep-seated fear that the demographics could shift dramatically in traditionally Christian towns if departing families start selling their homes to nonChristians, or if the state decides to reconfigure land and administrative sectors. While Christians in Qaraqosh and other towns of the Nineveh Valley say they prefer to live in tightly knit Christian communities for reasons of safety, the laggard pace of restoring economic ties with the surrounding Muslim community has been crippling the local economy. The church is supporting agricultural projects in the fertile lands around Qaraqosh — such as the growing of grapes, corn and roses — but these activities have yet to generate much income. In the old market of Qaraqosh, Haitham Habib moves boxes of shoes from a truck into his shop with the help of his two brothers and nephew. The shoe shop was entirely burned during the ISIS occupation. With financial support from his family — and suppliers willing to provide him with
u The Rev. Afram Philipos consults with engineers at the construction site of a new medical center. y Haitham Habib, center, stands with his brothers and nephew in his recently restored store in Qaraqosh.
merchandise without any cost until he sells it — he was able to reopen the shop. But business has been slow. Previously, many of his customers were Muslims who would come from nearby villages. Not anymore. “There is no trust in our neighbors,” says Mr. Habib, who has a 6-year-old son suffering from cerebral palsy, requiring $60 every month for medical care. “If I had the means,” he says, “I would have left.” For Mr. Habib and many other parents, the main encouragement for them to stay is the church’s strong commitment to the education of their children. In the lively St. Paul Center for Church Services, hundreds of children come every day to take summer lessons in catechetics and Christian values, learn hymns and watch animated films about Jesus and the saints. The center, run by priests and young volunteers, also offers classes in music, computer literacy and English, as well as counseling and courses for young couples preparing for marriage. “We focus on entertaining methods that foster cooperation among children,” says Father Ignatius, who manages Christian teaching for children, stressing the importance of such a program in encouraging the return of families, despite difficult economic conditions. Nearby, children participate in a group activity that tests their knowledge of the Bible in a playful environment. “We need to plant the seeds of endurance and of Christian values
“We want to show the community that the message of Christians in Iraq is to help everybody.”
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“I want to remain in Iraq. … Every stone is best in its natural place.”
in the hearts of our kids,” the priest explains. “They are the future.” Educators are routinely trained to help tackle social issues that might affect youth, such as drinking and excessive online gaming. Teaching is also the priority for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who reside in Qaraqosh at the Immaculate Conception Convent, a building from the 1960’s restored a year and half ago after sustaining heavy damage during the years of occupation and war. “The psychological situation of our students is difficult,” says Sister Muntaha Hadaya, who teaches math at the Dominican Sisters’ school. She says instability and the lack of jobs affect the children’s morale. “They need a lot of motivation, because the atmosphere in most households is depressing,” she explains. “Parents are constantly preoccupied with life’s many needs.” The high rate of success of their students in official exams and the increasing demand for education have prompted the sisters to build a larger secondary school that will accommodate around 350 students. The new school will be equipped with laboratories and computer rooms. But college education and securing jobs later on are the biggest challenges for Christian Iraqi youths. Faten Butros, 24, is a fresh college graduate with a degree in computer engineering. “We, as Christians, work and fight hard to get a good z Dominican Sister Marie-Therese Hanna looks at photos of damage to the Holy Family Orphanage before its restoration. t Sister Marie-Therese and Sister Muntaha Hadaya visit the home of Nadia Matti and family, who returned to Qaraqosh two years ago.
Help Iraqi Christians know a future of possibility and hope #WeAreCNEWA www.iraqcnewa.org
education,” she says, reflecting on her difficult years in college in Kirkuk. In 2016, she had to hide with her classmates under mattresses in their dorm rooms when ISIS stormed the city. Despite the worries of her parents after she escaped that ordeal, Ms. Butros insisted on returning to her studies when ISIS was defeated. For months after that, she spent five hours a day on the road to get to school, braving many checkpoints. Her sister, Rita, 21, is currently studying medicine in Mosul. “I don’t feel always safe going there. The mentalities are backwards,” she says, adding that she commutes with nine other Christian students from Qaraqosh to Mosul frequently. “But my desire for the best education possible keeps me going.”
osul was emptied of its Christian inhabitants after ISIS seized control in 2014. Despite the city’s liberation two years ago, Christians now feel unsafe living there. Nearly all of its storied churches and monasteries now lie abandoned or in ruins. Dr. Jamil Nicholas Jako, an ophthalmologist working at the Mar Narsai charity health center in Dohuk, is a former resident.
Dr. Jako sold his house in Mosul in 2012 because of the growing prevalence of an extreme Islamist ideology hostile to Christians. He lives now in Dohuk with his five children, all college graduates with no fixed jobs. They help him run an eyewear shop. “I would never go back to Mosul, but I want to remain in Iraq. I can’t leave now,” he explains. “Every stone is best in its natural place.” Raed Rafei is a Beirut-based journalist and independent filmmaker whose writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Forbes Arabia and The Daily Star of Lebanon. READ MORE ABOUT IRAQI CHRISTIANS AFTER ISIS AT: cnewablog.org/web/ Sep19Iraq FOR A PERSONAL VIEW OF LIFE IN IRAQ TODAY, WATCH OUR VIDEO AT:
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Care for Marginalized
A Home for Migrants Foreign workers build a sense of family in Lebanon text by Doreen Abi Raad with photographs by Tamara Abdul Hadi
melyn rises at 6 each morning to prepare breakfast and usher the children off to school, accompanying them to the bus stop. So begins her long day of cleaning, cooking, ironing and general housekeeping, ending a couple of hours before midnight. The children and the house are not hers. They belong to her employers, and form part of her job. Her own two children are 5,500 miles away in the Philippines. She misses them terribly. For five years, 36-year-old Emelyn has been living in Beirut, Lebanon, employed as a domestic worker. Her partner in the Philippines finds sporadic employment in construction, making Emelyn the primary breadwinner. The couple never married because they could not afford a wedding. Emelyn’s eyes well up with tears, her voice turning to a strained whisper as she shares the painful conversations and text messages she experiences with her 12-yearold daughter back home.
“Why, mama? You’ve been there a long time. Don’t you miss me?” “If I don’t work here, you won’t have anything there: a house, electricity, water,” Emelyn reminds her daughter. “You won’t have a nice dress, new shoes.” Sometimes her daughter feels so angry at these circumstances, she refuses to speak to her. But both are looking forward to Emelyn’s visit near Christmas — her first return in five years. What Emelyn would most like to do is to set up a small convenience store back near her home. Despite the anguish of being away from her children — and despite the tedious, hard work she performs daily — Emelyn is thankful. “God heard my prayers,” she says. “I work for a good family. They treat me as part of their family, not like a maid.” Her Greek Orthodox employers, recognizing how she values her Catholic faith, provided Emelyn with two copies of the Bible — one in English and
another in her native language, Tagalog. The high point of Emelyn’s week is Sunday, her only day off. She attends Mass in Beirut in English at the Jesuit-run St. Joseph’s Church, and afterward goes upstairs to the Afro-Asian Migrant Center to meet up with her friends. There they spend their day together, having fun, sharing a meal and being spiritually nourished in their common Catholic faith. The center was established at St. Joseph’s in 2000, by an American Jesuit, the Rev. Martin McDermott, now 86. He has been working with migrants since the early 1980’s, in partnership with a Dutch Jesuit, the Rev. Theo Vlught, who recently returned to his homeland at the age of 90. But Father McDermott is not working alone in providing pastoral care to migrants. The Jesuit-run Members of the migrant worker community sing at Sunday Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Beirut.
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CNEWA Connection t The Rev. Henry Ponce, S.J., socializes with parishioners in Beirut. y Faithful receive Communion at a Mass celebrated by the Rev. Martin McDermott, S.J.
CNEWA takes to heart the biblical admonition to “welcome the stranger,” and so we have worked closely with our partners in the field to offer spiritual, pastoral and humanitarian support to those who find themselves far from home — including migrants seeking jobs to support their families and pave the way for a better future. In Lebanon, many of those migrants come from Africa, especially Ethiopia and Sudan, and the Philippines. The purpose of the AfroAsian Migrant Center in Beirut has been to give members of this marginalized community a place to gather, to pray, to learn about the faith and to enjoy a sense of family — particularly for those who are far from their own families. Thanks to our donors, CNEWA has helped fund the rehabilitation of the building that houses the center, enabling some 600 members of this community to socialize, take courses in catechism and prepare to receive their sacraments. In addition, the site serves as a community center, enabling members of the community to celebrate birthdays, christenings and weddings. The goal is to keep the migrant workers close to their families and their Catholic faith, enriching their time in Lebanon. To help support this vital mission, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). center he founded forms part of a pastoral care committee, established by the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon, for migrants throughout the country. The charity of the Catholic churches in Lebanon, Caritas Lebanon, operates safe houses and shelters for migrants in distress. And since September 2017, the American Jesuit has been joined in his work
at St. Joseph’s by the Rev. Henry Ponce, S.J. — the first time the Jesuit Province of the Philippines sent one of their own priests to the Middle East. Father Ponce, 45, began his Lebanon mission as an assistant to Father McDermott, who had been serving as director of the Afro-Asian Migrant Center. But after one year, the provincial of the Jesuits in
Lebanon switched the roles of the two. Father McDermott gladly accepted, Father Ponce recalls, and told the Filipino priest, “you’re the boss now.” “I’m only 86. Thank God, I’m in good health. I’ve slowed down, but I can still do the job of taking care of the migrants easily. I’m glad the work has a future, with Father Ponce here,” Father McDermott says. Together, and in their own special way, the two priests each have a great heart for their mission, keeping migrants on the path of their Catholic faith and giving them an outlook of hope, regardless of their circumstances.
riven by poverty and conflict in their homelands, some 250,000 people from the Philippines, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan have immigrated to Lebanon. Nearly 95 percent of them are women, and most arrive having been recruited by Lebanese agencies that contract domestic workers in African and Asian countries. Migrant workers in Lebanon are employed under the kafala (sponsorship) system, which links a worker’s legal status to their employer. Because they are not Lebanese nationals, they are not protected under the country’s labor laws. “They are taking a terrible chance in coming here, because they don’t know what sort of employer they will have. Some of them are very good, some are very bad, but most of them are middling,” says Father McDermott. Typically, the employer holds the employee’s passport. Should the migrant leave their place of
employment without the employer’s permission — or escape, depending on the circumstances —— without their official papers and passport, they risk detainment by the police. Arriving in Lebanon, migrant workers are faced with a new culture, different languages — Arabic, English and French — and the isolation of being away from their own families. Their employers control their lives almost entirely. Such a system fosters abuse and subsequent acts of desperation. News stories report incidents of household domestics committing suicide, usually jumping from apartment balconies in desperation. Many other less-dramatic incidents remain unreported.
The Jesuits’ deep concern for the life and rights of migrants works hand in hand with the pastoral nature of the Afro-Asian Migrant Center. Father McDermott recounts the terrible ordeal of a domestic who was raped by her employer and became pregnant. She refused her employer’s demands to terminate her pregnancy. Father McDermott was able to assist her through the help of a lawyer who volunteers his services at the center. The best outcome was for her to be released from her employer and return to the Philippines, where she named her baby boy after the priest. In the case of a migrant worker whose employers accused her of
stealing, it was discovered the accusation was a ploy to avoid their responsibility for unpaid wages. During the proceedings, in the presence of Father McDermott, the employer told his personal lawyer, “The priest is responsible for all our trouble.” Reputed for his humility, the priest says: “It was the best thing anyone ever said of me. I took it as a great compliment.” Complementing the American priest’s many years of experience serving the migrant community, Father Ponce brings to the work a sense of empathy and compassion drawn from his own background. “[This mission] is so close to my heart because I, too, was a migrant
“There are so many people hungry for spiritual nourishment. I realized I wanted to reach out to them.”
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“When you are far from your family, you have no one to hold on p Filipina migrants gather on the third floor of St. Joseph’s for a birthday party. z Father McDermott blesses a parishioner during Mass.
worker,” he says. “I know how it feels to be a migrant, to be away from your family, to be working abroad.” It was while employed in Japan for seven years as a design engineer for a shipbuilding company that Father Ponce first felt called to the priesthood. The revelation occurred to him while attending Sunday Mass. “There are so many people hungry for spiritual nourishment,” he says. “I realized I wanted to reach out to them. That’s why I became a priest.” Ordained in 2015, the priest’s first assignment was to the prison ministry in the Philippines. “In a way, the migrants are like prisoners, they are uprooted from their country and put in a place where they don’t want to be. Once they are here, they are not free,” Father Ponce says.
Among the biggest frustrations for the priests are employers who won’t allow their domestic help a day off to come to Mass on Sundays. To reach homebound Filipino migrants, Father Ponce hosts a weekly program on Lebanon’s Voice of Charity radio, run by the Maronite Lebanese Missionaries. It airs Sunday evenings and includes that day’s scripture readings and a short homily. With Filipino migrant workers as Father Ponce’s co-hosts, their lively and frank conversation in a mix of Tagalog and English draws on their struggles and triumphs, ultimately connecting both to the Gospel. The program is prerecorded, but Father Ponce has developed his technological and social media skills, and now also broadcasts it via Facebook. Through such efforts, the ministry has begun to reach beyond Lebanon, with listeners in other countries in the broader region — including Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — in addition to the Voice of Charity’s radio listeners across the Middle East.
refugee from South Sudan, Adut fled to Lebanon with her husband, Galb. As with most displaced Sudanese, they wait in Lebanon until they can resettle in the West, hoping for a better life. They live suspended between their past and an uncertain future. Returning to Sudan is typically not an option, as it is still dangerous. And so their wait in Lebanon has been long: Adut has no residency or working papers, complicating her attempts to register as a refugee and hampering her ability to find work. “I’m afraid all the time of being stopped by the police,” Adut says. Still, she ventures out every Sunday to attend Mass at St. Joseph’s Church, the high point of her week. Her husband, a janitor in a hotel, must work on Sundays and is only able to attend Sunday Mass on Christmas. “[Although] we pray together every night,” she says. After paying rent for their oneroom apartment, about $100 remains for monthly living expenses. “It’s not easy, but God sees everything. I’m nothing without
The church in Lebanon gives them a sense of family, thanks to you #WeAreCNEWA www.lebanoncnewa.org
to — only the faith.” God,” Adut says softly, with a calm confidence. Her 18-month-old son sits on her lap, contentedly playing with a piece of paper as she waits to speak to Father McDermott after Mass. “If I’m feeling low, I talk to him. He listens to me. “He tells me to put everything in God’s hands.” Through the help of the Mass collection, Father Martin paid for the cost of her baby’s delivery. The name Adut chose for her son, Martin. “Because I love him,” she says with a chortle. “He’s our father. He’s made a big difference in my life.” St. Joseph’s Church dates to 1875, after members of the Society of Jesus founded what became St. Joseph’s University. The space now used by the center was formerly part of the university. The main meeting room is adorned with all kinds of statues of the Blessed Mother and various saints, as well as images of St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata. For nearly 40 years, Father McDermott served as spiritual
director for the sisters of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, in Lebanon. Sisters from the order teach catechism at the center and serve at the Sunday Mass. The Jesuit priests are looking forward to the upcoming renovation of the center, with funding in part from CNEWA. Father Ponce, with his engineering and design skills, planned the improvements according to the center’s needs, enlisting the help of an architect. The new plan includes a kitchen and a multi-purpose hall for fellowship meals, seminars and conferences, with comfortable seating areas. “It will mean a lot for the migrants because they will have a more dignified place to gather — their sanctuary, where they can relax and socialize more comfortably,” Father Ponce says. He envisions a homey atmosphere. “This community treats us like a family,” says 30-year-old Apple. You can feel the love here.” In fact, love has blossomed for Apple at the center. It was there that she met Eugene, new to Lebanon and working for a telecommunications company as an engineer. It so happens they are both from the same province in the Philippines. “He’s the man of my dreams,” Apple says with a demure giggle.
Most importantly, she stresses, “Eugene is a God-fearing man.” Eugene, also 30, credits Fathers McDermott and Ponce for his deepening faith. Although he always attended Sunday Mass in the Philippines, Eugene says he now considers the Word of God in all aspects of his life. “It’s a touch of the Holy Spirit,” Eugene says of the center. “I found my inspiration here and the person I will love for the rest of my life. Praise God.” Eugene and Apple plan to marry, and are putting their future in God’s hands. “We’re praying for the right timing, just seeking first the Kingdom of God,” he says, beaming. Doreen Abi Raad is a freelance writer in Beirut. She has written for Catholic News Service and the National Catholic Register.
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Care for Marginalized
In a Land of
Filipino migrants build community in Jordan text by Dale Gavlak with photographs by Nader Daoud
hey come decked out in their finest: Pristine white, lacy blouses complement blue jeans and colorful trousers. Scores of Filipino women, mostly young, pack the wooden pews of Our Lady of the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church in the Jordanian capital city of Amman. Father Gerald Metal hails from the Philippines, too, and provides words of encouragement to the community before beginning to celebrate the Mass. Behind him, a huge mosaic of a shining Archangel Gabriel declares to a humble, astonished Virgin Mary
the miracle she is about to experience. For many in this congregation of domestic helpers — along with a sprinkling of foreign diplomats and aid workers — a miracle is exactly what they need. Once a sparsely settled kingdom squeezed between Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, Jordan has become the refuge and safe haven for millions of refugees. For decades, waves of Palestinians flooded the resource-poor nation; they have since been joined by Iraqis and Syrians fleeing extremism and war in their respective
Amabel Sibug plays guitar at the Church of the Annunciation in Amman.
homelands. Yet despite the general instability of the region, migrant workers from the Philippines continue to seek work there to support their families — a decision often burdened with regrets. A member of the choir, Aurea Gutierrez Perlai, leads the communion hymn, dressed in a pink floral blouse, her long, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. The past 25 years have been full of unexpected challenges for Ms. Perlai.
“We are only here to walk with them. We are not the solutions to their problems; Jesus is.”
“I came here in 1994 because my aunt encouraged me to come and work. But from the beginning, I regretted my decision,” she says with a pained expression after Mass. “I’m a college graduate and a teacher; it was very difficult for me to accept that I was just cleaning a house. I was earning $150 a month from a Jordanian family that had me work all hours of the day,” explains the 49-year-old mother from Silang, in the province of Cavite. That could mean 12 or more hours a day, in some households. Chatting after the liturgy, some congregants say they are only able to attend Mass once a month, because they receive so little time off. This is in flagrant violation of Jordanian labor law, as well as the customary practice of permitting at least one day off per week. But if they complain, employers often respond by confiscating passports or locking workers inside the house. Ms. Perlai’s heavy workload lasted for three years before she was able to move on to employment with the Spanish Embassy, where she worked for 19 years. She now works at the Norwegian Embassy as a cook, enjoying an eight-hour workday, weekends off and a high salary. Although Ms. Perlai’s employment situation improved dramatically, her marriage, in the meantime, collapsed. “My Filipino husband is here in Jordan, but we are separated. I am the only one supporting our children,” she says, her dark eyes welling with tears.
“He never comes to see them. “I don’t know what happened to our relationship,” she adds quietly. “He found another woman and has another family now. He has two other children who are younger than mine. I continue to pray about this situation and for my children.” Yet in the midst of such challenges, Ms. Perlai says she has found support through a pair of Filipina women who belong to a community of the Catholic Church known as the Teresian Association. “Elisa [Estrada] and Amabel [Sibug] invited me and the children to get involved in the choir at church. My daughter, Nicole, now 13, plays guitar for the choir. Amabel taught her how to play and is working with Nicole on her very first recital. And my son, Jordan, who is 11, serves at the altar,” Ms. Perlai says proudly. “They are like mothers to us. They stand beside us, asking us always what we may need, and how they can support us.”
n international community of the faithful present in 30 countries, the Teresian Association seeks to transform society in light of the Gospel through education and culture. Both Ms. Estrada and Ms. Sibug say they draw inspiration from the martyr St. Pedro Poveda, the founder of the Teresians, whose ministry emphasized love, sacrifice and hard work. “We are here only to walk with them. We are not the solution to their problems; Jesus is. Our own strength is in prayer,” says Ms. Estrada.
This, indeed, is how the two begin every day: “Amabel and I pray the rosary together.” “We value and respect people because in each individual is the image of Christ,” says the Teresian, whose vocation was born in Iloilo, a city in the central Philippines. She initially served in Bethlehem and Jerusalem for nearly a decade before coming to Jordan in 1985. Once she was settled in Amman, she provided shelter to abused Filipinas in a tiny house she once shared with her fellow Teresians. “I provided counseling to women who were beaten, and who were abused verbally and sexually. But the situation has very much improved now,” she says. “Our role is to accompany people, like Jesus walking on the Road to Emmaus, questioning and supporting them. “I also like working with Jordanians. I look in their eyes and see Jesus. I pray, ‘Jesus, bless this person you sent to me.’ So, I love that. I am so happy he gave me the field to share the gift of my vocation.” Prior to joining Ms. Estrada in the ministry, Ms. Sibug, from Pampanga, worked in Jordan as a secretary at a local company. She helped the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood — who were then very active working among atrisk mothers and their infants throughout the kingdom — with music ministry by playing the guitar during Mass and assisting with other choir activities. After the sisters returned to Europe, she joined the Teresians for a simple reason: “for prayer and ministering to the people,” she says, smiling.
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CNEWA Connection Elisa Estrada, center, chats with community members after Mass at the Church of the Annunciation.
but some people exchange the embrace of our children for a dollar. That’s sad when some are away from their families for 20 or 30 years.”
T CNEWA has partnered with the Teresians for decades: They have long administered our Pontifical Mission libraries in Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, expanding programs from lending books and offering tutoring and after-school workshops to teaching English as a second language, providing catechetical support and faith formation, and offering pastoral care and psychological and social counseling to displaced families, migrant workers and refugees. Functioning today as community centers, CNEWA subsidizes these important activities of the local churches, underwriting operational expenses as well as funding for new programs that build up the most vulnerable communities in Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank. To help the Teresians in their work, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
“Life has never been the same again.” Ms. Sibug prepares children and their parents for catechism and other spiritual formation programs. She often assists Father Gerald in presenting spiritual workshops, such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus as revealed to the French sister and mystic, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. “People who participate in our ministry come to know the Lord, and see their lives changed as they continue to follow Jesus,” says Ms. Sibug, whose eyes sparkle when she speaks of her work.
But many Filipinas have also benefited from her solid business background. “I gave serious counseling to a single woman who was sending all of her money home to her family in the Philippines,” she says. “I taught her how to budget her finances properly. Now she has land, a house and a productive farm from which her nieces and nephews are earning incomes from selling the produce.” Ms. Sibug decries the poverty that drives her compatriots to go abroad in search of work. “What is important is to provide food and education for our children,
he Teresian Association provides the two lay missionaries with materials, education and the formation necessary to support spiritual direction, psychosocial integration and emotional and human development. The main venue for their activities is the Pontifical Mission Library in the heart of Amman’s Jebel Hussein district, which the Teresians have administered with Catholic Near East Welfare Association for decades. Every Friday, more than 60 people from the Filipino community gather there for the noon Mass led by the community’s chaplain, Father Gerald. Afterward, they enjoy friendship and fellowship over a meal, followed by spiritual instruction and reflection. In addition to their outreach with the Filipino migrant community, the Teresians use the center as a place for education and formation for students of the area’s Catholic schools and even as a studio to produce programs on a variety of topics that are streamed through the internet for the remote Bedouin Christian villages in the south of the country. Religious instruction includes preparation of children and adults for receiving the sacraments and for serving at the altar, adult faith formation and health care assistance for the elderly. The Teresians also reach out to Iraqi refugees, offering courses in English as a second language, which is open to Christians and Muslims alike.
“The Teresians know how to relate to the migrant worker community in Jordan,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. “At our Pontifical Mission Community Center, migrants know they have ‘a home away from home.’ They receive counseling and ways to manage stress, including advice on dealing with problems encountered with their employers.” This ministry, he adds, is growing in both size and need. “We are potentially adding 28,000 Christians to Jordan’s population, and this is very important,” says Mr. Bahou of Jordan’s small but influential Christian community. “More and more programs will help these people. They need to know their rights and how to resolve problems.” The Philippines’ ambassador to Jordan has even spoken at the center on guest workers’ rights and responsibilities.
lthough you may be alone in Jordan, you don’t know loneliness,” says Fo Salas, 49, from Manila. “I have grown spiritually because I am in this community of believers, and also attend church.” Ms. Salas has been in Jordan for 12 years, the last six of which have been spent working for a Swiss diplomatic family. “Father Gerald, Elisa and Amabel are very active and help us to grow in our faith. We learn more about prayer and how to pray,” she says. “We can relate everything they talk about to our own lives. It’s really amazing what they share. They are our inspiration. “Jordan is not our country. Sometimes you are alone, and you feel unhappy. We need these people and this kind of community to lift our spirits and refresh our minds,” she says, adding how fortunate she was in finding her faith community.
They are far from home, but we are helping them stay close to their faith #WeAreCNEWA www.jordancnewa.org
Ms. Salas accompanies Father Gerald on visits to a safe house run by the Filipino Embassy in Amman. The house shelters mainly women who have been abused by their employers and who are awaiting flights to return home to the Philippines. “Once they are out of the shelter, they send me thank-you messages,” says Father Gerald of the notes that remind him of the critical need for this pastoral work. “‘Father, because of you, we were able to last out our days in the shelter,’” he remembers one such message. “ ‘Otherwise, we were going to commit suicide.’ “There have already been some cases of suicide,” he adds, visibly upset. He attributes such cases to abusive employers who restrict the workers from any form of relief — church, friends or community. “Many ask if I get tired,” Ms. Estrada says of her work providing near-constant support to the community. “If you are in love, you may get physically tired, but deep inside, you are happy because you are able to do something.” Ms. Estrada recalls the story of one woman who now lives in Canada. The woman sent her a text message to thank her for loving her despite her own transgressions.
Through the Teresians’ steadfast accompaniment, the message said, her life was transformed. “I tell them when they come to church to speak with Jesus during the Eucharist. He is the one who is responsible for their future because he says that he would never leave us or forsake us. “I remind them of this,” Ms. Estrada says. “What people need is laughter, joy and support.” Based in the Middle East, Dale Gavlak has reported for CNEWA from Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.
DALE GAVLAK OFFERS HER IMPRESSIONS OF COVERING THIS STORY IN A VIDEO AT:
onemagazinehome.org/ web/Sep19JordanVideo HEAR MORE FROM FILIPINO MIGRANT WORKERS IN AN EXCLUSIVE VIDEO AT:
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Responding to Human Needs
A letter from
Bethlehem by Peter Bray, F.S.C.
have never seen the sea.” “I have never been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.” “I have never been able to visit my relatives in Jerusalem.” “I have never been able to visit Al Aqsa Mosque.” These are statements made to me recently by students of Bethlehem University in Palestine. The students are from the West Bank and have green Israeli-issued Palestinian IDs, which means they need special Israeli military permission to go through the separation wall to get to the sea or to Jerusalem. They have never received it. As I listened to those students, I reflected on my own life, having grown up with the freedom to go where I wanted and to do what I liked. This was in the small town of Waitara in Taranaki, on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It was a far cry from the experiences of these students at Bethlehem University. My older sister and two brothers had a very safe, peaceful, predictable childhood in a beautiful country with wonderful opportunities, all of which are denied to our students. I had the privilege of being a first-day pupil when the De La Salle Christian Brothers opened a new school in New Plymouth about seven miles southwest of Waitara. The school, Francis Douglas Memorial College, was named after a young priest who was killed by Japanese soldiers during World War II for not revealing where the men who came to him for confession were hiding. Brother Peter Bray chats with students on the grounds of Bethlehem University.
The brothers who taught me were not exceptional men, but they were dedicated and sought to do the best for us. One of them invited me to think about being a brother. At first I was not really interested, but over the course of a year I prayerfully reflected on what he had said and watched the brothers more closely. I became much more aware of their community life, their joy in being together and the deep sense of mission that energized them. I decided to explore their life some more and went to Sydney, Australia, to begin my preparation for life as a De La Salle brother. The first teaching opportunities I had in Sydney provided me with the best possible start to my life in community and my professional life as a teacher. Over the years, the brothers I have lived and worked with have inspired, encouraged, supported and enabled me to grow as a person and as a teacher. In May 2008, I was invited to consider becoming the vice chancellor to Bethlehem University. I had never thought about coming to this part of the world, but I responded positively to the invitation and arrived in Bethlehem toward the end of 2008. I came to Palestine, where less than 2 percent of the population is Christian, and I have often been asked: What is an unashamedly Catholic university trying to do here? My response is to go back more than 2,000 years to when Jesus began his ministry in this part of the world. There were no Christians here at all, then, so what was he trying to do? Jesus makes it very clear in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 10, verse 10: “I came so that they might have life and have it
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more abundantly.” That is what Jesus was seeking to do and that is exactly what Bethlehem University is seeking to do. It is at the core of everything we are doing. We are seeking to create an environment, develop an atmosphere, provide opportunities for our students to acquire the knowledge, gain the skills and develop the attitudes and values that are going to enable them to do what Jesus wanted — that is, to live life as fully as they possibly can, despite the military occupation with its
The most obvious are the restrictions on movement. At present, 46 percent of our students come from East Jerusalem. To attend class they must pass through a military checkpoint at the wall each day — an unpredictable and humiliating experience. What these students face on their way to and from the university is the possibility that their bus may be stopped once or twice or even three times by different groups of Israeli soldiers. They can be questioned, interrogated, arrested; they could have a gun
various restrictions and confinement within the concrete wall and other barriers surrounding the West Bank. One of the opportunities offered by the university is a place for Christians and Muslims to come together. For a significant number of the Muslim students, coming to Bethlehem University is the first time they have met a Christian. Many speak about it as an enlightening experience for them. There are many challenges facing us as we seek to provide quality higher education for our students.
held to their face without any warning. You can imagine how they might feel by the time they arrive at school. I am deeply concerned about our undergraduates and the potentially disheartening lives they face. We need to keep them aware of and committed to their dreams. Yet every day, they live with the possibility of their homes being raided in the middle of the night and some member of their family being taken away. The question that arises: What can we do to help
y Brother Peter lives near the separation wall, and each week joins other men and women religious in praying along the reinforced concrete structure. x The Rev. Ray Webb and Brother Peter celebrate Mass in Bethlehem.
them deal with this unpredictability, this injustice? I focus on three things: First, when students step onto our campus, I want them to know they are safe. No one is going to interrogate them or arrest them here. No one is going to point a gun at them on our campus. Secondly, we are a Lasallian institution and so I keep emphasizing something that was key for our founder, St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle: I keep reminding the faculty and staff here that they need to be brothers and sisters to one another — and older brothers and sisters to the young people entrusted to them. This means when our young men and women come here, I want them to know that the adults they are engaging with are their older brothers and sisters who are really looking out for them and want the best for them. Thirdly, when they step onto campus, students are walking into a predictable environment. There are classes at set times. There are expectations of them in class. There are assignments they have to do and exams they have to take. They know what to expect. My hope is that all of this will develop peaceful minds and hearts, forming young people who are able to keep hope alive. At Bethlehem University, we are seeking to develop a community that is an oasis of peace in the midst of the uncertainty and adversity that characterizes so much of their lives. In this community, we work in solidarity with the students to
“We are seeking to develop a community that is an oasis of peace.”
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â&#x20AC;&#x153;When students step onto our campus, I want them to know they are safe.â&#x20AC;?
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p Students enjoy the campus between classes. t Brother Peter speaks with student ambassadors.
educate for justice as we help them recognize and develop their gifts. As a De La Salle brother, I walk in the footsteps of St. John Baptist de La Salle, the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools more than 300 years ago and the patron saint of all teachers. As such, I seek to work with people at Bethlehem University to create here an authentically Lasallian institution. This means we are sensitive to the needs of individuals and respect them as God’s beloved creatures. We are seeking to provide a human and Christian education for the young people entrusted to us. At the heart of De La Salle’s mission was his awareness of living in the presence of God. Therefore, an important aspect of my life as a brother is to recall that, in the midst of the busyness of the day, I exist in the presence of God. One aspect of this is De La Salle’s comment toward the end of his life. When it seemed as if all that he had devoted himself to establish was going to collapse, he responded: “Lord, the work is yours!” This is a mantra that has characterized my life here at Bethlehem University. So many times, I have been confronted with situations where I had no idea what to do. I sought advice, listened to people, read,
prayed and reflected deeply — but in the last analysis, it was a step out in faith. One thing that sustains me through all those times is the awareness that I am part of something much larger than my little agendas. This is God’s work I am about. So, with others, I seek to figure out the most life-giving thing to do, and then move with confidence and trust. Being in Bethlehem has been a life-changing experience for me. It has been by far the most difficult job I have ever had because of the complexity of the situation, the unpredictability of life and the restrictions the Israeli military put on us. Learning to live with the ambiguity of the situation is an ongoing challenge. However, it is only in the dark that we can see the stars. I have never been in a place where it is so obvious that what we are doing is worthwhile. To see secondary school graduates come here and watch so many of them grow into these amazingly confident, articulate, knowledgeable, principled young people means I can put up with all those things that make it challenging. I am so blessed — and I am so grateful that I am so blessed! n
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Care for Marginalized
Breaking Free The church helps Ethiopians battle a growing addiction to khat text by Emeline Wuilbercq with photographs by Petterik Wiggers
Abel Yohannis stands flanked by his parents and younger siblings among the family’s khat crop.
hen she crosses the courtyard of her condominium, Rahel tries not to attract attention. Since moving into her new residence in Dire Dawa, a city about 280 miles east of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, she has not spoken with her neighbors, dreading the inevitable questions about why she is rearing her daughter alone. Rahel is a Catholic who works as an emergency project coordinator at the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat, the charity of the local church in eastern Ethiopia. Her faith matters deeply, as does the wellbeing of her family — especially her daughter, Lydia. As fights between Rahel and her husband became ever more frequent, however, the 31-year-old woman — on the advice of her parish priest and bishop — separated from her husband. She hopes that this time apart will force her husband to face an addiction that has torn their marriage apart. Explaining it, the frank young woman does not mince words. “Khat,” she says without blinking, “is the cause of my separation.”
A plant cultivated in the Horn of Africa, khat is a stimulant said to induce excitement and euphoria. While classified as a drug of abuse by the World Health Organization in 1980, and declared illegal in many countries — such as the United States and most European Union member states — it is completely legal in the Horn of Africa, where the practice of chewing khat recreationally dates back thousands of years. Ethiopia is the biggest exporter of khat in the world. In the eastern part of the country, people consume it in large quantities; khat chewing is an integral part of the culture. Ethiopians customarily gather together to chew the plant, especially in the afternoon, and the routine can last for hours. Users keep the small leaves in their cheeks as they chew, drinking soda or eating peanuts to mask the bitter taste. Many people, including Rahel’s husband, say chewing khat enhances their concentration. “People think it’s normal to chew, that it has no harm, that they’re not addicted,” she says. Some even treat it as a medicine. But as with any addictive substance, these leaves can also have a devastating effect on the users’ lives. In Rahel’s case, her husband was wholly consumed by his habit, purchasing khat to the exclusion of providing for his family, and even going into debt in the process. “It’s mostly my salary that allowed us to buy food. At the end of the month it was hard to make ends meet,” Rahel says. After a few futile warnings, frustrated and despairing that her husband would not change,
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CNEWA Connection t Rosa Yosef sits in her home while chewing khat. y Abel prepares his bunk at Abune Endrias School.
One of the most important areas in which CNEWA helps to care for the marginalized is in the Apostolic Vicariate of Harar. Poverty is rampant and unemployment is high. The local church seeks to give families a sense of love and security, but widespread abuse of khat complicates this situation. One place where young people receive shelter from this growing problem is at the St. Clair Orphanage. For a number of years, CNEWA has provided the Capuchins with funds to support the orphanage, which offers children a healthy and secure environment, pastoral support, education, attention and love. The friars care for more than 40 children, and CNEWA is a vital partner, fostering in these children a sense of dignity and hope. With khat addiction spreading among the poor and the unemployed in Harar, the vicariate is seeking more help from CNEWA and our benefactors to provide clothes, shoes and study materials for the children in the months ahead. To help give hope, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
she made the decision to leave their house and care for Lydia on her own. That was a year ago. But even since separating, his pricy addiction leaves him only enough disposable income to pay for his daughter’s monthly school fees. For Rahel, the choice to leave her husband carries a stigma. In a patriarchal society such as Ethiopia’s, if a woman separates from her husband, many consider
her to be the one at fault. Some friends turned their backs on her. In her mother’s apartment, lying on the couch, 5-year-old Lydia quietly watches cartoons on television. Rahel says she lets Lydia spend time with her father on special occasions, such as birthdays, adding that, in her own youth, she suffered too much from the absence of her parents to allow her husband to fade from Lydia’s life.
Abandoned when she was a child, Rahel was eventually helped by the Catholic Mission in Harar. She went to Abune Endrias School, a boarding school that welcomes orphans and children from families of limited means. Rahel credits the school and the mission with saving her life. Without it, she says, “I would have ended up as a street child.” It is a fate that could affect countless young people in Ethiopia. But a visit to the Catholic Mission shows how the church is trying to change that and, in every sense, is working to save the next generation.
nside the ancient fortified city center of Harar, one of Islam’s holiest cities, the compound of the Catholic Mission is a haven of peace. The Capuchin sisters and father who administer the boarding facility guide their wards, teaching them good manners as well as how to live a healthy lifestyle. One of their important goals is to keep children from becoming addicted to khat. In this predominantly Muslim town, where khat addiction prevails, many succumb to the temptation of chewing. Outside the church compound, in the maze of colorful alleyways in the old town, many locals chew the best leaves, forming a big ball inside their cheek; after several hours, they feel the effects of mirkana, the dreamlike phase that follows the consumption of khat that differs according to the person. The physical effects of the plant, however, pale beside the social and economic ones. For some, addiction leads to poverty and unemployment. It is a painful cycle: They do not work, so they chew to
pass the time, but then the time spent chewing, coupled with the effects of khat, robs them of both the time and desire to work. Making matters worse, khat is reaching younger consumers. There are not enough recreational outlets in the country for young people, laments the Rev. Andreas Michael of the Catholic Mission, so they are drawn to the plant. But in this boarding school, he says, the teachers explain to their students the dangers of khat. “We have to keep them mentally, physically and spiritually strong,” the priest says. Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia, believes engaging children in their early
stages of development, instilling solid ideals and values as well as a healthy sense of self and purpose, is the right way to shape their future. “We need to help them develop the right moral attitude — to help them avoid exposing themselves to destructive behavior, such as chewing khat,” he says. “We try to instruct them in the Catholic faith, teach them how to live a worthy life, knowing the purpose of their existence and their final destination.” Catholic schools, Mr. Fantu says, highlight these matters in various ways — such ethics classes that discuss destructive behaviors and school dramas that demonstrate the effects of drug addiction on individuals and families.
Although a tiny minority, making up no more than 1 percent of the country’s population, Ethiopia’s Catholic Church is disproportionately influential in a nation dominated by Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Its social development outreach and emergency services — such as rushing food during times of food shortage and potable water in times of drought — and its system of Catholic schools, has heightened the church’s profile. Saving young people from the devastating effects of khat is an extension of that work, but it is an uphill battle. In Ethiopia, khat is pervasive, even inescapable. “Khat,” says Abba Michael, “is deeply rooted in Ethiopian culture.”
“Convincing [my parents] is easy, but changing them is difficult.”
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Rahel cares for her daughter, Lydia, in their home in Dire Dawa.
rom the courtyard of Abune Endrias School, one can see the fields of khat and cereals extend across the horizon. Although noted for the cultivation of its coffee beans, more and more of Ethiopia’s farmers prefer to cultivate khat. Its cultivation is also tolerated by the Ethiopian government, for whom the khat trade is immensely profitable. In December 2018, the Ethiopian Business Review reported that khat exports have more than doubled in the last decade. Other sources note that khat generates more revenue per acre than coffee, the nation’s largest export. The money this lucrative product generates represents a significant barrier to any effort to curtail its use, even for public health concerns. Moreover, with Ethiopia’s changing climate, khat is easier to grow than coffee, which requires regular irrigation. Khat can also be
harvested multiple times a year, making it a practical choice for many families. But talk to some of the students at Abune Endrias School, and you sense they are coming to understand just how dangerous and destructive khat can be. “People who chew khat do not realize where they are, they might lose their consciousness,” says Abel Yohannis, a tall, wiry 16-year-old. He has told his parents that chewing khat is not good for their health, but it has proven difficult for them to stop. Their situation is hardly unique. Life is difficult in Abel’s village, which lies just outside the town of Karamile, about 60 miles from Dire Dawa. Many farmers use khat to help them carry out their strenuous work. Abel’s parents are struggling to make ends meet for their eight children. That is why one bishop proposed to his mother, Rosa Yosef,
now 38, to take care of her son’s education. On a recent July morning, the tall woman, whose face is framed by a pink scarf, prepares coffee in a very dark house with swarming flies. She started to chew khat as an adult. Now she cannot stop. “It helps me relax, it gives me energy. I have a lot of children, a lot of responsibilities,” she explains. Her husband also decided to grow khat in their field, to earn more money, but he now complains about the middlemen who benefit far more than he does. For Abel, it is difficult to see his parents chewing khat; he knows the side effects of the leaves can include a weakened immune system, heart disease, and kidney and liver problems. While his parents continue on in this way, he does not expect life to improve. But he also understands the circumstances that precipitated their habit. His father seems unconcerned. “As a farmer, it gives me motivation and strength,” his father says. “It’s like my engine. But I’m thinking of stopping little by little.” In the room, only Abel and the youngest children do not chew. One of his little brothers grabs a branch of khat near him, but his mother takes it back. “We are not on the right path,” Rosa Yosef admits, adding that Abel sometimes tells them, in a joking tone, that khat is for goats. It is clear to her, however, that her son remains disappointed his family does not heed his advice. “Convincing them is easy, but changing them is difficult,” Abel says. “If they get another income and don’t have to rely on farming, they will stop. But it is difficult for them.”
he Missionaries of Charity run a treatment center in Dire Dawa for those battling mental illnesses and khat addiction, which are commonly linked. The sisters and their volunteer network of health care professionals, however, are overwhelmed: Most patients — brought to the center by family members or the Labor and Social Office of Dire Dawa — stay an average of three months. The center offers them medical care and psychological counseling. Much of the latter centers on group meetings, as costs of one-on-one care are high and the center is understaffed. While the government has agreed to provide water and electricity for free, the sisters must raise funds to cover everything else. Despite the limited resources, more than 600 patients were treated in the last year. And while the sisters and their health care partners care for many patients from the more marginalized segments of society, they also care for people who are the leaders of their communities: doctors, engineers and teachers. “The number of patients is increasing,” says psychiatrist Henok Nega, 42, who volunteers at the center. When he’s not providing care to the center’s patients, he works at a public hospital. “It needs more study, but the illnesses we find here are mostly related to khat,” he explains. He is worried because of the low capacity to admit people. “The demand to get mental health services in the country is high,” he adds. In Ethiopia, there are very few institutions for people suffering from addiction. It is sometimes difficult to convey the dangers of this culturally entrenched herb; many people presume that if there is a problem, it is the result of another drug, such as cannabis. Others believe a rival has cast a spell on them, though the
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Catholic Church does all it can to dispel such superstitious thinking. In Dire Dawa, the 40 girls of the boarding school Abune Andreas Girls’ Home sometimes go to neighborhood homes to explain the dangerous effects of khat, says the young priest of the parish, the Rev.Wondwossen Wube. “In the eastern part of Ethiopia, khat is like bread or injera for the people,” he explains, referencing a traditional spongy flatbread staple of Ethiopian cuisine. “We are concerned about that because it implies child labor: the children go fetch water or collect wood [while their parents chew],” he says. It places the youth in a difficult situation, as they recognize that their parents are earning their living by growing this crop. “It’s not easy for parents to accept their child’s advice because their life depends on khat,” he adds. Abba Wube watches the girls play near the volleyball court. He has also suffered from the effects of khat. He never chewed, but his father was a habitual consumer.
As a result, he ate almost nothing and lost weight. He passed away a few years ago. For Abba Wube, it is important to teach them about the dangers of khat — to do everything they can, with what little resources they have, to reduce consumption, open minds and, hopefully, save lives. “I tell them about my experience,” he says. “We are trying to save our daughters from this.” 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.
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aving visited many Christian villages, refugee and displacement camps and isolated settlements in the Middle East, in relatively good times and in the worst of times, I have noted three very intertwined threads of daily life: one’s faith, one’s family and the local church. And each fortifies the other. When times have been fairly stable and there was no war, oppression or persecution, the faithful found the church to offer the fullest level of comfort and security to the individual and to the family. The church was “family” to all. And the highest expression of being family was in the celebration of the Eucharist. It did not matter where the liturgy took place — whether in a relatively historic church, in a very “temporary” building or on a tabletop outside — it was a gathering of the Christian family, and everyone in the family was most welcome. And as a visitor, I was always warmly greeted and made to feel part of this family. However, when persecution reared its ugly head, when the people of God were forced to flee, when the threats of war became a reality, the local church became an even tighter family. Let me explain. In the very act of fleeing the onslaught of terrorism or persecution, the priests and sisters accompanied the faithful as they set out into the unknown — into foreign lands. Their calming presence, their encouraging words and their physical gestures of help and support kept the faithful In May 2015, displaced Iraqis gathered to celebrate the Divine Liturgy outside of a Syriac Catholic Church in Erbil.
p In April 2016, Students participated in adoration at the Al Bishara School in Ain Kawa, Iraq. u Msgr. John Kozar met with members of the Filipino community in Tel Aviv during a pastoral visit to Israel in December 2017.
together. Together they were the church, they were a family. When they arrived at an encampment — where they lived first in the outdoors, then in tents, then in crude home structures — they looked to the priests and sisters to watch over them, to manage their needs, to “referee” their disputes: the church was their family. And the greatest expression of their family unity was in the celebration of the Eucharist. Although displaced, and despite the challenges of being homeless, they were home, gathered together around the table of the Lord. I was privileged on
several occasions to celebrate Holy Mass in these conditions. I was surrounded by family. I was in their “parish church.” I was part of their parish “family.” After ISIS had been driven from some of the Christian villages in northern Iraq, and the first Christians returned, their first response was to attempt to clean up a small portion of their desecrated churches, so that a Mass of Thanksgiving might be celebrated. It was their celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. As more of the displaced return to their villages and towns, they continue in this cycle of uniting one’s faith, one’s family and the local church. The numbers of returning villagers may have declined — many have chosen never to return and have gone to other lands — but they still gather together to give thanks and celebrate the Eucharist. The church is, perhaps more than ever before, the sign of their unity as God’s
family. And here at CNEWA, we are privileged to walk with “our family” in these areas of great suffering and loss. Your prayers and your financial gifts strengthen our solidarity with our brothers and sisters — our family in faraway places who join with us at the altar of sacrifice. My prayer for each of you is that you find unity in your faith, in your family and in your local church. May God bless you.
Msgr. John E. Kozar WATCH MSGR. KOZAR TALK ABOUT THE CHURCH AS “FAMILY” IN AN EXCLUSIVE VIDEO AT: onemagazinehome.org/ web/Sep19FocusVideo
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