ONE Magazine December 2021

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December 2021

God • World • Human Family • Church

The Promise of

Tomorrow Healing Children in Gaza Confronting a Health Care Crisis in Lebanon Building Bridges of Peace in Ethiopia Welcoming the Stranger in Egypt



Schools of Promise Catholic schools in Egypt give refugees hope text by Magdy Samaan with photographs by Hanaa Habib



Hope for a Country at War Ethiopian youth learn about fraternity text by Maria Gerth-Niculescu with photographs by Petterik Wiggers


A Letter From India by Sister Supriya Vazhappilly


‘We Are Not Fine’ Lebanon’s health care buckles under crisis text by Rosabel Crean with photographs by Raghida Skaff


Visions That Dance in Their Heads Post-war trauma plagues children in Gaza text by Hazem Balousha with photographs by Mohammed Abu Safia


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Connections to CNEWA’s world Perspectives by Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari

t A girl plays a marching drum on the grounds of Holy Family Church in Gaza City. CNEWA1926 CNEWA CNEWA CNEWA1926


Volume 47 NUMBER 4



In the new year, make a resolution to love

18 Front: Portrait of Maria Michael Stephen, a South Sudanese refugee, at her home in Cairo. Back: Ermias Mengeshaw reads on his bed at his home in Emdibir, Ethiopia. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 33-37, Hanaa Habib; pages 2, 26-31, Mohammed Abu Safia; page 3 (top), CNS photo/Paul Haring; page 3 (upper left), Steve Sabella; pages 3 (upper right), 6-9, 11-13, back cover, Petterik Wiggers; pages 3 (lower left & far right), 18-25, Raghida Skaff; pages 3 (lower right), 15-16, Narayan Raj; page 4, Maroun Bassil; page 5, CNEWA; page 39 (top), Samar Hazboun; page 39 (bottom), Ilene Perlman. Publisher Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari Editorial Staff Paul Grillo Laura Ieraci Deacon Greg Kandra Michael J.L. La Civita Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. J.D. Conor Mauro Timothy McCarthy

14 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, working for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches. 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. Peter I. Vaccari, Secretary Editorial Office 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195 1-212-826-1480;

“May we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.” — Pope Francis Show your care with a bequest Help us to show the face of Christ to others As a new year begins, give compassion, mercy and hope

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Connections to CNEWA’s world CNEWA Report on Emergency Aid to Lebanon CNEWA has delivered more than $4.5 million in assistance to Lebanon since an explosion in the port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and left some 300,000 homeless. As directed by the Holy See, CNEWA has coordinated worldwide Catholic aid, raising nearly $5 million to date and allocating that aid to four principal areas: $3,170,787 for health care, $510,000 in foodstuffs, $770,341 to restore religious houses and $121,376 to restore small businesses and homes. CNEWA continues to raise funds to support Lebanon’s Catholic hospitals and schools, as well as food distribution programs of the local churches, including the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Melkite Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Zahleh. Funds were secured from individuals, religious communities and foundations throughout Canada, the United States and Lebanon. European funding partners — including Aid to the Church in Need, the Archdiocese of Cologne, Embrace the Middle East, Misereor and others — have been particularly generous.

CNEWA President Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari visits Immaculate Conception School in Beirut during his pastoral visit to Lebanon in August. The school, run by the Daughters of Charity, was badly damaged by the port blast the year prior.

CNEWA and the CFC CNEWA is again participating in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) through 15 January. One of the most successful workplace giving programs worldwide, CFC donors are federal employees who provide help to those in need through payroll deductions; federal retirees can donate through their payroll annuity. CNEWA invites U.S. federal employees, those in military service and retirees to support the CNEWA mission. The CFC registration code for CNEWA is #68580. For more information, visit or



CNEWA’s Beirut-based team launched an emergency response campaign, joining its partners in assessing damages and recommending short- and long-term courses of action. For a full report on CNEWA activities in post-blast Lebanon thus far, visit beirut-2021. To support CNEWA’s work in Lebanon, visit

Redemptoris Mater Turns 30 The hospital founded by Pope John Paul II and given to the people of Armenia, Redemptoris Mater, turned 30 in October. Its construction, funded by CNEWA and Caritas Italy, was in response to a devastating earthquake in 1988. The hospital opened in 1991 and is run by the Camillian Fathers. Patriarch Raphael Francois Minassian, elected in September as the Catholic patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, celebrated a liturgy on 17 October, marking the anniversary.

Located in the village of Ashotzk, about 6,600 feet above sea level near the border with Georgia, the hospital is under several feet of snow for almost half of the year. Patients living in remote villages in both countries travel up to 100 miles for the hospital’s renowned quality of care. The 100-bed facility offers services in general medicine, surgery, maternity and pediatrics, and serves an additional 22 villages with clinics connected to the hospital. Successive pontiffs have remained attentive to the hospital’s needs.

In April, Pope Francis donated medical equipment and an ambulance to help care for COVID-19 patients. CNEWA’s continued support helps to cover operations and medical equipment. Lebanon’s Hospitals in Crisis The greatest concern for health care in Lebanon now — more than the damages incurred by the Beirut port blast — is staff retention, according to Sister Hadia Abi Chebli and Dr. Pierre Yared, codirectors of Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui. Dr. Yared said nearly 90 medical workers among the 600-member staff have left in the past year for more stable work abroad amid Lebanon’s ongoing socioeconomic crisis. Currently, the hospital is seeking funding to cover at least 25 percent of nurse salaries in U.S. dollars as a retention strategy. While no patient in need of critical or emergency care is refused, said Dr. Yared, the hospital has begun refusing elective surgeries and has reduced its capacity to 150 beds. Without assistance, Geitaoui Hospital is facing possible closure for the first time in its 96-year history, said Sister Hadia. CNEWA has launched a campaign to support Geitaoui Hospital. Visit geitaoui. Civil War in Ethiopia Multiple press outlets report a grim situation in Ethiopia as a protracted conflict involving various ethnic groups and Ethiopia’s federal government has entered its second year. Thousands are thought to have perished in the fighting. The number of casualties is unknown. The fighting once contained in northern Ethiopia is spreading south. With many forms of

communication severed, reports are difficult to confirm, but armed groups are now positioned a few hundred miles from Addis Ababa, the capital. The government has declared a national state of emergency, preparing residents in the capital to defend their homes. According to Catholic News Service, the government also arrested 17 people, including Salesian priests and religious, most of them ethnically Tigrayan.

CNEWA’s Spanish-language website launched

Nearly 500,000 people in November. face starvation in the north, where about two million Now in Spanish! people have been displaced, while CNEWA launched a Spanishmillions more confront severe food language website in November, shortages. Combatants have, introducing the prevented emergency aid convoys world of the Eastern churches to from accessing the needy. Some aid the growing Spanish-speaking vehicles have been attacked. population in the United States. The launch coincided with a prayer CNEWA is monitoring the situation campaign through the month of All daily, as we are concerned for the Souls. CNEWA’s friends and safety and well-being of our team benefactors were invited to share in Addis Ababa, with whom we are the names of loved ones who have in regular contact, our extensive died to be remembered in the daily network of friends and collaborators Masses celebrated by CNEWA throughout Ethiopia, and all people President Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari in of good will in the Horn of Africa. the CNEWA chapel.

There is even more on the web


__ __ __ __ __

Visit for daily updates And find videos, stories from the field

and breaking news at



Hope for a Country at War Can Ethiopian youth become the peacemakers the country needs? text by Maria Gerth-Niculescu with photographs by Petterik Wiggers



Rem Parshkova stands in front of her home with her 8-month-old daughter. She is now a single mother of three. The father of her children was killed last year on the front during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Ermias Mengeshaw studies on his bed at his home in Emdibir, Ethiopia.




hen 21-year-old Ermias Mengeshaw was sent away to study for a degree in economics, he was caught by surprise. The university was in Aksum, located in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. His hometown, Emdibir, is more than 600 miles to the south. Optimistic by nature, Ermias did not allow himself to dwell on the distance that would separate him from his roots. Instead, he embraced the experience. Such situations are common to many university students in Ethiopia. “At first, daily life there was very pleasant, people were very kind, just like here [in Emdibir]. It was a very cheerful society and there wasn’t any problem,” he recalls, seated in his neat family garden surrounded by false banana trees, locally known as “inset.” Students admitted to university in Ethiopia have limited say when it comes to choosing the place and subject of their studies. Based on their grades, the current needs of the country and a list of preferred choices, the government decides where they will enroll. The government’s philosophy behind this approach is to bring together young people from Ethiopia’s 10 administrative regions to counter tribalism and to encourage students to be open to the plethora of cultures, languages and perspectives the country has to offer. But this melting pot is also subject to conflicts. Ethiopia, home to more than 80 ethnic groups, is facing mounting political and interethnic tensions. As local microcosms of Ethiopian society, universities mirror — and sometimes amplify — current disputes. For instance, after protests in the Oromia region in 2019, a wave of university violence forced thousands


CNEWA Connection Left, a young man talks during a formation weekend on fraternity at the pastoral center of the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Emdibir. Opposite, Ermias Mengeshaw is back home in Emdibir, after he and his peers evacuated their university in Tigray in July due to the country’s ongoing conflict.

Catholics are few in Ethiopia — counting no more than 1 percent of the population — but the Catholic impact on education has been enormous. CNEWA is proud to be a part of that. In addition to funding Ethiopia’s extensive network of Catholic schools — which ground students with values and prepare them for university or vocational training and a better future — CNEWA also supports youth programs promoting dialogue, understanding and bridge-building among people of different faiths, cultures and ethnicities, such as the ones featured in this article. These programs have become even more critical at a time of growing civil unrest and violence. Education and faith-based formation in life skills and character development can foster hope and become, almost literally, a lifeline. As CNEWA’s regional director in Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, describes the objective: “The church considers education for children as a way out of poverty — not only financial poverty, but also poverty of knowledge.”   To support and strengthen these programs, call 1-800-322-4441 (Canada) or 1-800-442-6392 (United States).

of students to return home. In some places, classes were paused for several weeks. But the current conflict in Tigray, which is no longer contained there, has been the biggest challenge for students who, like Ermias, were trapped far from home for months after fighting broke out on 4 November 2020. The conflict opposes Tigrayan armed forces, partly led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Ethiopian



national army, backed by forces from the Amhara region and neighboring Eritrea. Over the course of the conflict, advocacy groups, international organizations and the church have denounced arbitrary killings of civilians, rapes, looting and property destruction. Aksum was not spared. An ancient city in northern Tigray, close to the border with Eritrea and famous for ancient Christian shrines and giant obelisks, Aksum was first

occupied during the conflict by the Ethiopian federal army, then taken back by Tigrayan forces in June. This fall, as Tigrayan forces advanced south toward the nation’s capital, the Ethiopian government declared a national state of emergency. When the war broke out last year, Ermias was trapped at his university in Tigray for about seven months in an environment of rampant insecurity, robberies and uncertainty. Classes were suspended for months. “Psychologically, we found it very difficult to be there during the war,” he recounts. “Many of the students were worried. What if something were to happen to us, or if we were unable to return to our families, or if we were forced to join the war?” The wait ended in July, when students were evacuated through the neighboring Afar region before being driven to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa — a tiring journey of several days. But, despite the relief of being back home, the trauma lingers for Ermias. “We used to eat only one piece of bread for lunch and dinner,” he says as he recalls his experience. “There were also some days when we went with no food at all.” Ermias is not alone on his journey to recovery. Many other young people face the same hurdles. However, psychological counseling is still uncommon in Ethiopia, where mental health awareness and financial resources for mental health are limited. In this context of conflict, trauma and uncertainty, the Ethiopian

“We are brothers, but we are killing each other. There is hatred everywhere you go. So, in one way or the other, we are all affected.” Catholic Church has developed programs that gather young adults and try to assist them, through the lens of faith, in coping with the many societal tensions that exist. Guided by the call of Ethiopia’s Catholic bishops, these programs also seek to raise up a new generation that is educated in and committed to peacebuilding and fraternity for the sake of Ethiopia’s future.


n a reddish field overlooking Addis Ababa’s skyline, Tigist Ula, dressed

in a sky-blue hoodie and black leggings, tosses a volleyball with her friends. Behind them, young men finish a soccer game as the sun sets behind hills of eucalyptus trees. Around the field, a small flock of sheep grazes unperturbed by the cheering. The recreational afternoon is part of a youth program, organized by the Brothers of St. John. The Catholic religious community established a priory in Entoto, a neighborhood at the northern limits of Addis Ababa, in 2009 at the invitation of Cardinal Berhaneyesus

Demerew Souraphiel, the metropolitan archbishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Tigist is part of the program, called School of Life. Each year, a small group of young people, ages 17 to 25, commit every weekend from September to June to stay at the St. John Center on the priory grounds for days of formation, prayer and community life. During this time, the brothers accompany the young adults in their walk of faith and in “the discernment of their vocation in a wide sense,” including their values,



career choice and life’s purpose, says Brother Benoît David D’Hamonville, who has been accompanying School of Life participants for the past three years. Nine young adults are in School of Life this year. They also commit to service, helping the brothers with charitable good works in town or with other youth events and retreats, developing skills in leadership and peer ministry. “Here we are busy. It has helped us to forget that problematic time [in Aksum],” Tigist explains. “Through adoration and prayer, it has helped us to get some relief.” A university student, Tigist, too, was evacuated from Tigray after the outbreak of the armed conflict. Due to the communications blackout in the region, the 21-year-old had lost touch with her family. Some relatives thought she had been killed. Over the weekend of 1 to 3 October, Tigist and her fellow School of Life members helped the brothers host a retreat for about 20 other university students at the St. John Center. The weekend included moments of prayer, adoration, recreation and communal life. The guided discussions focused on fraternity and Pope Francis’ latest encyclical on this theme, “Fratelli tutti.” This weekend retreat, like many others offered at the priory, aimed to help young Ethiopians grow in the knowledge and practice of the Christian faith. Most events at the priory are open to all young people, says Brother Benoît David, and young people from a variety of Christian traditions attend. By gathering youth from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, it also exposes them to a variety of cultures and helps them to develop empathy for the other. But as the country continues to splinter along political and ethnic



lines, it is not easy for religious leaders to address these challenges. Brother Benoît David says the young people who participate in priory events rarely open up about the current conflict in the country, even though it has been going on for a year now. “It’s not easy for them, nor for us, to know what is happening [in the country] because we don’t have a lot of information,” he explains before making his way to the community’s newly built St. John the Evangelist Church for evening prayer with the young people. “I think we have to do more in the program to understand how peace can be achieved,” he adds. While the young people “want peace in their heart,” there are those who think evil can only be eradicated by violence. “That’s not the good way,” he says. “That means [their understanding of] peace is not clear and not in their hearts yet.” The French brother recognizes that embracing peace can be arduous when widespread misinformation is shaping young people’s opinions. Numerous studies demonstrate that young minds are not always able to analyze conflict-prone narratives critically or to distinguish harmless social media content from hate speech. What results in some Ethiopian universities is that students gather in like-minded groups or with others from similar backgrounds, rather than mingling, revealing some seemingly unbridgeable divides. However, some young people, accompanied by the church, are seeking to narrow the gaps.


very year, the Catholic parish in Emdibir organizes a weekend for university students before the start of the new academic year. They gather for formation in their faith and in how

Inset, young women and Brother Benoît David D’Hamonville of the Brothers of St. John cheer for their friends in a game of soccer. Tigist Ula, wearing a light blue hoodie, helped the brothers organize a weekend retreat for university students in October on the theme of fraternity. Background image, the sun sets over the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, as seen from the grounds of the Brothers of St. John.

to teach their communities to live with tolerance. This year about 140 young people, ages 18 to 25, attend the program. Ermias, who was evacuated from Tigray, is among them. The compound of St. Anthony Church opens to the main road through a large metal gate. Students enter from a narrow alley flanked with bushes and yellow flowers. As they approach the parking lot and the main building, handshakes and taps on the back mark the beginning of the day. They are dressed in jeans and casual shirts. Several young women wear the traditional Ethiopian white head scarf. As the session starts, the Rev. Misrak Tiyu speaks in a sympathetic, warm voice. He is a priest of the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Emdibir. This year’s topic is fraternity, Father Tiyu explains to the attentive young people seated in black chairs in the church’s large auditorium. Its windows are framed with dark red curtains; the ceiling reaches high above a stage and a mezzanine. Father Tiyu is dressed in a black cassock and walks calmly back and forth in front of the stage. “The encyclical asks: Who is my neighbor? Who is my brother?” the priest explains. He, too, is teaching on Pope Francis’ “Fratelli tutti.” “In our country there are a lot of problems: tribalism, factions, divisions, political difference. Due

“There are many nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. But above our differences, above our diversity, there are things that make us one.”



“If we were to understand [brotherhood], we wouldn’t face such problems. I wish for the bloodshed to be over.” to all these problems, we get into conflicts wherever we go,” Father Tiyu explains in an interview. “And university students live with people from different cultures in the country. So, we teach them to be tolerant, to live in peace with the entire community, and to be ambassadors of peace.” During the coffee break, most students queue patiently in joyful chatter for a snack and a hot beverage. Most of them speak in Amharic; others converse in Guragignia, the local language. Seble Gezahegn has elegantly wrapped a pink scarf around her



timid face. Her university is located in Debark in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region, which neighbors Tigray. She and her peers were evacuated from the university in July, which was partially occupied by soldiers, she says. She will stay with her family in Emdibir until the situation is stable enough for classes to resume. “We are drifting more and more apart,” Seble says regretfully about her fellow Ethiopians. “If we were to understand [brotherhood], we wouldn’t face such problems. I wish for the bloodshed to be over,” she adds softly.

Despite her observations about the state of her country, Seble appreciates the weekend’s program on fraternity. “It teaches us how to live when we are with other, different people,” and how to be brothers and sisters “with those who are not” related to us, she says. Seble adds she also “understood how to live by creating peace” with her co-nationals of other ethnicities, such as the Oromo or Amhara. Emdibir is in the Gurage zone, about 120 miles south of Addis Ababa. It is known for relative peace and stability in the Southern

Father Misrak Tiyu speaks to university students about Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli tutti” during a weekend formation program at the pastoral center of the Eparchy of Emdibir.

Nations and Nationalities Region. According to residents, people of different religions cohabit peacefully, and disagreements are resolved through a traditional system of elders. But even here, leaders know all too well that peace is fragile. The town is located close to the Oromia region, where political clashes are not unusual. With the conflict in Tigray possibly affecting other places in the country, religious leaders, local government officials and traditional authority figures meet regularly to discuss the current developments and share solutions. “We are in wartime,” Father Tiyu says. “We are brothers, but we are killing each other. There is hatred everywhere you go. So, in one way or the other, we are all affected.” The 47-year-old priest has been working as the pastoral coordinator for the Eparchy of Emdibir for six years. He studied theology in several European countries, earning his doctorate, and bringing back to Ethiopia the vision of a stable democracy and of unity in diversity. His friendly yet severe face brightens when he shares the hopes he carries for his country: “To remove all the barriers: language barriers, political barriers.” Father Tiyu does not stand alone in this vision. Students attending the weekend program express similar wishes during the sessions, daring to dream of a future in which their individual agency is not swallowed up by snowballing ethnic conflicts and political battles for power. Mechal Betassa is set to graduate as a hydraulic engineer at the end

of the current academic year. However, Jimma University, which he attends, is regularly the scene of tensions between Amhara and Oromo students. Even though he is not involved in the conflict, Mechal spent months in fear, both last year and the year before, sometimes even hiding in a Catholic church. Despite these obstacles, Mechal wants to prioritize his studies and make his parents proud. Yet he worries such divisions will affect the country’s socioeconomic development. “It’s known that a single individual can’t develop a country. It’s the combination of many ideas which can build a country,” he reflects aloud. “There are many nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. But above our differences, above our diversity, there are things that make us one.” Mechal recognizes the weekend’s teaching on fraternity promotes this sense of unity. “It narrows the gap between us. The love of brotherhood and sisterhood will increase,” he says. At the end of the weekend, Ermias reflects on the example of fraternity, present in the encyclical and the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. “It helps us to know who is your brother, who is my brother,” he says. Fraternity does not point out people’s differences or draw lines of division based on race or ethnicity, he adds. “We have to love all men. … And help different people who face different problems,” he says. “The good things should not be said only in words, but also be put into action.” Maria Gerth-Niculescu is a freelance journalist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has worked for France 24 and Deutsche Welle. Laura Ieraci, assistant editor of ONE, contributed to this report.

Help her bring peace to a people exhausted by war I


Learn about the importance of peace and fraternity for young Ethiopians in our exclusive video at



A letter from


Called from safety to service by Sister Supriya Vazhappilly, D.S.H.J.

Editors’ note: India has experienced one of the worst COVID-19 infection rates in the world. At its peak, last spring, India recorded 400,000 new cases per day. By fall, the number of new cases had dropped to 10,000 per day. Despite the dramatic improvement, the battle is far from over. As of mid-November, India had recorded more than 465,000 COVID-related deaths. In this letter, Sister Supriya shares her experience and the role of the church during the height of the pandemic. However, her work among those most affected by COVID-19 — the poor and marginalized — continues.


he wailing sound of the siren became more audible each second. As I looked with curiosity out the window of my room, I could see an ambulance rush past, emblazoned with the words, “COVID-19.” It stopped not far from my home and I saw, for the first time, men clad in P.P.E., escorting a masked, middle-aged man to the ambulance. That was about 18 months ago, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in India. As days passed, this scene became all too common.



Over many months, which have turned into nearly two years, the mystery of COVID-19 continues to unfold its whirls slowly, leading me to ponder my role as a religious in this unprecedented predicament. This contagion is so tremendous the whole world continues to combat it, and humankind experiences relentless fear and anxiety about what is to come. Nations try to implement different means to counter the pandemic. Nonetheless, it has killed more than five million people and capsized the lives of countless others. It is at the same time a health crisis and a socioeconomic catastrophe the world over. All segments of the population are affected, but in particular the poor, the elderly and the sick. The grave suffering of those living in pitiable conditions — without the basics of food, water and shelter — is exacerbated. Pandemics are not new in human history. Over millennia, they have determined the destiny of nations, cultures and peoples, causing the rise and fall of kings and rulers, depending on how they responded. It is fitting then that as a global church we ask: How have we responded to this pandemic since

the beginning of 2020, when the first lockdowns were imposed? I have observed four types of responses from the church. The first, particularly visible during the first few weeks of the pandemic in India, was total withdrawal from society and its challenges into the safety of religious houses to live in selfish peace and to observe religious practices with no concern for the situation of people on the streets. Another response was to adopt a very aggressive stance toward the pandemic, the people afflicted with the virus and those who succumbed to it, suggesting the virus was the result of sin. “We deserve it because our actions are so,” people who held this view would say. “It is a punishment from God.” The third type of response would indulge in paying lip-service to the victims of the pandemic, voicing what should be done while not lifting a finger to help. The fourth involved taking a stand — and a very calculated risk — to reach out to people in need by providing food, shelter and medical Sister Supriya Vazhappilly heads out to tend to those affected by COVID-19.




care, as well as psychological and spiritual support. It involved praying for the victims, for those living in fear and for frontline heroes. Among the frontline heroes, more than 500 priests and religious men and women have died in India so far, having taken the risk to care for those in need during the pandemic. I knew some of them, including Father Kuriakose Mundaplackal, the vicar general of our Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Bhadravathi, who was active in COVID-19 relief work. It was a heavy shock for all of us. Yet, the relief work did not stop. In my case, it strengthened my commitment to take up the risk and to play an active role in the relief work, though with due precautions.

These deaths made me reflect on how fragile life is and hence to utilize the precious time available to us in a fruitful manner. In my 13 years with the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and through the experiences of my fellow religious, I have come to realize the challenges we face as religious make our life more meaningful. The first days of lockdown were a period of trial for me, as I had the feeling of selfishness, a desire to be on the safer side by avoiding contact with people. But the call of my duty and responsibility helped me to rectify this premonition. I feel very blessed to be associated with our eparchy’s Malnad Social Service Society (M.S.S.S.), which has undertaken a great deal of relief

work during the pandemic. The deliberations about whether to act during the lockdown, as well as the different strategies we adopted, convinced me we can do everything by the grace of God. Teams of dedicated volunteers were created to ensure the effectiveness of our activities, and I am privileged to guide them with the help of our director. Being a native of this place, I know the local language, which has made my work in the field and with my co-workers more effective. We also care for each other during more difficult times, supporting and helping each other as needed. Six of our staff, as well as two of my community sisters who work in

The first days of lockdown were a period of trial for me, as I had the feeling of selfishness, a desire to be on the safer side by avoiding contact with people.



a H.I.V. health center, contracted COVID-19 and, at one time, all of us were in quarantine. However, none of these events deterred my focus; they motivated me to reach out to those in need with more vitality. We all marched together as a community to overcome this hurdle. The principal strategy in our work has been spreading the message of social distancing, sanitizing one’s hands and wearing masks, especially among the poor and the vulnerable, who are most affected by this virus. The main pursuit has been distributing food and hygiene kits to families in need. One of our most effective projects has been offering individual counseling for people battling cancer, who have been alone with their pain and fate, paving the way to extreme sorrow and depression that could worsen their illness. Many cancer patients could not continue treatment since most hospitals were unable to accommodate them. Some patients feared going for treatment due to the risk of contracting the virus. In this context, our individual telephone counseling helped to instill in them a sense of hope and encouragement to keep fighting this disease. I have also visited and consoled children who have been orphaned by COVID-19. This ongoing work — in the midst of the pandemic — has been a great platform for me to share the love of Jesus. And through this work, I have found four attitudes, rooted in Christ, that contribute to the development and empowerment of the people in such hard times. Since the pandemic took hold in villages in southwestern India, such as Shrirampura in Karnataka State, people have depended more on church organizations to provide for basic needs.

The first is focus. We should not change our focus from the Lord; if we lose that focus, we will fall into despair. The second is humility. The coronavirus reminds us of the fragility of human nature. We, who took pride in 21st-century advancements in science and technology, have realized we are still vulnerable — even to a tiny, invisible virus. Therefore, let us humble ourselves in the presence of God and he will exalt us. Third, we should combine the active and the contemplative life, what I call the “Mary and Martha Syndrome.” We should be active in contemplation and contemplative in our action. We must find new ways to reach those in need, by providing for their physical, spiritual and psychological needs. Food in the form of ration kits or meals should be provided. However, we should also post spiritual talks on the Bible and the catechism online to help invigorate the people’s faith. Quality prayer time with God would be more efficacious than all our activities. Fourth, we must follow the call to be a living testimony to Christ. Works of charity, out of love for God and neighbor, surely will gain momentum and highlight our identity as Christians. Our daring and willingness to do relief work in such an alarming situation conforms us to true discipleship. It is up to each of us to create a reality permeated by love and care for all, devoid of malice. We need to recommit ourselves and treat everyone as equals. We need to be humble enough to accept our limitations and vulnerabilities. In an earnest manner, we need to connect with God, who has created us and has a plan for each of us, and we need to cooperate with him. Let Jesus be at the fore and let us revive our relationship with him in our life. Let us become another

Christ. Let us utilize this period as an opportunity to return to our spiritual roots and to proclaim Jesus for our time. Gratitude to God pervades my mind, body and soul each morning I wake up to see the light of a new day. The conviction to spend the early hours of the day in the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament has been a blessing and the driving force for my day’s activities. This contemplation is followed by community prayer and the Holy Qurbana, our Divine Liturgy. I firmly believe these are the hours that make the day. At the end of my day with M.S.S.S., it is a great joy to be with my religious community, with whom I can share my experiences. After common evening prayer and the fulfillment of my responsibilities at the house, I settle in for some personal, spiritual reading and an examination of conscience. With the belief that everything that happened during the day was for God’s greater glory, according to his will, I retire to bed, surrendering myself to his care, thanking him for the beautiful lessons he has taught me. I reflect on the words of Scripture: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:22-26). I would like to remind those who suffer from apprehension and worry that, even though we have not yet been able to contain the virus, God is in control of the situation. So, let us put our trust in the Lord and proceed with a positive attitude to life. n





Lebanon’s health system buckles under economic crisis text by Rosabel Crean with photographs by Raghida Skaff


osette Bou Akar’s smile seems incongruous as she sits on her hospital bed and describes the endless anxieties of being sick in a country starved of medicine, electricity, fuel and money. She has been undergoing treatment for leukemia at Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui – University Medical Center in Beirut, while her country has been politically, economically and socially breaking down. As if worrying about having cancer were not enough, the 45-year-old French teacher is contending with the possibility of her life-saving medicines being out of stock. “Every three months, I need an injection of immunotherapy,” she says in mid-October. “And, right now, I have been waiting two months to find it. “The situation has been very negative. We can’t find medicine easily and, if we do find it, it is very, very expensive,” she says, exposing one of the many crippling impacts that Lebanon’s two-year economic crisis has had on residents. Given the steep devaluation of Lebanon’s currency, her treatment — if available — would cost the equivalent of up to 12 million Lebanese pounds. Prior to the start of the country’s economic collapse,

when the exchange rate was 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, this same treatment would have cost about 900,000 Lebanese pounds. In U.S. dollars, the treatment costs about $600. Over the past year, shortages of essential goods also have become commonplace in Lebanon. Ignited by panic buying, as well as by suppliers who are hoarding goods, hoping to sell them later at a higher price as government subsidies are withdrawn, the Middle Eastern nation of 6.8 million people — including more than one million refugees — has been pushed to the brink. In October 2019, when the value of the local currency started to crumble, the government subsidized medicines to ensure prices remained stable. The Lebanese pound has since devalued more than 90 percent, creating hyperinflation, crushing spending power, depleting the value of salaries and turning livelihoods upside down. This past summer, Lebanon’s cash-strapped government began withdrawing subsidies, causing exorbitant price jumps. The crisis has pushed more than threequarters of the once middle-income nation into poverty, according to a U.N. report on the changing face of poverty in Lebanon, published in September.

Mrs. Bou Akar is not alone in her dramatic search for life-saving medication; the share of families who are unable to obtain medicines has increased to more than half of the population, the same U.N. report estimates. Despite her precarious situation, Mrs. Bou Akar keeps smiling, demonstrating why her nickname in the ward is “Madame Positive.” Such strength is valued at Geitaoui Hospital, which, along with Lebanon’s entire health sector, has undergone what some consider to be a crisis more severe than the health crisis during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war. Aside from medicine shortages, the hospital has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the exodus of skilled medical workers seeking more stable work abroad, and a major reconstruction project after the deadly Beirut port blast. Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly dangerous fertilizer, caught fire and exploded on 4 August 2020, killing 218 people and injuring more than 6,000. The force — considered the most powerful non-nuclear explosion in history — Sister Jeannette El Achkar tours a section of Geitaoui Hospital still in need of repairs after the Beirut port blast of 2020.




‘We are not fine’

“We are in a desperate situation — all around us, the people, families, doctors, nurses. We are not fine.” ricocheted through the city, hitting the historic Christian quarters of east Beirut, where Geitaoui Hospital stands. The hospital, located less than a mile from the blast epicenter, sustained $7 million worth of damages. However, by October this year, the 265-bed hospital was running at 80 percent capacity, thanks to a giant reconstruction effort spearheaded by CNEWA’s Beirutbased team, known throughout the Middle East as Pontifical Mission. Full restoration will be completed by March 2022. “I never believed it would be possible to raise the hospital again, to rebuild it,” says Sister Hadia Abi



Chebli, the hospital’s codirector and a member of the Congregation of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family, to whom the hospital was entrusted in 1927. “I saw the end, because it was impossible to get more loans from the bank, because all our facilities were already limited,” she says. “For us nuns, we don’t have big resources to financially assist the damage. It was a miracle, really, a miracle,” says Sister Hadia of the worldwide emergency donor support coordinated by CNEWA. However, while great advances were made to restore the hospital, the outlook for the country has steadily worsened.

“The devaluation of our Lebanese pound is very dramatic, and many thousands, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have left the country,” says Dr. Pierre Yared, who codirects the hospital with Sister Hadia. One of the “many severe problems” for the hospital is the increasing cost of maintaining technical medical equipment, he explains. Outside funding is their “only hope,” he says; otherwise, the hospital could be forced to decrease its operations and furlough staff. Maintaining equipment, such as X-ray machines, MRI scanners, freezers and air-conditioning units, costs $600,000 to $700,000 annually.


CNEWA Connection

At right, a pharmacist distributes medication to a patient at St. Anthony Health Care Community Center outside Beirut. Opposite, a medical worker accompanies a mother and child at the Howard Karagheusian Center in Bourj Hammoud.

Dr. Yared says he is grateful CNEWA has launched a campaign in the United States to help defray the expenses. “I can’t imagine the Lebanese government will help us,” he says. “If the government does help, it will help the public sector. It’s normal.” Lebanon’s public health sector constitutes 20 percent of all health care in the country, leaving the rest of the health sector dependent on international donations. “I think the future will be more serious, more severe,” Dr. Yared adds. “About three months ago, we lost power to our MRI scanner … and had to pay $40,000 ‘fresh’ [to repair it]. It was very, very, difficult for us. … We received help for that.” “Fresh dollars” has become a colloquial term in Lebanon, which emerged amid a shortage of cash in U.S. dollars — yet another impact of the economic crunch — when Lebanese banks restricted withdrawals in U.S. funds. Lebanese use “fresh dollars” to refer to cash funds in U.S. currency, often procured through international fund transfers or on the illegal market, which many suppliers are requiring for the transaction of goods. Lebanon’s Central Bank pegged the Lebanese pound to the U.S. dollar in 1997, but over the past two years the pound has tumbled to record lows against the dollar on the illegal market, which dictates day-to-day pricing. In the current situation, an average doctor’s monthly salary in Lebanon has fallen in equivalent value from $2,300 in 2018 to $175 in 2021.

CNEWA’s presence in Lebanon, through its office of the Pontifical Mission, is longstanding. Whether caring for refugees, the internally displaced or the poor and marginalized, CNEWA’s holistic programs focus on the mind, body and soul. That has never been clearer than after the port blast in August 2020, which not only blew up much of historic Beirut, but the last threads of Lebanon’s fragile political and socioeconomic systems. CNEWA’s work to restore and revitalize Lebanon’s once flourishing health care sector, which includes the facilities featured in this article, are the subject of an extensive report profiled on Page 4 of this edition of ONE. It will take years for Lebanon to heal from its economic, physical, spiritual and psychological wounds. But your support can make a difference. Call 1-866-322-4441 (Canada) or 1-800-442-6392 (United States) to learn more.

Such a dramatic fall in living standards has pushed almost 40 percent of medical doctors and nearly 30 percent of registered nurses to leave Lebanon either permanently or temporarily, the World Health Organization said in September. The brain drain is depriving the country of skilled professionals, threatening the quality of health care and hampering long-term economic recovery. According to Dr. Yared, 24 physicians and 75 nurses left Geitaoui Hospital for opportunities abroad in the past 14 months.


t the Rosary Sisters Hospital in Gemmayze, just a few blocks away, 15 personnel left for work abroad in about the same period. The Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary has been running the nonprofit hospital since 1986. Nine sisters work there, alongside the general director, Sister Nicolas Akiki. Over the years, they transformed it from a 50-bed facility to a thriving 200-bed hospital, only for their efforts to be undone in seconds by the port explosion. “It was so, so hard for us,” Sister Nicolas says, tears welling in her



“We have faith in God. We must not say stop. If I am still alive, God needs me to continue.” eyes. “But we have to say, we have faith in God. We must not say stop. If I am still alive, God needs me to continue.” CNEWA played a crucial role in funding the refurbishment of four floors of the hospital, as well as overseeing the reconstruction plan and ensuring resources were used effectively. While corridors gleam with new floorboards, and private rooms overlooking the port feature fresh furnishings and new equipment, the challenges remain endless. The threat of losing more personnel becomes more tangible each day and Sister Nicolas says she has resorted to asking donors



to support staff salaries, which are paid in Lebanese pounds. With about $15,000 to $16,000 a month, the salaries of her doctors, nurses and administrative staff could be secured, she says. The hospital budget has been strained by the dramatic rise in the price of diesel oil needed to fuel three generators. Over the past six months, Lebanon’s state electricity grid has provided barely two hours of power a day. As the government’s foreign currency reserves for fuel imports dried up, it created a rush for generator diesel, which has become expensive and scarce. Power blackouts threaten lifesupport machines and jeopardize

patient safety, leaving management with no choice but to ask donors for additional funding. Before the crisis, Sister Nicolas says, the hospital paid $10,000 to $15,000 each month for diesel. “Now, I pay $2,000 per day,” she says. The current trials are a far cry from a time when Lebanon boasted of its high-ranking health sector and many people from other Middle Eastern countries flocked to Lebanon for medical care. The decline has left local practitioners, including Dr. Pierre Mourad, struggling to believe better days lie ahead. The pulmonologist and managing director at the Rosary

Sisters Hospital admits he is in the process of making emigration plans to France, where he studied medicine. “To tell you the truth, we are in a desperate situation — all around us, the people, families, doctors, nurses,” Dr. Mourad says. “We are not fine.” Before October 2019, which is widely considered the start of the crisis, when a popular uprising demanded the downfall of a ruling class deemed corrupt and negligent, it was usual to find two or three doctors for each specialty in every hospital, Dr. Mourad explains. Now, there is only one doctor to cover each specialty and that doctor might stretch their expertise to multiple clinics.

Patient numbers are down, but not because the population is less sick. “The Lebanese people don’t have enough money to go to the hospital,” says Dr. Mourad. The U.N. estimates the portion of households deprived of health care in Lebanon has jumped by 24 percent since 2019, and 55 percent of the population now lacks health insurance. The surge in vulnerable Lebanese has pushed many individuals for the first time into the waiting rooms of primary health care centers. Consultations at such centers can cost 3,000 Lebanese pounds. Precrisis, this sum was equivalent to just below $2. Now, with the pound’s collapse, it is hardly a few cents.


he Howard Karagheusian Center is a medical and social center in the bustling municipality of Bourj Hammoud, just outside Beirut. In a predominantly Armenian Christian community, the center welcomes a wide demographic of displaced Syrians, Iraqis and foreign workers from Africa and Asia. However, the number of Lebanese benefiting from its services has swelled, says Serop Ohanian, the center’s field director. For the first Religious women play a significant role in Lebanon’s health care sector. Below, Sister Hadia Abi Chebli visits with a patient at Geitaoui. Opposite, Sister Antoinette Assaf assesses a newborn at the St. Anthony center.

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eight months of 2021, the center received 33,238 Lebanese patients, compared with 13,366 patients for 2018. The CNEWA-funded center offers mental health care, social case work, employment assistance, and skills and language development, among other services. Zainab al Hajj has been bringing her 6-year-old son to a speech therapist at the center for the past six months. A local resident, she

has always known about the center, but recently began visiting as her finances became critical. Describing her financial situation, Al Hajj laughs and says, “Yaani” — an Arabic filler word — which best translates as “neither bad nor good.” She is grateful the center remains open to all. “I feel at ease with everybody here and my son loves the therapist. Everyone is so kind,” she says. Other patients at the social center

reported how their health was improving and spoke of the warm atmosphere among the staff and visitors. Among Lebanon’s pile of crises is its huge refugee population. Since the start of the war in neighboring Syria a decade ago, Lebanon has welcomed more than a million Syrian refugees, becoming the A child receives a vaccine at the Karagheusian Center.

“Without international aid, it’s really very difficult for Lebanon to keep going — those who are staying cannot survive.”

country with the highest ratio of refugees per capita in the world. The situation has placed immense pressure not just on state infrastructure, but also on local non-governmental organizations, such as St. Anthony’s Health Care Community Center. Adhering to the motto “Religion is for God and the dispensary is for all,” the primary health care center caters to some of the country’s most vulnerable populations. The center is in a socioeconomically depressed area just outside Beirut, between the Maronite Catholic neighborhood of Jdeideh and the Shiite area of Roueissat. The center is of great importance to the Congregation of the Good Shepherd Sisters, which has been serving there since 1998, nurturing harmony in the area as well. On a weekday morning, the center, perched on the side of a rough road between grassy wasteland and a mosque, is holding a midwifery session and many veiled women cradling babies are queuing up to attend. One woman holding a baby is making the uphill journey on foot, the hot sun beaming down on her black clothing. Sister Antoinette Assaf, the center’s director, reflects on the rollercoaster of the last decade in Lebanon, describing it simply as: “Crazy, real chaos.” There was the refugee crisis and then the coronavirus pandemic, she enumerates. “Now, the crisis with a lack of medicines, people not able to afford to pay, doctors and nurses leaving the country,” she adds. “Oh, it doesn’t stop!” The sisters took on the management of the health center in 2004, after the death of Toni Abbas, a local lay leader who established the center 20 years prior for “the poorest of the poor.” He entrusted the center to the sisters to continue his efforts.

To ensure the dispensary produces the same quality of care as private health care facilities, the sisters have built up partnerships with international organizations, including CNEWA, and with the faculty of medicine at St. Joseph University in Beirut, linking doctors with the center. Sister Antoinette explains appointments in other dispensaries last barely five minutes. “We said the consultation [here] should last at least 20 minutes, because this is the right of the poor, to have the same quality … of health care,” she says. CNEWA has been critical in supporting the center’s obstetrics and gynecology service, as well as its polyclinic that provides dentistry, ophthalmology and social services. Sister Antoinette wants to extend opening hours to cater to the new wave of patients triggered by the crisis, but with capacities stretched and staff growing weary, the center cannot cope without additional funding. “We need more resources, more nurses, more doctors, more admin workers,” she says. “Nowadays everything is so expensive. The salaries are really increasing too much, [there is] not enough money.” She cites the center’s contribution to the lives of individuals and the cohesion of the multifaith community as proof of the value of such international support for the health sector. “Without international aid, it’s really very difficult for Lebanon to keep going,” she says. “To be realistic also, for sure, without international aid, those who are staying cannot survive.” Rosabel Crean is a British freelance journalist based in Beirut. She reported for the local paper The Daily Star and currently writes for the Catholic weekly The Tablet.

Lebanon is praying for healing and help I


Medical staff at Lebanon’s Catholic hospitals explain the extent of the health care crisis in an exclusive video at



Visions That Dance in Their Heads Caring for the mental health of children in Gaza text by Hazem Balousha with photographs by Mohammed Abu Safia



Sarah Al Dalou, 13, says since experiencing the airstrikes in May the painting workshop at the Y.M.C.A. in Gaza City has brought her a sense of comfort.

Gaza and 13 in Israel — and more than 2,000 people were injured on both sides. Among the dead in Gaza were 66 children. Families were shattered. Moreover, Gaza’s infrastructure, including schools, health facilities, public buildings, roads, energy lines, communications and sanitation, suffered extensive damage. About 1,500 housing units were destroyed and 880 units were severely damaged, displacing numerous families. Hundreds of other units had slight-tomoderate damage. The trade, health, education and agriculture sectors incurred significant losses in an already flailing economy. Amid the rebuilding efforts, according to UNICEF, Gaza’s one million children “have been left reeling” from the devastating psychological effects of the conflict. There is no exact number for children suffering from poor mental health in Gaza, but mental health institutions are reporting an increase in such cases by the hundreds per month. In response to the weight of the worries experienced by children in Gaza, the Y.M.C.A. is preparing to launch a five-month project, funded by CNEWA, that will offer psychological support to 150 children and about 100 mothers and young people. Participants will meet in groups twice weekly with psychologists and other specialists. “This is a wonderful project, and we desperately need it,” says Hani Farah, the Y.M.C.A. director. “My conviction [is] that the Gaza Strip needs 250 projects like this one, because all the children in the Gaza Strip suffer from the effects of trauma and other problems.” Children are impacted by daily pressures, he says, comparing their experience to a sealed barrel into which water continuously flows. “These projects are tantamount to reducing that water in the pressure tanks,” he explains.





he Y.M.C.A. playground in Gaza City bustles with activity. The sound of laughter — of children playing and of young people joking — echoes even from a distance. In one area of the grounds, a few parents chat with their children and friends, while in other areas children practice soccer or develop their drawing skills. However, within closer range, one can pick up the softer tones of serious conversations about the ongoing trials Gaza’s Palestinian residents face. Established in 1952, Gaza City’s Y.M.C.A. has 2,200 members across all age groups. It boasts men’s and women’s basketball and soccer teams, a fitness room for women, a hall for table tennis, and a training program for women’s boxing. The association, with its Christian roots, provides a permanent and welcoming space for families in the Gaza Strip, regardless of their faith, to socialize, exercise or develop new skills. Members can take part in organized and structured activities or work independently on their own personal projects. However, this was not the case a few months ago. The Y.M.C.A. facility, along with its solar energy system, was damaged last May during 11 days of warfare between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Israeli Defense Forces, when the adjacent building was destroyed in an airstrike. Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) financed the repairs at the Y.M.C.A., allowing the organization to return to its usual activities. The conflict, from 10 to 21 May, was the fourth confrontation with Israel since 2008. Many lives were lost during those 11 days — 260 in

“ Children’s suffering is not separate from the suffering of parents, and the ability of parents to deal with them is limited under the difficult economic and political conditions.”



Mr. Farah says this new project, which will include mural drawing, coloring, reading, excursions and picnics, will bring “a renewal of hope for life and the future.” Psychologists design the activities to help children express and therefore release some of the psychological stress they are experiencing and to learn to cope with the difficulties of living in Gaza, a densely occupied strip of land likened by some to an internment camp. In particular, Mr. Farah says, Gaza’s children have taken the brunt of the conflicts, growing up with the reality of bombings and air strikes. Experts believe these children suffer from a series of psychological symptoms related to the fear of bombing, such as depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, involuntary urination and nervousness. The harsh conditions in which Gazan children and young people live are not the result of conflict alone, but the cumulative effects of the multiple crises in the region, including deteriorating economic conditions, high rates of unemployment and poverty, further impacted by the effects of COVID-19. Imposed restrictions during the pandemic translated into a loss in Palestine’s tourism sector exceeding $1 billion, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (P.C.B.S.). The Palestinian economy shrank by nearly 12 percent in 2020 alone, constituting the second-largest decline since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. More than 66,000 Palestinians lost their jobs during the pandemic, which claimed 4,657 lives in the Palestinian Territories. According to the P.C.B.S., the unemployment and poverty rates have only increased since May. In October, the unemployment rate in Gaza was the highest in the Palestinian Territories at 89 percent, up from 75 percent before the war.


CNEWA Connection

At right and opposite, mothers bring their children to the clinic of the Near East Council of Churches in Al Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, for their health care needs. Bottom left, Joelle Shaheen, 8, plays on the Y.M.C.A. playground in Gaza City, which offers activities three days a week for children only.

Ghassan Sabbah, 25, is among the young adults who frequent the Y.M.C.A. He received a university degree in public relations some years ago and has only found parttime work since then. He sits with his sister Jumana, 23, who holds a degree in accounting, and their two friends. They exchange jokes and laughter, but at the heart of their conversations are their struggles in finding permanent, full-time work. Mr. Sabbah comes to the Y.M.C.A. to pass the time with his friends almost daily. “We can’t imagine our day without sitting and spending a lot of time here,” he says. “I bring my siblings and sometimes my cousins and my neighbors’ children to play here,” he continues, “to forget their worries and to live their childhood that was robbed from them by the tough conditions in the Gaza Strip.”


he Y.M.C.A. is not alone in its efforts to reduce the severity of psychological trauma among children in Gaza. Over the past year, the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) has implemented a psychosocial support project for children and mothers in its three clinics in Gaza, located in Al Shejaiya and Al Daraj, both east of Gaza City, and Rafah to the south. The program targets kindergarten and school-age children, who exhibit psychological distress, such as fear, violence and bedwetting. “There was a clear difference in the behavior of my son Muhammad after the sessions he received at the

In the Middle East, CNEWA operates under the title of Pontifical Mission. The origin of this special task force of the Holy See dates to the beginnings of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1949, which created one of the largest displacement of peoples in the world. To care for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian homeless — many of them Christian — Pope Pius XII launched the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. He asked CNEWA to take on his special initiative, appointing the head of CNEWA as its president, and charging it with coordinating worldwide Catholic aid. CNEWA has remained faithful to that initiative, setting up Pontifical Mission operations in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. Pius’s successors have continued to support this work, expanding the mandate of Pontifical Mission to assist all peoples in need throughout the Middle East. Gaza has long been of special concern. After the conflict with Israel in May, generous benefactors gave to CNEWA’s emergency appeal, which restored the Rosary Sisters School, enabling 1,000 children to return to school. These funds also repaired the Y.M.C.A. and 24 damaged homes. Thousands of children now benefit from psychosocial support programs to heal from the trauma of war. To support this important mission, call 1-866-322-4441 (Canada) or 1-800-442-6392 (United States).

clinic,” says Um Muhammad, 47, one of the beneficiaries. Mrs. Muhammad is a homemaker and the mother of five children. Muhammad, 14, is the eldest. “I tried hard with my husband to moderate Muhammad’s behavior, but that was very difficult,” she says. “Now he is in a stable situation and shows greater cooperation with his siblings.”

During eight group sessions with child psychologists, children “receive advice on how to control anger and face difficulties,” says Lubna Sabah, the medical and psychosocial program coordinator for N.E.C.C. These skills help to “strengthen the child’s personality and develop his abilities, as well as his ability to express himself,” she adds.



Children who participate have demonstrated a 60 percent improvement in their behavior, according to the evaluations, Mrs. Sabah reports. However, the need of children and parents for continuous psychological support, especially in children who demonstrate chronic psychological trauma or mental illness, prompted the N.E.C.C. to establish a permanent program for this population group at its three sites. “Specialists noticed in the postwar period children’s drawings were of dead bodies, demolished houses and shells, which they saw during the 11-day war,” says Mrs. Sabah. “There are increasing complaints from parents that their children are afraid to go to school on their own, and there is an increase in bedwetting and trauma,” she adds. She notes the increase in the number of children asking for help through their parents. “We have about 2,000 children who receive psychological help in



our clinics annually, in addition to 3,000 mothers,” continues Mrs. Sabah. “But during the period of the coronavirus, our capabilities have become limited, and we cannot deal with the large increase in numbers. “With minimal means, it is possible to stop the bleeding in the mental health of children in the Gaza Strip through recreational activities, through drawing and exercise, especially in light of the continuing difficult situation and the high rates of unemployment and poverty in Palestinian society,” she adds. Psychologist Nahed Harara says “the lack of resources and the ongoing wars” have created psychological conditions that “cannot be tolerated by adults and children.” He points to a UNICEF report that indicates “one in three children in Gaza already required support for conflict-related trauma” prior to the conflict in May. “The need for mental health and psychosocial support services for

Altar servers wait for a children’s Mass to begin at Holy Family Church in Gaza City. The parish ran special post-war projects for children.

children has undoubtedly only grown” since the war, the report states. UNICEF claims about 200,000 children, ages 5 to 9, are currently in need of such care. “But the number of teams that deal with such cases is few,” says Mr. Harara. The proliferation of and easy access to social media in the past seven years — that is, since Gaza’s previous conflict with Israel — also means children today are accessing images of destruction and bloodshed more than ever, further impacting their mental health, says Mr. Harara. These mental health struggles are in addition to the need for post-war humanitarian assistance, UNICEF points out. “Children’s suffering is not separate from the suffering of parents,” says Mr. Harara. “The

ability of parents to deal with them is limited under the difficult economic and political conditions, which increases cases of violence, fear and other behavioral problems in children.”


he Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem responded quickly to children’s psychological trauma after the conflict in May, implementing a project to help children and their families in crisis by organizing daily activities for children in the parish, ages 5 to 16. “The activities included games for children, water games and Dabkeh [a Middle Eastern line dance], in addition to Scouting for boys and girls, and weekly opportunities for families to gather, which improved the psyche of children and their families greatly,” explains Nisreen Antoun, project manager at the Roman Catholic parish of the Holy Family. There are 13 Christian institutions in the Gaza Strip, including schools, social services and cultural centers that serve the Christian community as well as the predominantly Muslim population. Gaza’s Roman Catholic pastor, the Rev. Gabriel Romanelli, believes these projects not only help people, but express Christianity in action. “The aim of the projects is to declare our Christian faith with the parishioners and among all Christians and society in general, and through them we demonstrate our firm faith in Jesus Christ,” says Father Romanelli. “This is why we are undertaking several projects that have a spiritual, moral and material dimension,” he adds. The Latin Patriarchate helped repair Christian-owned homes partially damaged by the conflict. “There was a severe shortage of materials available for reconstruction, and some of them

were expensive,” says Nader Habash, coordinator of the reconstruction project of the Latin Patriarchate. “But we tried with every effort to repair all these damages as quickly as possible, despite the high prices resulting from the closure of commercial crossings, which continued for a long time after the war,” he adds. Joseph Hazboun, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, says the agency’s work over 70 years has aimed to help the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, particularly in the areas of public and mental health. Throughout the Middle East, CNEWA operates as Pontifical Mission, a taskforce founded by Pope Pius XII in 1949 to address the displacement of peoples and other challenges triggered by the Arab-Israeli conflict. The pope placed this special mission under the administration of CNEWA, and his successors have broadened the mission’s mandate to include the care of all peoples in the region. “There is always an urgent need for the population in Gaza,” says Mr. Hazboun. “We support health and education, despite the lack of funding during the recent period, but we continue to provide assistance as much as possible. “Children, more than others, need help,” he continues. “With every war, children have seen scenes they should not have lived or seen. “Parents may be able to help themselves, but children cannot, so we are trying to help.” Hazem Balousha is a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza. He is a contributor to The Washington Post, the Guardian and Deutsche Welle, and the founder of the Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development.

We restore hope to children of war I


Meet some of the health professionals helping children in Gaza heal from the trauma of war in an exclusive video at



Schools of Promise Refugee children receive schooling as they await resettlement text by Magdy Samaan with photographs by Hanaa Habib


ilvia Simon and her three younger sisters lived in relative peace with their parents in Malakal, South Sudan, until 2013, when a militia associated with the government attacked the town, kidnapping her parents. Her uncle told her to flee to Egypt with her sisters and apply for asylum. He promised he would soon follow. Silvia did as she was instructed. She took her siblings — Victoria, 10; Famela, 8; and Anna, 2 — and led them on their escape, traveling thousands of miles by bus to Cairo. Silvia was 19 at the time. She later learned her parents and her uncle were killed. Once in Cairo, the four girls were on their own, with no one to help. Despite life’s hardships, Silvia soon found work as a housekeeper and a flat in Maadi, a poor neighborhood south of Cairo. She enrolled Victoria and Famela in a school near their residence, St. Joseph Community School, which serves displaced children, and things seemed to be going well. However, two years later, Silvia suffered a severely broken leg after she threw herself out of a small public bus to escape an attempted gang rape. She was unable to continue working and could not pay the rent.



“If you can’t pay your share of the rent,” her housemate told her, “you’ll have to pay it with your body.” He sexually assaulted her and she became pregnant. He then kicked the four girls out. Silvia, her leg still broken, and her sisters slept on the street for a week, taking shelter in the doorways of large buildings, until one of her acquaintances took them in. Silvia eventually returned to housekeeping, but she has been able to work only two days a week due to ongoing health issues since breaking her leg. Her small income provides for their basic needs. She, her 4-year-old son and her sisters now share a two-bedroom flat with a divorced mother of four, also from South Sudan. Each family gets one bedroom. “My life is not easy,” says Silvia with tears in her eyes. “I live with the hope of seeing my sisters graduate from college. When I get tired, I remember my mother’s voice, ‘Don’t give up on your sisters.’ I have become everything to them. “I tell them: ‘Look at those who are living a good life,’ ” she continues. “ ‘They have made it through education. I work as a housemaid because I am not educated. This will be your fate if you do not learn.’ ”

Victoria, now 18; Famela, 16; and Anna, 10, have made their big sister proud by working hard to excel at school. Victoria, who is in her third year of high school, has always ranked first in her class. Famela, who started high school this year, and third-grader Anna are also among the first in their class. They now attend St. Charles Lwanga School, another school for displaced children, located in Sakakini, a neighborhood in the district of Abbasiya, north of the city center. Victoria and Famela seem younger than their age. They are very slim, mostly due to malnutrition, but their eyes shine with intelligence. Victoria suffers from severe anemia. Her school has offered her free treatment, but she is still severely emaciated. Despite these hardships, the sisters hope education will change their fate and help them realize their dream of resettling in a Western country, where better educational opportunities are available. “The situation would have been worse if we did not have the opportunity to learn,” says Famela. “At school, we have a social life and hope in the future.” Students attend class at St. Josephine Bakhita Center in Al Tabbah, northern Cairo.

mid-1980s when a substantial number fled civil war in their country and found a haven in Egypt. In 1984, in response to the growing refugee community, the Comboni Missionaries built a school in the garden of Sacred Heart Church in Sakakini, where they continue to minister. They saw how difficult it was for Sudanese children to enroll in Egyptian schools due to their inability to meet the admission requirements, such as having the correct identification papers, and the bullying they experienced when they did attend Egyptian schools. The Comboni Missionaries named their school after St. Charles Lwanga, a well-loved young Ugandan saint, martyred in 1886. It was the first school to serve the Sudanese community in Egypt and offers both elementary and high school education.

As Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees increased, as well as displaced persons from other African countries, including Eritrea and Somalia, the Comboni Missionaries decided to build three more schools in neighborhoods where refugees had settled in large number: St. Josephine Bakhita Center for Basic Education in Al Tabbah, at the northern limits of Cairo; St. Joseph Community School in Maadi, south of Cairo; and a school in Zeitoun, a city north of Cairo. However, due to a shortage of priests among the Comboni Missionaries, they handed St. Joseph Community School to the Franciscans in 2013, and the school in Zeitoun to the Salesians in 2019. The Comboni Missionaries continue to run St. Charles Lwanga, which has more than 600 students, and St. Josephine Bakhita, which serves about 400 students.



ccording to the UNHCR, Egypt hosts more than 265,000 registered asylumseekers and refugees, but the Egyptian government says the number exceeds five million, as many of the displaced do not register with the United Nations agency. The government grants them the freedom to move and live among Egyptian society. However, according to the UNHCR, Egypt’s challenging economic conditions in recent years “have considerably increased the vulnerability of both refugees and host community members. With many refugees lacking a stable source of income, basic needs are barely covered.” Nonetheless, living in Egypt is better for many of these families than living in their native countries, where they have no security or access to services. Sudanese have found refuge in Egypt for decades, beginning in the


CNEWA Connection Comboni Father Lokwang Casimiro celebrates Mass for the St. Josephine Bakhita school community. Opposite, Silvia Simon, second from right, sits on her couch with her son and three sisters.

The Comboni Missionaries have been instrumental in the church’s efforts in Egypt to uplift the poor and honor the dignity of the marginalized. Thanks to the generosity of its donors, CNEWA has supported the Comboni community in this mission. How? Most recently, funds completed the construction of a large hall at St. Charles Lwanga School, featured in this article, that will be used for formative group programs, cultural meetings, assemblies with parents and final exams. CNEWA also provided the school with hygiene kits at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with food packages and medicines for students living with long-term or chronic illnesses. To continue this lifeline of support for people like Silvia and her family, call 1-866-322-4441 (Canada) or 1-800-442-6392 (United States).


he Rev. Lokwang Casimiro welcomed students at St. Charles Lwanga on the first day of the school year, celebrating Mass for the feast day of the Comboni Missionaries’ founder, St. Daniel Comboni, on 10 October. After Mass, Botrous Amnruss, the principal, made some announcements, but not before patting the shoulder of a statue of St. Daniel standing next to the podium and giving thanks for the work of the community he founded. The students applauded, nodding in agreement and gratitude. The school’s breakfast program started one week later. Rose Daniel, a refugee from South Sudan, has been working in the school kitchen



since 2007. She and her colleagues prepare breakfast each day for the students, which include her two children, Keiji, 20, and Morbi, 18, who are completing their high school education. Mrs. Daniel says breakfast varies from day to day — lentils, beans, fava beans, falafel sandwiches. The young children get their meal at 9 a.m., and the older children eat 30 minutes later. They go to the kitchen where large baskets of food await them. Each student takes a plastic bag that contains a sandwich. When they return to the class, they receive cans of juice. Although the meal is simple, it is necessary, as many refugee families are unable to provide food on a

regular basis for their children. In some cases, the school breakfast is the main meal a child will eat throughout the day. Victoria, Famela and Anna benefit from the breakfast program. “The most important thing for me is to save for the rent,” says their big sister, Silvia. “At school, they eat breakfast. So, when we don’t have money for food, they will have eaten something already.” In addition to education, Sacred Heart Church, also called “the Sudanese Church,” has been crucial in helping the Sudanese and South Sudanese with free medical services for the neediest among them and with food aid, when available. The Rev. Dominic Eibu, the parish priest, and Father Casimiro, the assistant pastor, are relatively new to Sacred Heart Church. Both are Comboni Missionaries originally from Uganda. Father Eibu arrived four years ago and Father Casimiro two years later. “By these schools, we give refugees ho​ p​ e that their status is not a permanent one,​”​says Father Eibu. “God takes care of the homeless, the poor and the needy. We are called to be part of this mission of the Creator.​”​ The two priests work hard to run their schools, despite a continuous budget deficit, especially in recent years with a decrease in grants from international donors. They keep a good attitude amid the overwhelming needs they deal with every day. “The school fees paid by the parents are symbolic, ranging from 900 Egyptian pounds to 1,500 Egyptian pounds [about $57 to $95]

“God takes care of the homeless, the poor and the needy.

We are called to be part of this mission of the Creator.​”​ for the academic year,” says Father Eibu. “Of course, this is little to cover the running costs of the school, so we ask donors for help.” Teachers’ low salaries are an ongoing challenge, too; for many, their salary does not cover living expenses in Cairo. “If you work as a teacher, your salary is low compared with those working as housekeepers. There are teachers who leave teaching and work as housekeepers to get paid more,” says Sawsan Amin, a science teacher at St. Charles Lwanga. Father Eibu says the parish and school administration are trying to increase salaries, “but resources are limited.”

The school is in the same compound as Sacred Heart Church, separated by a large tent-covered courtyard. It recently completed the construction of a hall that will be used by the school for formative group programs, cultural meetings, parent assemblies and final exams.


ictoria dreams about attending medical school and becoming a surgeon; Famela dreams about studying computer science. But their dreams may end at high school if they cannot afford to take their final exams for their leaving certificates, overseen by the Sudanese embassy in Cairo.

The schools run by the Comboni Missionaries, as well as most other schools for South Sudanese children in Egypt, teach the Sudanese curriculum to facilitate their education. However, students must pay the embassy a $250 fee to write the elementary school certificate exam and a $550 fee to sit for the high school certificate exam. South Sudanese students, considered international students by the Sudanese embassy, pay higher fees than their Sudanese counterparts. This amount is beyond the capacity of most South Sudanese families, who turn to charitable organizations and the UNHCR for help. When funds are not available, they either borrow money, postpone



“The establishment of the school gave refugee families reassurance about their children’s future.”

the exam until funds are available, or stop their education at that level without graduating. Victoria would need to register for her final exam at the end of this academic year, but her older sister says it will be impossible to save $550 by then, which is a small fortune for their family. “If we don’t get help, we will have to make do with this amount of education,” says Silvia. “It will be very sad for me, but we have no choice.” The schools have been negotiating for three years with the Sudanese embassy to reduce the exam fees.



“This matter is a disaster,” says Mr. Amnruss, the principal. “Last year, a large number of students were unable to take the exam because they were unable to save the required amount.” Addok Makuacc is a single mother of five, who works as a housekeeper full time. Her two older sons, Daw, 22, and Joseph, 18, took their final exams last summer. She turned to the UNHCR for Joseph’s fees — the U.N. agency covered his exams because he was not yet 18 — but she borrowed the amount for Daw. Now she does not know how to pay back the loan.

Kindergarten children play in a classroom at St. Charles Lwanga Center in Sakakini.

“Life in Egypt is difficult, but educating my children gives me a purpose to continue,” she says. “I will be very happy to see Daw and Joseph graduate from college because I will feel that my labor has paid off.” However, not all students meet such success. Teachers notice that many children have difficulty concentrating on their studies, as their families are unable to provide a good study environment at home

and their ongoing financial problems are significant distractions. “The students in class are completely absent-minded,” says Essam Bala Kouri, a teacher at St. Josephine Bakhita Center in Al Tabbah. “Their families are in poor financial shape. They have too many problems for them to be focused.”


he neighborhood of Al Tabbah has grown randomly over the past three decades. Displaced families, mostly from Sudan, were among the first to live here, along with low-income Egyptians, who came from outside Cairo to reside on the margins of the big city in search of work. Rents are cheap and the district is close to two middle-class neighborhoods, Heliopolis and Nasr City, where they can find jobs. Father Casimiro travels regularly from Abbasiya to Al Tabbah to check in on St. Josephine Bakhita Center and to celebrate liturgies for the school community under the school’s large outdoor tent. Due to the need for a school in Al Tabbah, Sacred Heart Church initially rented a four-story apartment building in 2005, using the rooms on the first and second floors as classrooms, explains the principal, Isaac Ayoub Corey. Due to rising enrollment, the parish purchased the building in 2008. “The establishment of the school gave families reassurance about their children’s future,” says David Nimeri, an Arabic language teacher. “The main goal of their stay in Egypt is immigration and resettlement” to a Western country, he says, adding that the school has given a purpose to “their waiting time in Egypt.” Keiji Joseph, 25, came from South Sudan with her parents and three siblings in 2004. She joined the third grade at St. Josephine Bakhita Center. After completing elementary school, she attended St. Charles

Lwanga for high school. She and two of her siblings graduated from college. Now Ms. Joseph works as an English teacher at the school. “We all studied at the Comboni schools, and this helped us a lot and gave us a future,” she says. “In South Sudan, we are proud to attend Egyptian universities. I don’t know what would have happened to us if the Comboni schools didn’t exist.”


s. Joseph says the road was difficult until she graduated from university, but the presence of her parents helped her and her siblings to persevere in their studies, unlike a sizable proportion of refugee children orphaned by war or who are being raised by a single parent in their new host country. Such is the case for Anna, Famela and Victoria, who call Silvia, their older sister, “Mother.” They cannot imagine having survived this long without her care. “Doctors tell [Silvia] not to work, but she insists despite her pain,” says Famela. “She tells them, ‘I can’t quit, what are the girls going to do?’ I have no alternative but to excel in my studies to make up for my sister’s trouble with us.” Each day after school, Famela, Victoria and Anna sit down at home at a rickety table to study their lessons. “School is what builds the future, it helps us to be self-reliant when we grow up,” says Victoria, whose sense of the impermanence of her situation is ever-present. “If we have the chance to go to a Western country, we will have an education to build on,” she adds. “And, if we go home, we will contribute to building our society.” Based in Cairo, Magdy Samaan is the Egypt correspondent for The Times of London. He has also published with the Daily Telegraph, CNN and Foreign Policy.

We help them have faith in their future I


Hear firsthand from some of the refugees featured in this article in an exclusive video at





by Msgr. Peter I.Vaccari

n the September 2021 issue of ONE, I introduced my Perspectives with a reflection on Pope Francis’ selection of the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:33-34) in his encyclical, “Fratelli tutti.”

I hope and pray that all those attached to CNEWA’s mission and its operating agency in the Middle East, Pontifical Mission, will take time to read, to discuss among friends and to pray over this encyclical.

Pope Francis challenges us “to decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders” when we are confronted with the conditions of our world. CNEWA’s mission is in the service of the Eastern churches — even in countries where the Christian population is the minority. CNEWA works in a world that cries out for an openness to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue as well as an openness to all segments of society.

You may be asking what more you can do to advance CNEWA’s mission to promote solid, meaningful dialogue in the international venues where we work. Yes, we need your prayers. We also need your generous contributions toward our mandate to educate by way of conferences and greater forums for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. With your contributions, CNEWA can be a strong advocate for ongoing dialogue among the various faith traditions. For the pope sees the goal of this dialogue as the building of genuine social friendships.

Permit me to suggest just four of the major themes articulated by Pope Francis in this encyclical, released in 2020. These could serve us well as disciples of Jesus in a world broken by violence in families and among the family of nations, divisive partisan political rhetoric, racism, discrimination, consumerism and a growing throw-away culture that includes the loss of the dignity of all life from conception to natural death. First, the power of genuine and authentic love, love that seeks only the good of the other. The pope writes: “Only by cultivating this way of relating to one another will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and that is open to all.”

You may read this perspective during the Christmas season or as we begin the new year of grace 2022. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God became man; God became involved in our world. In light of this mystery of the Incarnation, we cannot elect to ignore the role of “political love,” as described by Pope Francis in his encyclical. The exercise of political love at the level of genuine “statecraft” on behalf of the common good must be a given. Yes, we are called to be political, however, not to engage in partisan politics. Our politics is a politics that fosters the “tender love” of others.

Second, a recognition for the appreciation of a genuine politics, one that manifests as “statecraft” and expresses itself as “political charity.” This political or social charity, committed to the truth, will seek always to promote justice and the common good. Here, Pope Francis locates the contribution of the church’s social teaching.

At Christmastime, we become more aware of God’s tender and very public love for us. Are we not called to be instruments of that love? Tender love is one that “draws near and becomes real.” Tenderness, the pope writes, “is the path of choice of … the most courageous men and women.”

Third, one of the most cherished themes of this pontificate, that is, working toward a “culture of encounter.” For Francis, we “should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges.” He challenges us to instruct our children “to fight the good fight of the culture of encounter.”

Thank you for your prayers and your most generous support!

Fourth, he invites us to build cultures of “kindness,” where our vocabulary includes the expressions “excuse me,” “pardon me,” and “thank you.”




Peter I. Vaccari President, CNEWA

Top, Palestinian Christian and Muslim students work in the laboratory at the Rosary Sisters School in Jerusalem. Below, left to right, Fahed Nofal, Brother Peter Bray and Bayan Mohammad Awadallah chat on the campus of Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, Palestine.

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