ONE Magazine December 2023

Page 1


December 2023

God • World • Human Family • Church

Where is the Hope? Crying for help in Gaza Seeking Refuge in Armenia Capturing Faith Amid War in Ukraine renewing life for abuse Survivors in Egypt


From the Holy Land 14 AbyLetter Joseph Hazboun


6 20

No Turning Back Ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh by Gohar Abrahamyan Firmly Planted Religious communities remain steadfast in Aleppo text by Arzé Khodr with photographs by Raghida Skaff

From a War Photographer 26 AtextLetter and photographs by Konstantin Chernichkin Breaking the Silence 32 Church raises awareness of trafficking in Egypt text by Magdy Samaan with photographs by Hanaa Habib


4 Connections to CNEWA’s world Last Word: 38 The Perspectives from the president by Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari

t A student at the Mekhitarist Fathers School in Aleppo gives principal Datevig Najjarian a card of thanks.






Volume 49 NUMBER 4



In a world of tremendous uncertainty, your gift can be a light in the darkness.



Front: Gaza residents find a tapestry of the Nativity amid the ruins of a building that collapsed under fire in the compound of St. Porphyrios Church in mid-October.

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.

Back: A girl from Nagorno-Karabakh is given refuge in Torosgyugh, Armenia.

Publisher Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari

Photo Credits Front cover, page 18 (bottom), Ali Jadallah/ Anadolu via Getty Images; pages 2, 3 (far right), 5 (left), 21-25, Raghida Skaff; page 3 (top), CNS photo/Paul Haring; pages 3 (upper left), 26, Courtesy of Konstantin Chernichkin; page 3 (upper right), OSV News photo/Mohammed Al-Masri, Reuters; pages 3 (lower left), 6-8, 10-13, back cover, Nazik Armenakyan; pages 3 (lower right), 32-37, Hanaa Habib; page 5 (right), Courtesy PIMCO; page 9, Caritas Armenia; pages 14-15, 18 (top), OSV News photo/Debbie Hill; page 16, Sami Tarazi; page 17, George Jaraiseh; pages 27-31, Konstantin Chernichkin; page 38, UCU; pages 38-39, CNEWA Jerusalem; page 39, OSV News photo/CNS file, Debbie Hill.

Editorial Michael J.L. La Civita, Executive Editor Laura Ieraci, Editor Olivia Poust, Contributing Editor David Aquije, Contributing Editor Elias D. Mallon, Contributing Editor

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.

Creative Timothy McCarthy, Digital Assets Manager Paul Grillo, Graphic Designer Samantha Staddon, Junior Graphic Designer Elizabeth Belsky, Ad Copy Writer 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; ©2023 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Media Association of the United States and Canada.

Remember CNEWA in your will and help us show the face of Christ to others. Leave a legacy that will have a huge impact. Your gift will help us in our mission to support the church, alleviate poverty, and affirm human dignity in the places we work for many years to come. A bequest has tax benefits. Contact us today to learn more: Call 1-866-322-4441 (Canada) or 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or email us at

Connections to CNEWA’s world Israel-Hamas War Claims Thousands of Lives

Relatives mourn at the 20 October funeral service for victims of the building collapse caused by an Israeli airstrike on the grounds of the Church of St. Porphyrios in Gaza. The Israel-Hamas war, which erupted after Hamas launched a barbaric attack on Israel on 7 October, had claimed the lives of 1,200 Israelis and more than 13,000 Gazans at the time of publication. About 145 Israelis were still being held hostage by Hamas. CNEWA’s regional office in Jerusalem, with staff in Gaza, has been monitoring the situation in Israel and Gaza. Many of the agency’s partners in Gaza were sheltering and caring for thousands of people, including at the Arab Orthodox Cultural Center — which was flattened by an Israeli airstrike on 30 October — the YMCA and Al Ahli Arab Hospital. An explosion at the hospital killed 471 people, according to Gazan officials. A bomb also collapsed a building of the historic Church of

Confronting Global Crises Some of the world’s worst crises are happening in countries and regions where CNEWA works, including in Armenia, Ethiopia, the Holy Land and Ukraine. Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, CNEWA president, focused the most recent installments of “Connections With Msgr. Peter” on underlining these crises and CNEWA’s response efforts.



St. Porphyrios, where the parents and an infant niece of a CNEWA staff member were sheltering and killed. Joseph Hazboun, CNEWA’s director in Jerusalem, reported that funds are “immediately required” to sustain the vast humanitarian needs in Gaza. Provisions to date have included food, potable water, fire extinguishers, medicine and clothes. However, the needs continue to increase, he said. In this time of war, as the minority Christian population in the Holy Land faces yet another potential mass exodus, Mr. Hazboun reflects on the Christian commitment to the land where Jesus walked in “A Letter From the Holy Land” on Page 14.

A special edition of “Connections” on 27 September featured Adriana Bara, national director of CNEWA in Canada, and Anna Dombrovska, projects officer, to speak about their solidarity visit to Ukraine this past summer and the ongoing needs of CNEWAsupported projects in Ukraine. “From east to west, from south to north, we help to bring food,

warmth, shelter, medication, psychological relief, spiritual support,” said Ms. Dombrovska. “And all of that is brought with the love of God.” To catch up on CNEWA’s efforts in these regions in crisis, watch the latest installments of “Connections With Msgr. Peter” at

Food Insecurity in Ethiopia In Ethiopia’s northern Amhara and Tigray regions, “drought-like conditions” are affecting more than 5 million people and contributing to food shortages, placing more than 2 million people in Tigray at risk of a food insecurity crisis, said Argaw Fantu, regional director for CNEWA’s Ethiopia office. In response, CNEWA will provide emergency funding to school-based food programs in the Eparchy of Adigrat in 2024. The crisis is due to “disease outbreaks” and “the combined effects of climate events, conflicts and inter-communal violence,” he explained. Alice Wairimu Nderitu, U.N. UnderSecretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, expressed concern over a risk of “genocide and related atrocity crimes” in Ethiopia, due to “mass killings, rape, starvation, destruction of schools and medical facilities, forced displacement and arbitrary detention,” as well as the targeting of groups “on the basis of ethnicity.” Refugee Support in Armenia Azerbaijan’s military offensive on the ethnically Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh on 19 September — which resulted in Azerbaijan gaining control of the region in a cease-fire agreement the next day — caused the immediate displacement of more than 100,000 people to Armenia. In the nine months prior to the offensive, the Azerbaijan military blocked the Lachin corridor, the sole route connecting the region to Armenia. The resultant shortage of food, water and medicine in Nagorno-Karabakh elicited allegations of genocide from world leaders.

Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, R.G.S., and John J. Studzinski, K.S.G., were the honorees at CNEWA’s annual gala on 5 December.

CNEWA rushed funds to its partners in Armenia, including Caritas Armenia and the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate, to support their efforts in assisting refugees from NagornoKarabakh. Read more about the work of the church to help these families driven out of their homeland on Page 6. Ecumenism in the East CNEWA co-sponsored a conference in Rome, on 15-16 November, entitled “Eastern Catholics’ Ecumenical Vision in Dialogue with the Orthodox.” The international conference was organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv

and the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Read about the symposium on our blog: Annual ‘Healing & Hope’ Gala CNEWA’s “Healing & Hope” Gala Dinner on 5 December in Manhattan honored Sister Marie Claude Naddaf of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd for her work in fighting human trafficking. John J. Studzinski, K.S.G., was presented with CNEWA’s Faith & Culture Award for his work and advocacy against trafficking through the Arise Foundation. ONE went to print prior to the gala, so for updates and photos, please visit

There is even more on the web Visit for updates

__ __ __ __ __

And find videos, stories from the field and breaking news at



No Turning Back Ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh with no hope of return by Gohar Abrahamyan



A family flees Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia. More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians evacuated the region after it fell to Azerbaijan in a ceasefire agreement on 20 September․

says. “I tremble to think about what might have transpired had we delayed even a few minutes.” Boris, his mother, siblings and maternal grandparents have found refuge at a camp in the northwestern Armenian province of Shirak. The camp, located in Torosgyugh, belongs to the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate and normally runs summer activities for children. It now hosts refugees from NagornoKarabakh in collaboration with Caritas Armenia. It is about 11 miles from Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri, but 208 miles away from the place Boris once called home. Boris and his family are members of the historic Armenian community that was forcibly evacuated this fall from the long-disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. International law recognizes this region as part of Azerbaijan, which the local Armenian community rejected in the 1990s, setting off decades of war. “We left with only the clothes on our backs,” he says, laying the keys to the house and car they left behind on a tabletop in their small cabin. “There was no time to fetch fuel for my father’s car, but it scarcely mattered. On our way out, everyone except our family already knew about my father’s fate, yet they chose to spare us that information.” Kochoghot, a village of 560 residents, as per the 2010 census, has a history of military involvement. Its residents had served for three years (1941-1945) on various positions of the Eastern Front of World War II in the war between





t the first light of dawn on 20 September, Boris Simonyan received word that he and his family would have to evacuate their home in Kochoghot, a small village in the Martakert region of NagornoKarabakh, a historically ethnic Armenian community in a longcontested region now occupied by Azerbaijan. The shelling by Azerbaijani forces had been relentless since 1 p.m. local time the day before. At 17, with his military father serving on the front line, it was up to Boris to guide his mother and siblings to safety. The blockade imposed by Azerbaijan several months earlier had made it impossible for Boris to continue his studies at the technical school in Stepanakert, the region’s capital. He was working at a construction site in the village when the bombing began. He left the worksite and went quickly to pick up his 11-year-old brother from school and take him home, where his mother and sister were waiting. He escorted them to a nearby basement for cover before assisting others in the village. The next morning, Boris, his mother and siblings crammed into a friend’s truck and were among the first to leave Kochoghot at 8:30 a.m. “Little did we know that moments after our departure, the enemy had already occupied our village,” he

the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany; 78 of 113 fighters never returned. In the early 1990s, Kochoghot formed two volunteer units to fight in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. Among them was Boris’s grandfather. “My grandfather lost his life in the first war, and now my father in this one,” says Boris. The family traveled from Kochoghot to the long-closed airport in Stepanakert, where Russian peacekeeping troops were stationed.

“We spent about three days there, exposed to the elements, hungry and in the cold,” says Boris. “It was there that we buried our father in the fraternal cemetery.”


estled in the heart of the South Caucasus mountains, Nagorno-Karabakh — rich in history spanning millennia — is often omitted from world maps. The Russian tsars annexed the once largely ethnic Armenian region in 1805, but control of its resources and people only became a source

of discord when Armenia and Azerbaijan sought their independence with the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917. The Soviets suppressed the dispute when both countries were absorbed as socialist republics in the 1920s. In 1923, Nagorno-Karabakh was integrated into the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic as an “autonomous region” — a “gift,” it is said, of Stalin, who despised the proud Armenian Christian culture. With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 — and after Azerbaijan

“In an instant, people lost what their forefathers had painstakingly built over centuries.”

The CNEWA Connection A boy from Nagorno-Karabakh plays with a Caritas Armenia staff member at a refugee coordination center in Vayk, Armenia. Opposite bottom, refugees are registered for temporary shelter at a welcome center in Goris, Armenia.

rejected a proposal three years prior to unite the region to Armenia — the ethnic Armenians declared an independent Republic of NagornoKarabakh, also called the Republic of Artsakh, which they defended in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War (1991-1994). Armenian forces pushed the Azerbaijani military out of the region, seizing an additional seven Azerbaijani districts that bordered the now independent Republic of Armenia and established their own government, supported by Armenia. The war killed at least 30,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands on both sides. Despite the 1994 cease-fire, occasional armed conflicts continued to erupt within NagornoKarabakh and along the ArmeniaAzerbaijan border, including a larger Azerbaijani four-day offensive in 2016. The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War erupted in September 2020. Over 44 days, about 7,000 troops were killed and more than 100,000 people were displaced on both sides. In the cease-fire brokered by the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan regained the seven districts it lost in the first war, as well as one-third of Nagorno-Karabakh’s territory, isolating the region from Armenia. Two years later in December 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor, the only strip of land left connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, thereby cutting off access to essential goods and health care. Then, on 19 September 2023, Azerbaijani Armed Forces launched a wide-scale attack on NagornoKarabakh. As per the cease-fire

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan gained control of the region in September. CNEWA partners, including the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate and Caritas Armenia, are among those welcoming the refugees into Armenia and providing them with basic necessities. However, long-term services and programming are needed to integrate this new refugee population into Armenian society. CNEWA already works closely with these partners to provide basic care for the most vulnerable — children, the elderly, the poor and the displaced — and to support child care programs; health care and assistance to those with special needs. To support CNEWA in this work, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada) or visit

agreement reached the next day, the Artsakh Defense Army was disarmed and the process of integrating the region into Azerbaijan would begin. On 28 September, the leaders of the selfdeclared Republic of NagornoKarabakh agreed to dissolve by 1 January 2024. The one-day military operation killed more than 220 ethnic Armenians and caused more than 100,000 to flee, seeking refuge in Armenia. By 30 September, Nagorno-Karabakh, which once had a population of 120,000, had been largely emptied.


rossing into Armenia along the Lachin corridor was the first encounter with Azerbaijani forces for Boris’s sister, Arpine, 19. “I tried to convince myself that they are just like us, ordinary people following orders, but I couldn’t stop shaking, not knowing what would happen at that moment,” she says. The usual two-hour journey from Stepanakert to the Armenian border at Kornidzor took nearly two days. Then they continued on to the refugee camp, which they had learned about from their neighbor, Rima Poghosyan, and arrived on 10 October.



The camp has several cabins, a charming promenade, a chapel and a dining area. Each cabin has about five rooms with private bathrooms. Freshly laundered clothes hang neatly outside. The aroma of a warm meal wafts from the camp kitchen. Come evening, the playground reverberates with the joyful sounds of children. Ethnic Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Goris, Armenia.



In a spacious room in a cabin, Boris’s mother weeps in a corner. Near a table beneath a window, his grandmother plays a game of lotto with his brother, a distraction from their circumstances. The boy has been attending the local school. His classmates are supportive even though he struggles to understand the local dialect. Boris, instead, has been forced to mature beyond his years. “I’m in search of a job because our future hinges on it,” he says. “I must work to provide for my family’s needs.”

When the family fled to Armenia during the Second NagornoKarabakh War, they believed they would return to Kochoghot, he says. But not this time. “I thought they would have given us at least a few hours to collect our belongings, but we couldn’t even take a picture of my 7-year-old brother who passed away in a car accident. Everything happened so fast, and we panicked,” he says. “If only I could have had a few hours in the village to retrieve my father’s car and my brother’s picture.

And I would move my father’s grave. I don’t need anything else.”


ima Poghosyan, her daughterin-law and six grandchildren fled Kochoghot on 20 September as well, also seeking refuge with the Russian peacekeeping troops at the Stepanakert airport. However, left exposed to the elements, they decided to take refuge in a hotel and later in a school basement. Her three sons, who were fighting at the border,

“We left with only the clothes on our backs. There was no time to fetch fuel for my father’s car, but it scarcely mattered.”



“There were nights when we went to bed hungry, but we accepted our predicament. We held firm on our land.” reunited with the family on 24 September. They left Stepanakert three days later. “An elderly sick person died in our car, which led to our swift passage through the checkpoint. Unlike many others, our exit was brief,” she recounts. This is her second time at the camp in Torosgyugh, where she and her family had sought refuge for seven months due to the war in 2020. “We were awaited here, as if we’d returned home, which meant a lot in our situation,” she says. “We lost everything, left everything behind,



witnessed everything. At the very least, we’ve received a warm reception here.” The 11 members of her family live in one cabin. Her eldest son, his wife and six children, occupy one room, while she and two other sons occupy another. An elderly neighbor lives in the third room. Caritas workers conducted an initial needs assessment and medical exams, providing the essentials. The family also received visits from the camp’s social worker. Mrs. Poghosyan points out the stark contrast between the care they

Rima Poghosyan and her grandchildren are living at a camp of the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate since fleeing their homeland.

receive at the camp and what they endured during the blockade, when “food was nearly nonexistent, and the little that was available came at exorbitant prices, rendering it unattainable for many.” She recalls grinding barley, chickpeas and lentils to create a coffee substitute. “For the children, we even ground pig feed to ensure they had something to eat. There were nights

when we went to bed hungry, but we accepted our predicament. We held firm on our land,” she says. “As if enduring those nine months of deprivation wasn’t enough, maybe [the Azerbaijanis] weren’t certain that we’d leave, which is why they resorted to war, making sure we had no choice.” During her toughest moments, she says, she finds solace in prayer and in her fervent appeals to God for the safety of her children. “God answered my prayers; my children made it safely, and now we’re in this wonderful camp where we receive constant support,” she says. “After enduring so much pain, we genuinely need this kind of support.” The Reverend Grigor Mkrtchyan, rector at Holy Martyrs Cathedral in Gyumri, ministers mostly to those displaced by war. “While we had casualties, a significantly larger number of people were forcibly uprooted from their homes, stripped of their cultural and spiritual heritage,” he says. “These individuals need our compassion; they are in a fragile psychological state. “In the initial days, we brought in psychologists to work with them. Medical teams regularly visit, ensuring they receive the care they require.” In mid-October, the camp had 90 people, almost half under age 14. There were 150 people only a few days prior. During that time, Father Mkrtchyan baptized 36 refugees in the camp chapel and organized the Rite of Holy Crowning for couples who had not yet wed in the church. Children at the camp were enrolled at the local school. Inititally, the refugees were expected to stay at the camp for six months. “However, it’s evident that no one will leave them without shelter if they can’t find a place of their own, even though we face serious

financial constraints,” says Father Mkrtchyan. The church is fundraising to support the camp and to build a nursing home for the elderly refugees, as the two nursing homes in Shirak province are full. “These individuals have overcome enormous hardships to reach Armenia,” says Mkrtich Babayan, who leads Caritas Armenia’s program for displaced people from Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Babayan outlines the type of care the Catholic community charity has been able to provide at the camp, including three meals a day, laundry facilities and heating devices. “The climate is cold, and we’re continuously working to improve the conditions,” he says. “These people were in a state of shock, and being able to receive them and not leave anyone out in the open was a tremendous effort.” Caritas Armenia also operated a refugee registration center in Goris, close to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in the first days of the evacuation from NagornoKarabakh. There, it distributed food and hygiene packages to 100 families, as well as 50 mattresses. It provided hot meals to 3,000 people at a registration center in the Vayots Dzor province, about 500 sets of bed linens in the Ararat province and warm clothing to hundreds. “This is a tragedy and a catastrophe for our people,” says Mr. Babayan. “In an instant, people lost what their forefathers had painstakingly built over centuries. “It’s our moral duty to offer support and integrate them. This is an urgent issue that calls for a longterm solution.” A communications specialist, Gohar Abrahamyan covers issues of justice and peace in the Caucasus for local and international media.

Give refugees a lifeline I


Hear the testimonies of ethnic Armenians who fled their ancestral land in Nagorno-Karabakh in this video.



A Letter From the Holy Land by Joseph Hazboun

Editors’ note: Pope Pius XII founded the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in 1949 to coordinate worldwide Catholic aid in care of the refugees fleeing the first Arab-Israeli conflict. He entrusted its administration to CNEWA. As the conflicts in the Middle East grew, so did the mission of this unique task force of the Holy See, which today functions as CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East with regional teams based in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. Always, CNEWA-Pontifical Mission works through the local churches, responding to emergencies — rushing basic life needs, such as water, food and medicines — supporting education and formation programs, health care and other social services and, in a region beset with crises, post-traumatic counseling.

ACCOMPANYING THE CHURCH A pilgrim prays on the steps of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on 10 October, after war broke out between Israel and Hamas.


or many years, both in my personal relationships and as regional director of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office, I have been promoting, especially among young people, the importance of staying steadfast in our homeland, the land of Jesus. I encouraged my three children to study subjects at local universities that would be useful to the local economy and enable them to build a future for themselves in the land that we as Christians have been calling “home” for some 2,000 years. In meetings with youth groups, I encourage them to learn more about the history of the Christian community in the Holy Land,

especially the first seven centuries of the Christian era. When I realized there was insufficient information in Arabic about this period, I began translating a book, posting on social media and organizing a workshop, which resulted in the first book in Arabic published on the history of “Christian Palestine.” Another book on this topic is in the making. Whenever my wife or my children speak about pursuing possibilities abroad, my answer has always been: “No way. Life in our homeland is beautiful. Challenges exist everywhere.” When donors or visitors have asked about the persistent threat to the Christian community of migration, I have always replied

that I do not believe in predictions about Christians leaving the Holy Land or that churches will become museums. I have always insisted that at least my family and I will remain. However, since the horrific attack on Israel by Hamas on 7 October and Israel’s response with an uncompromising military assault on Gaza, I have been struggling with two main issues: The first is how one can bring consolation to families and friends who have lost loved ones; the second is my position on remaining steadfast in front of the heavy price that is being paid. In mid-October, one of our project assistants in Gaza, Sami, and

God watches these tragedies with a heavy and compassionate heart.



Solluptatem veratiatia vernam ipsamus aut fugia si dolla cuptatissi doluptatem ipsame apit alitat pratio corro dunt.Otat alit imolut ipis aute volut lant voloresequat labo. Uga. Olest et am autectotas aligent quia sum, autatur? Dolluptas ilit, quo tem rersperese estotasperro bea videria digendi

Joseph Hazboun, second from right, kneels before the stone of unction at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. At left, aid workers, supported by CNEWA ontifical Mission, distribute mattresses to people seeking refuge in the compound of St. Porphyrios Church in Gaza in mid-October. The building in the background, which served as the Scout Troop Quarters, collapsed under fire on 1 October, killing 17 people.

Now is the time to stand tall, to draw strength from our rooted faith, from our certainties and beliefs, so we can spread courage and hope.

other young community leaders were doing heroic work to support the 900 people taking refuge at the Church of St. Porphyrios and Holy Family Church. I recall that, as we tried to figure out what the situation would be at the end of this war, I told Sami: “If the majority decides to leave Gaza for good, I can’t blame them. But at least you, Rami and George [two other colleagues] must stay there to rebuild it.” However, with the ongoing devastation since then, the number of lives lost, the bombing of Al Ahli Arab Hospital and the Arab Orthodox Cultural Center, I have begun to develop doubts deep in my soul. The night of 19 October will be unforgettable: A building in the compound of the Church of St. Porphyrios collapsed under fire, killing 17 Christians, including Sami’s parents and 6-month-old niece. I will never forget Sami’s shaky voice when I called him as he was struggling to find his parents. “No, we are not okay,” he said. “My mother is dead, and I can’t find my father.” When we hung up, I called Rami. “The situation is tragic, there are people dead and others under the rubble,” he said. My family and I were all shaken at home, too, not knowing what to do. The events have dramatically affected my family. My two daughters have been part of the “We Are Not Numbers” project organized in Gaza. They have never been to Gaza, yet this program, aimed at putting a face and a story to the names of the youth in Gaza, Top, Franciscans take part in the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace at St. Saviour Monastery in Jerusalem, 17 October. Bottom, the rubble of the building that collapsed in the compound of the Greek Orthodox St. Porphyrios Church in Gaza.

has fostered relationships with their peers there. Layal, my eldest, has been in touch with Maram, a girl in Gaza, and other friends daily. “Today, there was heavy bombardment,” Maram writes. “Today, my uncle’s family moved in, as they lost their home… Today, the bombing is coming closer and heavier, so we all left for Khan Younis in the south at our relatives, it is safer there.” A couple of years back, my wife became friends on social media with Ali, a man with physical disabilities from the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City. She had been receiving messages from him as he struggled to stay safe throughout the bombardment. As I write this letter, it has been two days since she last heard from him.


s a committed Catholic, I believe God watches these tragedies with a heavy and compassionate heart. Yes, it is difficult to feel his presence during these difficult times. It is easy to slip into the feeling that our prayers are in vain. It is easy at times like these to fall into the temptation of blaming God. Then I recall that the psalmist also felt as we do today: “Why, LORD, do you stand afar and pay no heed in times of trouble? Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor; they trap them by their cunning schemes” (Ps 10:1-2). This cry seems so much like my own today. Therefore, deep within, I know this is not the end; God has never forsaken his people — and he never will. Our Lord has already walked the path we are walking today, having been persecuted, eventually tortured and put to death. When we face tribulations ourselves, we experience firsthand how challenging and tragic it is to see people lose all their belongings or killed.

The Gospel is a message for every believer, everywhere and in every time. The words in the Gospel of Matthew, “You will hear of wars … nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place … they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you” (24:6-9), are not tales of past events. This is a message for us all today. Now is the time for us to show our faith in the Gospel. Now is the time to stand tall, to draw strength from our rooted faith, from our certainties and beliefs, so we can spread courage and hope. Yes, it is painful, it is costly, it is frightful. Only a few months ago, I read the fourth-century book of St. Eusebius, “The Martyrs of Palestine.” What helped the Christian martyrs of Jerusalem and Palestine endure the persecution and offer their lives for their faith should and will continue to guide us and strengthen us today. These are the powerful words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” ( Jn 16:33). What is the use of faith, if we do not draw strength from it when we desperately need it? To conclude, I will repeat what I have said again and again: Those “remnant,” as Isaiah calls them, who opt to remain steadfast and believe they have a future in their homeland, the homeland of Jesus, we will encourage and support. Those who opt to leave, seeking a place without conflict and bloodshed, may God bless them and grant them peace wherever they go. Joseph Hazboun is the director of the Jerusalem office of CNEWAPontifical Mission.



Firmly Planted Religious communities remain steadfast in Aleppo text by Arzé Khodr with photographs by Raghida Skaff


he exodus of hundreds of thousands of Christians from Syria in the past decade has not shaken the commitment of religious men and women to remain and serve those who stayed behind. “Those who stayed are the poor,” says Father Georges Fattal, S.D.B., a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco of the small Christian community in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. The congregation of priests and religious brothers, founded in Italy by St. John Bosco in 1869 to minister to the young and the poor, marks 75 years of ministry in Aleppo this year. “Despite the risks, war and death, we will never leave [Syria] because we have chosen to serve the youth,” he says. “Wherever there are young people, despite exhaustion, pain and war, we will stay by them to share in their lives.” An important Salesian apostolate in Aleppo is the Georges and Matilde Salem Center, which serves about 850 youth with the help of 120 volunteers. Even in the darkest



hours of the civil war, which ravaged the country from 2011 to 2021, the center did not close its doors. It was “out of the question” to abandon the children to fear, says Father Fattal, whose community mobilized to create a semblance of normalcy for the children. “We were hit by a cluster bomb [in 2014],” he explains. “Glass was shattered, but we repaired everything immediately and, in the afternoon, we continued the activities with the children.” The center was a hub for humanitarian relief during the civil war, distributing food and medicine to all people in need without distinction. In February 2023, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the city, bringing down homes and apartment buildings, about 800 people took shelter at the center, some of them for up to five weeks. With no resources to spare, the 73-year-old priest recalls how “providence … took care of everything.” With CNEWA support,

the center provided three meals a day, medicine and other basic necessities. Many donations came from past pupils — a term Salesians use to refer to those who attended their schools and programs — before they fled Aleppo, a sign of their appreciation for the work of the Salesians. Srour Ibrahim, 24, teaches catechism at the center and leads a children’s fraternity. A recent dental school graduate, Srour has no expectations to work as a dentist in Aleppo. Instead, he is among the many volunteers who attended the center as a child and now assists in carrying out its programming. “If it weren’t for this center, we would have left long ago,” he says. “It’s the only place where we feel physically and psychologically safe while everything around us is falling apart. For me, it’s like home.” Religious women stroll in Aleppo’s Christian quarter.


The CNEWA Connection Altar servers at the Maronite Cathedral of St. Elijah. Opposite top, a student learns Armenian at the Mekhitarist Fathers School. Bottom, Salesian Fathers Pierre Jabloyan, center, and Georges Fattal, far right, speak with young people at the Salesian youth center in Aleppo.

Syrians continue to rebuild their lives more than 10 years after the start of a decade-long civil war, a mass exodus, a devastating earthquake earlier this year and a crippling economic crisis. Through it all, the church — in its institutions, religious communities and social service organizations — has continued to stand with those who remain. Although Syria’s Christian population is small, the role of the church is substantial. CNEWA supports the church in Syria to feed and shelter the displaced, provide an education for Syrian and refugee children, offer health care to the poor and vulnerable, and serve as a beacon of hope for all. To support this crucial work, call 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada) or visit emergency-syria.

Johnny Azar, 31, also volunteers as a catechist and heads the center’s youth activities and relief efforts. Among his 35-member peer group that attended the center as children, only he and one other continue to live in Syria. No one from the subsequent peer group lives in Syria, and only two people from the following cohort still do, he points out. “Everybody is gone,” he says. Many young men have left to avoid Syria’s compulsory military service, he adds. However, as an only child, Johnny exercised his legal right to opt out.

T 22

he number of Christians in Syria, which had a total population of about 23


million in mid-2023, has decreased significantly in recent years. While sources disagree on exact figures, estimates indicate the Christian population has dropped from more than 2 million to between 450,000 and 603,000. The latter figure is reported by Open Doors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to tracking Christian persecution worldwide. This year, it ranked Syria 12th among the 50 countries where Christians suffer the greatest persecution for their faith. In Aleppo, although there are no official figures, Christian nonprofit groups, including the Blue Marists, estimate the number of Christians to be 30,000, representing less than 2 percent of the city’s population of

about 2 million; Christians numbered 150,000, or 10 percent, of the population of Aleppo before 2011. The World Bank reports the economic situation in Syria is in a continual spiral. According to the Middle East Institute, Syrian currency reached an all-time low in August at 15,500 pounds to the U.S. dollar as inflation continued to rise. As well, the monthly state salary in Syria in August was the equivalent of $13, while the cost of a monthly food basket was $81, according to the World Food Program. “The future of Christians in Aleppo is in God’s hands,” says Father Fattal. “Our people lack everything; they struggle to meet even their most basic needs,” he says. “We are doing everything we can to help them stay, but God only knows if they will. “I think no matter what comes our way, some will always remain here because we are the yeast with which the dough is leavened. If Christians leave this place, it wouldn’t be the same,” he says. “May God grant us the strength to persevere and remain in this land.” Father Pierre Jabloyan, S.D.B., the superior of the Salesian community in Aleppo, says he is optimistic about the future for Christians in the city. “I have great faith, because we must have hope, even when there is no hope,” he says. “Otherwise, our mission here would be meaningless.”


ister Siham Zgheib says her community also seeks to be “a sign of hope and support for

“Wherever there are young people, despite exhaustion, pain and war, we will stay by them to share in their lives.”

“If Christians leave this place, it wouldn’t be the same.” those who have stayed, doing all we can to serve with love.” The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary have been present in Aleppo since 1914. Their convent in the city was equipped to receive the aging sisters from the province. Before the civil war began in 2011, there were 23 sisters. However, most left and only four sisters remain. Sister Bernadette D’Hauteville, originally from France, has lived in various places in the Middle East for more than 50 years. She returned to Aleppo in 2014. “During the war, I remember that we had a very important role to play in welcoming everyone: with the refugees, with the emergency kitchen and with all the groups that were sent here by different organizations,” she says. As the area around the convent was relatively safe, the sisters received many internally displaced persons from more war-affected



regions. From 2012 to 2018, they worked with Jesuit Refugee Service to provide about 18,000 meals a day. Sister Bernadette was, and still is, in charge of welcoming different groups, adults and children, who are offered psychosocial support and social activities. “During the war, we had a very important role: to listen to these broken and anxious people, to search for meaning in all this, while the bombs continued to fall on us,” she says. Since the majority of those displaced were Muslim, it was an opportunity to get to know “the other” better, she adds. Sister Siham, too, considers this opportunity “a gift and a blessing” of the war. “After the emergency kitchen closed, we realized how their vision of us had changed,” says Sister Siham. “They really appreciated that we opened our convent for them.”

Sister Antoinette Battikh oversees a sewing workshop that employs women.

The sisters organized support groups that welcomed displaced Muslim women. They also started a sewing workshop, equipped with machinery, fabric and supplies, where the women learned to make garments and accessories. The sisters then worked to bring the items to market. At the height of the displacement crisis in Aleppo, the workshop employed more than 60 women. This past spring, there were only about 30. The workshop helped to build bridges between faith communities, says Sister Antoinette Battikh, who has overseen the workshop since 2015. “The Muslim women used to be afraid of us, but when they saw that we didn’t discriminate between Muslims and Christians, they were surprised,” says Sister Antoinette.

“They opened up to us, told us their problems, and we always tried to help if we could. Many have gone back home, but when they pass by, they stop to say hello. They haven’t forgotten.” In 1993, the sisters began a child care center for children with autism. It currently welcomes 17 children and employs eight people. In 2013, they had thought of closing the center, due to the difficulty and costs associated with finding specialized staff. But they reconsidered, as support for the center continued. “It is providence,” says Sister Siham, the center’s director. “Our main donor is Muslim. He pays the teacher salaries. He is a friend of our congregation.” Moved by the sisters’ unconditional welcome of all people, members of the Muslim community also funded their relief work in response to the February earthquake, when they opened their convent as a refuge to 150 people. “In this city, we have always lived together. But, with the war, people became afraid of each other,” says Sister Renée Koussa, the superior of the community who grew up in Aleppo. “In rural areas, Muslims live in closed communities and know nothing about us. This is our role: to be a sign of the presence of Christ where Christ is not known.”


he Mekhitarist Fathers School in Aleppo has sought to provide high-quality education for children, from kindergarten to grade 10, since its founding in 1936. After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, many Armenians were displaced from Turkey to Syria, and the Mekhitarist Fathers — an Armenian Catholic monastic order that follows the Rule of St. Benedict — founded the school to meet the needs of the growing Armenian community in the country.

Although the Armenian presence in Syria dates to the Byzantine period, after the Armenian persecutions and genocide during World War I, many Armenians and other ethnic Christian minorities sought refuge in Syria, with the largest number in Aleppo. The school never closed its doors during the war, even when the fighting came close. During periods of heavy bombing, teachers would lead students to shelter. They also made great efforts to maintain a daily routine that would prevent students from giving in to fear and panic. Datevig Najjarian, the principal, says the aim is “to offer the most modern education with the latest technologies possible, so parents don’t leave the country to seek better education for their children elsewhere.” The curriculum also includes the Armenian language in an ongoing effort to preserve Armenian heritage. The school offers significant tuition support, and all Armenian children up to the age of five attend for free. Families with multiple children receive a tuition discount, and tuition is waived for children whose parents are unable to pay. Despite the tuition breaks, enrollment has decreased significantly, from 1,100 in the year 2000 to 400 before the war began in 2011. This year, enrollment was 180. Mrs. Najjarian says her decision to stay in Aleppo is rooted in her optimism that the situation in Syria will improve as well as in her conviction that she is called to “stay and serve.” “Here, we plant hope,” she says. “We always try to lift the children’s spirits. We have to stay. We are needed.”

Be in solidarity with the church in Syria I


Learn more about the committed Christian presence in Aleppo in this video.

Arzé Khodr is a freelance writer and playwright, based in Beirut.



A Letter from a

War photographer text and photographs by Konstantin Chernichkin


was born in 1981 into a family of photographers. My grandparents developed film in the bathroom of their Kyiv apartment back when photography was a popular hobby in Soviet Ukraine. Their son Mykhailo, my father, became a professional in this field. He enjoyed photographing sports and, while working for news agencies, his camera captured such historic moments as the Soviet



Union collapse and the start of Ukrainian independence. With such a family history, we can say, my fate and that of my younger brother was sealed. As children, my father gave each of us a camera and encouraged us to take pictures. We were often surrounded by photographers, as well as interesting and inspiring journalists, whose work was fascinating.

I set photography aside to study economics, with the idea of contributing to the growth of Ukraine. By the time I graduated in 2004, however, I wanted to work as a photographer, and was already negotiating with various media outlets. Photojournalist Konstantin Chernichkin is pictured on a tank while on assignment covering the RussiaUkraine war in eastern Ukraine.

Getting my photo published in the through those losses together. They new way. I often had not seen their Polish edition of Newsweek at the gathered at the murder site that true love behind the wall of my own start of the Orange Revolution in evening, singing, reciting prayers, stereotypes and ambitions — and I November 2004 marked my first major crying and holding each other. got the push I needed to reconsider accomplishment as a professional Photographing this scene through my life choices. I accepted that the photographer and, with the wave of my own tears was healing for my soul. role of a driven war photographer interest from media worldwide, I It was then that war in Ukraine did not quite fit my personality. began my photojournalism career. I officially began. Russia did not want Upon returning to work, I hardly gained experience at two influential to lose its former colony from its ever visited the front line in the east. local magazines and later joined sphere of influence and thus invaded Instead, I curated and organized Reuters in Kyiv, where I worked for the eastern regions of Ukraine photo exhibitions about the war five years, followed by 10 years with ground troops. My work and even thought about retiring at Ukraine’s English-language as a photojournalist was gaining from photojournalism and starting newspaper, the Kyiv Post. incredible pace, as I found myself something new. I had no time for This work has tough challenges in a frantic whirlwind of events big decisions, however, as I was every true professional must be happening all over the country. once again caught up in the tsunami prepared to tackle of historical events. sooner or later, such as looking at hock and human suffering, numbness tragedy and death overtook me on through the camera 24 February 2022, viewfinder. just as it did during Always, I found the Revolution of this prospect Dignity, only now intimidating and everything was tried to stay away much more serious. from it. Death was not just So, it was upsetting flashing across my when death burst camera viewfinder; into my camera’s it was knocking at field of view the door of my uninvited for the home. first time in 2014, On the very first when police forces day of the full-scale killed protesters — The historic Virgin Skete of Sviatohirsk Monastery in Donetsk Oblast invasion, when ordinary citizens — was damaged by shelling in May 2022. Russian troops in the central square, crossed into Ukraine known as the Maidan, of my I came close to a real threat on heading toward Kyiv, my wife, our hometown of Kyiv during the my life when I was injured while two children and I packed our bags Revolution of Dignity. standing next to military equipment and headed west. After a couple of It hit me hard. I stood in shock, near Mariupol in August 2014. The days of driving through refugee traffic my camera down, while the dead injury turned out to be a serious jams, my family reached Poland, bodies of people who had been one, and I was afraid I would lose where they could finally feel safe. standing next to me a minute ago my leg. I saw it as a sign to stop, to I instead remained in Lviv, were carried past me. I remember bring an end to this constant run for confused and lonely, barely coping being chilled to the bone, the hot news, and to think about my with the terrible events and the complete disorientation of the values and goals in life. scale of violence surrounding me. moment, a feeling of the fragility of I spent a year bedridden, Morning after morning, I woke up it all. It took me a while to pick up rehabilitating my body, mind and feeling helpless, spending these my camera again and press the soul. I had to learn to walk again, most difficult months of my life in right button. The only thing that and I managed to recover fully. This an internal dialogue, fighting helped me cope was staying in the time allowed me to analyze myself against an all-consuming fear and square among the people and living calmly and see my loved ones in a searching for solutions.




“I have had the opportunity to meet bright individuals who shine like beams of light in these dark times.” At the same time, the demand from media worldwide for local professional journalists was insane. Job offers came from everywhere. Interestingly, as soon as I started accepting them and went on doing my job, I felt the professional burnout of recent years and the burden of past experiences gradually disappear. Moreover, the realization that my work was needed, that I was needed, that my images and vision in capturing a scene resonated with readers and supported Ukraine gave me the new energy and inspiration I so desperately needed. I rediscovered the old truth about the important role of the photojournalist in times of war, where the concept of a



“professional mission” was no longer abstract and empty, but clear and concrete. Documenting these events with a cool head is challenging. It is impossible to remain “just an observer,” as required by our professional code, when your hometown is being bombed, when women with children are fleeing, when friends are joining the army, and your homeland is being burned. There is a big difference between being a war photographer of “other people’s war” and being a war photographer in your own country. I have found it impossible to photograph suffering children. It has been difficult for me to photograph events in my native

region of Kyiv. I could not find the strength to approach the mass grave of ordinary people killed by Russians during the occupation of Bucha. While a local priest was showing dozens of journalists the large pit filled with bodies found on the church grounds, I stood off to Clockwise from top left: A monk enters a building of the historic Sviatohirsk Cave Monastery, located in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which was heavily damaged by shelling; Liudmyla Shoshu, a medical assistant at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Hospital in Lviv, offers at-home care to a palliative care patient; Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw seek assistance from Caritas Poland.

Clockwise from bottom left: Hanna Yarmish stands amid the ruins of the Hryhoriy Skovoroda National Literary and Memorial Museum in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Basilian Sister Lucia Murashko delivers aid to a front-line village in southeastern Ukraine; Maksym Chernitsyn, left, a wounded Ukrainian soldier, speaks with military chaplain Father Yevhen Cherniuk at a Kyiv hospital.

the side, not understanding how such horror was possible in what was a beautiful resort town, where my family and I had come often for weekend strolls. There was little I could shoot that day, but the photographs I managed to take still serve an important role as evidence of war crimes — that is why they had to be taken in the first place. There have been many more shoots all over the country, a country on fire: more mass graves, damaged houses and flattened cities, the wounded, the refugees,

and the front-line soldiers — just ordinary boys and girls, teetering between life and death. I have gone to the front rarely, but every encounter there has been memorable. The pace of the work does not usually allow sufficient time to stop and notice the goodness that still exists. Thanks to my collaboration with ONE, I have had the opportunity to meet bright individuals who shine like beams of light in these dark times. The heroes in the stories I have covered for ONE impress me to the core. They bring aid to dangerous front-line cities without fear, loyal to God’s will; they tirelessly treat the many sick and injured. I have seen gratitude, hope for the future, and faith in the victory of humanity emerge around them. With these stories, it has been possible to capture and convey the strength of spirit and the beauty of the human soul. These assignments are new, motivating and rather calming

experiences. Constant stress and anxiety tend to have a cumulative effect. Thus, it has been important to see these good and kind-hearted acts amid the constant suffering and seeming hopelessness. The infrequent meetings with my family over the past year and a half have been incredibly restorative, healing and renewing. The same can be said for long-awaited meetings with friends, scattered across the globe. Now, these meetings begin and end with a tight hug. I have no idea how this war is going to end. Nevertheless, the thought of returning to a peaceful life and of being safe keeps me moving with my work, which plays a small part in achieving our goal for peace. Konstantin Chernichkin is a photojournalist based in Kyiv. He has worked as a staff photographer for Reuters, the Kyiv Post and Dutch NRC.



The church raises awareness about trafficking in Egypt text by Magdy Samaan with photographs by Hanaa Habib

An abuse survivor walks in the garden of the Oasis Center for Counseling and Formation in Upper Egypt.

She asked the local Catholic priest for counsel, and he directed her to the Oasis Center. “I was received with a warm welcome,” says Martha. “The people here talk to me and try to help me as much as possible. Now I feel that something big has changed or started to heal.” The center was an initiative of Bishop Kamal Fahim Awad Hanna, then bishop of the Coptic Catholic Eparchy of Minya. A priest of his eparchy, the Reverend Makarios Isaac, had started a successful rehabilitation center for child abuse survivors in Kenya 10 years prior, and he wanted something similar in his eparchy. Upon the bishop’s invitation, Father Isaac began the process of founding the Oasis Center in 2019. The eparchy bought former farmland and received a grant to renovate and equip the main building. The ground floor has a lecture hall and offices. The second and third floors provide housing for the resident rehabilitation program, as well as rooms for conference participants. High privacy walls surround the property. A large iron gate opens onto expansive green space with two soccer fields, a small pond and other open areas for outdoor activities. The center, which opened in January 2022, also maintains an office at the chancery in Minya where it operates an emergency hotline and referral service. The center’s 18-member staff, including therapists, educators and social workers, abide by the professional ethic of confidentiality. Nonetheless, some beneficiaries prefer a referral to an external professional to ensure even greater confidentiality, fearful of the social stigma related to seeking assistance for abuse. The taboo regarding





mid the greenery of reclaimed desert lands, west of the Nile River, survivors of trafficking and abuse find respite and healing. Martha, whose name was changed to protect her identity, is one of three young women who live at the Oasis Center for Counseling and Formation, situated in a remote area called Shousha about 21 miles northwest of Minya in Upper Egypt. The center’s mission is to combat violence and sexual abuse against women and children, provide psychological support and specialized services to abuse and trafficking survivors, and accompany them in their healing and rehabilitation. Martha, 20, moved into the center in September to begin her healing journey. A year earlier, she had left her family in rural Minya for Cairo to escape years of physical abuse. Responding to an online ad for an elderly sitter position, she arrived at the address provided for the recruitment office, only to find it was an apartment. Upon entering, a group of men forced her into a dark room, where she spent four days in captivity until police rescued her. While she is uncertain of the men’s motives, she suspects they were involved in human trafficking. When she returned to her family after this ordeal, the abuse only worsened. “My parents think I hate them, and I think the same of them,” she says, choking on her words. “But I love them. I pray that God will remove the misunderstanding between us.”

“Any social change takes time, but gradually, the change becomes a reality.”

physical and sexual abuse in Egypt is a primary challenge for the center in carrying out its mission. “People are not open to talking about the matter,” says Father Isaac, “and it is being covered up.” However, such abuse is so widespread that people can no longer remain silent about it, he said. “The community has reached a point where it is fed up.” Dr. Samy Farid Isaac, Father Isaac’s brother who volunteers at the center, says it is “difficult for rural families to allow their children who have been sexually abused” to come to the center and receive inresidence care. “Because people in the countryside know each other, when someone is gone, they look for where he has gone,” adds the medical doctor, who worked for UNICEF and other international organizations concerned with child protection. To work around the taboo and social stigma, Dr. Isaac and other center staff run parenting conferences in churches and elsewhere in the community, as well as awareness workshops for young people and children on the prevalence and prevention of abuse.


hildren victims of physical violence are the most common beneficiaries at the Oasis Center. “In the countryside, physical violence against children is the norm,” says Dr. Isaac, addressing the deeply rooted belief in Egyptian culture that corporal punishment will make a child behave. He recalls a presentation he gave at a Catholic school in Mansafis, a village south of Minya. When he asked parents, “Who among you does not beat their children?” no one raised their hand. When he asked, “Who among you beats their children?” everyone raised their hand.



The CNEWA Connection Father Makarios Isaac, founder and manager of the Oasis Center, and his team provide lunch for the center’s residents. Opposite, Julie Ashraf, an Oasis Center team member, works on a craft with an abuse survivor.

He also shares the story of a 16-year-old girl, whose father tortured her. He would tie her up with ropes, burn her with a hot metal skewer and flog her. She is receiving psychological and physical care at the center to assist with her recovery. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 91 percent of Egyptian children are subjected to varied degrees of abuse. UNICEF reports this abuse can come in various forms, including “violence, exploitation, human trafficking and inadequate family care.” While federal law guarantees a child’s right to be safe from all forms of harm, no law mandates the reporting of child abuse or a penalty for failing to disclose it. The Demographic and Health Survey Program highlights that Egyptian girls are more vulnerable to being abused, citing the custom of female genital mutilation (F.G.M.) and child marriage. The prevalence of F.G.M. has declined in recent years, from 74 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 in 2004 to 61 percent in 2014, according to the Egyptian Population Council. However, regional differences persist, with some rural regions recording higher rates of this practice. The Oasis Center’s formation programs for children and teens seek to educate on abuse prevention and personal development. In October, 16 orphans of different ages visited the center for a two-day program. Through games and storytelling, the children were taught how to say no, refuse unwanted touch and

CNEWA supports anti-trafficking initiatives, with a particular focus on offering healing and hope to the survivors, through programs in the Middle East, Northeast Africa and Eastern Europe. These church-run initiatives care for those most vulnerable to trafficking — the displaced, migrants, refugees, single mothers and children. They work to prevent trafficking as well as to rehabilitate, counsel and nurture survivors, reintegrating them into their families and communities and restoring them to health. To support this crucial work, call 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada) or visit

cope with bullying. A puppet theater based on the biblical story of Peninnah tormenting Hannah for her infertility taught children about the importance of standing up to bullies. These activities also served as conversation starters, where the children were encouraged to express themselves while the adults listened. Young people are also educated on self-image, emotional attachments, boundaries, selfacceptance, addiction and media use, and parents are taught about the psychological needs of children, positive parenting, the consequences of violence and harassment prevention. After yet another awarenessraising conference, this one on sexual violence, with 30 young women who are church workers,

six came forward and asked to speak with the team, says Dr. Isaac. “Any social change takes time, but gradually, the change becomes a reality,” he says. “For example, [Egyptian] society would refuse to talk about female genital mutilation, but now the percentage of circumcised girls has dropped.”


he increased poverty rate in Egypt over the past four years has left millions of Egyptians and refugees vulnerable to human trafficking. This poverty is largely due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, combined with Egypt’s weak social welfare system. Sex, organ and labor trafficking have been documented in Egypt, and women and children are most



“To combat many forms of trafficking, raising awareness is essential.” vulnerable to being targeted. Street children are recruited for prostitution, forced begging, domestic labor and agricultural labor. In 2010, Egypt criminalized sex and labor trafficking, with penalties ranging from three to 15 years of imprisonment. However, the lack of formal procedures to identify victims and refer them to care providers has led to the victims being treated as criminals, according to the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. A form of trafficking particular to Egypt is “summer marriages,” where wealthy men, mostly from the Arabian Gulf, “purchase” an



Egyptian bride, usually a girl under age 18, for a few days, weeks or months to exploit them sexually. This form of sex tourism is often facilitated by “marriage brokers,” who persuade poor families to marry off their daughters into this scheme and profit financially from the transaction. According to the N.G.O. Girls Not Brides website, this practice is used to “bypass human trafficking laws [in Egypt] as well as Islamic restrictions on sex outside of wedlock.” Marriage contracts are compiled, but not registered officially, protecting the perpetrating men from any legal or religious repercussions.

Nonprofit organizations and human rights activists are seeking to stop this practice, but the number of N.G.O.s in Egypt working to raise awareness against various forms of exploitation and to support survivors is still few.


ells of Hope, the Middle East regional initiative of Talitha Kum, the Romebased international network of religious sisters dedicated to combating human trafficking, established a team in Egypt in 2020. However, its activities were delayed by a year due to COVID-19. Sister Jeannette Alfi Soueiha, R.G.S., of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good

Sister Jeannette Alfi Soueiha, R.G.S., speaks to young people about the dangers of human trafficking at the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church in Cairo.

Shepherd, heads the Egyptian team of legal, psychiatric and art professionals. Mostly, they raise awareness through daylong workshops in Catholic schools and churches. Marwa Abdel Moneim, a visual artist, leads the children in art activities and games during these workshops. Children will draw pictures or storyboards based on what they heard in the presentations on themes such as child marriage and online blackmail. She then turns those drawings into short, animated films the children can learn from. The team faces significant challenges in developing activities and offering greater support to trafficking survivors, namely due to the lack of a legally approved status from the state, which it cannot achieve because of its affiliation with a church network. This lack of legal status also prevents Wells of Hope from collaborating with governmentaffiliated institutions. The National Council for Women, a semigovernmental women’s rights organization, backed out of a proposed joint program for this reason, explains Sister Jeannette. However, the team perseveres in its mission to raise awareness of the issue in collaboration with other religious groups, such as the Focolare Movement and the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services. At a meeting organized with the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church, Sister Jeannette spoke to young people, mostly Syrians and Palestinians, who had come to Egypt to escape war in their homeland.

During the question period, some young people expressed concern. Basil Wassouf from Syria remarked how poverty makes people vulnerable to the traps of human traffickers. “To combat many forms of trafficking, raising awareness is essential,” he says. Sister Natalie Fouad, R.G.S., who cooperates with Wells of Hope, says working with women and girls is crucial to ending human trafficking. “What leads people to human trafficking?” she asks. “Poverty, ignorance and injustice.” She believes empowering women through education will enable them to enter the workforce and be selfreliant. An uneducated divorcee or widow who is suddenly alone in supporting her children is more likely to resort to desperate measures, she says. Addressing girls in particular, the team traveled to Good Shepherd School in Shubra, a district in north Cairo, to hold several days of workshops with the schoolgirls of every age. Nariman Hanna Nathan, who coordinated the workshops, said the girls encouraged each other to speak and open up about situations of abuse they had been exposed to, including online. Despite the success of these activities, the team’s impact will remain limited until the organization can achieve legal status, also required to set up an office and offer survivor support. Until then, Wells of Hope will continue to work within the church network to raise awareness, especially among young people and poor and vulnerable women. Based in Cairo, Magdy Samaan is a Middle East correspondent for The Times of London. His work has been published by CNN, the Daily Telegraph and Foreign Policy.

Support the healing work of the church I


Meet the founder of the Oasis Center and an abuse survivor, who has found hope and healing there, in this video.



The Last Word

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14)


he Advent and Christmas seasons announce a time of waiting, a time of hope, a time of peace, a time of joy. How wide is the chasm between that announcement and our lived experience in 2023? Are we not overwhelmed by darkness, multiple forms of evil and violence, the reality of sin and division? In this year 2023, thanks to you — who have prayed with us and have engaged in the crises CNEWA seeks to address — we have made, and will continue to make, a difference for good. I pray we, together, will continue to be instruments of hope, peace and joy. In my two visits this past summer to Ukraine, in June and August, I saw the horror of war and the heroic,



Perspectives from the president by Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari

resilient people of Ukraine in their resolve to win and to rebuild their country. I remain in ongoing communication with our office in the Holy Land. I recall our team visit to Gaza in June 2022. CNEWA denounces the vicious attack of Hamas against Israel and stands in solidarity with the innocent victims of the Hamas massacre. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, within the parameters of proportionality, and we decry the massive loss of innocent human life in Gaza — the deaths of infants, children, mothers, fathers and the elderly, including members of the extended CNEWA family. We continue to work with our partners in support of the dignity of the traumatized Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in the rebuilding of their communities, offering them humanitarian and psychosocial support. CNEWA continues to support the ethnic Armenians forced from their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh. And we remain on the ground in our efforts to eradicate the

scourge of human trafficking and offer protection to survivors, particularly in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. CNEWA continues to monitor the situation in the northeastern state of Manipur, India, where the violence between the Meitei people of the Imphal Valley and the Kuki-Zo people and tribes has killed or wounded hundreds, displaced tens of thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes, churches and temples. At Christmas, we turn our gaze to Bethlehem. Here, we contemplate the scandal of the mystery of the Incarnation. Here, we see God’s reply to our darkness, evil, violence, sin and division. God’s definitive response is in Jesus, the child of Bethlehem.

In his audience, Pope Francis said: “We must be able to discern in life the way of hope which leads us to find God, God who became a child for us. He will make us smile; he will give us everything!” I pray that Mary, the mother of Jesus, who “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (Lk 1:39), will impress upon us the urgency of this hour. May she, along with the quiet of St. Joseph, ignite in us a desire for more intense and interior prayer, the commitment to be informed regularly with the weapon of truth and, in this season of giving, to offer a most generous donation to the mission of CNEWA! Thank you. With my gratitude and prayers,

Pope Francis, in his general audience on 7 December 2016, began a catechesis on Christian hope. People in darkness do not smile. Only hope restores a smile. In the presence of children, the pope notes: “A smile comes to us from within … a child is hope.”

Peter I. Vaccari President, CNEWA

However, in recent weeks and in the places I mentioned above, children bear no smiles. They have been traumatized: Armenian, Ukrainian, Israeli and Palestinian children, children who have been caught in the trap of human trafficking and the children of Manipur. Let us resolve to do all we can, with God’s grace, to restore the smiles of our children.

Left to right: Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari visits the Mother and Child Hospital in Lviv in June; Sami Tarazi, in black, a CNEWA projects assistant in Gaza, distributes food supplies in midNovember to those displaced by the Israel-Hamas war, a month after his parents were killed in the Israeli airstrike on the grounds of the Church of St. Porphyrios; families visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.



CNEWA a papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195 • 1-212-826-1480 • 223 Main Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 1C4 • 1-866-322-4441 •

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.