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December 2017

God • World • Human Family • Church

Where Faith Endures:

The Church of Ukraine A Lifeline for Women in Ethiopia “The Archbishop of Jesus” Tradition of Trust in Egypt A Day in the Life of an Indian Priest


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Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith A revived church brings new life in Ukraine text by Mark Raczkiewycz with photographs by Ivan Chernichkin

FEATURES

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No Place Like Home A vocational center offers skills to young Ethiopians text by Emeline Wuilbercq with photographs by Petterik Wiggers

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A Letter From Galilee by Georges Bacouni

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A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala text and photographs by Don Duncan

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Charity’s Daughters Sisters build upon a long tradition of trust text by Magdy Samaan with photographs by Roger Anis

DEPARTMENTS

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Connections to CNEWA’s world Focus on the world of CNEWA

t Rehedet Salomon, 20, relaxes over a cup of coffee at the Kidist Mariam Center in Meki, Ethiopia.

OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org


OFFICIAL PUBLICATION CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION

Volume 43 NUMBER 4

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Heartbreaking need takes many forms Simple hope begins with you 6 Front: The Rev. Petro Chudyk vests before celebrating the Divine Liturgy in his church in Tarashcha. Back: Students play outside of St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 18-23, Ivan Chernichkin; pages 2, 3 (lower left), 6-7, 9-13, Petterik Wiggers; page 3 (top), CNS photo/Paul Haring; pages 3 (upper left), 4, 17, 36-39, John E. Kozar/CNEWA; pages 3 (upper right), 16, Geries Abdo, courtesy Melkite Catholic Archbishopric; pages 3 (lower right), 24-29, Don Duncan; pages 3 (far right), 30-34, back cover, Roger Anis; page 5, Nino Gambashidze/Caritas Georgia; pages 14-15, Corinna Kern. Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar Editorial Staff Paul Grillo Deacon Greg Kandra Michael J.L. La Civita Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. J.D. Conor Mauro Timothy McCarthy

24 ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 CNEWA Founded by the Holy Father, CNEWA shares the love of Christ with the churches and peoples of the East. CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to identify needs and implement reasonable solutions. CNEWA connects you to your brothers and sisters in need. Together, we build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope. Officers Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Chair and Treasurer Msgr. John E. Kozar, Secretary Editorial Office 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195 1-212-826-1480 www.cnewa.org Š2017 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

Thank you for helping CNEWA touch so many lives

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connections

to CNEWA’s world

Hard Choices in Iraq Iraqis are facing some difficult choices following September’s referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, in which an overwhelming 92 percent of those casting ballots in the semiautonomous province voted for secession. We are now seeing firsthand how those results could impact Iraq’s Christians and other minorities, many of whom hailed from the Nineveh Plain and found refuge in the province when ISIS invaded northern Iraq in July 2014. “Christians have very few choices,” said CNEWA’s Michel Constantin, who directs CNEWA’s emergency operations in the Middle East, “and all the choices are bad.” Those men who had returned to their villages to begin rebuilding their homes now find themselves separated from their families left behind in Iraqi Kurdistan because of the closed roads and borders. Airports remain closed to international traffic, too; neighboring countries, with the exception of Syria, are working to isolate Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr. Constantin said. In this fluid theater — with a devastated infrastructure, economic uncertainty and insecurity as rival militias contend for power — CNEWA continues to provide support for the education of displaced children and the health care needs of the displaced who remain behind, even as it scales back its emergency operations in those areas where the displaced once found refuge and have left.

Murdered Nun Beatified In November, thousands gathered in Indore, India, to celebrate the beatification of Sister Rani Maria, a Franciscan Clarist sister from Kerala who was stabbed to death in the state of Madhya Pradesh in 1995. All four cardinals representing the Catholic churches of India took part in the beatification. Notably, Samander Singh, Sister Rani’s repentant murderer, also attended. Sister Rani’s family visited with Mr. Singh after he completed his jail term, and forgave him. The beatification means Sister Rani is now one step away from being officially declared a saint.

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While working with local partners to assess needs and determine appropriate responses in the liberated areas — which are unstable and even volatile at times — CNEWA remains committed to outreach efforts, including support for catechetical activities of the churches as well as emergency relief for about 3,000 displaced families. For more, visit www.iraqcnewa.org or, in Canada, www.cnewa.ca/web/iraqcnewa.

CNEWA on the Road Over the past few months, members of CNEWA’s Development and Communications teams have been on the road, visiting schools and parishes in Greenwich, Connecticut; Overland Park, Kansas; Bloomfield and Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey; and Hampton Bays, New York, raising awareness of the peoples and churches of CNEWA. Earlier in the autumn, CNEWA also met with catechists at the New York archdiocesan catechetical forums and with more than 600 teachers at a teachers’ in-service day for the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

If you would like to welcome CNEWA to your parish, or want more information about how we can bring CNEWA’s world to your corner of the world, please call us at: 1-800-442-6392 (Ext. 504). Training Program in Ethiopia Last year, the Rev. Misrak Tiyu of the Emdibir Eparchy in Ethiopia approached CNEWA with a pastoral plan that included training for catechists in the region that sprawls through much of southwest Ethiopia. Thanks to its generous donors, CNEWA is providing support for the program that, according to CNEWA’s regional director in Addis Ababa, Argaw Fantu, involves the training


OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org Youth Program in Georgia A program for youth — the first of its kind in southern Georgia — was launched in late October in the remote Armenian Catholic village of Eshtia, funded by CNEWA and opened in conjunction with the Ordinariate for Armenian Catholics in Eastern Europe and Caritas Georgia. The center, based out of a renovated house near the parish church, will offer students from Eshtia and its surroundings classes in Georgian and English, computer programming, faith formation and continuing education in Armenian traditions, dance, folklore and customs.

of nearly 70 catechists. During a recent visit, he noted, they were learning everything from how to share the Bible to how to teach the sacraments and basic Christian ethics. Father Tiyu expressed his gratitude to CNEWA and pronounced the program a great success. “Without our unfailing supporters like CNEWA and its donors, our plans could hardly be implemented,” he said. As one of the participants explained, “This is the greatest opportunity for us to be strong, well-prepared supporters of our priests, and to help lead our community.” Father Tiyu assured Mr. Fantu of his prayers for CNEWA and its benefactors in his regular celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

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There is more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: Reaching India’s Poor CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, reported recently on work being done by the Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Manovikas Special School in Odisha, India. The sisters care for young girls who have special needs — including difficulties with speaking, hearing or learning. With support from CNEWA’s benefactors, the sisters are able to provide special training for reading, writing and speech therapy; they also teach the children how to make jewelry and see to it that they receive regular medical care. Sister Tesina, who heads the institution, expressed gratitude for the help provided by CNEWA’s generous supporters to help her care for these special girls, noting that each child is special in the eyes of God.

• Explore some of the peoples and faiths in CNEWA’s world with a new weekly feature on our blog, “CNEWA Connections.” This feature offers additional background and context on some of the pressing issues challenging CNEWA. You can learn more at www.cnewablog.org/web/connections • Read a comprehensive report on our efforts to help feed the hungry in Ethiopia in 2017 at www.cnewa.org/web/ ethiopiareport • See how the faithful of Ukraine are rebuilding their church in an exclusive video at www.cnewablog.org/web/ videoukraine • Get a glimpse at a day in the life of a parish priest in India at www.cnewablog.org/web/videoparishpriest • In a poignant video, discover how a CNEWA-funded day care center for the elderly is bringing hope to the “new orphans” in Armenia at www.cnewablog.org/web/videoarmenia

THESE AND MUCH MORE CAN BE FOUND AT CNEWA.ORG FOR DAILY UPDATES, CHECK OUT CNEWA’S BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE AT CNEWABLOG.ORG

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No Place Like

Home

How one initiative helps young Ethiopians lay down roots

text by Emeline Wuilbercq with photographs by Petterik Wiggers

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Responding to Human Needs

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erkalem Keder, an aspiring pastry chef, loves to bake cakes. Wearing a smile and a hairnet, the slender 22-yearold gushes about her dream job, which she hopes to land with skills learned at the Kidist Mariam Center. For the last seven months, Ms. Keder has been taking cooking classes at this facility operated by the Community of St. Paul in the Ethiopian town of Meki, about 80 miles south of the capital Addis Ababa. Before she enrolled at the center, Ms. Keder had few hopes for a bright future. Defying her parents’ wishes, she had left home to work in Saudi Arabia. “My family is poor,” she says. “That was the only option to change our life.”

of resources or because the girls had to take on domestic duties. Without professional skills, however, they were unable to find a decent job. Serkalem Keder’s story is not uncommon among young people in Meki. In this bustling town of about 40,000 inhabitants, the dream lies beyond the border. Despite remarkable economic growth within the last few years — which saw Ethiopia top the list of the world’s fastest growing economies in 2017 — Ethiopia is still plagued by poverty. A third of its population lives below the poverty line. Many Ethiopians contend the country’s economic growth and success have not reached all segments of society, setting off protests in which some have ended in violence and death. And so for many Ethiopians,

pizza. His recipes often draw on the nationality of the volunteers who come to the center. “The students understand quickly,” he says. “They learn how to be efficient, and how to avoid throwing away cooked things,” he adds. In the spotless kitchen, the students divide up the work, with each chopping, mixing or undertaking various other preparations as needed. Even though he works more than 60 miles from his home in the town of Shashemane, where he lives with his family, Mr. Zeleke says he does not want to search for another job; Kidist Mariam means too much to him. “We’re changing the lives of the people. Most of the girls come from a poor background, they have complicated lives.”

“Helping women is helping the family, the society. But life there was not what she expected. “I never rested for two years,” she says. “You feel like you’re a thing and not a human being; you’re a slave.” She says she was constantly afraid of beatings, sexual harassment and other forms of exploitation or mistreatment. Finally, she begged her employers until they agreed to let her take a holiday in Ethiopia. Once she returned to her home soil, she never looked back. Now, she spends her days studying diligently at Kidist Mariam (“Holy Mary” in Amharic). Since February 2016, this center has offered professional training courses to young women — and a few men — in Meki. Some 120 students currently study cooking, sewing and hairdressing. Most of them dropped out of school at an early age, as they could not afford to finish their studies — either for a lack

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emigration appears the only way to a better life. But here, at a center named for the Mother of God, they are finding possibility and hope — and seeing a future full of promise.

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oday, Ms. Keder and her classmates flit about the kitchen, working on a meal to impress the neighbors who have come to the center for lunch. Guests include many local workers, including those from the pediatric clinic and Meki Catholic School. Each day, they enjoy a good meal under a tent surrounded by flowers. Shambel Zeleke, the teacher, supervises the routine. Mr. Zeleke has been teaching at the center since it began its cooking program. Under his guidance, the students have learned to prepare from scratch dishes such as lasagna, gnocchi, Spanish omelettes and

To change such lives, the center extends help to those unable to pay. “The center is trying to help the poorest of the poor. We sponsor the most vulnerable,” he says. Those who can afford tuition pay 70 birrs (less than $3) per month. This approach, he reports, has succeeded in making a lasting impact. “Many of them find a job after the training.” Mr. Zeleke loves to tell the story of Emebet Mekonen, a 40-year-old woman who lived in Bahrain for eight years, earning a living by preparing sandwiches in a restaurant. She came back home to Ethiopia and started training at the z Serkalem Keder studies culinary arts in pursuit of a better future. u Cooking classes at the Kidist Mariam Center teach recipes, techniques, discipline and more.


They’re the ones who bear the burden in our country.”

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The CNEWA Connection t Abune Abraham Desta, bishop of the Latin Apostolic Vicariate of Meki, prioritizes education in public works. u Lensa Tolosa sits while a fellow student braids her hair in the salon.

The Catholic Church in Ethiopia not only supports people in their faith journey, but also supports and uplifts those who are marginalized — including poor and unskilled women, abandoned children and migrants who find work far from home, but return home to Ethiopia often broken. Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director in Addis Ababa, explained recently some of the remarkable work the church is doing, and how CNEWA’s donors are supporting this work. “The Catholic Church runs more than 18 vocational training centers for women in different parts of Ethiopia,” he wrote, “through the engagement of dedicated religious sisters, clergy, and lay missionaries and workers. CNEWA, considering the limited resources of the church and the growing needs of the people, helps support three training centers, including the Kidist Mariam Center,” which is profiled in these pages. We also provide help to St. Mary’s Technical and Vocational Training College in Wukro, located in the Eparchy of Adigrat, as well as the Ursuline Sisters’ vocational center for women in the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa. To join CNEWA in supporting the efforts of the church in Ethiopia help all those on the margins, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). center a few years ago. Now, she herself teaches there. “She’s now supporting the others,” Mr. Zeleke says proudly. On a typical morning in Emebet Mekonen’s classroom, one can see the former sandwichmaker at

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work. Her classroom is almost completely silent as her nine students, ranging from 18 to 27 years old, focus on their work — a first-level, six-month course covering the basics of spices, soup, pasta, fish, bread and cake.

Adjoining the classroom, the kitchen is immaculate. A window overlooks a vegetable garden where students grow lettuce, zucchini, peas and fennel. Fruit trees grow further out in the compound, yielding oranges, bananas, mangoes and papayas. But before learning to prepare all these foods, the students must first clean and prepare the kitchen and themselves — washing their hands, cutting their nails and covering their hair. “The basic hygiene rules,” Ms. Mekonen says simply. Through her class, the former migrant worker hopes to impart more than just how to cook. “I teach them to stay here in Ethiopia,” she says. “Meki is a small place. A lot of people want to migrate.” When she went to Bahrain, she says, she thought life would be better there. She takes time to tell her students what she has been through. “When you go outside, there are a lot of problems. Those people can be hard. They’re throwing people from upstairs. They lock the door so that you can’t go outside. They throw hot water on you. You don’t have time to rest. Some people come home with a broken leg or back.” Of course, she acknowledges that joblessness can propel people farther afield in search of opportunities. However, she says, “I would not recommend going to any other country.”

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irma Takele, the 29-yearold coordinator of the Kidist Mariam Center, says social pressures at home frequently contribute to the problem of


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migrant labor, and often along gender lines. “Families here use their girls to generate income — sending them to Arab countries or somewhere else to work as housemaids.” Mr. Takele has deep personal ties to the community of St. Paul, which supported him when he was a neglected child without a mother or father. This inspired him to dedicate his life to helping others in turn. In today’s world, he says, the primary goal of the center must be skills training. “The second goal is women’s empowerment,” he says. Women are marginalized in many ways, he says, which highlights the importance of offering ways to improve their lives and dignity. “We want to make them feel special — to give them confidence.” Educational programs are key to this process. According to the Demographic and Health Survey Program’s 2016 report on Ethiopia,

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compiled in cooperation with the Central Statistics Agency in Addis Ababa, about half of females age 6 or older have attended school, compared with about two-thirds of males. Although primary-school attendance rates in cities are roughly equal, disparities come into sharp relief in populations further above the age of 16, and farther from urban centers. “Being a woman in our culture is a burden,” says 20-year-old Rehedet Salomon. “We are not free to do whatever we want. We can’t walk alone at night. We have so many responsibilities and duties.” The short, slender young woman with curly hair says she had no money to go to school when her father died, so she had to drop out at an early age. At the center, Ms. Salomon is now taking an introductory course in sewing — a possible route to security and stability.

All around her, the center bustles with constant activity. This morning, second-level students completed a major project, distributing uniforms they made to students of neighboring schools. Now, while Ms. Salomon concentrates on a pattern at the sewing table, a young woman next to her takes the measurements of a student with a small waist. Farther away, a group of a dozen young women sell garments they made at their cooperative, where they utilize the skills they learned in class. “It’s a miracle for me to be here,” says Ms. Salomon. The student says she likes Kidist Mariam Center because she also learns discipline, etiquette and morals. She moreover appreciates what the Catholic program has been doing for the community. Students participate in a traditional coffee ceremony.


“They don’t select people; they’re not forcing anybody to share their religion.”

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very Monday morning, the students gather in the center’s chapel to pray. This is the time that Lensa Tolosa treasures. Today, sitting in the center’s salon while another student braids her hair, Ms. Tolosa remembers how she used to pray often when she was in Beirut, asking God to protect her. She migrated to Lebanon to earn money for her brothers, who had dropped out of school because their family could not afford tuition. She returned to Ethiopia overwhelmed by fear, depression and stress. “Before, I was confused,” she says. “Now, I’m settled and focused. Here, the students try to help one another by sharing similar experiences.” Many take classes for half the day and work the other half. They strive to take control of their lives and to be selfsufficient. This is exactly what Abune Abraham Desta of the Latin Apostolic Vicariate of Meki envisioned. The 66-year-old bishop donated part of the compound belonging to the Missionary Sisters of Mary, Help of Christians to start the Kidist Mariam Center. “My duty,” he says, “is to work with people for integral human development — both spiritual and material.” He explains why the work of the center is so important. “First,” he says, “helping women is helping the family, the society. They’re the ones who bear the burden in our country. Secondly, culturally, a lot of pressure is put on women here. I wanted them to get some good skills.” Abune Abraham describes his efforts over the last 16 years in Meki as “a small contribution” — compared both to the sum of needs,

Show Ethiopia’s women and girls a way to build their future Please help today www.ethiopiacnewa.org

and “the long faith journey” of the Catholic Church in the region over the last century. “The work we do for the poor people, for the children, the orphans, the food insecure communities is appreciated. My job is not only for the Catholics,” he says, who make up less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s population. “My job is not only going to the confession box to hear confessions.” It is a job that continues to face great challenges — notably, a lack of resources. “We are lucky to be part of this universal church, and I believe in God’s Providence,” the bishop says. “But we have to struggle every day.” Migrant labor trends pose another challenge, fueled by what he describes as a lack of awareness. “People think across the ocean there is something better — greener pastures,” he says. “They have no idea the difficulties they are going to face.” The Meki Catholic Secretariat also helps people returning from abroad to reunite with their family.

Abune Abraham really believes in the power of education to turn this tide — “the best gift to give youngsters nowadays,” he says. “Education is the only way you can change people’s lives,” he continues. “You can’t change them just with charity.” His great hope is to create job opportunities for young women though this center, so they will stay in Ethiopia. “I want them to do something in their homeland,” the bishop says, “to do something with dignity.” Emeline Wuilbercq is a French journalist based in Addis Ababa, where she serves as a correspondent for the African edition of Le Monde. Her work has appeared in Jeune Afrique and The Guardian, among other publications. WE HAVE MORE ON THE KIDIST MARIAM CENTER ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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cnewablog.org/web/kidist

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Accompanying the Church

A letter from Galilee by Georges Bacouni

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send this letter from Mount Carmel in Haifa in Galilee, close to the holy sites of the Prophet Elijah. When I was 12 years old, I expressed my desire to become a priest to my father. He replied by shouting: “No, get out of my face!” I thought it was the end of my vocation. Two years later, my father passed away and suddenly I found myself in charge of my family, being the eldest boy. As a poor Christian, my dreams were limited to studying, working and, later, getting married. But the Lord had other plans for me. In 1990, the last year of the civil war in Lebanon — where I was born and grew up — the Lord called me again to priesthood. The archbishop of Beirut accepted me as a seminarian even though I was 28 years old, a late vocation. I resigned from the bank where I had been working for more than ten years and started my theological and philosophical studies. I was ordained in July 1995. Ten years later, in 2005, I was elected and ordained bishop to serve the Melkite Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Tyre in the south of Lebanon. And now I have been serving in Israel as archbishop in the Melkite Archeparchy of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All of Galilee for more than three years. What a blessing, to be in this particular part of the world — where Jesus was born, grew up, proclaimed the Good News, was crucified and rose from the dead. The Lord entrusted me with the flock of his homeland and to follow in the footsteps of the apostles. When I was taught how to meditate on a Gospel passage, I was asked sometimes to imagine the places where Jesus lived: Capernaum, Tiberias Lake, Nazareth, Jerusalem. Now I know all these places, and they remind me of the historical facts. But Jesus is not only part of

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the history, he is still alive and in the midst of his church. When you enter Peter’s house in Capernaum, where Jesus healed the paralytic; when you see the place where he fed five thousand people; when you are in a boat in the middle of the lake where he walked on the water; and many other holy sites, I assure you that you feel you are sharing the experience of the apostles and the crowds. You feel privileged being Christian. Visiting these sites — let alone living there — is a spiritual retreat. Many of my predecessors used to say, “I am the archbishop of Jesus.” I don’t dare say that, but it’s true in a way that the bishop in Galilee is responsible for Jesus’ hometown. What a blessing! But in the same time, it’s a huge responsibility and difficult mission for many reasons. First, Arab Christians from all denominations make up no more than 1.7 percent of the population

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in Israel. Almost half are in my eparchy. And yet, Catholics, Orthodox, evangelical Protestants and many religious orders from all over the Christian world maintain a foothold in the Holy Land — particularly in Jerusalem. To not be of the majority is a challenge in and of itself, but to be divided makes our mission more difficult and weakens our testimony. Second, what we as a church experience here is common with Christians all over the world: We have a crisis in our families, as youth participation declines — in part because Sunday in most places is not a day off — and gaps widen between generations, as a unified concept of values erodes. I always share with the people of my eparchy that the pilgrims who come from abroad are not only here to visit the holy places, but to meet the local Christians and find in them genuine witnesses of the faith.

The third challenge is the plight of Christians living in the Middle East. While we are free to practice our faith in Israel — and we live in peace with other communities of faith in our society — the situation of our brothers and sisters in neighboring Syria, Iraq and Egypt has been harmful to the church in the whole region.

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keep saying that, since I became bishop, the blessings have increased and the cross has become heavier. But in all things the Holy Spirit is filling me with grace and encouragement to keep on in my mission. I made a plan to visit, with the parish priests, all the families of our eparchy in their homes over a period of five years. So far, almost half of them have been visited. I have seen that many remain firm in their faith, even if they don’t attend church. They love their church;


t The archbishop visits St. Vincent de Paul Hospital in Nazareth. u Archbishop Georges meets with Msgr. John E. Kozar of CNEWA and Mar Jacob Barnabas Aerath of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church at the Vatican in 2016.

they are proud of their Christianity. Every year, during Advent, their generosity surprises me during the fund-raisers for the suffering Christians in Syria or Iraq. A few months ago, representatives of the leaders of the European Catholic Episcopal Conferences met in Jerusalem. I told them that the last part of my liturgical vestments worn during my ordination was the omophorion, a woolen shoulder garment. It is a symbol of the lost sheep. I told them that my call and my main task are to look after the lost sheep and be a good shepherd. This means that the bishop is not a businessman, nor a politician, nor a general manager. All kinds of pastoral work give me great joy, and being close to the faithful, sharing with them their joyful or painful times, achieve the goal of my consecration. They want to know whom their bishop is, and that it’s easy to reach him. In our tradition, we have married men who can be ordained priests. The seminarian has to decide before being ordained deacon. When I decided to stay single, my main reason was to have enough time to dedicate myself to the mission. Instead of having my own family, I have a wider one. All the faithful with whom Jesus entrusted me are my family, with all the joy and pain that I experience. I don’t pretend that I have succeeded, but at least this is my vision. I have lived, worked and served in many countries in the Middle East. Many Christians have left, but many others remain. We are the salt and the light of the region. In

Galilee, Jesus taught: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12) This is happening nowadays mainly in Syria, Iraq and Egypt. It’s difficult for a Christian to stay there, but we need to stay. We are Arabs, this is also our land and if God put us in this part of the world, it is because he has a purpose: To be witnesses, to proclaim the Good News and to be peacemakers. It’s important to say to humanity that we can live together regardless of our various religions. Part of the discipleship is persecution. The Lord told us: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) At the same time, and also in Galilee, Jesus promised that surely

he would always be with us, to the very end of the ages. He is always with us and there is no need to be surprised; the cross and persecution are part of our daily life. Near our cathedral in Nazareth, we have a chapel we call the Church of the Synagogue. There, Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.” (Isa 61:1-2) Let’s keep doing this in the parishes, monasteries, schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages, social centers, prisons, with the refugees and all the needy. In this way, we will prepare for Christmas in Galilee, in the Holy Land, in the Middle East and in all our countries. 

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Fortifying the Local Church

Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith text by Mark Raczkiewycz with photographs by Ivan Chernichkin

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he black soil of central Ukraine is the stuff of agronomists’ dreams. Forming a massive geological band stretching across Eurasia, chernozem (literally “black earth” in Ukrainian) contains high concentrations of humus and other nutrients, reinforcing the region’s reputation as a breadbasket. In these rich lands, among fields of corn, sunflower and barley, even a church can grow. As with the early Christians before them, Greek Catholics in central Ukraine pray without the benefit of traditional churches or chapels, structures roofed with gilded cupolas and topped with crosses. Parishioners — from as few as five people to two or three dozen — often meet in homes of the faithful or the residence of the pastor. Others utilize facilities ill equipped for community building, such as social gatherings, plays, movie screenings, catechism instruction and Bible study.

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Nevertheless, the faith of Ukrainian Greek Catholics, once driven underground, has reemerged in the light of post-Soviet Ukraine. It is putting down roots and showing new growth.

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n a converted automobile garage in Bila Tserkva, a city 55 miles south of the nation’s ancient capital of Kiev, a parish gathers to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Some 30 faithful enter the 400-square-foot space, led by Rev. Yevhen Merimerin, 38, a lifelong local, father of four children and a former lawyer and official of the Cabinet of Ministers. “We’re developing the parish, but slowly,” Father Merimerin says. “People are not yet accustomed to the church. Seventy years of the U.S.S.R. had a profound effect on people’s spiritual development and that is still felt today, 26 years after independence,” he says. “Most people have a superficial or superstitious attitude toward traditions,” he says, adding that in

some cases, the attitude is superficial in a more literal sense. “They question why I don’t have a beard, yet am a priest. They ask, ‘How can that be?’ ” Father Merimerin is no stranger to such perceptions of the Christian faith in central Ukraine; unlike the majority of Greek Catholic priests, some 90 percent of whom hail from western Ukraine, Father Merimerin is a native son of the city of 220,000. He answered the call to priesthood at the age of 34 and understands the attitudes and perspectives of local residents well. Not wanting to discourage his burgeoning flock, Father Merimerin describes his approach to pastoral work: “Go step by step and feed people based on what their individual appetites can take.” This often means hour-long discussions with new church visitors, explaining the church’s principles. The Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko heads a small parish in the village of Mala Vilshanka, south of Kiev.


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The CNEWA Connection t The Rev. Petro Khudyk chats with his congregation in Tarashcha. y The wooden chapel in Tarashcha offers parishioners a more traditional space for worship.

CNEWA has supported the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church since our foundation, even during the decades when the church was driven underground in Ukraine by the Soviets. Since 1991, when the nation achieved its independence, CNEWA has expanded its work to help a resurrected Greek Catholic Church in its efforts to live, teach and preach the Gospel. CNEWA has helped fund the formation of young men and women to serve as priests, religious and lay catechetical leaders, especially through the Ukrainian Catholic University, helping to provide hundreds of new leaders to rebuild a country devastated by a soulless ideology. CNEWA support also includes assistance to the church’s works — primarily through Caritas Ukraine — with those with special needs, as well as those displaced by war along the nation’s eastern border with Russia. We have sought to give spiritual and material sustenance, as well, by helping eparchies build churches and chapels, providing the seeds to help this growing church continue to bear good fruit. To help the church in Ukraine to continue to grow, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). To one frequently asked question — “will you bless my car?” — he answers, “sure, but you still have to drive safely.” Such small matters often serve as the entry point for discussion. Blessing an Easter basket of eggs, cheese, ham and bread but containing a bottle of vodka leads to a talk about moderation. A Memorial Day outing to a cemetery

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stirs a discussion of reverence and dignity in celebration. A funeral prompts a conversation about the importance of building community beyond a few thoughtful donations and a short ceremony. “I can’t change their whole lives; I emphasize that nothing is absolute or categorical.” Still, the lack of familiarity makes for slow going, the priest says.

“They look at the church as functionary, to provide services like baptisms, to bury the dead,” he explains. “Then they leave, as if they’re delegating the task to me.” To overcome this, he asks his parishioners to come early and stay after liturgy to tidy up, conduct choir practice and socialize while he teaches the catechism to children. “I emphasize that the church isn’t chiefly to satisfy one’s personal needs — that it’s about developing spiritually, about building a community together,” Father Merimerin says. “Like Origen wrote: ‘Jesus, come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet.’ “We must practice the faith together.”

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haring the sentiment of his brother priest in Bila Tserkva, the Rev. Petro Khudyk, 36, ventures beyond his tiny wooden chapel to reach out to the community in the district of Tarashcha. Weekly he speaks on the radio about the church, focusing on basics such as Christian ethics and holidays. Seven years ago, fresh out of seminary, he thought he would serve as a fixed pillar, to build up a community from within. Instead, he now “comes to you,” he says. “People call in the studio. It’s really interactive, and I use the feedback for the next show from listeners. I give the address of the church on air and leave my phone number with the radio station.” When not preaching on the airwaves, Father Khudyk does so in person, through words and actions.


He greets parents when he walks his child to kindergarten, and stays around to answer questions about the church and its basic tenets from locals. He invites choir groups from the surrounding region to give local performances free to the public. And on the feast of St. Nicholas in December, with the help of Caritas Ukraine, the priest arranges to provide gifts for children of active servicemen or veterans of the war that has raged since 2014 in the easternmost regions of the country. “I do what I can within my capabilities. The rest I say in prayer and ask God for more ideas, inspiration and wisdom. I’m ready to stay here and continue building up the parish,” he says.

His prayers have been answered before — such as when CNEWA donated a 3,200-square-foot wooden chapel to his parish of some 15 to 30 faithful, half a year ago. The priest has seen his congregation grow four to five times larger since its construction. Inside the chapel’s thick spruce walls stands a sanctuary screen (or iconostasis) bearing icons of St. Nicholas, the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and Christ as Righteous Judge. Above the iconostasis hovers an icon of the Last Supper. Before the structure was erected, Father Khudyk says people would express interest in his parish, tempered with confusion or concern over the parish meeting in a summer kitchen near his home, or

a music school or even another parishioner’s apartment. “They would listen, but would ask why we don’t have space and a regular church with a cupola and a cross on top,” he says. Despite decades of official atheism, Christian symbolism is compellingly strong in central and eastern Ukraine, which is why many are cautious to enter dwellings where Greek Catholics worship: The buildings often lack the proper symbols and icons. Six miles further south in the 700-strong village of Mala Vilshanka, the Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko faces the same challenge. He is blessed with two enormous rooms inside an abandoned, run-down Soviet-era facility once used to develop new grain seeds.

“The church has a wider meaning than just to come, pray and leave.”

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Offer your helping hand to the church in Ukraine Please help today www.ukrainecnewa.org He celebrates the sacraments regularly with about a dozen parishioners — although as large a group as half the village comes out on Epiphany to bless water in January — yet the small community “wants something of its own,” he says. “The parish and I want an appropriate religious atmosphere here,” Father Hrishchenko says. “You don’t want to go to a random café; you want something of your own. But we have no money to build one.” Still, the parish has the luxury of a separate room for social events and gatherings crucial to building a parish community. Father Hrishchenko uses the space for screening films, putting on plays and inviting guest lecturers to speak on such topics as marriage, ethics and holidays. “Even though there is the internet and people can instantly access information, it’s more useful to

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have a ‘human library,’ an expert to talk about the Holy Scripture and other topics,” he says. The 35-year-old priest also leads another parish in neighboring Bila Tserkva, comprised of some 40 faithful who gather inside a dilapidated Soviet-era household goods store — a brick building with a crumbling façade. For two years, when he had no car, Father Hrishchenko would take the bus to the village parish and then hitchhike back to the district center in every kind of weather. Such concessions are necessary when resources are tight. The average Ukrainian monthly salary barely reaches $200, and diminishes as one moves farther away from urban centers. “It would take 20 or 30 years’ worth of donations to build a church on what we get in our donation boxes, which hardly covers expenses for liturgy — bread, charcoal, candles and wine.”

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he curia of the major archeparchy in Kiev struggles to satisfy the demand for more parishes against limits of both resources and clergy, which partially explains why most parishes are still in their early developmental stages. Currently, ten communities await parish priests for service, says the eparchy’s chancellor, the Rev. Vasyl Chudiyovych. Administratively, the priest says, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church practices the principle handed down by the late Major Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, who said whenever there is one family, a group of three or five people, it needs to be served. Since the nearest seminary — founded in Kiev in 2010 — has graduated only two classes thus far, the archeparchy still draws upon others for pastoral support to fulfill demand, he says.


“Right now we have 112 priests and deacons, 40 of whom serve in the city of Kiev,” Father Chudiyovych says. “Experience shows that most parishes start with three to five people who are one family, usually,” he continues. “In about five years, events unfold and that community gains a certain status as a community that opens people to Christ, that cares not only for its parishioners but for everybody in the locale.” Proactively, the priest says the church, given its limited means, tries to purchase four properties a year for its priests, to transition away from leasing living and pastoral space.

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rom his office, Father Chudiyovych administers a flock of nearly 6,000 regular churchgoers, or three times as many in the case of major holidays such as Easter. According to a survey conducted in March by the Razumkov Centre, a public policy think tank in Ukraine, likely tens of thousands of Greek Catholics live within the boundaries of the central Ukrainian archeparchy. “Parishes want to help,” the chancellor says. “The church for Greek Catholic believers has a wider meaning than just to come, pray and leave. They want to build a community around a church — not just to take part in confession and partake in the holy Communion.” Curia support is also given to priests to generate ideas about parish and community building. Yearly, pastors are sent handbooks on how to build a parish based on their own ideas, collected during annual clergy retreats. During these gatherings, which happen several times a year, priests exchange ideas and their experiences on what works and what does not in terms of boosting spirituality, biblical knowledge and grasp of Christian ethics and customs.

t p Father Hrischenko celebrates the Divine Liturgy.

Through such collaborations, Father Chudiyovych has noticed several trends. For one, by reaching out to children, priests find that this eases outreach to their parents, close relatives and their circle of friends. Additionally, he says, organizing retreats and in-country pilgrimages gives people a wider perspective of the world Christian community in which they reside. Such outings also spread the word of their experiences and attract more parishioners. “What works is having local communities discover Christian tradition, in particular Christmas and Easter traditions,” Father Chudiyovych says. “The Soviet Union really destroyed these traditions in society — for example, carols, or when a priest speaks about the Last Supper before Christmas and its significance. When they discover these traditions, people get a deeper feeling for the church.”

Mark Raczkiewycz is editor at large for the Kiev Post in Ukraine. His work has appeared in the The Financial Times, The Irish Times and Jane’s Intelligence, among other publications. MARK RACZKIEWYCZ HAS WRITTEN MORE ABOUT THE CHURCH IN UKRAINE ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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cnewablog.org/web/ ukrainechurch READ MSGR. KOZAR’S REFLECTIONS ON UKRAINE ON PAGE 36. AND, WATCH AN EXCLUSIVE VIDEO AT: onemagazinehome.org/ web/videoukraine

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Accompanying the Church

A day in the life of a

Priest in Kerala

text and photographs by Don Duncan

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he Rev. Joshy Puthenpurayil recounts an early inspiration: When he was 10 years old, his Hindi teacher, Ms. Annama, would bring his entire class on a weekly visit to Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in Kerala’s city of Trichur, where they would all pray together. There, he says, he began to hear the call to follow Christ. “What struck me was the depth of her faith,” says the priest, ordained in 2007. “She would ask us about our aims, our dreams. Some would

answer: ‘I want to become a doctor’ or ‘I want to be an engineer.’ Ms. Annama would reply: ‘Whatever you wish to become, you must pray for that.’ So, from the age of 10, I started to pray to become a priest.” Father Puthenpurayil, now 37, was born to a poor family in Kaduthuruthy, a small town near the coast in southern Kerala. Because there was no post-primary school in his town and because of his family’s poverty, his parents and their parish priest agreed to send him to Trichur, some 100 miles away. There, at

the age of 9, he was enrolled at St. Mary’s, one of Kerala’s many church-run homes for children, where he pursued his education. “It was initially very painful for me because I was very attached to my mother, so to leave her was difficult,” says the priest. “But it was there that I found my calling. I wanted to preach the word of Jesus. “I was born poor and I wanted to become a priest so I could help poor people like me. I began to pray every day: ‘Jesus, I want to become a priest. Bless me. Call me.’ ” Today, Father Puthenpurayil is the parish priest of two adjoining parishes in the remote, hilly areas of Kerala’s Palakkad district, an inland eastern region near the border with the state of Tamil Nadu. The parishes of St. Thomas and St. Bernadette are made up of Syro-Malabar Catholic families who migrated just after the tumult of World War II — a period that, for India, included the Bengal famine and, soon after, the British partition of India and Pakistan, one of the largest population movements ever seen. “Catholics sold their lands and moved here, to the remote hill areas, where the land was cheaper,” says Father Puthenpurayil. Decades of struggle followed, as the resettled farmers battled to tame the wild vegetation of the forest to eke out arable land and establish a comfortable quality of life. Such past struggles are not immediately apparent as the priest begins his daily routine on a recent sunny morning. After celebrating an early morning liturgy, he leaves his small, simple house by St. Thomas Church and makes his way down the incline to the main thoroughfare through the hilly parish, comprised of some 150 families. The Rev. Joshy Puthenpurayil stops to chat with students waiting for the school bus.

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The CNEWA Connection In his ministry to these families, and through his unflagging presence and support, Father Puthenpurayil lives out his vocation — the very calling for which he had so fervently prayed nearly three decades ago.

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Among CNEWA’s primary activities in the subcontinent of India is support for the formation of men and women to serve the SyroMalabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches, and, in a very particular way, helping young men like Father Joshy to answer the call of priesthood. “As we all know, priesthood is an extraordinary vocation,” writes our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas. “And it is our duty to help the church in the formation of the seminarians. Through the kind generosity of our benefactors from the United States and Canada, CNEWA annually supports 2,300 seminarians studying in 17 major seminaries in India and nearly 575 novices studying in 60 houses of formation. “The formation program for priests and sisters can be a costly affair,” he continues. “To become a priest, a minimum of nine years of schooling is required before ordination — three years of philosophy, one year in service (called a regency period), and more than four years of theological studies. “Today, more than 12,000 priests and 33,000 sisters of the SyroMalabar Church, and approximately 800 priests and 2,000 sisters of the Syro-Malankara Church, are working for God’s people in India and abroad. By the grace of God, there are more candidates joyfully answering the Lord’s call of service.” You can help them answer the call — by placing a call of your own. Call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).

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n his way through the sprawling settlement, Father Puthenpurayil passes Emmanuel, a sprightly 90-year-old on his daily walk to the church to pick up the Syro-Malabar community newspaper. One of the community’s original settlers, Emmanuel credits his longevity and good health to three things: hard work, a sensible diet and a deep faith in Jesus. As Father Puthenpurayil continues on his way, the village seems to be kicking into its morning rhythms. A group of about 20 students await the bus to their primary school in the nearest town, Palakkayam. Mothers standing with them say their goodbyes as the bus bumps down the road and around a corner. The parish’s main thoroughfare measures about four yards wide. Branching off from the roughly paved road, a whole network of narrow dirt paths crisscross the hilly, jungle landscape. A closer look reveals small, charming houses scattered throughout the bush, with workers dotting the vegetation — planting crops, cutting wood and breaking stones. Some 30 percent of the local population earns a living by tapping rubber trees. Another 20 percent, such as 23-year-old Tinto Phillip, harvest coconuts. Mr. Phillip, a keen athlete, can climb and harvest up to 90 coconut trees a day during coconut picking season. He is known as a good runner and, with his 12-yard throw, the shot put champion of the community. Jose Kollamparabil’s rubber mats glisten in the sun as he hangs them


“I was born poor and wanted to become a priest so I could help poor people like me.” along the rope extending from his work shack deep in the forest. Mr. Kollamparabil has spent the entire early morning treating — with acid — latex tapped from the rubber trees on his land. This makes it possible to press the latex through a wringer, transforming it into rough, flat rectangles of rubber that he can sell on the market in Palakkayam, he says, for about a dollar a pound. Through the trees beyond, the figure of Nijo Jose, 14, rushes with the mix of trepidation and exasperation universal to children running late for class. Walking to his school in Palakkayam can take an hour; today he must cover that distance in a mere 35 minutes. The scene is bucolic, romantic and almost lyrical at times, but it belies a community struggling with addiction, poverty and migration, says Father Puthenpurayil. Kerala struggles with high rates of alcoholism. As of the 2011 census, Kerala held less than 3

percent of India’s total population, yet it accounted for 16 percent of the country’s alcohol sales, according to a 2011 report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India. Consumption rates are often higher in rural areas, such as that of Father Puthenpurayil’s parishes. This affliction has wrought destruction at various levels of community life, with repercussions at once familial, societal and economic. “In my Sunday homilies, I started to speak about the need for education, the need to avoid alcohol and the challenges we face because of alcohol — the broken families, the depression, the suicide attempts,” says Father Puthenpurayil. “I asked my parishioners to start the change at home, with prayer.” In line with his sermons, the parish priest has initiated proactive programs to address some of his parishioners’ problems with alcohol.

Parishioners receive the Eucharist at St. Thomas Church in the Kerala district of Palakkad.

He conducts retreats for those seeking treatment and support, inviting both recovering addicts and experts on addiction to speak. He also recognized that a potent way to reach and change the minds of adults was through their children. Sports clubs for the youth of the community, organized through the parish, have become vehicles for raising awareness through discussion. “Many of the children are aware of the negative effects of alcohol,” the priest says. But simply having a forum for frank discussion has already had impressive effects, he adds. “I have noticed a lot of changes. Some children are now saying to their parents: ‘If you continue to drink, then we will drink also.’ This has shocked parents into action.”

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o reach his parish of St. Bernadette, Father Puthenpurayil must take a winding road through the jungle and around steep hills. From St. Thomas Church, near his home, it can take more than an hour to travel by foot to St. Bernadette Church, a newly renovated sanctuary for the 22 families of this sister parish. St. Bernadette encompasses a region even more remote and less developed than that of St. Thomas. At a certain point, the paved road put in place just two years ago gives way to a mere dirt track. Many of the homes do not have running water or electricity. However, the community’s church stands in a clearing in the thick vegetation, a stirring testament to faith and dedication. “Everyone here is very active,” says Father Puthenpurayil. “Ninety percent of them are out working every day, assuring their livelihood and making the community a better place. The parish is very poor, but rich in spirit.” That hard work is evident in the renovation the community gave its

church for its recent silver jubilee. The warm pastel shades of St. Bernadette Church contrast with the darker glades of the jungle that surround it. Behind the building, a handsome bell hangs from a beam suspended between two parallel tree trucks. Before the Divine Liturgy, it peals, reverberating through the vegetation to each of the parish’s homesteads. St. Bernadette parish struggles with the same alcohol problems as its sister parish, but it also faces another scourge less prevalent in St. Thomas — migration. Its children have reached a level of education surpassing that of their parents. Kerala is in the midst of a transition from an agriculture-based economic model to one driven by industry and the knowledge economy — with an attendant shift from rural to urban lifestyle throughout the population. St Bernadette parish has seen many of its families up and leave, seeking a better income and quality of life in the state’s towns or cities. “Now the youngsters have mobile phones and have access to TV. They

are not ready to work as their parents did,” says Father Puthenpurayil, driving down a bumpy dirt track leading into the parish. “They want to go abroad. They want less physical work, and to earn better wages.” Michael Muthanattu, 26, stands as a quintessential example of the larger societal shift in Kerala impacting parishes such as St. Bernadette. A graduate in mechanical engineering, Mr. Muthanattu is planning to immigrate to Canada. “There are no job vacancies in my field here,” he says, standing in front of the church. “I plan to leave and earn good money so that I can come back and settle here properly. I want to develop this place fully,” he explains. “If I can come back with good money, then I could get the road paving finished and set up a good, modern farm here.” Despite the gap in generation, education and approach, Mr. Muthanattu expresses goals not unlike those of his parents. “Although I am an engineer, my dream is to eventually farm my land here because it brings me such St. Thomas Church serves some 150 families spread across the hilly, rural landscape of Palakkad.

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happiness. The natural beauty and the climate here is very precious.” Indeed, the two parishes Father Puthenpurayil serves are couched in a natural landscape so sublime it is easy to forget the hardship and challenges confronted within. “If we want people to stay here, and if we want those who stay to have an easier life, then we have to give them better facilities,” says Father Puthenpurayil. “The main problem here is that there is no good hospital nearby and it is difficult for families to access education for their children after primary school. These are concerns that were less present when these people first settled here.” However, in a relatively impoverished eparchy, the power to bring such change is limited. While the residents of St. Thomas and St. Bernadette parishes await further infrastructure developments in their state and region, Father Puthenpurayil does all he can to initiate efforts that can improve both the local infrastructure and their economic situations.

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ack in St. Thomas parish, a line of women pass through the brush carrying large rocks balanced on small clumps of fabric on their heads. Echoes of metal impacting stone ring through the air and mix with the chatter and laughter of the workers. Numbering some 20 people, this group of locals participates in a state public infrastructure program called Kuddumbasree, which is geared toward empowering women and relieving poverty. The current project is to build a terrace wall that will protect the back of one of the parish’s houses from landslides during the rainy season. Father Puthenpurayil had played a key role in drawing the program’s resources to this area. Deeper in the forest, a man splits rocks; women form a relay to haul them to the house, where a mixed

group lays them carefully, slowly giving form to the retaining wall. The workmanship is impeccable. As the sun begins to fade, their laughter and conversation rings through the greenery. Since their settlement some 60 years ago, these two parishes have told a story of struggle, but also of continual, unabated improvement. For the people of Sts. Thomas and Bernadette, an ethos of hard work and self-improvement is deeply ingrained, says Father Puthenpurayil. He merely offers guidance to that admirable character on its spiritual path. “My priority is to give Jesus to these people,” he says. “Jesus Christ, who came to the world to redeem the human race.” Another day has nearly ended for Father Puthenpurayil’s two parishes. As usual, Joy Mundanatt, 55, can be found up on the plateau, in the yard of St. Thomas Church, slowly and rhythmically raking up nuts that have fallen from the surrounding trees. As twilight gives way to night, figures of workers can still be seen throughout the bush planting, cutting, tying, breaking — toiling right up to the last, until their eyes can see no more. Father Puthenpurayil likewise returns home to rest. Night has fallen and the awesome darkness of the jungle becomes apparent. Yet pinpoints of light gleam here and there; scattered throughout the brush, the parish homes glow like fireflies. With an early start ahead — well before sunrise — the lights soon go out, one by one. The light in Father Puthenpurayil’s house follows suit. For another day, his work is done. A regular contributor to ONE, Don Duncan has covered the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and Agence France Presse.

Help India’s priests ring the bells of faith Please help today www.indiacnewa.org

READ MORE ABOUT LIFE IN INDIA ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE: cnewablog.org/web/ parishpriest AND GET A FIRSTHAND LOOK AT FATHER PUTHENPURAYIL’S LIFE IN A VIDEO AT:

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Responding to Human Needs

Charity’s Daughters After 170 years in Egypt, a group of sisters continues a tradition of trust text by Magdy Samaan with photographs by Roger Anis

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atients crowd the long hall of the Saba Banat dispensary in Alexandria, waiting for their turn to see a doctor. “We’ve known about the Saba Banat since we were young,” says Muhammad Goda, a 41-year-old farmer. “This place has a good reputation.” The farmer, wearing a jellabiya (a robe popular with men in North Africa) and a beard, waits with his wife Aliaa Ibrahim, who wears a niqab (a face-covering veil), for a checkup for their 2-year-old son, Omar. “I took my son to doctors outside,” says Mrs. Ibrahim, but she found the quality of service poor. “Many people told me that the best place is Saba Banat.” Despite the recent tensions in Egypt between Muslims and Christians, Alexandrians of all faiths value the high quality of service and care at Saba Banat, which is administered by the Daughters of Charity, a Catholic community of women founded by St. Vincent de Paul. The Daughters of Charity have served the people of Alexandria without consideration of religion or social background for more than 170 years, forging a tradition of trust while focusing their ministries in caring for the poorest of the poor.

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Saba Banat serves some 500 to 600 people on a typical day, says Sister Simone Abdel Malek, the superior of the community and the manager of the dispensary. The price of a checkup is barely a tenth of what patients would pay elsewhere, made possible in part by the volunteer efforts of medical professionals. “We feel at home here thanks to the sisters,” says Heba Habib, a rheumatologist and physiotherapist physician who offers her services pro bono. “It’s very rewarding when you serve the poor,” Dr. Habib adds. For the last ten years, Ehab Foad, an otolaryngologist, has committed three days a week to volunteer work at Saba Banat. The committed Orthodox Christian says the Catholic institution is a perfect place for his tithing of time. “We do not serve a certain denomination or religion. We serve all the people come to us,” Dr. Foad says. “To get the same service in private clinics, patients could pay up to LE 250,” he adds. “They pay only LE 20 [about $1.13] in the dispensary.” Soad Khamis, a local mother, complains of heart problems. She had seen two doctors but without feeling better. Her neighbor Mervat Ismail recommended she visit the dispensary.

“Saba Banat is deep-rooted in Alexandria,” Mrs. Ismail said. “We come to the dispensary not because it’s cheap, but because we trust the place.” Though well regarded, Saba Banat nevertheless exists in a setting sometimes touched by antagonisms. When this leads to conflict, Sister Simone and other ranking administrators try to use their unique position to defuse tense situations. “We face sometimes scuffles, loud voices,” says Dr. Nagi Ghobrial, the technical director of the dispensary. “We try to contain it — otherwise there is no point of our service.” In these and other ways, the Daughters of Charity fulfill a centuries-old mandate with strength, clarity and grace.

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n 1844, seven Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul sailed from France to Alexandria at the request of Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali. They were well received and given a house in Alexandria. From there, they opened a dispensary, where they started their service. It was not common at this time in Egypt to see sisters outside of u Sister Simone Abdel Malek leads the Daughters of Charity in Alexandria.


The CNEWA Connection

One in ten Egyptians is a Christian. The Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches there are particularly active in their works for the common good of all, especially those most in need. CNEWA supports a number of these ministries in Egypt, helping to strengthen an ancient apostolic church in an ancient land. It is a land, however, that has increasingly become a target for extremists, who seek to destroy all those who disagree with them, Christian and Muslim. In addition to the Daughters of Charity, we support other congregations, including the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, the Franciscan Fathers and the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, as well as the bishops of the Coptic Catholic and Orthodox churches. Beyond support for the formation of religious and priests, we support child care programs and schools, dispensaries and clinics, located in remote villages and towns of Upper Egypt as well as the dense urban centers of Alexandria and Cairo. Michel Constantin, who directs CNEWA’s programs in Egypt, notes: “It is through the religious institutions of the local church in Egypt that shelter, educate, enlighten and guide the poor and disadvantaged that Christianity is preserved.” To continue this great work of preservation in Egypt, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). convents, serving the community. The locals called the dispensary Saba Banat (“Seven Daughters”). As the charity work grew, the street itself came to be known by that same name. St. Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633 with the help of St. Louise de

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Marillac. Until that point, religious vocations among women often took the form of a contemplative life in relative seclusion; the founders of the Daughters of Charity, by contrast, encouraged the sisters to work outside their convent — to serve Christ in the persons of those poor or in need,

through material and spiritual works of mercy. Today, the congregation has a presence in 93 countries around the world. The first seven Daughters of Charity in Egypt in Alexandria were doctors and nurses, including specialists in ophthalmology. When the French Suez Canal Company was digging the canal in the middle of the 19th century, the sisters went to work in nearby hospitals to care for workers. After the completion of the canal, they continued to work in governmental hospitals in Port Said, Ismailia and many other facilities in Egypt. Currently, three sisters still work in one of the governmental hospitals in Port Said, maintaining the old tradition. Over time, the Alexandria sisters gradually expanded their services, even opening schools in the early 20th century. Their presence peaked in 1952, the same year that witnessed a revolution that overthrew the monarchy and the establishment of a republic. In 1959, the government seized the Saba Banat dispensary as part of a wider campaign of nationalization. In 1963, the dispensary was reopened in a building attached to the school in the At Attarin neighborhood. It kept its old name, despite moving from the old street. Nowadays, the Daughters of Charity have nine convents in Egypt, where some 50 sisters live and serve locals by running dispensaries, schools, food kitchens and programs teaching literacy and handicrafts to young girls in Upper Egypt. The Alexandria convent, located between the school and the dispensary, currently houses five sisters, each of whom have specific responsibilities and duties. While Sister Simone administers the convent and the dispensary, Sister Eman Fawzy manages the


t Sister Eman Fawzy administers the St. Vincent de Paul School. u Students take notes during a lesson. q At St. Vincent de Paul, the Daughters of Charity provide a nurturing environment.

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Help Egypt’s church fill the poor with hope Please reach out today www.egyptcnewa.org school. Sister Therese works as a nurse. Sister Esther teaches catechism. Sister Charlotte takes care of the finances for both the dispensary and the sisters’ nearby school. They begin their day early: At 6 a.m., they gather for a collective prayer and meditation, followed by Mass and taking breakfast. After that, each goes to her work, nourished. Sister Simone holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and a master’s in hospital management. A native of Alexandria, she entered the novitiate of the Daughters of Charity in Lebanon in 1966. After serving in Lebanon for more than 40 years, she returned to her beloved home city, but it was not the same Alexandria she had left. “I was born in Alexandria during the monarchy era. The city was beautiful and clean.” After the revolution, she says, the city began to deteriorate. Over the course of a decade, spurred in part by nationalizations and the Suez Crisis,

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Europeans and others departed en masse, taking a great deal of wealth with them. “When I returned back in 2008 it was even worse,” she continues. “I feel that there is all the more need for our service, because poverty here is greater.” Yet, she says, even as the city has changed, her feelings about it have not. “In my eye, Alexandria remains beautiful because it is my home, where I was born and grew up. I prefer it more than any other place.” Sister Therese entered the community 20 years ago. She moved to Alexandria seven years back to serve as a nurse in the dispensary. Prior to her service in Alexandria, she served in Qusiya and Port Said. “In Upper Egypt, poverty is more obvious,” Sister Therese says. “I lived with the poor; my convent was as their house and their street was as my house.” The sisters in Qusiya serve the poor through many programs and

Sister Simone greets patients in the waiting room of the dispensary.

initiatives — such as teaching craft skills to women. “Women from all villages around us in Qusiya were coming to learn knitting and sewing,” Sister Therese says. “We helped them to buy sewing machines, so they have a profession to help them earn a living.” Most of these students, she adds, were Muslim. “The families feel safe to send their daughters to us.” In the Saba Banat dispensary, Sister Therese provides whatever nursing assistance is needed, but mostly works at the clinic with ear, nose and throat patients. Sister Eman has worked in education since committing to religious life 22 years ago. She moved among the various schools of the Daughters of Charity until she settled, six years ago, into St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria.


Her day at the school begins at 7:45 with the morning queue of students, but does not end with the school day at 2:30. Most days, she works late — inspecting classrooms, meeting with parents and solving various other problems that surface. “The profession of education is not easy, but God gives us grace,” Sister Eman said. “What distinguishes our service is a love for the poor.” The Daughters of Charity have four schools in Egypt. The oldest of these is Alexandria’s St. Vincent de Paul School, founded in 1906 — a coeducational facility ranging from kindergarten to high school. With the deterioration of Egypt’s system of public education, many families wish to send their children to private schools. However, private schools vary wildly in cost, highlighting significant class distinctions. St. Vincent de Paul School serves middle- and working-class families, who suffer from inflation and the erosion of incomes, the result of the severe economic crises Egypt has faced in recent years. Nevertheless, the school guarantees a high-quality education steeped in the Christian tradition at an affordable cost. “I invest in my sons and the school here makes my investment successful,” says Muhammad al Sayyed Gharabawy, 40, owner of a print house and father of three students. “For me, it’s not only a school — it is a big family, where I feel safe to send my daughter every day,” says Eman Hassan, physician and mother of one student. “I trust these people.” Before her daughter reached school age, the family searched far and wide for a good school. They chose St. Vincent de Paul School because of the quality of its graduates. “Sometimes, someone distinguished draws my attention; in many cases,

I discover that these people graduated from the sisters’ schools,” Mrs. Hassan says. “My colleague at work graduated from the sisters’ school. She is so good, and I want to see my daughter become just like her,” Mrs. Hassan said. Every year, some 600 to 700 children apply to join the school. Only 90 are accepted to both the English- and French-language sections. To ensure a fair chance to all applicants, the only selection criterion is age, with priority given to older applicants. “The school works with us in rearing [my son] Mark with high moral and educational standards,” says Heidi Aziz, mother of one student. St. Vincent de Paul School operates under the umbrella of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools, which includes some 165 Catholic schools in Egypt. Those who graduate from schools run by the sisters are known for open and tolerant attitudes. According Sister Eman, half of the student body is Muslim and half is Christian, but the matter of religious difference is not an issue in the school. Sister Eman recalls that a Muslim man belonging to a strict Salafi family came to the school to apply for his two daughters. She asked him, “Do you know that our school is a mixed gender?” He replied, “Yes I know. I’m coming to your school because I will be reassured that my daughters will be in good hands.” Private schools arrange to interview with prospective students and their parents. Some of these schools discriminate against children from lower social class, and Islamic schools do not accept Christian students. But St. Vincent de Paul School accepts all students, no matter their religion or parents’ occupation.

Once, Sister Simone recalls, a police officer came to the school, angrily complaining that a son of a cleaner sat beside his son in class. In response, Sister Simone asked the man what had prompted him to enroll his son in the school. He replied, “I came here because of the good reputation of your school and I wish for my son to be brought up by sisters.” Sister Simone responded, “Where is the problem when other people have the same wish?” “But not a cleaner!” he insisted. Sister Simone pushed back. “Should we build a private school for the son of the cleaner?!” she exclaimed. “Our school is for the son of the cleaner in the first place. If you want your son to learn in our school, he will be side by side with the son of the cleaner.” The officer left. The following day he returned and apologized for his outburst. He then astonished Sister Simone by offering to pay the tuition of the cleaner’s son. Sister Simone replied: “The child is in our care, but what you could do is to ask your son to be friends with him.” Based in Cairo, Magdy Samaan is a Middle East correspondent for the The Telegraph. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy and a number of other journals. WE HAVE MORE ABOUT THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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cnewablog.org/web/ charity AND CHECK OUT A VIDEO ABOUT THEIR WORK AT: onemagazinehome.org/ web/videocharity

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ur Holy Father recently invited us to join him in prayer for the Ukrainian people who have suffered much and have systematically been persecuted and even martyred over the past century. Their persecution included the tragic death of millions from famine, deportation to Siberia, and summary execution at the hands of Communist authorities. Although the suffering and persecution included both Catholic and Orthodox faithful, I want to share with you a few observations about the Ukrainian Greek Catholic

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Church in particular and how this community of faith is today. Having visited Ukraine only a few months ago, joined by Carl Hétu, who directs the CNEWA office in Canada, I felt blessed to spend some quality time with hierarchs, religious men and women, lay catechists and ecclesial social service workers — and with the faithful themselves. Despite its tumultuous and longsuffering history, the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine is a very dynamic

and mission-minded church today. It does not live in its past, it does not seek sympathy, it does not put forth excuses. Rather, it represents the church described by Pope Francis — a vibrant community in love with Christ, a community of people who want to share his love with all. It is a church on fire with the call to evangelization. This church is led by a very dynamic and courageous father figure, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who shepherds his flocks with humility, honesty and keen pastoral


t Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk heads the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

z Msgr. John Kozar visits the Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko and his parishioners in Mala Vilshanka. u Seminarians perform in a choir during the Divine Liturgy.

insight. He has undertaken a church-wide campaign of renewal, commitment and ministry that extends to every aspect of church life. Vocations to the priesthood are thriving, as many young men accept the call to serve the church as priests, in traditional and newly emerging roles as spiritual counselors and military chaplains, working in areas afflicted by war. This is also the case with women religious, as some step forward to work beyond the “buffer zone” with faithful who have been left

behind in war-torn areas because of age or infirmity. There is also a very strong determination to reach out to the human needs of the faithful, in the context of living out their faith commitment — needs all the more poignant given the impact of war in eastern Ukraine and the number of displaced faithful living far from their home region. Caritas Ukraine is a model for the international Catholic Charities movement, which proudly professes, “Caritas is the church.” Their service extends to all

the dioceses and to all the parishes in inviting every member of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to respond to the human needs of the entire “family.” We visited some rural parishes where the patient endurance and determination of some heroic clergy and their families is truly remarkable. Let me explain. Imagine that as a young married priest — which is the norm in this Catholic and Eastern church — you and your wife and perhaps a young

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child or two begin a new parish in an unchurched rural village. Your church is a rented garage and you make an altar from a few crates and some planks and for the first year nobody comes — only you and your wife. Then, after a year or two, two or three people come by and without any fanfare join the priest for Divine Liturgy. And maybe a few years on, 10 or 15 people come for the Christmas liturgy, and so on. The priest never gives up. His enduring patience and willingness to serve don’t go unnoticed. And just maybe, after five or ten years, the little community buys some property and erects a “Lego” church — a small wooden pre-cut structure assembled from a church building “kit” from western Ukraine. We encountered several such parish scenarios in a number of villages in Ukraine and each was unique,

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yet each one highlighted the determination, patience and service of the respective pastor. There were other highlights of my pastoral visit that included activities at the Ukrainian Catholic University; meals with special needs communities; consecration of the seminary chapel in Kiev, funded by the generous gift of a CNEWA Canadian donor; visits with religious women — three of whom lived “underground” for much of their religious life; conversations with military chaplains; and discussions with many of the bishops who assembled in Ukraine for their synod. Despite serious economic, political and religious challenges, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is strong and mission centered. In this sense, it offers us an example of how we can be a better church here at home. CNEWA is honored to

offer support to this church and all of the CNEWA family is enriched by the prayer and ministry of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Please keep our Ukrainian family in your prayers. May Jesus, the Prince of Peace, reign in the hearts of all.

Msgr. John E. Kozar

READ MORE ABOUT THE EFFORTS TO REBUILD THE UKRAINIAN CHURCH ON PAGE 18 AND WATCH AN EXCLUSIVE VIDEO ABOUT IT AT: cnewablog.org/web/ videoukraine

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tt Youth present gifts to Archbishop Sviatoslav during a ceremony at the Three Saints Theological Seminary in Kiev. t A church-run workshop teaches crafts to people with special needs. q In Lviv, Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate care for a bedridden sister who once served the underground church.


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One Magazine December 2017  
One Magazine December 2017  

Official publication of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)