God • World • Human Family • Church
Forming the Future
Encouraging Young Sisters in Ethiopia Inspiring Future Priests in India Sharing the Faith in Jordan Bringing Hope to Those in Prison
one COVER STORY
The Habit of Learning Young Ethiopian sisters prepare to become leaders text and photographs by Don Duncan
The New Priests Seminaries in India form the next generation of clergy text by Anubha George with photographs by Meenakshi Soman
Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan Franciscan sisters nurture faith and community text by Dale Gavlak with photographs by Nader Daoud
A Letter From Iraq by Sister Clara Nacy
‘For I Was in Prison’ A chaplaincy program brings hope to prisoners in Ethiopia text and photographs by Don Duncan
Connections to CNEWA’s world Focus on the world of CNEWA
t Gadesa Bayesa practices sewing in a workshop at Addis Alem Prison, near the capital of Ethiopia.
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OFFICIAL PUBLICATION CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION
Volume 44 NUMBER 1
Their days are happier Tomorrow has never looked brighter It’s all because of people like you
24 Front: Children play outside of Rosa Gatorno Kindergarten in Mokonissa, near Boditi, Ethiopia. Back: Kindergarteners participate eagerly at Rosa Gatorno. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 2, 3 (lower right), 6-11, 30-36, back cover, Don Duncan; page 3 (top), CNS photo/Paul Haring; pages 3 (upper left), 12-17, Meenakshi Soman; pages 3 (upper right), 19-22, Nader Daoud; page 3 (lower right), Courtesy Sister Clara Nacy; pages 3 (far right), 24-27, 28-29, Paul Jeffrey; pages 4, 23, 38-39, John E. Kozar/CNEWA; page 28, Raed Rafei. 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
6 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 ©2018 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 reach out to people in need Please share our web address with family and friends via email, Facebook and Twitter In the United States: www.cnewa.org In Canada: www.cnewa.ca
to CNEWA’s world
Helping Form the Church In this issue of ONE, we look at how CNEWA is accompanying the church in one particular way: through the formation of religious and lay leaders. For decades, CNEWA has helped support and educate seminarians, novices and catechists, raising up priests, religious and the laity in some of the most challenging areas of the world. These efforts have fed people not only physically, but also spiritually, and helped to define CNEWA’s mission. As you will read in this edition, thanks to the generosity of our donors, the work of CNEWA lives on through those we have helped form. This is CNEWA: We are the religious sisters who offer tender care to the orphans of war in Iraq; we are the young men studying to be priests in the humble villages in India; we are lay prison chaplains changing lives by bringing the faith to prisoners in Ethiopia. And that is only the beginning.
‘Smart Classroom’ in India A few months ago, CNEWA helped complete the renovation of a “smart classroom” equipped with the latest computer technology at the Snehalayam Boys Home in Kerala, India. The home is run by the Malabar Missionary Brothers, who help care for and teach about 90 poor children and young people at the home. The brothers are engaged in a variety of important ministries in the area: teaching catechism, taking care of orphaned boys, caring for older men who are destitute, training and teaching children with special needs, providing vocational training for the unemployed youth and offering health care in rural areas.
We invite you to discover more throughout the pages of this magazine — and to read Msgr. John E. Kozar’s reflections on formation on Page 38. These stories reveal the beautiful heart of CNEWA’s work, as we strive to bind the wounds of a broken world.
The smart classroom is equipped with 12 computers and an L.E.D. projector — and it is hoped these additions will create new opportunities for learning.
but also religious classes from the sisters. These became the cornerstones of my life. I learned how to do household chores and how to live in a community.
“We are grateful to CNEWA,” the brothers wrote. “Thank you for the generous contributions to the Snehalayam Boys Home!”
“What the sisters were doing for us — motherly care, showing love, fulfilling our needs — was very touching. I remember all these things. Sometimes, donations would arrive, and the sisters would use the money to buy shoes and clothes for us. They told us that there are supporters behind the scenes, especially CNEWA.”
Orphan, Nun, Nurse We were pleased to receive this note from Ursuline Sister Nigisti Desta, who grew up in a CNEWAsupported orphanage in Ethiopia. “I attended Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Mekele,” she wrote. “While at the orphanage, I took not only academic classes,
Sister Nigisti eventually joined the Ursuline congregation and went on to study at medical school.
OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org “With God’s will and guidance, together with the support of generous donors like CNEWA and the maternal care and love of the Ursuline Sisters, upon completing my medical studies I would like to serve my congregation — and, in particular, the people of Kobo in the neighborhood where I grew up. “I can say confidently that I am the product of CNEWA’s support. Thank you so much. May God bless all of you. I keep you in my prayers.” A New Chapel in Ukraine As reported in the December 2017 edition of ONE, CNEWA has been helping nurture the growing Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. Our article described a small parish in Mala Vilshanka, south of Kiev, where members of the parish have been meeting for liturgies inside an abandoned building that was once used to develop grain seeds. That may soon change. We recently received word that the parish laid the cornerstone for a new chapel, thanks to the support of CNEWA, in January. The Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko expressed his gratitude to CNEWA’s donors, writing, “We believe that our common prayer and your generous donation will help us praise God.” Catechism in Bethlehem CNEWA is proud to be supporting a catechism program at St. Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem. The program provides about 350 children, of ages 4 to 12, with the opportunity to learn more about the Bible. Many of the children come from poor families and are able to enjoy field trips to some of the sacred
sites in the region, including the Jordan River, Tiberias and the Mount of Beatitudes, learning about the connections of these holy places with their faith. “Children also have a chance to discuss issues related to their identity as Christians and as Palestinians,” says Joseph Hazboun, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. “This is an important topic of discussion among Palestinian youth as many continue to struggle with issues of identity as a result of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He adds that children share their experiences with their parents and families, drawing their families closer to the church. Care for Patients in India CNEWA is funding a palliative home care service run by the Little Flower
Fathers in the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Kanjirappally in Kerala. In February, we received an update and a note of gratitude from the congregation’s home care service, which is known as “Pallimed.” Through the generosity of CNEWA’s donors, Pallimed was able to buy a number of important medical instruments — including physiotherapy items for bedridden patients, folding walkers and wheelchairs and devices to help with the treatment of vascular circulation and pain for patients with osteoarthritis. “The medical team has visited hundreds of bedridden people in three villages,” Pallimed wrote. “They spend enough time with the sick ones and their family to provide necessary medical support and also palliative treatment to the patients.”
Only on the Web
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There is more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • Learn the latest about our projects and programs — and the people whose lives have been touched — through a new feature on our blog, “Stories From the Field.” Visit www.cnewablog.org/fieldstories •C heck out an exclusive video offering an intimate look at life in Jordan with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary at www.onemagazinehome.org/web/videofranciscan •E very Friday, rediscover some of the memorable videos from our archive in a new blog feature we call our “Friday Film Festival”
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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Forming Church Leadership
The Habit of Learning Young sisters become leaders in Ethiopia text and photographs by Don Duncan
n the last few years, one religious community of women in northeastern Africa has had the opportunity to celebrate some important milestones. In 2016, the Daughters of St. Anne observed the 150th anniversary of the foundation of their order in Italy, while 2018 marks the 50th year of the congregation’s presence in Ethiopia. But not all the events are joyful; 7 March 2017 distinguished itself as a day of jarring loss. On a road near Meki, a town in the center of the country, four sisters perished and three more were critically injured
when a truck struck their minivan as they were driving to the funeral of one sister’s relative. “It was a very, very difficult time,” says Sister Manna Tesfey, who serves as the superior of the Mokonissa Convent, one of two houses of the community in the southwestern area of Boditi. “It really caused us to think about our future, and this in turn has led us to focus on our younger sisters.” Reflection after the March 2017 tragedy led the sisters to reconsider their normal process of succession, whereby older sisters gradually
Sister Frehiwot Chisha greets a class in Rosa Gatorno Kindergarten in the rural village of Mokonissa.
pass on knowledge and responsibilities to younger sisters so their work can continue smoothly across generations. With the sudden deaths of the four sisters in the crash — nearly 10 percent of their entire community in Ethiopia — the process of “future proofing” had to be intensified. In Boditi, this process has homed in on two young and very promising sisters, who are being actively
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Sister Frehiwot oversees students filing into the school after morning assembly in the school yard.
groomed to lead the congregation’s work in southern Ethiopia for coming generations. As faces of the future, Sister Frehiwot Chisha, 37, and Sister Damakech Haile, 25, complement one another. Sister Frehiwot is extraverted and instinctive; Sister Damakech, introverted and reflective. Yet, their mission is the same as all Daughters of St. Anne — to be close to the poor, and to elevate them in both body and spirit. The sisters pursue these goals through their assigned roles as educators. Sister Frehiwot serves as principal of Rosa Gatorno Kindergarten — named after the founder of the order — in Mokonissa, a rural settlement about nine miles outside the town of
Boditi. She also teaches in the community’s elementary school. Sister Damakech serves as principal of St. Anne’s Secondary School in Boditi proper. Together, these two sisters oversee almost the entire continuum of education from kindergarten through the end of high school for the Boditi area — a powerful statement on the leadership skills they have already cultivated, and an auspicious sign for the future of this storied religious congregation and the communities it serves.
ducation is particularly important for areas such as this one,” says Sister Frehiwot as she sits in her small office that overlooks the playground of the kindergarten she runs. “Many of the people are subsistence farmers and live in impoverished conditions.”
Of the 290 students at the school, some 200 come from families living below the poverty line, making them particularly vulnerable. “Education has the power to enable these children to lift themselves out of poverty,” she says. “For many of them, that change has already started. It is happening now.” There is a commotion outside her office as children flood out of the school’s three classrooms and into the yard for playtime. The girls soon gather into a circle, beating time with their hands and singing while some perform a rapid, hopping dance in the center. The boys horse around, playing tag until one of them, 6-year-old Wodimu Matthew, runs back into one of the classrooms and reemerges with a ball. Cheers erupt and a game of soccer quickly takes shape. “I like to learn but I also like football,” says Wodimu Matthew,
The CNEWA Connection “so I have to somehow split my time between the books and the ball!” As with many of the students here, Wodimu shows signs of stunting from malnutrition. Since his father passed away, his family — which includes seven children — has survived on the limited food their small plot of land can produce. This is typical of what the sisters call the “green poor,” those living in poverty and subsisting on small plots of land. This demographic constitutes a large part of the student body at schools the Daughters of St. Anne administer. After a time, Sister Frehiwot emerges from her office and strolls among the children, socializing. She makes her way over to the slides and swings where the smaller children tend to congregate, helping some to climb up the slide while keeping an eye on the more adventurous swing riders. Sister Frehiwot says attendance rates present an ongoing challenge. It can be hard to convince a family in the grips of poverty and hunger to send the children to school instead of out to work. Work brings immediate material relief; with schooling, Sister Frehiwot must make a case for its lasting, transformative impact on the children and, by extension, on the family. “Convincing the parents of this is one of the hardest parts of my job,” Sister Frehiwot says. To help ease burdens, the school began to serve free lunches to students on three of the five days each week. As a result, attendance has improved dramatically. “The children change through their experience at school,” says Masart Ododo, who teaches at the kindergarten. “The knowledge they are exposed to and that they acquire here transforms their lives. It puts them on new roads into the future.”
The Daughters of St. Anne are a “significant pillar” for supporting the needy in Ethiopia, writes Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director in Addis Ababa. “75 devoted sisters, moved by the charism of their founder, are ‘following Jesus Christ who is the Truth and Life; serving Him in the poor and the sick.’ The sisters are engaged in pastoral programs, formation houses, schools, homes for orphans and visually impaired children, as well as health services for the sick and elderly. They work in 40 centers in eight dioceses throughout Ethiopia. Currently, most of their works are located in the four Ge’ez Catholic eparchies of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, and all receive regular support thanks to CNEWA’s generous donors. “The sisters,” he added, “are exceptional. As the provincial superior in Ethiopia put it, ‘The congregation needs not only a great number of sisters but, above all, empowered and efficient sisters.’ ” We can only echo Mr. Fantu’s sentiment. To help us stand by their side, and help so many in need, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
For now, Sister Frehiwot hopes that road will be the short path leading from the kindergarten to the nearby elementary school, also administered by her community. From there, she says, children can graduate to St. Anne’s Secondary School in Boditi — led by Sister Damakech Haile.
ith 330 pupils, St. Anne’s Secondary School is a much grander affair than the kindergarten. Its two-story facility houses many classes, populated by students from a broad swath of the rural areas surrounding Boditi.
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With an assured rhythm to her step, Sister Damakech completes her rounds, pausing to observe each class in progress. On her way, she stops to broker “peace talks” between a warring teenage boy and girl who were sent out of class for bickering. She listens patiently as the boy and girl tell their respective sides of the story. She asks pointed questions and listens some more. Finally, she issues her verdict on the dispute, giving both students a warning before sending them back to class. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was 8,” she says. “Teaching enables me to know myself better and to share knowledge and thereby help people. This makes me very, very happy and this happiness is infectious; it makes the
children happy. The love of learning flows out through them into the community.” On her rounds, she drops in on an English class, an Amharic class and finally the computer lab, where an energetic young teacher demonstrates functions on wordprocessing software to the students. He then has them come up, six at a time, to the row of computers at the top of the class in order to practice the operations he has just demonstrated. The last period of the day has nearly ended. At the back of the computer lab, muddy hoes lie in a pile. They will be taken by many of the students, who will go directly from school to tending the fields. When not improving themselves in the classroom, they spend their
time helping their families keep food on the table. The bell for the end of class goes off with the sharpness of a war siren. The teens are unperturbed, hearing instead a sweet song of afternoon freedom. The boys grab their hoes and, before heading to the fields, they play around outside, striking superheroes’ poses, brandishing their hoes as if they were lightsabers.
nce the school day has ended, Sister Frehiwot and Sister Damakech return to their respective convents in Mokonissa and Boditi, where their fellow sisters offer support and encouragement. Each evening they sit around the dinner table and discuss challenges, think
“Education can enable these children to lift themselves out of poverty.”
through problems and plan solutions, among other general conversations. After dinner, both sisters retire to their rooms to study for their own exams — weekend courses at the Wolaita Sodo University in the large town of Sodo, some 12 miles south of Boditi. There, the sisters work toward bachelor’s degrees in Education with a focus on Civics. Some days, a jeep is available to carry them to Sodo at the crack of dawn. Most days, however, they have to make their way on foot from their respective convents to the main Sodo road. There, they wait until a public bus comes along. On a recent evening in the dining room of her convent, Sister Frehiwot leafs through handouts on philosophy — discussing Plato and Kant, among others — all in English. She has underlined some of the more difficult words, like ‘aesthetics’ and ‘epistemology,’ penning their Amharic translations above. “It can be tricky sometimes,” she says, smiling as she flips through the pages. “When I come across a word I don’t understand, I simply reach for the dictionary.” Such studies, the congregation hopes, will help the two sisters to become stronger, better-rounded leaders. “I was 22 when I was first made principal of St. Anne’s Secondary School,” says Sister Damakech. “In the beginning, it was a big challenge to find myself in such a position of authority at such a young age. But by putting all my focus, energy and prayers into the job, I managed to master it.” She applies the same rigor to the challenge of her degree. “This is one of the reasons we chose to give responsibilities to t Students take notes during a class at St. Anne’s.
Let a sister share the light of learning with Ethiopia’s girls and boys Please help today www.ethiopiacnewa.org
Sister Damakech and Sister Frehiwot specifically,” says Sister Manna Tesfey. “Sister Damakech is a very responsible person and has a very mature and capable mentality. Sister Frehiwot guides very well and works with a keen method and a social grace that is needed for the families she is in touch with.” So far, Sister Manna’s appraisals have borne fruit. Under Sister Damakech’s leadership, St. Anne’s Secondary School has risen up the academic tables in the district to become a top-performing school. For her part, Sister Frehiwot has increased attendance and her kindergarten has seen a steady increase in the number of students registering each year. This year, numbers at the school grew by 15 percent. For the Daughters of St. Anne, though, these advances are not flukes, but part of a longer-term plan to foster an institutional presence that will outlive them
all. In that future, new sisters will rise up to take the reins and steer the Daughters’ vital work in Ethiopia through its second halfcentury. “The young are important because they are the future of the community,” Sister Manna says. “It is through them that God’s grace will continue to touch the people here.” 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.
DON DUNCAN HAS MORE ON THE SISTERS SERVING IN ETHIOPIA ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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Forming Church Leadership
The New Priests
These seminaries are forming the next generation of priests in India text by Anubha George with photographs by Meenakshi Soman
artin Pattarumadathil first considered priesthood in 2001. Two years later, he entered a seminary in Kerala. He left soon after, however, for an opportunity he felt he could not pass up: a position in Vietnam as a merchandiser for a clothing company. Years passed, but Mr. Pattarumadathil never felt he had acclimated to the lavish new lifestyle this change had introduced. “I found that life of luxury, of money and of going off to clubs wasn’t for me,” he says. “I felt God was showering his blessings on me and protecting me from that which could have tainted me.” Most of a decade later, in 2012, he left material success behind. Now, the 35-year-old is completing his final year of theological study at St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary in Vadavathoor, a small village close to Kottayam in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. In November, he will return to his parish in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu with a recommendation to his bishop about whether or not he should be ordained a priest. “I never again want to leave the church. I just want to be a man of prayer. Through my words and deeds people should be able to see Christ,” Mr. Pattarumadathil says. Since 1962, this seminary has been preparing its students for precisely this: a life emulating Christ. “This is a pastoral seminary; we prepare the seminarians to be priests,” says the Rev. Joy Ainiyadan, its rector since 2015. “The aim of the formation is to make them another Christ.”
Father Ainiyadan explains the formation process focuses on “body, mind and soul liberation” — emphasizing the need for physical, mental and spiritual fitness. “We have daily exercise, games and daily labor for our seminarians,” Father Ainiyadan explains. “The body should never be a hindrance to our religious and spiritual endeavors.” To strengthen the mind, seminarians study philosophy and
p The Rev. Joy Ainiyadan leads the St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary. t Seminarians at St. Thomas study on campus for an exam.
theology. “Seminarians are taught how to present their cases in a systematic and logical way, even in the most hostile environment,” Father Ainiyadan says. And for their spiritual fitness, they employ a disciplined regime of prayer and reflection. “We begin the day just after 5 a.m.,” says the Syro-Malabar
Catholic priest. “Meditation, prayer and the Divine Liturgy are to develop them spiritually,” he says, adding that the seminary’s spiritual philosophy is rooted in the first letter of John: “We dwell in him and he in us.” The seminary grounds include an acre of land devoted to sports, including soccer fields and basketball and badminton courts. A well-stocked library and five chapels afford plenty of space for study and prayer. In the last 55 years, the seminary has formed more than 2,000 priests, including 42 in 2017 — about a fifth of its body of 215 students. These thousands may now be found serving communities in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, the United States and, of course, different parts of India. “A priest takes care of the sheep. Our priests are taught to be the presence of Jesus in the world,” Father Ainiyadan says. “Ours is a ministry of preaching that’s understandable to people.” This is a weighty undertaking, he says — one that necessitates a lengthy period of preparation. “The longer the formation, the lesser the intensity,” he explains. “We have to do things in a systematic and calm way.” The seminary also reaches out to people in the local community in need — often through family prayer meetings and outreach groups, or by providing physical and financial help. Tony Moolayil, another young seminarian, says this charism of aid and outreach attracted him to the priesthood. “I joined a seminary when I was 16. It was rigid and strict to begin with. I was so homesick,”
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The CNEWA Connection t Religious brothers sit in the library at St. Francis Theological College. y The Rev. Baby Karintholil of St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary prays during a home visit.
CNEWA has been involved in helping form seminarians in India for decades — indeed, one could say our work there is literally foundational. At St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary, the first stone was blessed and put into place on Easter Sunday 1961, and CNEWA has helped sustain it ever since. The same holds true for the Mary Matha Major Seminary, which CNEWA has supported since it first opened its doors in 1997. In fact, our connection there goes even further; we also helped fund its construction. At these and other seminaries throughout India, CNEWA has sought to be a supportive presence, accompanying young men as they answer the call to a religious vocation and providing assistance so they are formed spiritually and intellectually. Significantly, we have also helped not only to build new priests and religious, but we have also played a part in building and maintaining the very schools and seminaries that help to house them. You can help us continue this vital work. Call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). he reminisces, adding that his parents were his role models and inspirations. “I never saw my parents fight or argue or get into trouble. My family is pious,” he says. After 40 days in the seminary, Mr. Moolayil learned his father had suddenly passed away.
“My mother and younger brother were on their own. I asked my mom what should I do — stay with her or go back to the seminary? She said I could do what I wanted. I returned to the seminary. I know God is with me and he has plans for me,” the 24-year-old says.
“I’m living for God, for the people of God. A Catholic priest has much work to do in the world. And I want to live as a child of God and to do good for others.” According to tradition, Christianity’s presence in India dates to the arrival of the Apostle Thomas in the first century in what is now Kerala. Today, in the hearts and minds of aspiring priests and many others throughout the state, visitors catch a glimpse of a church to come — one no less driven and hopeful than it was in those first days.
n a warm and humid February morning, a few men gather at St. Francis Theological College in Thellakom, a tiny village in Kerala. Seated in the library, the men — Brothers Abhilash Elamthuruthil, Nelson Verghese, Arun Elavumkal, Nishad Sebastian, Manoj Sebastian and Michael Thomas — discuss their call to serve the church as members of religious communities. Brother Abhilash says he was inspired by reading a biography of St. Francis of Assisi while in secondary school. “I then came in contact with Capuchin priests,” he says. “In our community, Capuchins have a good name because they lead a simple life. My parents were supportive about me joining them.” Brother Nelson says his experience as an altar server in his parish in a village in northern Kerala helped him realize his calling. “I believe I can work with people. That’s my charism. Capuchins aren’t limited to a parish. We work in the
community, ready when required,” he says. Brother Arun, who has been training to be a Capuchin for 11 years, agrees. “In Kerala’s context, people turn to religion for their spiritual needs. Lots of people come to confession, counseling and retreats organized by the Capuchin seminary here.” As with Brother Abhilash, Brother Arun found his calling by reading about St. Francis. “My family was against me becoming a priest at first,” he says. “Slowly, they came around.” On the other hand, for Brother Nishad, the call to serve came from his family.
“I have an older brother who’s a priest. Another cousin is a Capuchin who often came to visit us at home,” he says. “I was fascinated by the cassock.” Brother Michael says he was drawn to the Capuchins by their down-to-earth approach. “We’re given practical things to do, such as manage the kitchen, buy groceries, shop. That’s how we understand everyday life,” he says. “Capuchins predominantly do missionary work,” says the Rev. Shaji Dominic, the vice rector of the seminary. “We take care of the spiritual needs of the people by organizing retreats, by teaching in their homes, providing manual support.”
The seminary in Thellakom houses 55 students. “We spread the Gospel,” says Father Shaji. “We’re mission oriented. After ordination, our students are sent to countries such as Malawi, Namibia and Papua New Guinea. In India, we have a presence in Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh, Assam and the northeast.” St. Francis Theological College was formally inaugurated in 1987. The training program lasts eight semesters and is completed in three and a half years on the campus. For their final semester, the men are sent away to various parishes for pastoral experience. Despite this approach to embracing pastoral care, the
“I’m living for God, for the people of God. A Catholic priest has much work to do in the world.”
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Capuchins seldom go on to lead parishes. Sharing in the Franciscan charism, Capuchin friars function within a religious community sworn to poverty, chastity and obedience — vows taken in the footsteps of St. Francis. “Ours is a religious order of contemplation, prayer and apostolic activity,” says Father Shaji. “We don’t become parish priests unless there is a desperate need and the bishop asks us to.” Father Antony John has recently returned from Rome, where he was completing his advanced studies in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. “It’s good to be in Rome because you get to meet students from different parts of the world,” he says. At this seminary, students also have classes introducing them to concepts in Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, as well as other religions.
“This interfaith dialogue is very important to us. It’s necessary for our brothers to understand what’s happening around the world,” says Father Shaji. Among its works supporting the community, the Capuchin community at the seminary in Thellakom helps some 100 people suffering with AIDS in the local community. For Brother Manoj, such good works make life as a Capuchin priest worthwhile. “That is my charism. To always help people,” he says. “As a Capuchin, I can do that.”
Along, winding road leads to the Mary Matha Major Seminary in Mannuthy, a small village near Trichur. The gates open up to a majestic building built on a sprawling plot of 50 acres. Senjith Pullikan attends a class on hermeneutics, the field that deals with theory and practice of
interpretation — especially of the Bible. Mr. Pullikan is a third-year student of philosophy. In April, he will begin a year of regency — a period of intensive study in philosophy and theology amid hands-on work teaching or serving the community. “My call is to follow Jesus Christ,” he says. Yet despite entering into an ancient tradition, he does not view himself as a traditionalist. “Priests have to move with the times, we need to have the pulse of the people.” Mr. Pullikan’s main interest is youth ministry. “Young people have a lot of questions, a lot of doubt in their hearts and minds. If we answer them correctly, they’re willing to come to church and be a part of it,” he says. “Brothers and deacons are given a harmonious, secular idea of India,” says its rector, the Rev. Jaison
Koonamplakkal, emphasizing the importance of this, especially in today’s climate, with religious tensions frequently appearing the news. “We stress living as part of a community. That’s what our brothers do. They bring peace and respect wherever they go.” Founded in 1998 by the SyroMalabar Catholic Archeparchy of Trichur, the Mary Matha Seminary accepts men on the recommendation of their bishops. Its theology department is affiliated with the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. “Every Sunday, theology students are sent to parishes throughout the archeparchy,” Father Koonamplakkal says. “In the four years they have with us, they get good all-around pastoral experience,” he adds, citing preaching practice and quality time with families. During their final year of theology training, students are sent to parishes to focus on pastoral ministry. Father Koonamplakkal describes the sort of work this entails: “They organize retreats, offer counseling and get to know each and every person of the parish.” Students hail from various religious communities and eparchies. “We have Latin, [Syro-Malabar], SyroMalankara. But they’re all Catholics,” Father Koonamplakkal explains. “The basic thrust of our teaching and training is spiritual transformation. All priests should be spiritual leaders first.” Father Koonamplakkal says a priest’s priority should always be the ministry. “Diocesan priests can have connections with their families. But ministry should always come first.” The rector has seen many seminarians struggle with the strictures of the life they are entering. t The Rev. Jaison Koonamplakkal leads the Mary Matha Major Seminary.
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“Brothers are free to leave any time they want. Sometimes they give up; sometimes the authorities feel they’re not up to it,” he says. “But we can and do help them. Their bishops also offer them help and guidance.” Gladrin Vattakuzhy, a 28-year-old second-year theology student, discusses how he found his priestly vocation. “I was always very active in my parish. I used to assist in the Divine Liturgy,” he says. But it was not until he survived a traumatic accident that he decided on his present course. “It was a horrible accident. By the grace of God, nothing happened to me. I got away unscathed,” he says. The youngest of three siblings, his parents encouraged him to enter priesthood. “They’re quite active in the parish. They’ve always supported me and they understand that this is what I want to do.” In particular, he emphasizes an interest in youth ministry. “I feel young people are getting away from the church. Priests can influence people’s lives,” he says. “They live and work for others. They can bring about a change in
the community — make it more harmonious and integrated. They can show people the way.” Mr. Vattakuzhy is looking forward to being ordained in December 2019. He rises to return to his work — but not without first making one humble request: “Please pray for me.” Anubha George is a former BBC editor and writes on Kerala culture. Based in Cochin, her work has been published in Scroll.in, The Good Men Project among others. She also teaches journalism at India’s leading media schools. FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS INTO THE FORMATION OF SEMINARIANS IN __ __ __ INDIA, VISIT OUR BLOG, __ __ ONE-TO-ONE: cnewablog.org/web/ seminarians AND CHECK OUT OUR EXCLUSIVE VIDEO AT:
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Forming Church Leadership
Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan “They aren’t inward-focused; they are reaching out to those in need” text by Dale Gavlak with photographs by Nader Daoud
n a winter night in Amman, chilling rain has cleared the streets of their typical bustle. Yet, despite the dreary weather, the city’s people can still be found gathered in the comfort of their hearths — such as that of the convent of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, now ablaze with song, warm fellowship, conversation and fun. “The Spirit gathers us together; Hallelujah,” sing some 35 Iraqi youth, belting out a jaunty tune in Arabic. Two Lebanese Franciscan sisters lead the choir: Sister Hanne Saad, a septuagenarian described as a ‘second mother’ by group members, and Sister Nisreen Freyha, herself just 32 years old. A bittersweet mood prevails at this month’s meeting, as the youth group bids farewell to two brothers bound for resettlement as refugees in Windsor, Canada. The pair’s lives were upended 2014, when ISIS overran their city of Qaraqosh in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. “When ISIS first entered our area, the Iraqi army and police ran off, leaving us without protection,” says one of the brothers, Ra’ed Omar, a 26-year-old graphic artist. “We had to run for our lives. We had to leave everything behind; otherwise, we would be killed,” he says, pain still evident in his dark eyes.
Others in the group have similar stories: Following the invasion of their historically Christian communities, each of them was forced to make a life-changing decision in the face of brutality: pay a protection tax, convert to Islam or flee. The fear of death hung in the air. Yet for all they have suffered, there remains an abiding sense of hope and optimism. In particular, the group members say their sojourn in Jordan has been spiritually transformative. As they reflect on their lives left behind in Iraq and the uncertain journey ahead — driven by numerous necessities, including political security and financial stability — they arrive at a shared conclusion: After being gravely tested, their faith has grown in the loving care of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, who have spent years encouraging their spiritual formation and catechesis. Mr. Omar says the program facilitated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary involves a mix of prayer, teaching, discussions, spiritual exercises, meditations and recreation. At times, the gathering may also attend Mass or host a discussion with a priest. “They have influenced me a lot. I’ve learned so much,” Mr. Omar
says, as steaming cups of strong, sugary tea and nut-filled sweets are passed around the room. “It’s a great atmosphere. I was far away from the church in Iraq, but in Jordan I came closer to the church, to God and his people.” He adds, “It’s been an opportunity, too, to learn to love others without expecting anything in return.” Indeed, the youth group extends outreach to Iraqi children, orphans and others in desperate situations. Hasnaa Nazar, a 24-year-old Chaldean Catholic, was working on her final year studying electrical engineering in Mosul when her university education was cut short by the invasion. “I would like to be able to complete my studies and find work,” the lively brunette says. Following the death of her father, she says, she has had to think differently about her future with her mother and brother. “It’s important to have stability and security — both personally and for my nation.” She continues: “The situation in Iraq has been extremely difficult for us to bear. ISIS took literally everything; I have had to begin life again from zero — no, maybe minus one, because we didn’t know anyone in Jordan. But we are positive.”
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The CNEWA Connection t Sister Hanne Saad passes out sweets at an Iraqi youth group. u Youth group members Nermine and Remil hope to return to Iraq.
CNEWA has been forming church leaders in the Middle East for generations. As the emigration of Christians from the region escalates, we have empowered more lay people to serve as catechists and teachers so as to carry on the faith. Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director in Amman, explained how our partnerships with priests and religious make this possible: “Every year, we work with our partners in developing and supporting their formation programs and activities … as well as youth meetings, gatherings and activities. Other training sessions concentrate on enriching the team leaders with various educational and counseling techniques, and ethical and recreational activities linked to the faith.” Pope Benedict XVI urged Middle Eastern Christians to “be constantly reborn … to become a place of formation in faith and prayer, a seedbed of vocations, the natural school of virtues and ethical values, and the primary living cell of society,” wherever they may be. CNEWA is proud to be a part of that effort. To assist us, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). Ms. Nazar, too, says she has grown spiritually in Jordan. “There is camaraderie we share — a community for us here,” she says. “There are activities for young women and the youth generally that I wasn’t involved in in Iraq. Honestly, it’s really wonderful.” In Iraq, she was less concerned with day-to-day parish events.
“I was involved in church in a general way,” she explains. “But the spiritual studies we have [here] are so beneficial and effective.” In particular, she says she has benefited from Bible study and learning about the inspirational lives of the saints — such as St. Don Bosco and Blessed Mary of the Passion, who founded the Society
of St. Francis de Sales and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, respectively. Blessed Mary — or Marie de la Passion, in her native French — served the poor and the abandoned in India, China and other sites abroad in the 19th century. Deeply contemplative of the great mysteries of faith, her sisters model take to heart St. Francis of Assisi’s evangelical spirit of simplicity, poverty and charity. “This has laid a foundation for me,” Ms. Nazar says. “It helps me a lot personally.” Moreover, she and other group members have, in turn, been afforded opportunities to provide instruction and care to younger children — acts of nurturing that have proven important to the young adults, themselves. “It’s been a great experience, here in Jordan,” she says. In myriad ways, large and small, through spiritual formation and fostering a sense of companionship, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary have provided Ms. Nazar and her fellow displaced Iraqis — and many others still — with a measure of healing.
he Synod of Bishops’ Special Assembly for the Middle East, called by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, declared that “catechesis is meant to make the faith known and lived. Young people and adults, each individual and entire communities of believers, should be properly catechized.” It further said that, “since young people live in places characterized by all kinds of conflicts, they are to be catechized, strengthened in their faith and enlightened by the
“In our lives, we need the light of God when we walk in the dark.” commandment of love, so that they can make a positive contribution.” “Catechesis in our life is not solely for teaching or knowing faith, but also a call to live what one knows,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director in Amman, of the sisters’ vital ministry. “It aims to enrich one’s life to live as Christ did, promote moral formation, teach how to pray with Christ, and prepare Christians to live in a community and participate actively in the life and mission of the church,” he says. “For me, the basis of my spirituality was formed in Iraq,” says Rami Wa’ed, a 25-year-old Syriac Catholic from Mosul and one of the youth group’s leaders. “I have always loved being in the church: listening to the sermons, being part of the youth meetings, participating in many ways — first in Mosul, then in other places in Iraq and now here,” he says.
“No matter how much we partake of the spiritual experiences, we feel we need more,” he adds, his eyes alight with excitement. “Spiritual expertise is what we and others need to develop in our lives.” Mr. Wa’ed previously assisted in a center providing counseling and assistance to displaced Iraqi Christians in the northern towns of Erbil and Ain Kawa, working alongside the Rev. Douglas al Bazi — a Chaldean priest who himself had been captured and tortured by ISIS for nine days. “The trauma is huge,” he says. “People are really emotionally exhausted.” Mr. Wa’ed credits the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, the Salesians and other men and women religious for their immense work in spiritual formation and catechesis. “We appreciate so much what the nuns and priests are instructing us and developing within us — a very
rich spiritual culture. The formation is very deep. And what is so important is that there is a community of sharing.” That sharing is evident as Sister Nisreen hosts a discussion on the founder of her order. In her youth, she explains, Blessed Mary of the Passion experienced the loss of many beloved family members, including her mother. Yet, she felt her life was transformed by Jesus’ love, and felt called to help others, setting an example for many today. The story resonates deeply with the Iraqi youth still experiencing the devastating effects of the war in their homeland. During the discussion, one young group member remarks: “Despite all the sadness in Marie de la Passion’s life, her faith changed her. Now, in our lives we, too, need spiritual help and prayer. We feel desperate, lost, hopeless. Maybe one sign from God can clarify the way.”
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Nermine, a 17-year-old wearing a grey hat to ward off the cold, chimes in with something of a prayer: “Marie de la Passion heard God’s voice and gave expression to it. We have questions about where we are going. God, please whisper in our hearts, so we will know.” “Sometimes I wonder why I was brought to Jordan,” asks Yousef, who fled Baghdad after receiving death threats. “I am surrendering everything to God. In our lives, we need the light of God when we walk in the dark.” Another young man named Rimon says he appreciated Blessed Mary’s story. “I like thinking how this relates to my own journey; despite the problems in her life, there was always God’s light there.”
n Tuesday mornings, the sisters hold regular meetings with Jordanian women at their convent, promoting
spiritual formation through study, reflection and group discussion. Sister Sana Samawi creates a warm, engaging atmosphere — interjecting when needed, but allowing one of the women, Esther Akrush, to lead the group discussion. Sitting in a circle, about 20 women, ages 35 to 65, carry on a lively discussion on baptism following an annual visit by Jordan’s Catholic Church on the feats of the Epiphany to the recognized site of Jesus Christ’s baptism at the River Jordan, Bethany-Beyond-theJordan. Ms. Akrush, who taught at the College De La Salle School in Amman for more than 30 years, chose a text on baptism written by St. Gregory Palamas, a monk of the late Byzantine period. “The Trinity was present at creation and during Jesus’ baptism,” Ms. Akrush says. “But because of the specific time and place of his earthly ministry, sometimes it’s hard to remember that Jesus exists outside of both, or isn’t limited to, either time or place.”
“God has no boundaries with time and space,” one of the women, Randa Sweileh, comments. “The human mind is limited in conceiving such a thing, but God isn’t limited.” “Jesus’ role is to bring reconciliation between heaven and earth, God and humankind — the salvation of humanity achieved on the Cross,” Sister Sana adds. “The subject on baptism and the Trinity was a bit difficult, but beautiful spiritually speaking,” Ms. Akrush says after the meeting. “We could stay away from subjects that might seem beyond our comprehension, but it’s important that we try to understand this essential point of our faith,” she says. “The women are growing spiritually. I feel that when we engage in spiritual topics, they grasp and understand them quickly,” the former teacher says. “They are mature, great with prayer and meditation. A number say they wish the study were available twice a week, not just once.” Sister Sana Samawi, left, hosts a group of women who meet regularly for study, prayer and discussion.
The group’s topics follow the liturgical calendar. “Every week, there is a different topic to discuss,” says Ms. Sweileh. “There can be subjects that we don’t know much about, so along this way, we open our spirituality. With some subjects, like the Holy Trinity, I used to consider it in a more superficial way, but now I have a much deeper understanding. It comes from the questions we ask and from our discussion.” Another participant, Loreece Batarseh, adds, “I sense the presence of God’s spirit lifting us up and bringing more revelations of who he is.” “There is a strong sharing. The nuns help us to understand topics further than we may have studied some time ago,” she says, adding that they have been providing this service for decades. “We consider their convent like our home.” Beyond studying theology and the Bible, the women’s group is also active in the community, visiting homes for the elderly and providing them with practical assistance, medicine and spiritual study. Others, such as Ms. Sweileh, help Catholic teenage girls experiencing family problems at home, offering emotional support, school tutoring or preparing meals through the church-sponsored Mariam House ministry in Amman. “What’s lovely is that there isn’t just great spiritual fellowship among them, but also good social welfare enterprise,” says Sister Sana. “Many are helping the poor in a variety of ways, including summer camps for the youth or providing funds for needed activities. “They aren’t inward-focused; they are reaching out to those in need.” In much the same way, Sister Sana served with Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in troubled areas of Syria — Raqqa, Aleppo and Damascus — before taking up her post in Amman last year.
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“The goal for these women is to take responsibility for their discovery and learning along their spiritual walk. I want to see them following Jesus, enjoying a deep relationship with him in a profound way,” she says. “This depth of spirituality will also impact and benefit the lives of their families and others they interact with, and for whom they are responsible. At the end of the day, they should take hold of their spiritual growth because they, too, are the church,” Sister Sana says. Sister Nisreen says the Franciscan Missionaries have six sisters in Amman — a small part of an order of nearly 6,000 present in 100 convents across 76 countries. Those still in Iraq also teach catechism and develop spiritual formation among the various Catholic denominations. “The sisters are preparing catechism books for the Iraqis, who are keen to have the nuns teach their children,” Sister Nisreen says. Ra’ed Omar, who will soon call Canada home, says he is not concerned about how he will carry out his spiritual formation in the West.
“There are people there who will aid us and hopefully bring us further along this path. Or something new can be started,” he says. “It’s very well known in Iraq that Christians are forgiving and giving to others. This is the seed we carry with us wherever we go. For Christians, forgiveness is part of our tradition and upbringing. This faith shows that we are Christians.” Based in the Middle East, Dale Gavlak has reported for CNEWA from Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. FOR MORE ON THE WORK OF THE FRANCISCAN MISSIONARIES OF MARY, READ OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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Accompanying the Church
A letter from
by Sister Clara Nacy
ince the brutal invasion of ISIS in August 2014, ONE magazine has chronicled the exodus of Iraqis from their homes.We have reported, in particular, on the heroic work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, one of our partners on the ground, as they have cared for the displaced. Sister Clara Nacy, the new superior general for the congregation, shares with us some of the challenges her people are continuing to face, as they return to their devastated homes and struggle to rebuild.
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write this hoping to share a real picture of all that we, along with our people, have experienced in our three-year journey of displacement. After 7 August 2014, we had no place to live. The house we owned in the Ain Kawa [neighborhood of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan] was not large enough to hold 74 sisters. Some sisters stayed for two months at the Chaldean Patriarchate. Then they moved into prefabricated containers for more than a year; some sisters still remain there. Our main concern was to keep together and maintain our sense of community. It was hard to see our sisters scattered at the patriarchate, our convent and the camps, so the congregation thought that gathering the sisters together in one place was important. In the fall of 2015, CNEWA and a few NGOs helped us purchase two houses connected to each other, which we turned into a convent. It was a better living space and we were able to turn one room into a small chapel. Buying the house provided a decent place for the sisters to share their daily religious practices: praying together, having recreation together and eating meals together. During the first year of displacement, we suffered many losses. Seventeen sisters died of heart attacks. They were very distressed by what had happened to the Christians in Iraq and to the country as a whole. They had hoped to move to the motherhouse that was being built in the town of Qaraqosh [about a 40-minute drive southeast of the city of Mosul] before the invasion of ISIS; but they were badly disappointed when they realized that having a motherhouse
again was not possible. That affected them very deeply. They felt a strong connection to the land and to the community that has always been rooted in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain. As time went on, we worked to help those around us. During the years of displacement, our sisters worked at every camp for internally displaced persons. We led Christian catechism programs and activities. With the help of CNEWA and other organizations, we were able to distribute different items â€” such as clothing, mattresses, milk and diapers, etc. We felt that it is our
Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena sing during the Divine Liturgy in Ain Kawa, near Erbil.
responsibility to help our people. We ourselves were displaced, also, which helped us understand the needs of displaced families; we knew what they were going through. Through it all, we drew strength from prayer, both individually and as a community. Believing God is always with his people, we trust he will never leave them alone, no matter what happens. We never felt abandoned, seeing the hand of God
in all the organizations that have helped us care for the displaced families. People of good will were always around, showing Godâ€™s loving care. Our sisters appreciated very much this support and encouragement as we carried on our ministry. After the liberation of our villages and towns, we returned to the town of Tel Eskof, rented a house and turned it to kindergarten. We prepared the children to make their first Communion. We returned to Qaraqosh and opened a school. There, our sisters teach and instruct them in their Christian faith. We are repairing, too, our convents in the towns of Bartella and Bashiqa. Now, the common concern shared among everyone in the Nineveh Plain is security. After returning to their towns, people do not feel safe. Our people are greatly concerned about how to build a bridge between religious communities after what had happened; they wonder if they will ever be able to trust those who betrayed them and stole their homes. They struggle to be able to forgive. Also, many families want to return to their homes and rebuild, but discover they have been destroyed beyond repair. What organizations are doing to help in the reconstruction cannot cover everything. Many towns, such as Qaraqosh and Bartella, need infrastructure. The streets need to be repaired. Power is provided only for a few hours a day. Water supply is limited. And depression plagues our people. One needs huge amounts of energy and faith to work with those who hardly believe this will end one day. Yet, we want and need to be with our people.
At the Al Bishara School, Sister Montaha Haday teaches children from Iraqi families displaced by war.
“We want to continue to be with our people.” Sister Ferdos Zora sings along with preschool students.
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The CNEWA Connection
For decades, CNEWA has worked closely with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, supporting their apostolates in health care and education in Iraq and Jordan, as well as providing assistance for the formation of novices. Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors in North America and Europe, CNEWA has reached out to the sisters since the beginning of the onslaught of ISIS in the summer of 2014, rushing emergency relief for those in danger — especially expectant mothers and children. In addition, we equipped the sisters with the tools they needed to provide critical medical and spiritual care for tens of thousands of homeless families throughout their exile in Iraqi Kurdistan. This included funds to start and sustain clinics, schools and supplies of food, water, diapers, blankets and more. As some families return to their liberated towns, CNEWA again relies on these heroic footsoldiers of the church to assist those most in need. To continue supporting the work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
p Awatef Youssef, from Qaraqosh, stands with her husband, Amir Marzina, and son, Manuel, in their temporary home in northern Iraq. u Sister Anahid leads a primary school for displaced children in Dohuk.
We want to return with them to serve them. And so we visit families in their homes. We lead youth groups and offer activities and lectures to help them understand themselves and their faith, sharing Bible stories when possible and catechesis for children. We understand these activities are modest — and that they are unable to heal them as a whole — but our efforts may be a balm to sooth their pain. Life is so hectic in our area; our challenges look overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage people to go beyond their difficulties, and place them in a different context. We try to help them look into things through the eyes of faith. It is easy
for people to feel depressed and live as passive victims. So, our aim is to help them live their faith as people who trust God and his providence. We are not the only ones who have lived this reality: The Bible tells us about those who had very similar experiences and yet they knew how to overcome their situation with hearts full of faith in the Lord. It is hard to know what the future holds for our community. Displacement and immigration left young women unable to form a clear vision about their future. So, fostering vocations has been difficult when life is so unsettled. However, there are a few girls who are considering joining with us in
serving the Lord as sisters. We are thinking of organizing a program for them to prepare them and introduce them to religious life. We sisters have our own struggles, of course. We have asked different speakers to help us cope with the situation, spiritually and psychologically. We are grateful to all those who have risked their lives and have come to show solidarity and offer their knowledge. Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost
much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help. Without our faith, without our life of prayer, we would not be able to continue our mission. Our daily prayers — community and personal — are a source of strength. I hope this brief letter reflects some of the hardships and challenges we have been facing. But please know how deeply grateful we are to CNEWA for all your support, and for accompanying our people and our religious in every step of our harsh journey. n
“We have lost much, but we still have each other.”
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Care for Marginalized
For I Was in Prison Uplifting faith and hope for prisoners in Ethiopia text and photographs by Don Duncan
From the editors: The crimes of all the prisoners interviewed for this article are unknown. A condition for access to the prisons was that no questions concerning the crimes or home lives of the inmates could be asked.
very Tuesday and Thursday of the year, a jeep makes its way out of Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa and heads into the mountainous scrub surrounding the city. Carrying members of the St. Paul Prison Chaplaincy of the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa — the
only pastoral organization dedicated to the country’s prisoners — the vehicle tackles the rough road that spans much of the 34-mile trip west of the city. “The Gospel of St. Matthew says: ‘I was naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me,’ ” says Fita Tulu, the tall, strapping coordinator of the group. “It’s our mission to visit those in prison because so many of them have no one.” Mr. Tulu was a major in the Ethiopian army during the Derg
military regime that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie and seized power in 1974. When it fell in 1987, he left the armed forces and reflected instead on how he could dedicate his life more to his church. The reflection led him to several volunteer positions and eventually to a career as an advocate for prisoner rights, both within the bounds of his archeparchy and on the national level. Seated near Tulu are the other members of the four-person team: Zeritu Bulti, the team’s health officer; Tigist Zeleke, the chaplaincy’s
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The CNEWA Connection t Bekele Haile, Tigist Zeleke, Zeritu Bulti and Fita Tulu minister to prisoners outside of Addis Ababa. u Prisoners practice in the sewing workshop in Addis Alem Prison. y Mr. Tulu confers with construction workshop participants at Shano.
CNEWA’s support of prison chaplaincies in Ethiopia began in February 2016, notes our regional director in Addis Ababa, Argaw Fantu. “The Rev. Abba Girma Firissa, chaplain for the program, approached us seeking funding and I agreed to visit three prisons in the program. During my visit, I asked one of the administrators why so many were behind bars. The immediate response: ignorance, illiteracy and poverty. “I asked, ‘How?’ The response: ‘Due to ignorance to human value, one may kill his neighbor who shares farm land of common boundary; due to illiteracy in some villages, people quarrel for minor things and commit crimes by killing one another; due to poverty, minor theft can lead someone to spend years in prison cells.’ ” Seeing this need, CNEWA agreed to help fund education and outreach to the prisoners. The chaplaincy, while active in 11 prisons in the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa, only has the resources to perform intensive, in-person work in four, such as the work highlighted here. The chaplaincy’s budget is a modest $12,000 a year — and is subsidized by grants in part from CNEWA. To help support this valuable ministry, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). secretary; and Bekele Haile, the driver. As the vehicle winds its way through the dramatic landscape, the team discusses its plan of action for the prison today, what needs may arise and what possible challenges they may face. Within an hour and a half, the jeep comes to a halt at Addis Alem Prison.
ddis Alem, as with many of Ethiopia’s 125 governmentrun prisons, is a much more porous affair than those in North America. Armed guards control the opening and closing of the nonetoo-foreboding main gate and patrol the interior of the compound. There are watchtowers at various spots along a perimeter wall topped
by barbed wire. Yet despite these ostentatious security measures, there is a significant flow of people in and out of the prison, often coming to trade with the prisoners. Beyond the separation of the sexes, the interior of the prison compound shows little differentiation — young mix with old, and those in prison for minor misdeeds, such as theft, rub shoulders with inmates convicted of much more serious offenses, including murder and kidnapping. While Ms. Bulti is busy restocking the medicine cabinet of the prison clinic with supplies the team brought today — antibiotics, antifungal creams, vitamin supplements and sinus medication, to name a few — the first patients start to form a line outside the clinic door. “Since arriving here four months ago, my epilepsy has gotten worse,” says 30-year-old Terassa Girma, who has eight more months remaining of his sentence. “So, to avoid epileptic fits, I come here to get medication when I run out of it.” Finished stocking the medicine cabinet, Ms. Bulti dons her white coat, prepares her stethoscope and blood pressure reader and swings the door out to signal the clinic has opened. Since beginning its work in Addis Alem around 12 years ago, the chaplaincy has rendered significant service to the prison’s population of 1,000, and not only in terms of healthcare. “We place a huge focus on education and skills training,” says
“We are building love, a love for God and a love for their church.”
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Mr. Tulu. “We came to an agreement with the government that if we built a school in the prison, they would provide teachers.” Skills programs, such as woodworking, construction, sewing and weaving, have become popular among inmates. Mr. Tulu swears by the power of education for enriching prisoners’ lives, both in the short and long term. In the present, he says, it gives a sense of purpose and pride, boosting morale and reinforcing positivity — crucial weapons against the depression and despair that very easily envelop the mind facing incarceration. In the future, it offers a new means to provide for themselves and their families once released, improving the quality of many lives and reducing the risk of recidivism. “Since I started to sew seven years ago, I have gotten to the point where I can make a living from that one skill alone,” says Gadesa Bayesa, 33, sitting behind his machine, surrounded by garments both finished and in progress. “Now I can make an entire suit from start to finish in just one day.” A small transistor radio, suspended among the garments around him, blasts out tinny pop tunes that help bring a rhythm to his work and to that of the dozens of other men seated at their respective sewing machines or looms in the large hall. Mr. Bayesa has several clients from outside the prison who order tailoring and sewing work from him. When he started, he had only a needle and thread. But when his family saw potential for him in his newly acquired skill, they bought him a sewing machine. This changed the game, he says, and put him on the road to becoming a professional tailor after release.
n Thursdays, the chaplaincy team drives to Shano Prison, 50 miles
“It is our mission to visit those in prison, because so many of them have no one.”
northeast of Addis Ababa. At this site, too, the team’s efforts enhance prisoners’ post-release prospects — and help to make enduring the present more tolerable. Shano, which houses 750 inmates, has a similar internal structure to Addis Alem. A group of more than a dozen women live in a separate compound, in which a handful of toddlers may be seen running around. The children of incarcerated women are allowed to live with their mothers until they reach the
age of 18 months, at which time they are transferred to the care of family members. In designated areas for cooking, prisoners tend their own fires, fanning and stoking to increase the heat on their pots. Around the corner from the cooking area, a group of men participate in a construction workshop. Because of the nature of the work, some lessons take place indoors, while others require the open space just in front of the building, where prisoners have ample room to construct frames for houses, or lattices for mud walls.
They focus presently on a piece of lattice sitting parallel to the ground on pegs about a foot high. Its frame is crisscrossed precisely by twine, which serves as a guide as they learn to transform the frame into a structure and eventually make it the wall of a home. “I’m learning how to make both windows and walls,” says Kisa Teresa, 28, one of 30 inmates in the workshop. “I didn’t have a job before coming to prison and now I can be a builder once I leave here next year.”
A few buildings away, a carpentry group is in full swing, moving around partially completed pieces of furniture and stacking new, raw pieces of wood for the sawing and carving to come. Some eight years ago, the chaplaincy provided a modern woodcutting machine, which has accelerated participants’ efforts considerably. However, the machine broke down a few months ago, much to the consternation of those who have discovered an enthusiasm for the craft. Though it is scheduled
Young men crowd around to watch the monthly quiz in the yard at Shano Prison.
for repair, students have had to go back to practicing woodwork the old fashioned way: manually. “It can take a month now to make this cross by hand,” says Masresha Tilahun, 25, as he holds up a large, intricately-carved, traditional Ethiopian wooden cross. Sandwiched between the cross and his hand is the small chisel he has been using to carve out fine details.
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Masresha Tilahun displays the cross he has been carving by hand in woodworking class.
“If we had the machine back working again, that same job would take only two days.” Of the various projects undertaken by the St. Paul Prison Chaplaincy, its correspondence course in Bible studies holds special significance to Mr. Tulu. He oversees the program in a number of prisons, including both Addis Alem and Shano. “I am an Orthodox Christian, and I wanted to understand my faith more deeply,” says Wefdafrash Firke, 28, of why he decided to do the four-year correspondence course from prison. “But also, I wanted to understand, through the course, the differences between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christianity.” He has since learned these different traditions have more in common than he had expected. “Worshiping is worshiping,” he concludes. Mr. Firke sits in the prison library near the catechism books. At another of the three tables, two other prisoners pore over Bibles for their catechism course. Each month, students are assigned a section to study. At the month’s end, they complete tests, which Mr. Tulu collects and grades. An initiative of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, the St. Paul Prison Chaplaincy makes its Bible study program open to all, and people of all faiths have shown interest. Once outlawed in the traditionally Orthodox country, Catholics today make up a tiny minority in Ethiopia; Addis Alem and Shano prisons count only two Catholics among a combined population of 1,750 inmates. “We have no Catholic church in either of the prisons. Instead of building a church, we are building schools, clinics, workshops,” says
Tulu. “We don’t look [at a prisoner] as Orthodox or Catholic or Protestant. We are all Christian.” A commotion erupts outside, breaking the silence of the library. Sounds of young voices and of furniture being dragged around announce the “monthly quiz” — a longstanding, prison-wide event where two teams of two, each from a given class, go head to head answering questions. With lightning speed, students place two desks facing one another in the sun-drenched courtyard. Adjacent to these desks, teachers administering the quiz sit at a panel table. A crowd quickly amasses around the configuration, made up mostly of younger inmates — boys and young men from 12 to 20. In Ethiopia, the legal age at which people can be sent to adult prison is 16. However, in practice, many younger people — some as young as 12 or 14 — end up in the country’s adult prisons either as a temporary, stopgap measure or because the child does not know his true age. The crowd cheers heartily as the two teams of classmates take their seats at the desks. The ruckus dies down to a respectful hush when the panel of teachers ceremoniously emerges into the courtyard and sits. The battle commences. “How old are you?” the English teacher asks, enunciating carefully. There is a tense silence among the participants, matched by giddy whispers among the spectators. “12 years old,” comes the hesitant response. The teacher nods and smiles. The crowd erupts in applause. Most of the onlookers are boys about to become men. As with teen boys the world over, they try to appear tough and reserved. However, their selfconscious poise cracks from time to time, when they relapse into moments of childish horseplay and giggles.
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The commotion dies down rapidly as the next round of the quiz commences. The Amharic teacher is about to pose a grammar question when, all of a sudden, the entire group’s attention is broken and redirected by a simple sound: the clear, high-pitched giggles of teenage girls resonating across the prison wall. A new watchtower, still under construction, lies just outside the perimeter wall, and a number of girls are climbing the scaffolding for fun. Their laughter changes the dynamic inside the prison courtyard entirely. Concerns about schooling and the quiz are instantly usurped by their reality, reasserted: They are incarcerated, unable to have the normal, carefree life many other teens are having beyond those walls.
or the members of the St. Paul Prison Chaplaincy, their week’s on-site work has ended. They bundle their things back into the jeep and take the road from Shano back to the city. The jeep winds back through the mountainous scrub, finally
making its way to the familiar urban edges of Addis Ababa. While Fita Tulu and the team wait for more funding to materialize, their keep their focus squarely on the current challenges at hand — helping the prisoners to stay healthy; to grow intellectually and spiritually; and to build the potential for a better lives, once they are released. “Our work is one of construction,” says Mr. Tulu. And while the physical structures constructed for prisoners are modest, “the most important construction work we are doing does not depend on money or material. “In the heart of each prisoner we come into contact with, we are building love, a love for God and a love for his church.”
THERE’S MORE ON PRISON CHAPLAINCY IN ETHIOPIA ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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on the world of CNEWA
ne of the most abiding forms of support and accompaniment that CNEWA provides to the Eastern Catholic churches is in the realm of faith formation. This extends to the formation of seminarians, of men and women preparing to take vows as religious and to the laity. For decades, CNEWA’s donors have made a powerful impact on seminarians — helping to educate and train future priests. Most of the Eastern Catholic seminaries where CNEWA serves are supported in varying degrees thanks to the generosity of our donors. For some, our support makes a tremendous difference. It may mean feeding hungry seminarians, or just keeping the doors open. For others, this support means improving the faculty, hiring more teachers or making modest renovations to the
facilities. But for all, it represents an investment in the good health and future of the church. Religious women, meanwhile, receive financial assistance from CNEWA from their first days in the novitiate. Although the subsidy may be modest, it represents a commitment of faith and hope — a sign of solidarity with these women as they formally embark on their journey to serve Christ as vowed religious. And then there is the great and growing resource of the laity. The faith formation of the laity is often overlooked, with more attention given to those who are preparing for the priesthood or religious life. But it is vitally important to support the lay faithful, especially in places where it is not always possible to commission a priest or religious. CNEWA continues to place great
importance on lay catechetical programs and adult faith enrichment and mission-sending initiatives that challenge the faithful to share their faith with those who have never been exposed to it. From my own experience, I can tell you some of the most exciting and dynamic missionary activity I have been privileged to witness involved a wonderful collaboration among “teams” of clergy, religious sisters and lay missionaries. Together, they bring the Good News of Jesus to very remote areas, sharing it with those hungry to meet Jesus and to experience his love and mercy. None of this would be possible without good faith formation. I remember visiting a remote tribal area in India. After navigating a long footpath and reaching some thatched huts, I received one of the
z Seminarians stand outside a church in Lviv, Ukraine. p Msgr. John Kozar visits St. Anne’s Orphanage in Trichur, India.
best welcomes I have ever had. Seated on the ground all around me, and led by one of the sisters who lived with them, these villagers made the sign of the cross and haltingly said the Our Father in their language. What a beautiful welcome and what a beautiful profession of faith — Catechism 101! This was faith formation at its most basic. We as Catholics are at our best when we appreciate our deep personal connection with Jesus, when we carry in our hearts his command to “love one another” and are willing to share this with others. This is a simple
description of evangelism; but without good formation there is little evangelization that is effective. Faith formation and catechesis do not translate easily into “news” stories. Nor do they make compelling copy. They are, however, vitally important in nourishing the church as she serves the world. CNEWA accompanies the church in areas scarred by war, oppression, suffering and persecution. Without CNEWA’s abiding commitment to and investment in faith formation, the outreach activities of the Eastern Catholic churches would be ineffective, shallow and hollow. Our commitment to faith formation is our commitment to helping women and men, young and old, live out that grand commandment of Jesus and to help heal a broken world in his name.
Please remember in your prayers all the souls we accompany on their journey to know Christ more intimately, as they seek to be formed in their faith. And be assured that, as you pray for them, they are praying, as well, for you.
Msgr. John E. Kozar
MSGR. KOZAR DISCUSSES FORMATION OF RELIGIOUS AND LAY LEADERS IN AN EXCLUSIVE VIDEO AT:
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