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Spring 2015

God • World • Human Family • Church

Ukraine’s Casualties of War Out of the Ashes in Egypt Finding Sanctuary in Jordan A Letter From Ethiopia


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COVER STORY

Casualties of War Offering help and hope to Ukraine’s displaced families by Mark Raczkiewycz

FEATURES

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Out of the Ashes Religious in Suez rebuild after mass arson of 2013 by Jahd Khalil with photographs by David Degner

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Finding Sanctuary in Jordan Healing takes many forms for Iraqi Christian refugees by Dale Gavlak with photographs by Nader Daoud

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Lebanon on the Brink The influx of refugees is creating a new class of poor by Raed Rafei

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A Letter From Ethiopia Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu photographs by Petterik Wiggers

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DEPARTMENTS Connections to CNEWA’s world People Father Mikael Khachkalian by Molly Corso Focus on the world of CNEWA by John E. Kozar

t Coptic Christians gather in the shell of a church in Minya burned in August 2013.

OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org


OFFICIAL PUBLICATION CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION

Volume 41 NUMBER 1

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Leave the gift that helps the sisters spread everlasting hope

6 Front: Ukrainians displaced by war take shelter in an apartment. Back: Students take a break from their studies at a school run by the Daughters of Charity in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Photo Credits Front cover, page 33, 35, Ivan Chernichkin; pages 2, 3 (lower left), 6-7, 8-9, 10, 11, David Degner; pages 3 (upper left), 21, Tamara Abdul Hadi; pages 3 (upper right), 24-25, 26-27, 28-29, back cover, Petterik Wiggers; pages 3 (lower right), 34, Courtesy of Caritas Ukraine; pages 3 (far right), 4, 22, 38-39, John E. Kozar/CNEWA; pages 12-13, 15, 16-17, Nader Daoud; pages 18-19, Dalia Khamissy; page 30, Vadim Ghirda/AP/Corbis; page 31, CNS photo/Sergey Polezhaka, Reuters; page 36, Molly Corso. ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar

30 Editorial Staff Paul Grillo Deacon Greg Kandra Michael J.L. La Civita Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. J.D. Conor Mauro Timothy McCarthy 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 Š2015 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

When you remember CNEWA in your will, poor children, families and the elderly will never be forgotten. Devoted religious sisters will turn your generosity into miracles at Catholic hospitals, schools and more. And the kindness in your heart will live on. Learn more about remembering CNEWA in your will: United States 1-800-442-6392 I www.cnewa.org Canada 1-866-322-4441 I www.cnewa.ca


connections

to CNEWA’s world

News From India In March, Pope Francis erected two new jurisdictions of the SyroMalankara Catholic Church. Both are located outside the traditional center of the church, which is in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. The Delhi-based Eparchy of St. John Chrysostom of Gurgaon of the Syro-Malankars, led by Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas, O.I.C., extends along the northern part of India, covering 22 states. The Exarchate of St. Ephrem of Khadki is centered in Pune in the south. In an email to CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, Mar Barnabas noted that “with this new eparchy and exarchate, the Malankara Church is given the freedom to preach the Good News anywhere in India. This will surely boost our mission efforts. “I thank you most sincerely,” he adds, “for the love, encouragement and support up to now. … With your support we can make efforts of evangelization without fear.” CNEWA works closely with India’s dynamic Catholic Eastern churches in their work among the “unreached” in the north of the subcontinent. To learn more, visit WWW.ONEMAGAZINEHOME.ORG/WEB/UNREACHED.

New Churches Formed Earlier this year, Pope Francis made two significant changes in the Catholic Eastern churches, creating two additional churches that are fully Catholic and yet of their own rite and governed by a chief hierarch in full communion with the bishop of Rome. In January, he created a new metropolitan church sui iuris in the northeast African nation of Eritrea. With its seat in the capital city of Asmara, the Eritrean Catholic Church is led by Metropolitan Archbishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam, M.C.C.J., and shares the ancient Ge’ez rites and traditions of the Ethiopian church. In March, the pope reorganized the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church,

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elevating it to the dignity of a metropolitan church sui iuris, appointing Bishop Fülöp Kocsis as the first metropolitan archbishop of Hajdúdorog with its seat in the city of Debrecen. This Hungarian church utilizes the Byzantine rites and traditions associated with the church of Constantinople. Help for School in Bethlehem In Bethlehem, CNEWA has initiated two programs to help students of the Salesian Sisters’ Laura Vicuna School in the Cremisan Valley. With the support of partner donors, funds have been designated to rehabilitate a retaining wall of the school playground, which is at risk of collapsing. Funds will also be used to renovate space in the

school’s annex for classrooms and meetings. The Cremisan Valley, which is strategically located between a sprawling Jerusalem and the West Bank, is considered the last green space in the Bethlehem area. Its future was questionable, however, as the Israeli government intended to expropriate much of the land to build its separation wall, decimating the valley’s olive trees and vineyards and dividing the Salesian community. Remembering Ceil Mazzoni In March, we lost a lifelong friend and longtime benefactor of CNEWA. Mrs. Cecilia “Ceil” Mazzoni died at the age of 102.


OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org Mrs. Mazzoni’s parents were among CNEWA’s first supporters: Their membership card from 1926, the year CNEWA was founded by Pope Pius XI, is preserved in the agency’s archives. Mrs. Mazzoni and her sister Catherine Cresci shared their parents’ passion and carried that through the 21st century, generously supporting CNEWA’s work — supporting numerous clean water and food projects in Ethiopia and India as well as the sponsorship of religious sisters and seminarians. When Mrs. Mazzoni’s sister died, the family built a church in India in her memory. A close friend described Mrs. Mazzoni to us as a woman with “a loving heart and beautiful smile. She was generous with her money, but also with her heart.” Indeed, Ceil Mazzoni once said, “The money I have is a loan from the Lord, and I have to give it back.” We join our prayers with all those who loved Ceil, along with those of the poor she never met but whose lives she touched with her enduring generosity. Her legacy lives on. We pray for the repose of her soul. Clinics in Iraqi Kurdistan In addition to its clinic in the city of Erbil, which opened last winter, CNEWA has opened two muchneeded health care centers to serve displaced Iraqi families. One, in Dohuk, consists of 10 rooms — including laboratories, operating rooms and a pharmacy, all constructed in a prefab steel structure. The clinic is expected eventually to serve more than 700 people a week, including Christians and Yazidis from the Mosul area displaced by ISIS last summer. The second is a mobile clinic designed

to serve Zakho and the 18 villages surrounding the city. The clinics were made possible thanks to the generosity of benefactors in North America and Europe, and are managed and staffed by CNEWA’s partners in the region, especially the Syriac Catholic Church and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. Evangelization in India CNEWA is working with religious congregations in India to support an initiative known as “City Evangelization.” A group of lay people, sisters and priests — now numbering 95 — reaches out to the most vulnerable in the city, including street children and abandoned women, to offer help and support. As our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, describes it, “The members of the City Evangelization team temporarily opt out of their congregation and volunteer time and energy to help people in distress and need in the city.” Religious sisters, for example, stay in rented houses to be close to those in

need. Members of other faiths, including Muslims and Hindus, are also engaged in the effort. “It is a ministry that is highly inclusive of everyone,” Mr. Thomas notes, “irrespective of caste, creed and color, realizing that integrity of life is often the best gift we can offer to the poor.” Ethiopian Restoration In February, representatives from the CNEWA regional office in Addis Ababa visited the Wanta Kidist Mariam Monastery in northern Ethiopia, at the invitation of the abbot. The monastery of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was built in 1734 and is badly in need of repair. The community — which includes the monastery and surrounding village — includes priests, monks and nuns, plus family members. CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, was deeply moved by the fervor and faith he saw at the monastery, and CNEWA agreed to contribute 200 sheets of corrugated iron to help with the renovation of the church.

Only on the Web

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There is more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • M  eet sisters who are making a difference in our special “Year of Sisters” feature • Hear how Pope Francis has made an impact on Gaza • Join Msgr. Kozar as he discusses the crisis in Iraq with our regional directors • Find exclusive videos about our world

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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Accompanying Churches

Out of the

Ashes

Religious in Suez rebuild after the violence of 2013 by Jahd Khalil with photographs by David Degner

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ister Amal was drinking tea at the Good Shepherd Convent in the Egyptian port city of Suez when the first stone came through the window. It had been a chaotic year. For months, massive protests against President Muhammad Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood had rocked the country. By late June the protests, which had gained the public support of Christian leaders, culminated in the military’s forced removal of the Islamist president. In the eyes of some Egyptians, especially those who supported Mr. Morsi, an alliance had been forged

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between the military and Egypt’s Coptic Christians. (Ethnic Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, derived from the Greek “Aigyptos,” meaning Egyptian.) This was affirmed further by the interim government’s subsequent brutal crackdown of Islamists throughout Egypt. Picking up the shattered glass, Good Shepherd Sister Amal was unaware that earlier that same day, 14 August 2013, the interim government had used lethal force to end two massive sit-ins, resulting in more than 600 deaths. In retribution for the alleged

alliance, supporters of the ousted president stormed churches and Christian institutions across the country. A mob of possibly hundreds attacked the chapel near the convent. Sister Amal and her team rushed about, attempting to save as much as they could from both the sanctuary and the structure. Frantically, they turned off the gas and electricity, and eventually found a way to extinguish some of the flames. But as they worked, arsonists set fires elsewhere. Looters helped themselves to furniture, electronics and money.


The flames proved too much to fight. In the chaos, Sister Amal ushered the workers out a rear exit. The police and army were nowhere to be seen. The mob had already killed one soldier operating an armored personnel carrier outside the chapel. Another fled. No one else came to help. By the end of the day, the convent, chapel, orphanage and school the sisters had administered had been gutted and razed. The mob had also attacked a Franciscan parish church two blocks away — two of the dozens of Christian facilities torched that Wednesday morning. A year

later, and despite the Egyptian government’s promise to help rebuild the affected institutions, only a handful has been restored. While the churches in Suez remain charred husks, the sisters have begun rebuilding their school and renovating their orphanage by launching their own fundraising efforts. They have used what survived the fire to continue their work, praying in the shell of their chapel. Crosses and images of Christ and the Virgin Mary have taken on renewed meanings in light of the fire and the tribulations of the past year and a half.

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alking throughout the remains of the Good Shepherd complex gives the impression of a construction site rendered in black and white. Ceiling fans have wilted from the heat, and the only splash of color is a fuchsia bougainvillea that has crept into what was once the convent’s living room. It is easy to see all the ash as indistinguishable, but Sister Amal points to the grey piles, indicating what remains of a multilingual library, a pantry, a piano. But she is most keen to point out what survived the fire.

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The CNEWAConnection

CNEWA consistently works for, through and with the churches of Egypt, serving where the need is greatest. This includes support for child care facilities, hospitals, schools and seminaries. During and after the 2013 attacks, CNEWA was in continuous contact with Egyptian church leaders. The association responded to a number of urgent requests, including an appeal by the Coptic Catholic bishop of Suez to help the Good Shepherd Sisters rebuild their convent. To join in this tradition of support, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).

“There was a miracle at the small church where we prayed. The ceiling and door were burnt, but the sanctuary, even though of wood, didn’t burn. The pews weren’t burnt. We had already removed the statue because we were afraid they would break it. Here, they only broke the glass.” Statues of the Virgin Mary have been moved into a small, makeshift chapel. Inside sits a chair for each of the sisters at the convent, each stacked with its own small collection of prayer books. Sister Amal takes special care to point out one of the two statues in the chapel. “This came to us in a dream,” she says. “Because of that,

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we have written ‘Our Lady of Dreams’ on the base.” Last autumn, on the final Friday of November, Sister Amal dreamed she had asked for a candle, but instead a friend named Raheb, who had helped her put out the flames all night long after the August 2013 attack, brought her the Virgin Mary wrapped in blankets. “At the end of the next day I told Sister Mariam the dream. She told me, ‘God willing, the Virgin will come in a flash, but I have to tell you some bad news.’ ” Sister Mariam told her the military had withdrawn from the area. They were once again without any protection. Protests were taking shape intermittently, and looters were still entering the chapel, which was open to the street. Anyone could walk in or out of the grounds. “There was no one. The teachers had left and the workers had gone. There was nobody but us two.” She turned to Sister Mariam and said, “Look, our Lord is who will protect us in the beginning and the end. Don’t worry. Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” Then the phone rang. It was Raheb. He said there was a woman who wanted to greet the sisters. She expected it to be his sister. Raheb stood outside and, before their eyes, took the statue of the Virgin Mary out of a crate, wrapped in blankets. “We cried out of joy,” Sister Amal said. Soon afterward, the military returned and set up a temporary base in one of the charred rooms of the convent clinic. “That’s why we’ve called her Our Lady of Dreams, because from the day she came we’ve felt at calm, at peace. We were afraid before, afraid for the school. We have nothing but the school; all else has been destroyed.”

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ister Mariam has the hardnosed demeanor one would expect from a principal — especially one who had to fight to get the school renovated. In January 2015, she successfully obtained the school’s permits after many months of arguing, and long after its renovation. Although they needed permits to begin construction, the sisters decided to build as the government stalled in approving the paperwork. Only after Sister Mariam filed a complaint at the administrative court in Suez did the bureaucratic process advance.


“There was a miracle in the small church where we prayed. The ceiling and door were burnt, but the sanctuary, even though of wood, didn’t burn.”

Sister Odile, 84, helps young residents of the orphanage study in the basement of the church.

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Reach out to make sure Egypt’s Christian communities survive www.cnewa.org

The school was rebuilt in the month after the fire, from the sisters’ own limited resources and without assistance — “not from the government, not from the army, not from anybody,” says Sister Mariam. The government even pressured the sisters to open the school to begin the academic year in advance of its completion because of a 15-day delay caused by the fire. The sisters, however, were awaiting the delivery of desks, insisting that without places to sit, there could be no place to learn. Though some parents expressed concern for the safety of their children, none pulled their children when the school reopened, including the governorate’s top-ranked student, a Good Shepherd pupil. The sisters actually added space to accommodate more children, whose parents pay approximately $400 per child.

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The 2,500-seat school smells new and still has factory stickers on some of the glass. During the renovations, the sisters ran a hard bargain, scrutinizing every price. Sister Amal says one contractor asked if she had been in the construction business. By contrast, it took the sisters almost a year to finance the renovation of their orphanage, which is administered by Sister Odile, an elderly, Egyptian-born Italian woman whose parents were among the many foreigners who lived in Egypt in the early 20th century. In Lebanon at the time of the fire, Sister Odile immediately traveled to Egypt when she received the news. There, she designed cabinets and beds for carpenters to reconstruct, and oversaw the purchasing of appliances, all of which had been lost in the fire. The children have since moved back into freshly painted rooms

with new beds, wardrobes and desks. Sister Odile says the project ran roughly $1,300, completed over a span of two months, which pales in comparison to the estimated $2 million to repair the convent and chapel. In the meantime, the sisters make do with the scorched sanctuary.

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ranciscan Father Gabrail Bakheet’s first day as pastor of the Franciscan parish of the Immaculate Conception in Suez coincided with the day of the attacks. The mob turned on the parish, torching the church and rectory. Father Gabrail has since seen to the repair of the rectory. However, the church will still need serious restoration — repairs may run as high as $850,000. The structure is a burned out shell; blackened, with spots of white from where the plaster fell after the blaze. Its tile floors have swollen from the heat. Heads and arms of statues have been severed. The promised help from the government has not yet arrived, but he has been assured that the church, along with the Good Shepherd Convent, is scheduled for repairs in a later stage of the reconstruction plan. During Christmas, army and governorate officials paid the Franciscan a courtesy call. They were welcomed in a concrete room decorated with throw rugs and photos of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, Pope Francis and the superior of the Franciscan community in Cairo. “I think the most important figures for Christians in Egypt at the moment are Pope Francis, [Coptic Orthodox] Pope Tawadros, and al Sisi,” said Father Gabrail. The president’s historic visit to the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo for the Christmas liturgy, a move enthusiastically welcomed by Coptic Christians, has reinforced the belief that Pope Tawadros and


President Sisi are said to have a close relationship. Regardless of the condition of the church, Father Gabrail continues to celebrate the Eucharist for his parish community. Assisted by two parishioners, an Egyptian-born Italian and an Egyptian doctor, the church remains the center of Suez’s Catholic community. On a recent feast day, Good Shepherd Sister Amal enters with her own gentle gait, as if walking on glass. Sister Odile arrives, too, with one hand on her cane and another around Dunya, the eldest resident of the orphanage. The liturgy is lighted by fluorescent lights suspended on extension cords that span the church, but worshipers sitting in the nave can still see stars

peeking through the blown-out windows. A Nativity scene sits in a dark corner of the church. After the liturgy, parishioners, the Good Shepherd sisters and several Indian sisters who run a burn clinic in Suez gather for mint tea in the parish garden. The parishioners’ experience is not rare. Throughout Egypt, many Christians still pray among ashes despite promises to rebuild. In some cases, steel and concrete have been donated, but not the labor. In others, financing has been secured. Still, the promises are falling short. The sisters, however, did not wait for help and have not forgotten what they have been through. As Sister Amal tells her story, she drinks out of the same teacup she

held when the first stone came in the window. And sitting in the chapel, next to Our Lady of Dreams, is that very first stone. Journalist Jahd Khalil is based in Cairo. His work has appeared in The Financial Times, Fast Company and Esquire.

READ MORE ABOUT CHALLENGES FACING EGYPT’S CHRISTIANS ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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cnewablog.org/web/ egyptchurches

A parish priest blesses his congregation in the Church of the Virgin Mary in Nazla, one of the many churches burned in August 2013.

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Care for Marginalized

Finding Sanctuary in Jordan Healing takes many forms for Jordan’s Iraqi Christian refugees by Dale Gavlak with photographs by Nader Daoud

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Samir and Nevine Deshto stand with their newborn daughter in the Italian Hospital in Amman.

wo young refugees cradle their newborn baby girl, taking in the wonder of the new life they hold in their hands. Soft light pours in from a nearby window, enveloping the trio in its warmth. For a moment, the recovery room at the Italian Hospital in the Jordanian capital of Amman is filled with a sense of peace and tranquility. Calm moments have been in short supply since the couple and other Iraqi Christians were brutally pushed out of their ancestral homeland by ISIS militants last August. As with most of the 8,000 others who have fled to neighboring Jordan, they now face a gnawing uncertainty about what the future holds for them and their families. “We were forced out of our homes when ISIS invaded our area, took over and claimed it as its own,” says Samir Deshto, a tall, slender 29-year-old man, holding his newborn daughter. “They did despicable things to people. I became wanted,” says the former Iraqi policeman, his voice lowering. “They were calling out our names from the mosques, demanding we be exterminated.” Mr. Deshto, his wife, Nevine, and their oldest daughter, Sabine, now 16 months old, first escaped to the northern city of Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they sought shelter in a church. But the sanctuary soon overflowed with displaced Christians from Mosul and the predominantly Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain that surround Iraq’s second largest city. Christians were given the choice of converting to Islam, paying a religious tax known as jizya, or death. “We sold my wife’s jewelry to come to Jordan. And now I don’t have anything, except God and you,” says the man, his dark eyes filling with pain.

Authorities say the huge numbers of refugees now in Jordan are burdening the oil-poor desert kingdom’s already scarce water and energy supplies. About 200,000 Iraqis remain from the time of the 2003 U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein, and about a million Syrians have also taken shelter there since civil war began in Syria in 2011. Although most of the 8,000 Iraqi Christians ultimately hope to travel onward to North America, Europe or Australia, those aiding them believe it could take at least three years, if at all, before Western countries accept them as refugees for resettlement. In this desperate situation, Jordan’s Christian community does all it can to help.

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he Italian Hospital is Amman’s oldest medical facility, dating to 1926. The 100-bed hospital maintains a longstanding charitable tradition, providing some of the best care at low prices — in some cases, as with Nevine’s delivery, for free. The hospital offers checkups, intensive care, pediatric and maternity care and a variety of other services, making referrals only in the case of the most serious procedures, such as cardiac surgery. “For many years, refugees have been coming to our hospital, starting with the Palestinians,” says Nassim Samawi, administrative director. Now, as many as 130 Iraqi Christians daily seek medical assistance at the white limestone facility in Amman’s bustling downtown. Refugees driven from neighboring countries and continents alike come for help, including people from Syria, Sudan, Somalia and even Iraqis still displaced from the 2003 war. “The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support

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The CNEWAConnection

CNEWA has long worked with the parishes and social service programs of the various churches in Jordan in providing care and service to refugees, the poor and underserved people living in the Hashemite kingdom. Funding from CNEWA provides a vast array of needed help, ranging from health care to catechism and education, and more. Through donors’ generosity, essential goods such as heaters, refrigerators, fans, coolers, blankets, mattresses and food are provided free of charge to the Iraqi refugees now finding sanctuary there. Significantly, CNEWA also works to provide emotional and spiritual support in the form of counseling and psychosocial programs to help refugees process the trauma they have endured. To lend your loving support to the people who need it most, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).

them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the facility. “Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the softspoken sister.

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“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says. “Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries — heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.” Until recently, the U.N. High Council for Refugees also channeled assistance to the hospital through Caritas, but that aid has ended, straining the resources of the facility and its partner, CNEWA. Those Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS come to the Italian Hospital primarily for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes, says medical director Dr. Khalid Shammas. Others suffer from chronic heart problems and strokes. Often, he says, the diseases are related to the enormous stress from the loss of homes, livelihoods and more. “We listen to them. There is struggle, loss and disappointment. It’s no wonder the refugees are depressed,” says Sister Elizabeth. “Their psychological condition directly affects their physical wellbeing.”

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afael Oraha, 69, has been treated at the Italian Hospital for his prostate and herniated discs in his back. He is also one of 160 people of all ages benefiting from a psychosocial support program that began last October. It is one of the few initiatives in Jordan addressing the enormous trauma faced by the Iraqi Christians.

“I am sick, and we are all tired. ISIS took our home. We are asking God to grant us stability and comfort so we can adapt to our new situation and our life,” says the once-successful eyeglass shop owner from Mosul. “We need to know where we are going,” the graying man implores during a group therapy session at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Amman’s Hashmi al Shamali district. The area has been dubbed “the new Qaraqosh,” after one of the predominantly Christian villages in Iraq captured by ISIS militants. Many former residents now live in this low-income district of Amman. “We are trying to help them to be aware of what they are passing through and to teach some techniques, such as relaxation and coping skills,” says Dr. Abeer El-Far, a counseling psychologist who heads the program. She says some of the refugees are able to adjust because families or friends left together and provide support to one another. But their Christian faith has also played an important role, Dr. El-Far says. “We have really suffered as Christians. Although we are safe here, living is very difficult due to high costs and being in exile,” Mr. Oraha says. “We must pray to live the remainder of our lives without injustice or threat. We ask God and those responsible to help us get the stability we need.” Thirty-year-old Laith Azza says the only way forward for him and his young family is to go abroad. “We have no more trust in the Iraqi government, even if we were able to return to Mosul,” he says. Mr. Azza, a Christian religion teacher, says although minority Christians are technically protected by Iraq’s laws, in the end, neither the government security forces nor Kurdish fighters shielded them from the extremists.


“You are here because God has a good plan for you…”

“In an instant we lost everything,” says Tania Akram, a middle-aged woman. “Thank God, we saved our lives and those of our daughters,” she adds, a reference to the many young women abducted by the militants and forced into sexual slavery. In another part of the church, a group of about 20 children play games and draw colorful pictures to help them to express their feelings. A tiny girl with a long brown braid, dressed in a pink polka dot jacket, says she helps her friends when she sees they are angry or frightened. Dr. El-Far also coaches the teenagers who express frustration. “They say it’s horrible. There’s no structure, no schools. They sleep

very late and get up just as late in the daytime,” the petite doctor commented. “They need educational and vocational programs.” “I was supposed to finish my last year of school, but I can’t now because we had to escape,” says 18-year-old Raneen from Qaraqosh, her dark eyes welling up with tears. To this end, CNEWA recently instituted an English language program for the Iraqi Christians at its Pontifical Mission Community Center in the Amman neighborhood of Jebel al Hussein. “We see it as another aspect of psychosocial help being offered to the refugees,” says Amabel Sibug, one of the program’s teachers and a member of the Teresian Association,

an international Catholic community of men and women called to service who have long staffed the community center. “Classes not only help the refugees cope with boredom and hopelessness, but guide them in dealing with some of the emotional difficulties they face.” Ms. Sibug and her colleagues also bring spiritual encouragement into the language classes. “We pray with the refugees. We tell them that, although there will be problems in life, you are here because God has a good plan for you,” says Elisa Estrada, a Filipina also with the Teresian Association. “ ‘No one can take God from us,’ I tell them, and then I see their eyes shine.”

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Help us offer a healing hand to Iraqi refugees in Jordan www.cnewa.org

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erqa is a densely populated city just northeast of the Jordanian capital of Amman, home to more than 800,000 people, many of them descendants of Palestinian refugees. For more than 30 years, CNEWA’s Mother of Mercy Clinic has provided quality maternity care to the city’s poor, almost all of whom live in the neighboring refugee camp. But for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who have administered and staffed the clinic since 2001, recent events in the region have added a new dimension to their work — the sisters hail from the same area in and around Mosul and personally understand the suffering of the Iraqi refugees who now come to the clinic for care. “ISIS took over our convent in Qaraqosh,” says Sister Najma Habash, who heads the clinic’s work. Ten of her community’s sisters have since died. Her own

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mother, she says, seems to have aged five years in the past five months from escaping the brutal ISIS takeover. Although the clinic specializes in prenatal and postnatal care for mothers and children, it offers a wide range of health care services to some 30,000 patients annually. Sister Najma says many Iraqi Christians are struggling with depression, feeling that their “liberty and dignity have been taken away from them.” Those who fled, she says, had homes and enjoyed financially independence. “Now they find it hard to buy bread, food and basic necessities for their families.” Often, even finding a place to sleep is difficult, she says. “In the beginning of the crisis, there was a lot of aid, but now that has diminished. Even some Christians have been forced to return to northern Iraq because they cannot afford the costs of staying here.”

Housing is one of the major challenges refugees face in Jordan. The country is inundated with refugees, and more arrivals are driving up housing costs and other prices. Jamil, who once owned a restaurant in Qaraqosh, says he and his 24 relatives now share one dingy apartment because they do not know how long their money will last. Others, such as Samir Deshto, the father of the newborn baby at the Italian Hospital in Amman, describe how some are forced to live in unhealthy conditions. “We live in a single, tiny basement room,” the young man says, describing it as stuffy and unsanitary. “There is a hole in the ground that serves as a toilet and there is a small sink, but not much else.” To bathe, Mr. Deshto and his family must go to his father-in-law’s cramped, two-room apartment packed with eight people.


Thanks to its benefactors, CNEWA provides funds and practical assistance to some 17 hosting centers — mainly located in parish churches — that shelter those Iraqi Christians unable to pay rent or find alternative housing. “The help we are giving to the centers is not enough,” says regional director Ra’ed Bahou. “We need more. We also assist when other organizations cannot meet their obligations.” The abandoned St. Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Church perched high on Ashrafiyeh, one of Amman’s many steep hills, is one such place sheltering Iraqi Christians. Dark wooden partitions divide space in one of the church halls to provide a modicum of privacy to individuals and families, but there is never a quiet moment as people snore, babies cry and others shout or converse loudly.

Some, such as Nour Hassib, 28, go outdoors to play backgammon in the sunshine to get away from it all. “I’m at an age when a person starts planning and building for the future,” says the former telecommunications employee from Mosul. “Everything I started to build has been left behind. “At times, I don’t feel like I have a future. I want to be somewhere safe and stable.” Mr. Bahou says fellow Christians in the Middle East would also regret seeing them leave their historic homeland for the West. “We want Christians to stay here, but how can we convince them to stay? We need the Christians to remain, as they are the ‘salt’ of the Middle East. But what can we do?” Based in the Middle East, Dale Gavlak has reported for CNEWA from Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.

p Raghad, a refugee from Mosul, feeds her 4-year-old son Rami at St. Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Church. z Iraqi Christian girls attend a group therapy session, at St. George Orthodox Church in Amman.

DALE GAVLAK HAS ADDITIONAL INSIGHT ON IRAQ’S REFUGEES ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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cnewablog.org/web/ sanctuary IN A VIDEO, MSGR. KOZAR AND TWO REGIONAL DIRECTORS DISCUSS CNEWA’S EFFORTS TO HELP IRAQI REFUGEES:

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onemagazinehome.org/ web/iraqvideo

OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF CNEWA

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Responding to Human Needs

Lebanon on the Brink

The influx of refugees is creating a new class of poor by Raed Rafei

W

ith one hand, Rose holds tight to the curly-haired girl with inquisitive eyes. With the other, she carries empty plastic containers in a plastic bag. As she does every Thursday, the 30-year-old mother waits with her 2-year-old daughter, Rebecca, for lunch for her family. Around them, dozens of people gather in the hall of a dispensary that doubles as a soup kitchen several days a week. Rose and Rebecca, along with most of those waiting for food, are not refugees displaced by the multiple conflicts shaking the region around Lebanon. They are impoverished Lebanese nationals who have

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always lived in Naba’a, a Christian suburb of Beirut. In the past three years, more and more Lebanese have joined the ranks of the poor because of the influx of an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria — a staggering figure, representing one refugee for every three people already residing in Lebanon. International organizations and local government officials describe the impact of the refugee crisis on the country as “disastrous” because of fierce competition for jobs, inflation of food prices and rental costs, a slowing economy and growing needs that have overwhelmed social services,

infrastructure and government resources. Increasingly, the Lebanese population perceives the Syrian presence in the country as an unbearable burden. In turn, Syrian refugees, many of whom have lost their homes and family members in the ongoing civil war that has destroyed their homeland, speak of an increase in negative attitudes toward them and complain about abusive work conditions and high rents. Although the resultant tensions between refugees and host communities remain contained for the moment, experts say there are growing risks of the situation becoming unmanageable.


“At the social level, the explosion is going to happen,” says Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. “It’s inevitable. Poverty is escalating and the needs are growing.” According to the latest statistics released by Lebanon’s Ministry of Social Affairs, 8 percent of the population lives below the low poverty line ($2.80 a day) and 28 percent live below the high poverty line ($4 a day). An August 2014 study showed another 170,000 Lebanese citizens sank below the low poverty line. In recent years, the government started a program to help the most vulnerable Lebanese with food coupons, health assistance and support for children’s education.

“There are entire new generations that are being raised in poverty,” says Dr. Jean Mrad, director of the National Poverty Targeting Program. Dr. Mrad concedes the $28 million yearly budget of the program is far from sufficient; an additional $55 million is needed to support 350,000 Lebanese over the next three years. The roots of poverty in Lebanon long predate the start of the Syrian conflict. Years of political instability and longstanding economic problems have decimated the middle class in the country. The conflict in neighboring Syria has only exacerbated existing problems. While the entire country is affected by the crisis, rural areas in the north and in the Bekaa Valley have been especially impacted; their economies

once depended on trade with Syria. Since the Lebanese government closed the borders with Syria, trade ceased and incomes plummeted. Despite this bleak picture, the United Nations Development Program recently noted the presence of refugees has had some positive effect on the economy. Some businesses are benefiting from the availability of cheap Syrian labor, and landlords are gaining income from tenants. The beneficiaries, however, are a few better-off Lebanese in areas where refugees are concentrated. For the rest, it is a very different story.

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t the dispensary in Naba’a, which is run by a consortium of women religious, the

Sister Johanna Ghyoot looks over the Dbayeh refugee camp, on the outskirts of Beirut.


The CNEWAConnection

CNEWA’s efforts to improve the lives of Lebanon’s poor — regardless of nationality, ethnicity, color or creed — date to the beginning of the agency’s work in the Middle East. Whether by helping families in flight with food, water and shelter; providing children in need with schooling and hope; rebuilding villages, schools, churches; assisting farmers with access to water; or assisting people with special needs to live in dignity, CNEWA has been there, always working through the churches — especially the country’s parish priests and the many women religious who run the schools, hospitals and other social service institutions that are the jewels of the country. To join CNEWA in its many efforts in Lebanon, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).

endemic poverty among the Lebanese is self-evident. “There is an overwhelming demand for help from the Lebanese,” says Nathalie Antonios, a social worker at the dispensary. “We have to reject a lot of cases of needy people because our capacity is limited.” The food assistance program began a year ago and helps 70 families weekly.

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As lunchtime approaches, dozens of families start gathering around a glass door at the back of the hall. They each carry a number and wait for their turn to be served a portion of chickpeas and fava beans and a pack of pita bread. After they recite a prayer, food is distributed. An anonymous Lebanese family provides the food every week. Waiting in line are elderly people who have nobody to support them, disabled individuals who need expensive medication and many unskilled laborers who have lost their jobs. To get by, many try to divide the portion they receive to make it last over several days. Rose says without this weekly meal, her family would go hungry. “Our situation has been very difficult,” she sighs. In addition to Rebecca, Rose has a 4-year-old son, Ralph. “My husband paints walls. He keeps distributing business cards to find work,” she says. “Nobody is calling him; too many foreigners.” The religious sisters who run the dispensary speak of parents pulling their children out of schools, people looking for food in garbage bins, and families eating uncooked food because they cannot afford to pay gas bills. Social workers say these growing economic difficulties are causing more and more problems — including domestic violence, drug abuse and developmental difficulties among children. With the government not regulating the employment of Syrian refugees, Lebanese workers, skilled and unskilled, find themselves vulnerable. Many cannot compete with desperate Syrians willing to accept low wages to survive. On the other hand, Syrian refugees see themselves as victims, exploited by greedy employers and landlords.

u Many Lebanese citizens, such as Joseph, Rose and Silva, struggle to make ends meet in a strained economy. y Sister Johanna speaks to a local woman in the Dbayeh refugee camp.

“Everybody takes advantage of us here,” says Anjood Hayat, a 42-year-old mother of four who lost her home in the battles over the western Syrian city of Homs. She has been living in Burj al Barajneh, a poor neighborhood south of Beirut. “We have nobody to turn to.” Mrs. Hayat, who owned a grocery shop in Syria with her husband, finds herself working as a housekeeper in Lebanon. With her physically impaired husband unable to work, she has to feed her three young daughters partly with meager United Nations aid through local charity groups and partly with the sporadic incomes she and her 16-year-old son earn. She says her son used to work more than 12 hours a day at a pastry shop for less than $300 a month. She says she made her son quit the job after his boss burned the boy’s arm with a hot plate of sweets for falling asleep at work. He is now a day laborer who unloads trucks of vegetables at a market. “What we make is barely enough to survive,” says Mrs. Hayat, who rents for $300 a month a shabby two-room apartment, where electrical wires hang from the walls and rotten water pipes lie exposed. Part of the problem, some say, is the disorganized way Lebanese authorities have dealt with the crisis. “Perhaps the best solution is to group Syrian refugees together,” says Michel Constantin. “This would help organize and manage assistance to them and reduce


“We are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers asking for help. They ask for everything.”

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Join us in bringing hope to struggling families in Lebanon www.cnewa.org

Michel Constantin speaks with Sister Jean Marie Channisse, who works as a midwife at the dispensary in Naba’a.

competition between them and host communities.” Today, from the tiniest villages to the biggest cities, Syrian refugees may be found — a result of years of an open door policy for Syrians and the reluctance of the Lebanese government to build refugee camps, as other host countries such as Jordan and Turkey have done. The specter of refugees remaining indefinitely in the country taps deep into the Lebanese psyche. The presence of more than 400,000 Palestinians in decrepit refugee camps established in 1948 remains a contentious issue. Taking notice of the increasingly negative tone of the country regarding the presence of Syrian refugees, the Lebanese government

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decided recently to filter the entry of Syrians by imposing tough new regulations. Where once Syrians enjoyed freedom of access and the ability to reside for six months and work without restrictions, as of January 2015, Syrians wishing to come to Lebanon need visas and specific documents, such as hotel reservations, proof of need for medical treatment and appointments with foreign embassies. For many observers, these restrictive measures have arrived too late. With no solutions to the Syrian conflict in sight, locals fear many of the refugees will remain indefinitely in the country. Today, there are hundreds — possibly thousands — of Syrian children who were born in Lebanon since the conflict started. They have never known any other home but Lebanon.

“T

here is a lot of anxiety among the Lebanese,” says Father Paul Karam, the president of Caritas Lebanon. The international community has a responsibility to help Lebanon, he adds, by receiving more refugees and looking for viable political solutions for the conflict in Syria. Fears of the presence of Syrian refugees are not only social and economic; there are also concerns regarding the country’s security. With Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militant group, supporting the Syrian government, Lebanon is a target for Sunni Muslim militant groups. Last year, several suicide bombers — claimed by Sunni extremists — targeted dense Shiite neighborhoods in the outskirts of Beirut. Although there have not been any attacks in recent months, the fear still looms large that radical elements will infiltrate the anonymous masses of refugees.


In August, a fierce battle pitted Lebanese soldiers against Syrian extremists who infiltrated the border town of Ersal. Sixteen soldiers were killed and dozens, wounded. Months after the clashes ended, extremists still hold some 29 soldiers and members of the police forces as hostages. These unresolved kidnappings impacted the way the Lebanese view Syrian refugees, even though the vast majority was not involved. Suspicion toward refugees is also linked to a perceived increase in petty crime rates in many areas. Several municipalities have imposed curfews on Syrians, claiming their circulation at night poses security risks. The roots of tension are cultural and religious, too; sectarian balance among the various confessions remains fragile, and rights and privileges are jealously guarded. “They are foreigners, they have different habits,” says Faten Alawi, 52, an unemployed widow who is responsible for a 12-year-old son and an ailing mother. Mrs. Alawi, who says she lost her job at a garment factory to two Syrian workers who agreed to work together for her $500 monthly salary, says she has not met any of the Syrian refugees living in her neighborhood. Mrs. Alawi lives in the Palestinian camp of Dbayeh, a hilly neighborhood of modest one-story homes connected by narrow alleys. She is among poor Lebanese families who were displaced during the civil war who have been living for decades side by side with Christian Palestinian refugees. In the past three years, this neighborhood of 500 families has seen the influx of around 60 Syrian families living in overcrowded homes. “The situation is hopeless,” says Elias Habib, the director of the Joint Christian Committee for Social

Service in Lebanon, a nongovernmental organization supported by CNEWA that runs educational, awareness and psychosocial activities for women and children in the Dbayeh camp. “You hear of many young people who want to leave to work abroad, but it’s not easy,” he says. A hallmark of Lebanese society for decades, acquiring work and immigration visas to Western countries or even the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf is a difficult process — especially for those Lebanese workers who may be uneducated and unskilled. “I was used to a much higher standard. It’s tough to accept that I am poorer now,” says Tony Sayah, 45, a Lebanese contractor living in the Dbayeh camp. Mr. Sayah, a father of a 12-yearold girl and a 9-year-old boy, says he has been working less and less since the influx of Syrians. “Syrian refugees easily beat my prices,” he says. “They eat a biscuit or a sandwich all day long or sleep at the construction site,” he adds. “We can’t beat that.” With governmental social services traditionally meager, the recently impoverished and unemployed have to rely on assistance from charity groups and religious institutions. Johanna Ghyoot, a Belgian Little Sister of Nazareth, has provided health services to the residents of the Dbayeh camp since 2006. She has seen many Lebanese men such as Tony Sayah lose jobs in construction and in restaurants in recent months. “We are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers asking for help,” she says. “They ask for everything: food, clothes, medication and money for school tuitions.” In one recent day, the center she runs with another sister received 67 phone calls and visits from 43 people. She says they have to turn down many of the requests

because the donations they receive are never enough. Sister Johanna makes home visits daily in the camp, providing medical care to the needy. “You see food becoming more and more monotonous or children staying home because parents were late paying tuition,” she says, describing how more poverty is creeping into the households she visits. Even though most of the aid groups have started to allocate up to 30 percent of the funds they receive to help Syrian refugees for hosting communities, the situation continues to deteriorate. “It’s becoming harder and harder to raise more funds for Lebanon,” says CNEWA’s Michel Constantin. “Next year may be worse.” Raed Rafei is a Beirut-based journalist and independent filmmaker whose writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Forbes Arabia and The Lebanese Daily Star. RAED RAFEI HAS MORE ABOUT LEBANON’S NEW POOR ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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cnewablog.org/web/ onthebrink SEE HOW THE INFLUX OF REFUGEES HAS IMPACTED LEBANESE FAMILIES:

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onemagazinehome.org/ web/lebanonvideo CNEWA’S PROJECT MANAGER IN BEIRUT DESCRIBES HER WORK WITH REFUGEES:

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onemagazinehome.org/ web/constantinrefugee

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Year of Sisters

A letter from

Ethiopia by Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu Nearly 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 14 attend the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia — and the woman responsible for them all is Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu. A member of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Ayelech has a special mission to “serve the poorest of the poor.”This includes making regular visits to 30 poor families, whose children attend the school. Some of the parents have tested positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. The sisters who serve the school live in a residence in the poorest corner of Bahir Dar, located about 350 miles northwest of Ethiopia’s capital city,Addis Ababa. ONE contributor Petterik Wiggers recently contacted Sister Ayelech, who described her vocation, her mission and her hopes for the children in her care.

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Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

I

was born in Debre Berhan, Ethiopia, in 1955. When I was two years old, my mother died. I went to live with my aunt, who was very good. She taught me the Christian way. I know my mother was a very nice woman. She was very kind and she even shared what little we had in the house with the poor. When my mother died, I stayed with my father for a few months, but he couldn’t cope with me. He couldn’t give me enough food, so my aunt took me. I stayed with my aunt and I lived happily, really. When I was 8, we used to go the parish for catechism in the afternoon. The parish priest taught us how to be good people. At the end, the parish priest asked for a place for me in Addis Ababa with the Daughters of Charity. He took me to them. When I was 9, I became a boarding student. The Daughters of Charity were helping the poor children. Every Sunday, all the girls at the boarding school went out to visit with poor people, together with one of the sisters. We used to visit and clean the homes of the leprosy patients. Every morning, the poor people used to come to take bread, and I was involved with that. I was still very young. This built everything in me. I was looking at that sister and seeing what she did for the poor. It really made me happy. I grew up there. t Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu, left, attends 5:30 morning prayer in the chapel of her convent in Bahir Dar.

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TOP LEFT: Sister Ayelech, center, helps administer a church-funded school lunch program. TOP RIGHT: The school food program Sister Ayelech oversees feeds children who lack the means for daily lunch. LEFT: The sisters walk back to their convent after a morning liturgy.

Then, at the end, they asked the six or seven of us, “Who wants to be a sister?” I said, “I will. I will be a sister.” I was 13 or 14 at that time. They were not pushing me; I just told them, “I want to be a sister.” It was my will. I have been in Bahir Dar for 13 years. As a Daughter of Charity, we go wherever we are sent. We obey, we are obedient; we don’t refuse. Now that we are here, we are happy. We don’t know our next station. I have never regretted my decision, never. I didn’t care about other things. I don’t really care about getting married, having children. My family taught me to be kind and how to help others. And also, the first sister I worked with, she was a good example to me. My work brings me satisfaction. The children continue studying, and some of them go to university. But it is first the will of God that is most important to me. God is very good to me. He made so many things happen to me in my life, so many things that I couldn’t have done by myself. God is always with me. Every day, he is with me. I think God has given me the gift to lead. But I have struggled to lead, to reach this place. I have made a lot of mistakes, many times. Every day is a struggle. Every day we are trying to change. We are trying to live for God. We fail on a daily basis. We argue with the sisters. We argue with people in the work place. In spite of all this, forgiveness is there — we forgive each other. We are trying to do our work for God. We try to help each other in our spiritual life and in community life, too. The future is about the younger generation — how to reach the younger generation. We received the spirit from the older generation. But it is a worry in our community; we need young sisters to take over

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and we know that we have to work toward that. It is a problem to get somebody to follow you. We have to work very hard. We are responsible. We have to lead them in the right way and help them. You cannot command the young — they don’t want to be told off, don’t want to be corrected. It is challenging. We teach the children what we call human development. We talk about God. We talk about how to behave well, how to be a Christian. It is possible these children will be great adults. They will be good for their family and therefore for their country. Ethiopia-based photojournalist Petterik Wiggers has been reporting on events in Africa for more than 20 years. His photographs have appeared in TIME, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

MEET OTHER DEDICATED RELIGIOUS AS CNEWA MARKS THE “YEAR OF SISTERS” ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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cnewablog.org/web/ yearofsisters

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Emergency Relief

Casualties of War Offering help and hope to Ukraine’s displaced families by Mark Raczkiewycz

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T

he dark rings around Dariya Bilichenko’s eyes betray fatigue. After enduring two weeks of constant artillery shelling, she took her 3-year-old daughter and joined a convoy of passenger vehicles on 28 January to flee the railroad town of Vuhlehirsk. “The shelling worked like clockwork, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. While they fought, we hid in the cellar,” Mrs. Bilichenko says. “They specifically targeted residential areas.” By the time Russian tanks had rumbled in on the heels of retreating Ukrainian government troops, just days later, Vuhlehirsk was leveled. From a prewar population of 10,000, only about 3,000 people remain, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “My mother-in-law’s house was completely destroyed,” adds the 22-year-old, whose husband stayed behind to prevent their onebedroom house from being confiscated by separatists, a common occurrence with abandoned homes. Her flight to safety was harrowing. The driver of the car in which she escaped was shot in the leg trying to get through a strategic transport hub. Their convoy had to dodge rocket salvos when turning back along a detour through separatistheld territory. After traversing five cities, Dariya Bilichenko finally joined a dozen distant relatives on 20 February in government-controlled Sviatohirsk, not far from a monastery situated where the eastern Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv regions meet. Her odyssey was over. But the memory haunts her. “She screams in her sleep, she repeatedly yells to hide and take cover,” says family member Iryna Shvedenko, the 54-year-old matriarch of the extended family, who fled her home in the town of Yenakieve in late July 2014.

Although Mrs. Bilichenko’s screaming spells happen less frequently now, she feels compelled to drop to the floor when hearing a loud sound, “even if I hear a stiff knock on the door.” Stories such as hers are all too common in war-weary Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists in the eastern portion of the country have taken on the Ukrainian authorities and its army. But where there is fatigue and trauma, there is also help. In early March, an aid worker of the Catholic Church

CNEWA and Catholic Relief Services, Caritas is the secondlargest social charitable organization — after the Red Cross — working on a grass-roots level with the country’s displaced people. For people such as Dariya Bilichenko, Caritas is providing more than just financial help. It is also providing them with a more elusive gift: hope.

A

t one point last summer, 26 displaced people occupied three bedrooms and a living

u An elderly Ukrainian woman cries as neighbors board a bus to flee the conflict in Debaltseve. t Women walk through a destroyed neighborhood in Vuhlehirsk.

registered Mrs. Bilichenko to receive $300 in financial assistance. It is just one component of the numerous outreach programs for expelled families and individuals being implemented under the auspices of Caritas Ukraine, a network of charitable groups structured through local parishes and jurisdictions of Ukraine’s Catholic churches. In Ukraine, the main driver is the Greek Catholic Church and its 5.5 million faithful. Bolstered with international funding from charities such as

room in the one-level house in Sviatohirsk. Many slept in their cars or outdoors. Iryna Shvedenko and her husband arrived first with the blessing of the home’s owner, a distant relative who lives in neighboring Russia. Her two daughters followed less than a month later: Kseniya Stulova and her three school-aged children, and Anastasiya Stulova with two children, ages 5 and 1. Kseniya’s 9-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter are taught at

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The CNEWAConnection

For more than 20 years, CNEWA has supported pastoral and

humanitarian initiatives in Ukraine, cooperating with the lay and

religious leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Among

our institutional partners are the Sisters Servants of Mary

Immaculate, Basilian Fathers,

Sisters of the Holy Family and the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, along with a number of

seminaries and chaplaincies. To help implement projects, we rely on the well-developed

network and expertise of Caritas Ukraine. In the last several

months, CNEWA has helped

many of those who have been

displaced by the war in eastern Ukraine — providing food

packages, hygiene kits, clothes,

shoes, heaters, blankets and legal and psychological support. Projects have benefited

disadvantaged women, children

and the elderly, as well as those

with special needs. We have also provided assistance for the

formation of seminarians and support for parish priests.

To join CNEWA in supporting the church in Ukraine, call:

1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).

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home using textbooks borrowed from other families because the local school is overcrowded. More than 5,000 displaced people live in the area, which includes neighboring Slovyansk, the Sviatohirsk Monastery and a convent in nearby Bohorodychne. Just before winter, the household received three installments of 4,700 hryvnia (about $214) from Caritas Ukraine to purchase what they needed. Rent is free, but they have to cover heating and electricity expenses, and feed seven children. By late February, 9,600 internally displaced people had received assistance for the winter, according to Caritas Ukraine. The $1.5 million emergency aid program allows vulnerable recipients to choose what they buy — whether insulation for windows, firewood, blankets or boots — often without showing proof of purchase. “We especially target the vulnerable,” says Petro Matiaszek, an American who advises Caritas Ukraine on emergency responses. “That includes people with chronic illness, age, multiple children, those living with disabilities and low income.” The Caritas program meets a crucial need. Many who fled before the onset of winter often took little money and few belongings, believing the war between the Ukrainian government and Russianbacked separatist forces would not last long. The Stulova sisters brought only a bag of summer clothes with them. About 25 miles to the north in Izyum, Yelena and Oleksandr Zavizin of Horlivka took their young daughter and son, along with some money and clothing on 27 June, when they got on a volunteer-operated bus headed for the Kharkiv region. Ukrainian forces were on the offensive then, winning back territory that separatists had taken

in April 2014, when armed uprisings spread throughout the nation’s two easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Ukraine had already lost the Crimean peninsula and its 2.7 million residents in March to Russia. Horlivka, a city of 272,000 before the war — now 180,000 — faced shelling, according to the United Nations. “It was the incessant fire that made us leave,” explains Mr. Zavizin. So the couple headed to Izyum — then the Ukrainian military’s eastern headquarters on the front line — where they stayed with their aunt for two months before finding a tiny, 150-square-foot home to rent for $23 on 1 September. Caritas helped the Zavizins pay for rent, and to purchase firewood and an air mattress. “It’s quiet here. I love the surrounding forest,” Mr. Zavizin says. “I can live here; there’s no shelling.” The number of refugees in Izyum has swelled. There were 1,700 displaced families living in the area in June; now there are 20,000, according to an advisor to Caritas, Denis Davidov of Catholic Relief Services. Barbara Manzi, head of the United Nation’s humanitarian affairs office in Ukraine, says many fled with few belongings. “When people see danger coming, they flee. They have no time to organize, to grab what they think is needed. The hope is to return soon.”

T

he United Nations has registered 1.1 million Ukrainians as internally displaced; most of those uprooted from their homes, approximately 700,000, now live in the five easternmost regions of the country: Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Zaporizhia. U.N. sources also cite that the war has claimed more than 6,000 lives since last April, including


“The level of trauma is immense ‌ [yet] there still is kindness, love and solidarity.â€?

A Caritas volunteer interviews Anastasiya Stulova in the city of Sviatogorsk.


Caritas staff members visit families affected by conflict in eastern Ukraine.

63 children. An estimated 2.2 million people still live in conflictaffected areas, where they face indiscriminate shelling and limited access to basic services. “Five million people across the country are now in need of humanitarian assistance,” said John Ging, OCHA operations director, to the U.N. Security Council on 6 March. “Approximately 1.4 million people have no access to health care. Those remaining in conflictaffected areas, particularly in densely populated urban areas, face ongoing security threats due to military activities. Lives have been lost, basic life-saving services have been disrupted, access to banking and cash services are limited, food and non-food items are increasingly scarce and expensive, and there’s been an upsurge in lawlessness across the country.” In November, the Ukrainian government in Kiev exacerbated the situation for the displaced by

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cutting pension payments and halting banking operations in the occupied east. The controversial move, defended by the government as a way to prevent money from falling into the hands of the rebels, irritated the separatist authorities. Some agencies, including the United Nations, have called on the government to resume financial disbursements. “It’s a major crisis. People lack the means to survive in the nongovernment controlled area,” says Barbara Manzi. “Trust is difficult between Kiev and the regional governments and population in general.” The government continues supplying electricity and gas to separatist areas. Still, with its economy teetering, Ukraine cannot address the needs of its refugees alone. That is where aid groups, such as Caritas, the Red Cross, the Knights of Columbus and organizations of the United Nations, have stepped in to provide immediate relief, including shelter, access to food and basic medicine, and counseling to deal with physical and psychological trauma. The latter’s effect cannot be underestimated, explains Ms. Manzi, drawing upon 16 years of experience in conflict zones, including service missions in Baghdad. “The level of trauma is immense,” she says. “Because of the violence, step by step, penny by penny, everything is gone. I’ve seen elderly people whose eyes are lost; they look empty with no more energy.” Nevertheless, she marvels at their resilience. “There still is kindness, love and solidarity.” One such person is Lidia Usypenko, a 67-year-old pensioner from Donetsk — a refugee trying to adapt to life in Slovyansk. When asked what is most difficult for her, she says bluntly: “Daily life. Everything here, in the apartment, is alien to me. I can’t touch the


Open your heart to help the victims of war in Ukraine www.cnewa.org

silverware, flatware, dishes, even drink out of the coffee cup.” Caritas provided her with support for the chemotherapy that treats her breast cancer. A former chief of personnel at a Donetsk coalmine, she has lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her 27-year-old daughter since October. Mrs. Usypenko sleeps on a fold out couch with no mattress covers and complains about water constantly leaking in the pipes of the kitchen and bathroom. “I sleep like a bum,” she says. She has had to flee twice. The first time was 21 July, when shrapnel struck her windows in Donetsk. “The constant stress, I couldn’t take it,” she explains. She took flight again in August from the Azov Sea coastal town of Novoazovsk, when pro-Russian forces took the city in a counteroffensive. “We lived normally. Why did this start, what caused the war?” she asks rhetorically. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s pointless, mindless and inhumane — it is a crime against God for brother to shoot brother.” At the Caritas office in Kiev, help from the Knights of Columbus comes in the form of $25,000 to provide foods with long shelf lives to refugees. Only two weeks into the project, more than 800 people, or 200-300 families, have received

assistance, according to financial secretary Serhiy Zahlotsky. More than 80,000 displaced people moved to the Kiev region, according to United Nations data. Iryna Pukhnyak, youth outreach manager for Caritas in Kiev, said that visitors are welcome to other services, which include free laundry facilities, psychological and spiritual assistance, clothing delivered from Germany and elsewhere, hygienic and sanitary products, and a soup kitchen that can feed 100 people. At the parish level, the church helps refugees find places to live through parishioners wishing to take in roommates or residents, says the Rev. Oleh Panchynyak, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s information department. Volunteers help the elderly, arrange for donations of medicine, wheelchairs — “whatever they need,” the priest says. Father Panchynyak says that with the influx of internally displaced people, the value of psychological counseling is abundantly clear. “We clergymen have received renewed training on how to speak to displaced people, what topics to avoid, and which topics to cover, but unfortunately people don’t yet see the value of speaking to psychologists or to priests who can

act in that role,” says Father Panchynyak, explaining that psychology in the Soviet era was politically abused to imprison dissidents and other enemies of the state. In Dnipropetrovsk, where the United Nations says there are more than 70,000 displaced people, the Rev. Vasyl Panteliuk, Donetsk Caritas chief, says that the war is testing humanity. “It tests who you are. It tests you as a person, as a Christian — those who were bad, became worse, those who were good, became better,” he says. “Political views don’t matter, what matters is how we, step-by-step, improve the nation.” 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 places.

READ MORE ABOUT UKRAINE’S CASUALTIES OF WAR ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

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from our world

Father Mikael Khachkalian A champion for minorities by Molly Corso

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linging to the cliffs of the Caucasus Mountains, the ancient city of Tbilisi serves as the cultural and political capital of Georgia, a transcontinental country that lies between Asia and Europe. Historically a buffer state between the Christian and Muslim worlds, Georgia is rich in diversity — culturally, ethnically and linguistically. Armenians, whose own ancient state borders Georgia to the south, have lived there for centuries, helping to fashion Tbilisi into a major cultural and intellectual hub since the 18th century. The Rev. Mikael Khachkalian is one of five Catholic Armenian priests in Georgia, which has perhaps as many as 20,000 Armenian Catholics scattered in the capital and in the rural south. Father Khachkalian ministers to his people by both preaching the faith and preserving a culture. From celebrating the liturgy every

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morning in Armenian to Saturday language lessons with the youth, he is a full-time advocate for Armenian identity in Georgia. After daily liturgies in the Armenian Catholic Center near downtown Tbilisi, the faithful explore the language of the liturgy as much as its meaning, sounding out unfamiliar Armenian words and practicing the proper pronunciation with the young priest and an assistant. For Father Khachkalian, learning the language is paramount to understanding the faith, preserving the community’s Armenian Catholic identity and encouraging its growth for the future. But these evangelical efforts are facing stiff headwinds in a country experiencing a revival in Georgian nationalism and Georgian Orthodox Christianity. Catholic Armenians have had a turbulent existence in Georgia: Most originally arrived after fleeing

Ottoman Turkey to escape the massacres that killed some 1.5 million Armenians and AssyroChaldean Christians during the World War I era. Significant numbers of Catholic Armenians resettled in villages in Samtskhe-Javakheti, a rugged southern region of Georgia that borders Armenia and Turkey where earlier waves of Armenian exiles found refuge. Eventually, many migrated to Tbilisi, long an important Armenian center, lured by the many opportunities offered there rather than the hard scrubland farming life in the villages. During the Soviet period, especially Stalin’s Great Purge in the late 1930’s, the Communist authorities executed Georgia’s Armenian Catholic priests, leaving the faithful without the sacraments for more than 60 years. A full-time priest did not return to Tbilisi until 2002. Every day, Father Khachkalian — the second Armenian Catholic priest assigned to the capital — sees the impact of the purge on his community. In the absence of a priest from their own tradition, Armenian Catholics have often sought out Catholic priests from the Latin Church, which did not experience the same level of persecution by the Communist authorities. Many Catholic Armenians in Tbilisi have since been Latinized, a “sad blow,” he says, to the Catholic Armenian community. Although the faith is the same, and the rites and liturgy maintain similarities, the culture and traditions underscore major differences and threaten to sever ties to the Armenian Catholic Church, which the priest believes is tantamount to losing ties with one’s ancestors. Today, however, Father Khachkalian is working hard to return Armenian Catholics to their ancestral faith.


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orn in Tbilisi, Father Khachkalian is no stranger to the challenges that burden Georgia’s minorities. About 8 percent of the Georgian population is ethnically Armenian — the largest minority group in Georgia — but Catholic Armenians are a minority within a minority. In the last census, taken in 2002, nearly the entire Armenian population in Georgia identified with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the preeminent church of the worldwide Armenian community. While there are no hard numbers, Father Khachkalian believes that 90 percent of self-identified Latin Catholics in Tbilisi are Catholic Armenians. Despite their numbers, however, there is no official Armenian Catholic church in Tbilisi — or anywhere in Georgia outside of the small village parishes in Samtskhe-Javakheti. In a recent report, the priest outlined the need for a separate Armenian Catholic church in Tbilisi. “The Armenian Catholic community in Tbilisi is going through difficult times,” he writes. “It’s divided and weakened.” He highlights that the parish center needs “major repairs” and is not big enough for the entire community to meet at one time and celebrate their faith. “It is also a problem for us to build a church. We have not seriously tried yet, but I think we will have problems,” he adds. While Georgian law nominally does not prohibit Armenian Catholics — or any other faith — from building a church, in reality, it is very controversial. “Discrimination — if you start to do something, then you feel it.” While Georgians pride themselves for their tolerance of religious and ethnic minorities, discrimination, Father Khachkalian says, remains a part of daily life — firstly due to

ethnicity, then, as a distant second, due to faith. “We have more problems due to the fact that we are Armenian, not that we are Catholic,” Father Khachkalian says. “You hear some insulting comments on the street,” he adds, noting if the Georgian media mentions Armenians, it is often in a negative light, or in relation to the Armenian separatist movement in the south of the country. Without a proper church to anchor his congregation, Father Khachkalian has carefully nurtured a revival of Armenian Catholicism and the Armenian language in

He ministers to his people both by preaching the faith and preserving the culture. parish house in Avlabari, a traditionally Armenian neighborhood in the historic district of Old Tbilisi, on the bank of the Kura River. From morning until night, Father Khachkalian witnesses to the faith and culture that make Armenian Catholics a unique part of the universal Catholic faith. During the week, that means morning liturgy in Armenian, followed by a meeting with the parishioners to discuss questions of language and ritual. On Friday evenings there is a special catechism for adults — a chance for those of older generations, who lived under Soviet state-sponsored atheism, to reconnect with their ancient roots.

On the weekends, Father Khachkalian celebrates the eucharistic liturgy, known as the Badarak in Armenian. The star of his mission, however, is the Saturday school for the youth — an inspired undertaking that seeks to energize young Armenian Georgians to learn and embrace their culture and faith. Armenian language lessons, catechism, choir, music and art — even a nascent English language study program — are available for the 100 or so Armenian youth who flock to the center.

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n the Armenian Catholic Center, it is a typical Saturday scene: Following a robust service in Armenian, Father Khachkalian helps a group of teenagers wrestle Armenian verbs into submission in the kitchen, using a whiteboard propped up between the stove and the table. Meanwhile, his assistant leads art classes and Armenian dance practice in the center’s basement. Though CNEWA provides programmatic funding for the program, resources are limited — the center is largely a labor of love for the priest and his flock. With assistance from CNEWA’s partner, Caritas Georgia, the center was able to install a heating system so the children could also attend classes in the winter, and purchase musical instruments and other supplies for the arts program. The tiny center — which houses a one-room chapel as well as Father Khachkalian’s office — is ill-equipped to serve all the community’s needs. Nevertheless, the young generation is active and engaged. As they study the Catholic faith and the Armenian language, Father Khachkalian has his eyes on higher peaks, still — including technical training in marketable skills to provide the young students, many of whom hail from poor families, a chance at a brighter future.

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focus

on the world of CNEWA

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ebanon is a tiny country, one of the smallest in the world — in fact, the entire country is roughly the size of my home diocese of Pittsburgh. But don’t let the geographic size fool you: Lebanon has a huge heart. During the past four years, Lebanon has opened her borders to almost one and a half million refugees from Syria, victims of a war that seems to have no end. But this by no means marks the beginning of Lebanon’s role in welcoming displaced peoples. Many years earlier she welcomed huge numbers of Palestinians, Armenians, Iraqis, Egyptians and others. There are two pieces to this story that need to be highlighted. One is that the economy of Lebanon has chronically been challenged or

strained with lack of infrastructure — electricity, fuel, industrial development, etc. — even as she has welcomed “foreigners” to find peace and comfort within her borders. The other, perhaps more striking reality is that Lebanon has reflected so beautifully the mandate of Christ to love our neighbors, even our enemies, as God loves us. Consider that Syria was for many years an invader in Lebanon, with thousands of Syrian soldiers patrolling and controlling the society there. Now, in the midst of an ugly war in Syria, the Lebanese are humbly asked, especially by church leaders, to reach down into their hearts and offer sanctuary, respite, safety, health care, schooling and jobs to thousands

and thousands of former occupiers, Syrian refugees. Some Lebanese have shared with me how they recognize refugees now sheltered in Lebanon as former occupiers, some of whom even mistreated or persecuted the local people. An additional part of this heroic display of Christian fraternity and solidarity with the displaced poor, Christian and non-Christian alike, is that the indigenous poor of Lebanon have become poorer and have even themselves been marginalized with the influx of so many refugees. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the church and the people of Lebanon for their example of serving our poor brothers and sisters, even our “enemies.”


CNEWA expresses our thanks and our gratitude to the Lebanese by offering accompaniment and support to the church, in the form of many programs that directly reach out to refugees, to people displaced, people in transit and to the local poor. We pray for peace in the area, for prosperity and that Christians will now and forever bring the face of Jesus to all, even those who have mistreated us. May God continue to bless you as a member of the CNEWA family and as members of the extended family of the Lebanese faithful. Msgr. John E. Kozar p Mother Jeanette Abou Abdullah comforts one of the hundreds receiving care in the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross’ hospital in Deir el Kamar. t Sister Micheline Lattouff and CNEWA Regional Director Michel Constantin, left, meet with Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley. q Children socialize outside the Good Shepherd Sisters’ school in Deir el Ahmar.

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Profile for ONE Magazine

ONE Magazine Spring 2015  

The official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)

ONE Magazine Spring 2015  

The official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)

Profile for cnewa