ONE Magazine Winter 2013

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Winter 2013

God • World • Human Family • Church

The Enduring Legacy of St. Thomas How Egypt’s Copts Cope with Turmoil Syrian Armenians Find a Refuge Meet a Sister Caring for Orphans

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2,000 Years and Counting The enduring faith of Thomas Christians in India by Jose Kavi with photographs by Jose Jacob



A Refuge in Lebanon Syrian Armenians seek a new life by Don Duncan with photographs by Dalia Khamissy


The Greek Tragedy Greece confronts a looming humanitarian crisis text and photographs by Don Duncan


Seeds of Survival Coptic farmers under assault by Sarah Topol with photographs by David Degner


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Connections to CNEWA’s world Issues The Fundamental Agreement interview with David-Maria A. Jaeger, O.F.M., J.C.D.


People from our world by Don Duncan


Focus on the world of CNEWA by John E. Kozar

t Atef, an Egyptian Christian farmer, tends to his field near Minya.



Volume 39 NUMBER 4



Help CNEWA to help the smallest among us Join us in supporting children in need

38 Front: Women praying in church after the liturgy in Palayur, India. Back: A priest anoints a child at a baptism in Palayur. Photo Credits Cover, pages 3 (upper left), 30-35, back cover, Jose Jacob; page 2, 24-25, 27-29, David Degner; pages 3 (upper right), 16, 19-21, Donald Duncan; pages 3 (lower right), 23 (upper left and right), Sean Sprague; page 3 (lower left), page 39 (lower left), Thomas Varghese; pages 4, 38-39, John E. Kozar; page 5 (lower left), CNEWA Ethiopia; (upper right), Church of the Ascension; pages 6-9, 11, Dalia Khamissy; pages 10-11, 13, Karen Lagerquist; page 22, Ilene Perlman; page 23 (center), Elio Ciol/Corbis; pages 36-37, Petterik Wiggers. ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar

22 Editorial Staff Paul Grillo Annie Grunow Deacon Greg Kandra Michael J.L. La Civita Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. J.D. Conor Mauro 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 Š2013 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

In Canada, call 1-866-322-4441 or visit In the United States, call 1-800-442-6392 or visit


to CNEWA’s world

New Regional Director for Lebanon In November, CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar named Michel Constantin as the agency’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. He succeeds Issam Bishara, who served the agency with distinction for more than 25 years. Mr. Constantin is no stranger to CNEWA, having worked closely with Mr. Bishara for more than two decades in developing and implementing programs and projects to resettle families displaced by the Lebanese civil war, rush emergency relief to victims of war, and renovate or rehabilitate the many initiatives of the churches in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. The CNEWA family wishes Issam Bishara its profound gratitude for all his efforts on behalf of the churches in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt and with excitement welcomes Michel Constantin in his new capacity as regional director.

Youth Program Completed CNEWA’s team in Jerusalem has completed a three-year program to help youth in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Launched in partnership with several agencies — including Germany’s Misereor and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The program provided 20 local organizations training in strategic planning, management, budgeting and proposal writing that supported more than 7,500 Palestinian young people, most of them from middleto low-income households. Among other things, the program supported sports initiatives for girls, raised environmental awareness, introduced new child-friendly activities in schools and celebrated Palestinian cultural heritage. Indian Seminary Updated Thanks to generous gifts from CNEWA donors, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Jeevalaya Seminary in



Bangalore, India, has received a new biogas generator. Some 85 seminarians and 15 staff members will benefit. Cooking gas in India is expensive and difficult to obtain. The installation of this new plant on the campus will provide a low-cost and efficient source of cooking fuel for the seminary community. Church in Ukraine Renovated A CNEWA grant has helped to complete work on a parish church for Greek Catholics in the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine. “The parish community of the Lord’s Transfiguration in Chop sincerely renders thanks to CNEWA,” wrote the parish administrator, the Rev. Attila Sabo. Funds were used to install insulation and paint the church’s façade. Father Sabo expressed his personal appreciation, “asking God’s blessings, good health and much success in your meritorious work,”

and offered prayers to all the agency’s benefactors. Gaza Update Over the past several months, CNEWA’s team in Jerusalem has been providing emergency relief in Gaza as a result of the strife between Hamas and the State of Israel in November 2012, which forced tens of thousands of Gazans to flee their homes. Assistance from CNEWA donors and partners — including Manos Unidas, Misereor, the Archdiocese of Cologne, Kinderhilfe Bethlehem, Kindermissionswerk and some anonymous benefactors — made available medical support, emergency home repair and therapy for both children and parents. You can read a fuller account of the aid offered at our website: W W W.CNE WABL O G . O R G / WEB/GAZADEC2013

OUR WEBSITE OUR BLOG Journey to the Caucasus In November, CNEWA’s Chief Communications Officer Michael La Civita, and Program Director Thomas Varghese, visited Georgia and Armenia to assess the needs of the people and determine how CNEWA can assist. The two met with religious and lay leaders in both countries, and also visited projects already supported by CNEWA donors — including the Center for Disability and Inclusion in Gyumri, Armenia, which CNEWA is helping to construct in partnership with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. You can read more about this memorable “Journey to the Southern Caucasus” and see more pictures at our blog at: WWW. C N E WA B L O G . O R G / W E B / JOURNEY. You can also hear more with Michael La Civita a nd Thomas Varghese at ONEMAGAZINE.ORG/WEB/ VISIT Ethiopian School Upgraded With support from Germany’s Kindermissionswerk, CNEWA is launching a project to upgrade Debre Selam Mariam Catholic School in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. The project will enable students to better prepare for higher education. This Catholic school

has remained for its mostly Orthodox students a model of academic excellence for more than 50 years. The project marks the third school CNEWA has helped to upgrade in northern Ethiopia. CNEWA’s regional director in Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, wrote recently: “How happy are parents and children to enjoy continuing education in the same school as children grow and mature. It is the unrelenting support of the CNEWA family that keeps hopes of needy children alive.” Kansas Supports Middle East In early December, Norma Intriago, who coordinates CNEWA’s fundraising efforts in the United States, visited the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Kansas. Ms. Intriago spoke at two Masses, explaining how the parish is helping Christians in the Middle East through CNEWA.

For five years, the parish’s International Mission Ministry has supported generously the Mother of Mercy Clinic in the Jordanian city of Zerqa and the Pontifical Mission Library in the capital of Amman. Last year, it also helped rush relief to Christian refugees from Syria. Msgr. Thomas Tank, pastor, explained that the parish strives not only to respond to community needs in Kansas, but also to love the parish’s neighbors in the Middle East. To find out how your parish can be a part of our CNEWA family, call us at: 1.800.442.6392 (United States) 1.866.322.4441 (Canada)

Only on the Web


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There’s more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • CNEWA helps to renovate a playground in Bethlehem • E xclusive video: CNEWA’s Elias D. Mallon discusses the Fundamental Agreement with Israel • H ear impressions from our staff of a recent visit to Armenia and Georgia and read a complete account of “A Journey to the Southern Caucasus” • Full report on the Gaza Emergency Appeal • Read an update on CNEWA’s response to the Syria crisis.





A Refuge in Lebanon Syrian Armenians seek refuge in neighboring Lebanon by Don Duncan Editorial note: To protect the safety of the refugees, who are concerned about reprisals or attacks on family members remaining in Syria, ONE has changed the names of those profiled in this report.




fter only a few months in the village of Anjar, 73-yearold Antranig Chakerian decided the blank exterior walls of his new home should be his canvas. He began to draw. The pictures, however, do not depict scenes of Aleppo, the northern Syrian city where he was born and from where he recently fled with his wife, his son, his daughter-in-law and his grandson. Instead, the walls sport icons, images and poems dedicated to his ancestral homeland, historic Armenia, parts of which now lie in eastern Turkey. There are drawings of Armenian churches with five paths leading to them, symbolizing Armenian exile. There is also a sketch of Mount Ararat, highly symbolic to Armenians, which looms above Armenia behind its western border with Turkey. And Mr. Chakerian has drawn an image of an obelisk-style monument that

commemorates what many refer to as the Armenian Genocide: the death of more than 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey between 1915 and 1918. Between the various drawings are blocks of handwritten text. “These are nationalistic poems — patriotic poems,” explains Mr. Chakerian, who arrived in Anjar in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in September 2012. “These are poems about the great martyrs.” For all Armenians, the period between 1915 and 1918 constitutes the ultimate exile. It was a catastrophic uprooting that defines and binds them together tightly, even as they remain scattered across the globe. For Syrian Armenians, their flight from their Syrian refuge for neighboring Lebanon is a sad reverberation of their original catastrophe. “We were confronted with bombs and rockets day and night for a long time,” says Mr. Chakerian of

p Syrian Armenian Antranig Chakerian shows a key chain he made, decorated with Armenia-inspired images. z Mr. Chakerian transformed the walls of his house into a canvas.



life in Aleppo since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in March 2011. “We wanted to save our souls.” And so, he and his family fled to Damascus and then took a public taxi across the border to Anjar. A peaceful, pretty town, Anjar is itself a product of Armenian displacement. It was founded to house Armenians who left the Syrian region of Hatay when Turkey annexed it in 1939. The town’s population is normally around 2,500, but the recent influx of refugees from the war in Syria has doubled that number. “That puts big pressure on the municipality,” says Nazareth Andakian, a municipal lawyer in Anjar. “We don’t have any more empty houses; all are full. On top of that, because there is currently no government in Lebanon, public funds are not being released to us from Beirut, so the village is going into debt to manage the situation.” This dilemma is playing out all across Lebanon, in both Armenian and non-Armenian domains. This small country of just four million people has had to bear the brunt of



the Syrian displacement crisis; to date more than a million Syrian refugees have fled to the country, according to the United Nations. And the flow shows no signs of stopping.


efore the war, there were between 100,000 and 150,000 Armenians in Syria. Of this population, some 20,000 have already fled to Lebanon, while others have fled north, to Armenia, or to Jordan in the south. “We have been helping them by providing shelter, places in our private schools, food and in some cases jobs,” says Catholicos Aram I, who leads the Armenian Apostolic Catholicosate of Cilicia from the Beirut suburb of Antelias. “But it is our expectation that Armenian families will go back to Syria, because we are against the migration of Christians from the region.” A chain of conflicts in recent history — the invasion of Iraq, the Egyptian revolution and now civil war in Syria — has put the standing of Christians, a minority in the Middle East, on unsteady

ground. Absent any security, some Christian communities have been targeted by extremists and criminal groups, forcing many to flee. Lebanon, the state with the largest proportion of Christians in the Middle East, is often the first stop for these Christian refugees before they seek a permanent refuge, usually in Europe, North America or Oceania. “We have to stay where we are,” says the catholicos, who is responsible for Armenian Apostolic communities throughout the Middle East, Greece and North America. “We belong to this region. We’re not newcomers. Our history, our presence is deeply rooted in this region.” However, this position is most likely not a priority for many of the Syrian Armenians having to make do in the resource-stretched and often cramped urban environments in Lebanon — most Armenians in Lebanon live in Anjar and in the eastern Beirut suburbs of Bourj Hammoud and Antelias. Similar to other ethnic and religious communities fleeing Syria, Syrian Armenians tend to flee to areas

“WE WERE HAVING BOMBS AND ROCKETS DAY AND NIGHT… WE WANTED TO SAVE OUR SOULS.” where their ethnic brethren, Lebanese Armenians, are concentrated. But unlike other groups, Lebanese Armenians are tightly knit due to their prior status as exiles. Bourj Hammoud, a densely populated Armenian enclave, has seen its capacity stretched to bursting since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011. “There have been many problems, but we manage,” says Sarkis Joukhjoukhian, a Lebanese Armenian who sells thyme-covered bread snacks called manoushe from his small store in the heart of Bourj Hammoud. “We help them whether they are family or not, because when we

had war here in Lebanon we often left to Syria, and they helped us then.” Plagued as they are by exile and upheaval, the Armenians’ shared experience of violence and displacement makes for a less precarious displacement today. “There is a very strong relationship between the Syrian Armenians and the Lebanese Armenians,” says Serop Ohanian, Lebanon field director at the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Cooperation, an Armenian organization for child welfare. “It’s normal for us in a crisis to say: ‘Let’s go live with our relatives in Beirut and if they don’t have an apartment, they will know someone

through the church who will. We will manage somehow.’ ” Helping them manage is a host of organizations, including CNEWA, church aid groups such as Caritas as well as international agencies and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The Karagheusian Center has had to extend its operating hours by four hours per day, take on four new staffers and reduce the summer holiday from one month to two weeks to meet the demand for its services. “In February, we were catering to 400 Syrian families,” says Mr. Ohanian, adding that the center offers its services to all the needy, regardless of nationality, ethnicity



The CNEWAConnection

Since the war in Syria began nearly three years ago, millions of Syrians have been separated from their homes, their communities and the lives they had once known. Through the courage and resourcefulness of its contacts on the ground — bishops, priests, sisters, parish networks and other community leaders — CNEWA has been providing aid to those who have been displaced and those hunkered down in their basements. Our donors have enabled us to provide vital assistance in the form of food, clothing, fuel, winter supply kits and more — including school supplies, enabling the Good Shepherd sisters, Jesuits and Paulists, for example, to teach children despite the destruction of their schools. To lend your support to families displaced by the war in Syria,

call: 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).

or creed. “By July, that number had grown to 1,000, about 500 of which are Syrian Armenian.” With funding from CNEWA, the Karagheusian Center started a project that helps 400 Syrian Armenian families through a specially created team of four social workers — two Syrians and two Lebanese Armenians. They conduct home visits to assess the needs of each family, offer remedial tutorial classes to Syrians struggling with a Lebanese educational system that is quite different from that of Syria,



run a summer school during July and August to enable students to catch up on work and run health education classes for Syrian Armenian mothers. Tamar Yeranossian, 26, a native of Aleppo who fled to Lebanon last year, is one of the four members of this team dedicated to the Syrian Armenian refugees. “I feel their feelings,” she says of the refugees she regularly counsels. “When someone is crying in front of me, I feel I am crying.” Ms. Yeranossian lives in a tworoom apartment in Bourj Hammoud with eight members of her extended family, including her brother, Hagop, 14. Her older sister, Zvart, 28, lives a few streets away with her husband. Their parents remain in besieged Aleppo, minding the house and unable to leave. For now, all they can do is make regular phone calls to their three children in Beirut. “When I am talking to her, she doesn’t tell me what is happening because we would be worried for them or sad, so she only tells me: ‘Ok, we are fine; what about you? What are you doing?’” says Ms. Yeranossian of her mother’s phone calls. “She doesn’t tell me that she is in danger or struggling to find food … she knows we are also facing difficulty here. “We are not what we used to be.” Again and again, as with those interviewed for “Crossing the Border,” a story that ran in the spring 2013 edition of ONE, Syrian refugees describe the change they have gone through as irrevocable and profound. Tamar Yeranossian says she hears the same from the people she counsels and that, as time goes on, she feels the same herself. “I have lost my feelings. I have lost my happiness, my joy, my life. Even when I talk to my mother, sometimes I do not know what I am feeling about her anymore,”

she says. “Everything has changed. I will never forget this street I now live on, these chairs in this room we all sleep in, this washing machine that is not working anymore. One day, when I am again in a good situation, I will be more aware of what I have because, once, I lost it all.” In contrast to her life in Aleppo, home is no longer a place Ms. Yeranossian can go to unwind. In Bourj Hammoud, she hears the same problems she does at work. Walking around the streets of the neighborhood, sipping a coffee, window shopping and visiting her sister at her house have become her only outlets. Weaving through the teeming streets of the neighborhood sorting through the sale rack at her favorite clothes store, she seems like any other young Lebanese woman. She, too, likes to banter and joke with friends, and wear fun, trendy clothes. But, she says, such simple pleasures are no longer so simple. “I have begun to look at things in a different way,” she says. “When I am buying clothes and food, I think: ‘What if there are people who can’t do this? Should I do this? Should I eat this? Should I have fun?’ ” Indeed, there are many who are worse off. Syrian Armenians, generally speaking, are middle class and tend to work in trade and precious metals. When they fled Syria, they did so with enough capital to avoid the refugee camps or homeless existence of many of their nonArmenian compatriots. But regardless of their background, the sheer scale of burden the Syrian refugee crisis has placed on Lebanon is creating tension. Cheaper Syrian labor is undercutting Lebanese laborers, who are finding themselves out of work; crime and homelessness is on the rise; and rents are inflating

from the increasing demand for housing. “Every day we face problems because of Syrians,” says Lebanese Armenian barber Sarkis Boyodjian, 24, who runs a salon in Bourj Hammoud. “Electricity is stretched thin, and then they steal the electricity from other families.” He turns to a client sitting in the barber chair, putting a finishing touch to the man’s cut. The client, a non-Armenian Lebanese man who refuses to be named, chimes in. “They ruled over us for 30 years,” he says, referring to the Syrian presence in Lebanon that began during the 1975-1990 civil war and continued until 2005, an occupation that is still a bitter recent memory for many Lebanese people. “Now they are back, taking our jobs and taking our lives for the second time.” While this is by no means the prevailing opinion in Lebanon, it is one that is emerging and gaining ground as the conflict wears on and as space, resources and patience grow scarcer. “Hospitality is not a mere word, it is integral to our Christian faith and vocation,” says Catholicos Aram I. “But hospitality should have limits. If this situation becomes a permanent reality, then we have a problem. Lebanon is a small country with very limited resources. I don’t think that Lebanon will be able to cope with the situation. It cannot.” As time passes, many of the Syrian refugees are beginning to let go of their dream to return home. Some are considering resettlement to a new, third country. “We will be divided one day, I am sure of it,” says Tamar Yeranossian, looking around at her exiled family, gathered in their sitting room in Bourj Hammoud.

When others have left CNEWA is there Help refugees in Lebanon build new lives

“We are used to living together as one family, but things will not continue as they are now.” Back in Anjar, Antranig Chakerian cannot bring himself to think of yet another displacement, even if it is to a more secure country. He speaks fondly of his former home in Aleppo and he gazes at the hieroglyphs of his imagined historical Armenia, etched on the wall of his Lebanese refuge. Sitting next to his wife in plastic chairs in the yard, he reads one of his poems off the wall. It is a poem he has written to Mount Ararat, but one that seems to reflect his home in Syria. In front of my eyes, you are standing sad, You are a big pang in my heart, Why did the human savage take you from us? They stole you from us, Ararat.

Don Duncan has covered the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and Agence France Presse. TO READ AN UPDATE ON CNEWA'S RESPONSE TO THE SYRIA CRISIS: syriacrisis2013 DON DUNCAN HAS MORE ON SYRIAN ARMENIANS IN LEBANON ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:

 __ __ __ __ __ Armenians AND YOU CAN WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT A RECENT VISIT TO ARMENIA AT: web/visit





concerning CNEWA


an interview with David-Maria A. Jaeger, O.F.M., J.C.D. p Dozens witness the historic signing of the Fundamental Agreement. u The Holy See’s Msgr. Claudio Celli, then deputy foreign minister, and his counterpart, Israel’s Yossi Beilin, sign the agreement.



Editors’ note: December 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark “Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel.” This historic agreement spelled out a new way for the Catholic Church to maintain its relationship with a state in a region where it was protected historically by a monarch or despot, but not given legal personality or identity — now a pressing issue in the post-Arab Spring nations of the Middle East. To help put this agreement in context and perspective, CNEWA’s officer for external affairs, Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., reached out to Msgr. David-Maria A. Jaeger, O.F.M., prelate auditor of the Roman Rota. For two decades, Msgr. Jaeger was the legal adviser of the delegation of the Holy See to the negotiations with the State of Israel. In spring 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him a justice of the Rota, the highest court of the Holy See. Msgr. Jaeger agreed to answer a number of questions sent via email, but made clear he was answering “in a purely personal capacity.”


sgr. Jaeger, we are observing the 20th anniversary of the “Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel.” Could you explain what this is, and what role you played in bringing this about? It could best be seen as the pioneering application of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s new vision for the church in the Middle East. The pope expounded this vision publicly in his address to the participants in

an academic conference on Roman and Canon Law on 11 December 1993, shortly before the agreement was signed (30 December). In essence, it envisaged the transformation of the condition of Middle Eastern Christian communities from that of being, as it were, “reservations” set apart under the “protection” of a ruling majority — characteristic of the Ottoman era — to a condition of full and equal citizenship safeguarded by the principles of religious freedom and equality before the law.

Several years later, the same vision inspired the “Basic Agreement” with the Palestine Liberation Organization (15 February 2000), guaranteeing the position of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis the Palestinian polity. Distinctively, both agreements are premised on religious freedom for all, in accordance with international standards. In other words, the undergirding conviction is that there is not much sense in trying to carve out — as often enough the concordats of old needed to do — a




concerning CNEWA

special position for the Catholic Church in an otherwise unfree environment. Now, what role I played in bringing this about is best assessed by others. Essentially though, I helped in translating the vision into concrete strategy, did the drafting of our delegation’s positions and proposals and negotiated for it vis-à-vis my counterpart on the State of Israel’s delegation, the late Judge Tzvi Terlo, all at the direction of then Archbishop (now cardinal) Andrea di Montezemolo and in accordance with the instructions given from time to time by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See. Allegedly, too — according to accounts published by others — I maintained additional “back-channel” communications with certain government officials to help overcome obstacles and plan ahead. It was all very demanding: It was just as well that I was much younger then — still in my (late) 30’s — since I was contemporaneously, for most of that time, the vicar judicial in the Diocese of Austin, Texas, and needed to travel frequently between Austin, Rome and Israel (and sometimes Washington and New York, too), by gracious consent of the then-bishop of Austin, John E. McCarthy. Before the signing there was a lot of talk about the Holy See “recognizing Israel.” Is this really accurate? No. With rare exceptions, “recognizing” states or governments is not part of the diplomatic vocabulary of the Holy See. In such matters, the Holy See is simply presumed to follow the principles of international law and the consensus of the international community, so that any state admitted to membership of the United Nations must be presumed



to be recognized by the Holy See as well. Israel was admitted to membership in 1949, so that since then there could be no question about it being recognized by the Holy See, too. What did not come about until 1994 was diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, which is another matter altogether. My feeling is that the Fundamental Agreement is different from the normal exchange of ambassadors between two countries. Am I correct in this, and if so, what is the difference? Quite. The agreement is called “fundamental” because it intended to be the foundation of the whole bilateral relationship, and so also of the “exchange of ambassadors” that took place after its coming into force several months later. On our side, at least, the idea was that the formal relationship, expressed by an “exchange of ambassadors,” would be premised on the substantive relationship created by the agreement and maintained by compliance with it. The agreement itself, like the “exchange of ambassadors” that followed, is not, of course, “between two countries,” but between the Holy See — the sovereign authority of the worldwide Catholic Church — and a state. This category of bilateral treaty, geared to safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the Catholic Church in the territory of the state, is known as a “concordat,” whether it is called that or, as in this case, by another name. What has the “Fundamental Agreement” accomplished in the past 20 years and what are the challenges it faces? Twenty years is not a long time in which to reverse the course of the

previous 13 centuries, in which (with but brief interruptions) a totally different model of churchstate relations had prevailed — especially if one takes into account the ever tumultuous “environment” in which this is to be accomplished. In principle, though, the agreement has given the Catholic Church in Israel a “frame of reference” for her relationship with the state, and a secure legal basis for her to claim and defend her rights and freedoms in relation to the state. It is, as it were, a tool put in the hands of the church leadership for them to put to good use in accordance with their assessment of the challenges and opportunities as they arise from time to time. Moreover, this is, as it states itself, but a “first and fundamental agreement,” which needs to be complemented by a series of further, more detailed, treaties on particular aspects of church-state relations. The first of these, the “Legal Personality Agreement,” was signed on 10 November 1997, and entered into force on 3 February 1999. It is mostly a “technical” treaty consolidating the age-old recognition of the legal personality conferred by canon law on patriarchates, dioceses, the (Franciscan) Custody of the Holy Land, religious institutes and other official bodies of the Catholic Church. Negotiations on the next treaty began on 11 March 1999, and are still underway. This treaty is intended to deal with such diverse subjects as taxation and exemptions there from, and the safeguarding — and, in some cases, recovery — of church property, especially but not only sacred places. Already in 1995 further priority issues were identified, namely: access to ministry by persons in special circumstances, such as prisoners,

service members and hospital patients; entry visas and residence permits for church personnel deployed from elsewhere; and the correct presentation of Christ, Christianity and the church in the education system. All of this is already public knowledge. I was in Jerusalem when the “Fundamental Agreement” was signed. I saw demonstrations led by the Haredim, ultraOrthodox Jews, opposing the agreement. Is this still the case and what might it mean? Nothing really. I was there, too, of course and I — admittedly busy with “the signing” — never noticed. Of course, as in other religions and other countries, so in Israel, too, there are religious fundamentalists whose fear of contamination by “the other” dictates their attitude to everything and everyone. Just think of those in the United States who have occasionally given the very name of “Christian” some rather unpleasant connotations and who appear to be both proportionately more numerous and more influential than Israel’s “ultra-Orthodox” fringe. And, quite frankly, there was not a general consensus in support of signing the agreement within the Catholic community either. Some members of the clergy and laity were quite perplexed. There were those who questioned whether it was the right time to do so, while borders and relations with neighboring nations remained unsettled. And there were those who basically did not trust the State of Israel to keep its part of the deal. Our delegation met with some of them, listened and explained. To be sure, no such “deal” is magically self-executing; it presupposes that church leadership, at all levels, be alert, monitor compliance, call

attention to problems as they emerge, engage the state about them at the appropriate level and invoke proportionate measures to bring about any needed course corrections. H as t he s i g ni ng o f t he “Fundamental Agreement” altered the Holy See’s position on Jerusalem? And how has it i mpac t e d t he Ho ly S e e ’s relationship with Palestine, if at all? It was always understood by both sides that the agreement would not — indeed, could not — alter the Holy See’s position on Jerusalem. The agreement is a bilateral treaty for the benefit of the Catholic Church in Israel, while the question of Jerusalem is of its nature a multilateral matter of concern to the international community as a whole, which can therefore be settled only by the United Nations or with its endorsement. In fact, the Holy See’s position was later stated, with great precision, in the preamble of the 15 February 2000 “Basic Agreement” with the P.L.O., which made it formally its own, too. As to any impact on the relationship with Palestine, the recorded facts show it to have

p Msgr. Claudio Celli and Israel’s Shimon Peres toast the historic agreement.

been very positive indeed, in the sense that the “Fundamental Agreement” was actually followed by the analogous “Basic Agreement” with the P.L.O., and the upgrading of formal relations with that side, too, with a view to further more detailed agreements with Palestine as well. Later, two papal pilgrimages to the Holy Land — Blessed John Paul II in 2000, and Benedict XVI in 2009 — amply demonstrated the Holy See’s determination, and its extraordinary ability, to maintain the friendliest relationship with both nations that call the Holy Land home, even as the two nations are yet to bring about such relations between the two of them.


u web/agreement



The Greek Tragedy As the economic crisis unfolds churches and charities help text and photographs by Don Duncan

Kostas Patitsas sits in his apartment in Athens.




here are times when Maria Nichopoulou, a 39-year-old Greek mother of two, wakes up — still dizzy from sleep — thinking she has died. “I wonder if I have done what I wanted to do for my children, if I have done enough for them while I was alive,” she says, sitting on the sofa of her family’s apartment in the southern Athens neighborhood of Ano Glifada. Since the Greek economic crisis — Europe’s deepest — began in 2008, day-to-day existence has often been a matter of life and death for Mrs. Nichopoulou, her husband Aris, 43, and their children Angie, 9, and Dimitrios, 2. The couple’s fall from grace has been as spectacular as that of Greece itself. In 2010, they were earning a combined income of €200,000 (about $270,000 at current exchange rates) as executives at the same state-owned enterprise. But they both lost their jobs in November 2010, when the government folded the company in a bid to save money. After a year, their unemployment benefits expired and Mrs. Nichopoulou had to enter survival mode, selling their cars, her jewelry and eventually turning to charity. “I have children to take care of, so what can I do? It would be simpler if it was just my husband and me, but with the two children, I have to fight to maintain a quality of life for them,” she says. This fight has led her to discover charities and nongovernmental organizations she never knew existed, such as Praxis, Caritas and Apostoli, as well as soup kitchens, free medical clinics and even a circle of Greek mothers who have organized on Facebook to help one another. “Our church helps us as well, with food and meat for the children,” she says of her local Orthodox parish.

“My husband goes to them and they send him to the supermarket and pay the cost of the food.” Stories such as the Nichopoulous’ can be found all over Greece. There are few people whose lives have not been affected by the cataclysmic depression that still shakes the country. Triggered by the global financial crisis of October 2008, the Greek recession saw Greek government debt downgraded to junk-bond status in April 2010 that created alarm in financial markets. In May 2010 and again in October 2011, Greece received bailouts from the Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) for a combined total of €240 billion (about $324 billion). The conditions of the bailout required Greece to make severe cuts to its public spending and to privatize significant government assets in an effort to reduce its deficit. The implementation of these austerity measures are a key factor in the change in the quality of life now faced by most Greeks. Currently, the economy is shrinking 3.8 percent annually and unemployment is at 26.8 percent — and as high as 65 percent among those between 15 and 24 years of age. To meet the bailout conditions, the government has cut its safety net programs and services. As the years of crisis roll on, more people are falling into poverty. “What people should understand,” says Kostis Dimtsas, head of Apostoli (“mission”), the charity arm of the Orthodox Church of Greece, “is that this country is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis.”


ith its annual budget of €120 million (about $168 million), Apostoli is the largest church-related charity attempting to fill the void left by the shrinking presence of the Greek

state. Together with a host of other church-related charities, such as the charity of the Catholic Church in Greece, Caritas, and the Missionaries of Charity, as well as secular organizations, it forms an informal complex of welfare services trying to pick up the pieces — from health care to housing, food and employment. When Apostoli began its food drives in 2010, it was distributing some 1,500 servings of food every day in its soup kitchens in Athens alone. Today, that number has increased to 10,000 per day, and it continues to grow. Apostoli also distributes 8,500 large, 30-pound food packages to households across the city each month. Some 45 percent of the distributed food comes from donations by shops and individuals. The rest is bought by the charity at a current annual cost of €6 million (about $8.1 million). Kostas Patitsas, 59, who lives in the working-class Athens neighborhood of Kipseli, regularly takes advantage of his local parish’s food aid. Mr. Patitsas’s case is a classic example of Greek recession misfortune: In February 2012, his position was made redundant before he reached retirement age. Now he finds himself without a pension in an anemic job market that has become increasingly discriminatory against mature applicants as the recession deepens. He depends on his brother and other family members to pay the property tax on his small apartment and his electricity bills. He needs about $135 a month for cigarettes and tea. For food, he lives on the fare from his local parish, Hagia Zoni Church. “I am quite optimistic by nature,” he says in the yard of the church as he lines up for food. “And I believe growth will return in 2014.” All the people lined up around him burst



The CNEWAConnection

CNEWA’s connection to Greece

runs deep, back to the very roots of the association.

In 1924, a charitable

organization known as the

Catholic Near East Welfare

Association was founded with the intention of raising funds for the

humanitarian activities of Greek

Catholic Bishop George Calavassy. Two years later, what we now know as CNEWA was born.

Much of CNEWA’s earliest work

focused on activities in Greece and the Balkans. This later

expanded to include other areas in need — most notably the

Middle East, where the plight of Palestinian refugees in the late

1940’s was of special concern to Pope Pius XII.

For more on CNEWA’s history, and to learn how you can

contribute to our mission, visit our web site ( or call 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).

into laughter. He is quoting the much-maligned Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who uses this phrase as a boilerplate response to any interrogation regarding the future. It becomes clear that for Kostas Patitsas, and for many others, humor is a coping mechanism.



Some 300 people have come to the soup kitchen at Hagia Zoni. They joke and laugh, but it is a heavy, trudging humor. Before long, they have all departed with their food to eat at home alone. Mr. Patitsas eats his food on a small table in a communal garden outside the back door of his groundfloor apartment, which is dark, damp and shabby. Along with humor, he says, his other big coping mechanism is his faith. “I go to church every Sunday,” he says, “and when I feel low and hopeless, it fills my soul.” However, others in Greece go without such bulwarks, and depression is rife, according to medical professionals. The suicide rate has skyrocketed. According to official Greek government figures, incidences of suicide and attempted suicide in Greece have doubled since 2009. Doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners are seeing the medical and psychological consequences of the economic crisis in hospitals, clinics and improvised health service provisions across the country. The privatization and the pressure to reduce the size of the government have led to a radical reduction in social security coverage and the public health care infrastructure. “Health, education, electricity and water are not for sale!” yelled a crowd of protestors as they marched down Vassilisis Sofias Street to the parliament building in Athens on a recent Friday morning. The 500 or so nurses, doctors and paramedics were gathered to protest the closing of seven public hospitals. “My mother and father are workers,” says Nikos Chronbropoulos, 23, a protesting medical student in the crowd. “They have paid a lot of money in taxes all these years, and now they don’t even get a pension. According to the government’s current strategy,

they don’t deserve to have complete health care, regardless of what happens to them.” Along with unemployment, health care is a major issue for more and more Greeks as the financial crisis continues into its fifth year. Today, 1.2 million Greeks have no health insurance coverage. As the extent of a onceexpansive public health care system recedes under austerity measures and cuts, an informal, charity-based network of free clinics and health services has emerged to provide some kind of primary care to needy Greeks. “Because of the crisis, people [fail] to see doctors about their health issues. By the time they come here, they often have very advanced conditions,” says Dr. Grigorious Pesmatzoglou, a physician who volunteers one afte r n o o n a we e k i n a n im p r o v is e d m e d ica l c l i ni c organized by Apostoli and the Me d ical Co u n cil o f A t he ns . The clinic conducts 200-300 consultations per day, working with 270 doctors who volunteer a few hours of their time every week. Beyond Apostoli, church groups, church-led charities, secular groups and collectives of medics offer similar free medical services to Greece’s numerous inhabitants in need. “Four years ago, community clinics like this didn’t exist at all in Greece,” says Mr. Dimtsas of Apostoli, which has opened six other such clinics in Greece since 2010. “All these problems show that there is a crisis that is getting worse.”


aritas, the official charity of the tiny Catholic Church in Greece, has a general aid program similar to Apostoli, though on a smaller scale, with an annual budget of about €200,000 ($270,000) for the Athens area.

Nikos Chronbropoulos and his friends take part in a protest against the closure of seven public hospitals in Athens.

From its social services center in downtown Athens, it helps people in need through its social worker, its soup kitchen and through general assistance locating medical, housing, legal and career services. On a recent weekday morning, dozens of people waited in a line leading up the stairs of the Caritas center, waiting for its soup kitchen to open. Inside, the staff of volunteers was busy preparing the food for the approximately 200 people they feed daily. Once the soup kitchen opens, Malak Sleiman, 42, a refugee who fled the war in her native Syria a month earlier, settles into a table with two of her children — Majed, 5, and Sima, 4. Her other two children, who are older, are still in Syria with her husband, waiting for the right moment to join them. The aspect of



immigration is another core factor of the Greek crisis. Due to its proximity to Asia and Africa, as well as its extensive maritime border, Greece is the gateway of choice for many migrants fleeing to countries in the European Union. Caritas estimates that today Greece, a country of 11 million, has over a half a million undocumented migrants. Whereas most of them have not obtained legal residency, Greece’s migrants can often be found side by side with Greek citizens at clothing depots, soup kitchens and free medical clinics. Most of them, Mrs. Sleiman included, have no intention of staying. She spends her days looking for ways to secure a visa elsewhere. She has contacted the Dutch, Swedish, U.S. and Canadian embassies in Athens to see if any of them will give her family asylum.

Malak Sleiman and her children sit in their small apartment in Athens. They have requested their identities be protected.

So far, her request has not been granted. Until she figures out a means to resettle legally somewhere, she has no choice but to stay put in recession-plagued Greece, in a small basement apartment she rents for about $135 a month. Still, Mrs. Sleiman says, they are much better off in Greece than in the danger and insecurity that reigns now in Syria. The only element of urgency is that Mrs. Sleiman is pregnant. “I am worried because I have no one in Greece and giving birth alone and with two children to take care of as well,” she says. “I need help. I have no money and no insurance, and that scares me.”

As long as she remains physically capable of it, Mrs. Sleiman is scouring the complex of charitable services to see how she can have her baby delivered safely and for free. She has found some leads, but her search continues. Regardless of the outcome of her applications with the embassies, due to the processing times of asylum requests, it is almost certain that Mrs. Sleiman will deliver and begin to rear her baby in Greece.

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hildren also struggle with the recent change in Greece’s fortune. “With the lack of money come other problems, such as parents becoming depressed over their situation. We need to support children and parents psychologically,” says Stergios Sifnios, director of social work and research at S.O.S. Children’s Villages, an international organization that provides social and material care for children and families in need. “A lot of children feel guilt because of this.” Until 2010, S.O.S. Children’s Villages ran only two social centers in Greece, where families in financial need could come for help. Prior to the crisis, its main focus was on its residential centers for children from dysfunctional environments. Now, the main growth in its activity has been in its social centers. “From 2011 to 2012, the cases coming to us for financial help doubled,” says Mr. Sifnios. The group now assists 900 such families across Greece and its roster of social centers has grown threefold in the last four years. For their part, churches have built programs for children into their general aid responses — mostly free tutoring or extra classes to help children perform well in their schooling, regardless of what is happening at home.

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“Some children are dropping out of school because their parents can’t afford the necessary school materials,” says Kostis Dimtsas of Apostoli. “So we help with that and we have free classes to help the children advance in their studies.” But the problems facing Greek’s new generations are not just at school. The country will be dealing with debt repayment for generations to come. This has changed the outlook of many Greeks concerning their own children. Angie, Maria Nichopoulou’s 9-year-old daughter, is preparing to leave the family’s apartment to go play with her father. After he helps her put on her jacket, she grabs her sports bag and slings it on her back, saying goodbye to her mother. Mrs. Nichopoulou’s daily mission is to provide for Angie

and her brother and to keep the ugly realities of the Greek crisis as far from them as possible. Still, she and many parents like her have come to the same conclusion: Greece, at least for now, is not a place for the next generation. “We don’t have a future, but she must have a future,” Maria Nichopoulou says of her daughter. “So I tell her to study and then to emigrate. Learn English now and don’t stay here.”


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Light of the

East Shimmering Glory:

Byzantine greek Mosaics by Michael J.L. La Civita

Surviving icons in mosaic of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints blanket the walls and vaults of Byzantine-era churches, such as the Hagia Sophia and the Church of Our Savior in Istanbul, Turkey, and the Katholikon in the Monastery of Daphni, Greece.




reece is considered the cradle of Western civilization for its developments in architecture, literature, mathematics, philosophy and political theory. Though absorbed into an empire by the Romans, “captive Greece captured her rude conqueror,” wrote the Roman poet Horace, as Greek culture influenced and defined all things Roman. This Grecian capture was made complete after the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the empire from Rome to the Greek city of Byzantium in the year 330, naming it New Rome. From this city bridging Asia and Europe — better known as Constantinople, the city of Constantine — developed a distinctly Greek and Christian culture even as its inhabitants understood their realm as Roman. Among Byzantium’s greatest achievements was the development of the art of the mosaic. Artisans transformed the use of gilded glass, marble and semiprecious stone tesserae — small cut squares — from a pavement form to a glorious iconographic treatment of the Christian faith. Mosaics covered

domed interiors, vaults and wall panels of churches and palaces, uniting space in a shimmering spectacle that confused and enraptured visitors and worshipers alike. “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth,” reported the emissaries of the grand prince of

Kiev after a visit to Constantinople’s Great Church of Holy Wisdom in the tenth century. “For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there. … We cannot forget that beauty.” The art of Byzantine Greek mosaics is intimately related to the cult of icons and the use of these images of Christ, the Virgin Mary,

the saints and the feasts of the church as “the way and the means” for communion with heaven, wrote the Russian theologian Leonid A. Ouspensky. After the defeat of the iconoclastic heresy and the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” in 843, Byzantine Greek mosaicists — armed with commissions from wealthy abbots and powerful nobles — covered churches with lavish mosaics, reaching “its fullest development and most perfect expression with an integrated balance between the architectural volume of the interior and the iconographic cycle of representations in mosaic” wrote the noted icon scholar John S.I. Stuart. “Within the dome, Christ, the icon of the Father, appears as Pantocrator [the omnipotent one]. All levels below the dome are perceived to descend from it as a series of images radiating from the supreme archetype like the spokes of a wheel.” The mosaics illustrated on these pages represent some of the finest achievements of this art to have survived.





n a warm spring night in 2011, Atef Labib, his wife and their 20-year-old daughter cowered in fear on the roof of their house. For three days, sectarian clashes had engulfed their predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Abu Qurqas, a village in Upper Egypt. Unsure of what would happen if they left their home, the Christian family went into hiding. Cut off from the outside world, they ran short of food and water. Gripped by fear, every loud noise felt like the harbinger of death. On the fourth night, Mr. Labib’s son-in-law and a friend burst into the house. Violence was building, they said, and the family had to leave immediately. The three moved as quickly as possible, gathering what they could and escaping into the night. The warning was prophetic. Hours after the family fled, a mob set upon the house that had been in Mr. Labib’s family for generations.



They pillaged it, destroying the family’s meager possessions, and set the house ablaze. Later, when the family returned to inspect the damage, the house was unrecognizable. Um Abanob, Mr. Labib’s wife, looked around and fell into hysterics. “I kept screaming and crying, I was sick and weak,” she remembers. But there was no waking from this nightmare. Their world had been turned upside down. “We never imagined that could have happened to us. How can we feel safe anymore?” Mr. Labib asks. Muslim extremists vandalized some 70 Christian homes in Abu Qurqas in a week of clashes that began on 18 April. The struggles of this small Catholic farming community of 6,000 located about 160 miles south of Cairo mirror the events taking place in Coptic communities across the country (ethnic Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, which derives

from the Greek, “Aigyptios,” meaning Egyptian Christian). And though the Labib’s situation is extreme, their story is representative of the perils facing many of Upper Egypt’s Coptic families in these turbulent times.


ince the January 2011 revolution that toppled Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, sectarian attacks in the country’s south have mushroomed. These days, Egypt’s Copt minority, which makes up roughly 10 percent of the population, feels a sense of anxiety as never before. Amid the general atmosphere of instability, rising prices and chronic shortages, the threat of extremist Muslim groups — both in organized politics and on the streets — has triggered sectarian

A Coptic farmer rides his donkey through Abu Qurqas, near Minya.



The CNEWAConnection

In Egyptian Christian communities, churches play a major role in supporting day-to-day life. CNEWA has long worked through these local churches — Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox — to provide support to their members, and to the many others who turn to the churches in time of need. St. Thérèse Hospital in Imbaba exemplifies this work. Established in 2005 with the assistance of CNEWA’s generous donors, this institution provides top-quality medical care at one of the lowest rates in the nation to people of all creeds and walks of life. This combination of quality and affordability attracts patients from all over Egypt — some even traveling from cities such as Luxor, 450 miles away, or agricultural communities all along the Nile. To help Egypt’s churches and ministries continue to fulfill their mission, call: 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).

attacks, along with a fear that the next bout of violence is just around the corner. “They worry about everything related to stability; they don’t feel secure,” says the pastor of the Church of the Virgin Mary in Abu Qurqas, Father Haidar. “This is their own country — they were born here, but they don’t feel safe.



“It’s the situation of Christians in the whole country,” he adds, “not just the situation of this village.” The clashes in Abu Qurqas started as many other sectarian incidents in Egypt have begun, with an everyday squabble. According to one account, a Muslim bus driver became incensed over a speed bump erected in front of a wealthy Copt’s home. An argument spiraled into a violent clash that sparked riots. Violence swept through the village. By the end of the night, dozens were injured and two Muslims were dead. Residents say the riots lasted for almost a week as Muslim gangs roamed the village’s dirt-packed alleys threatening Christians, some of whom mobilized to fight back. Villagers say Muslim fundamentalists were bused in from outside the community to cause what they say was a methodical rampage targeting Christian homes. Government security services — army and police — did nothing to prevent the pillaging. Three days into the clashes, Upper Egypt’s military prosecutor arrested 12 Christians and 8 Muslims on charges of “murder, rioting, damaging public utilities and spreading panic among citizens,” according to the local media. Three months later, a judge found all 12 Copts guilty and sentenced them to life in prison. The Muslims were acquitted and released. The verdict reveals much about the country’s judicial system. It gives credence to Christian fears that not only will security services not protect them, but that the courts are stacked against them. To their eyes, the courts will do nothing to bring perpetrators of violence against Christians to justice, and instead will focus the blame on the community itself. Father Haidar says this lack of accountability and justice has led many to be even more fearful,

staying home and engaging even less with the society around them. “They have been through many challenges and struggles since the revolution,” he explains. “They have lost many things — material things, as well as spiritual and psychological things,” he says of his parish community. And this loss bleeds into their faith. “It’s not only in their daily life, it’s also in their spiritual aspects — their beliefs. We need to convince them God is with them and going to help.”


hough the Coptic Catholic parish has been the pillar of the community in Abu Qurqas, there is little it can do in these trying times except accompany its members. Resources are few. The parish continues to hold weekly classes and activities. Volunteers bring meals to the poor and have set up a subsidized medical clinic to serve the community, Christian and Muslim. The first priority, however, was to take care of the families of the men arrested and sentenced for inciting the clashes. “The church couldn’t help a lot because there are many needs,” Father Haidar says. “As priests, we visit people and we give hope to families having problems.” After the Labib’s home was sacked, Father Haidar visited the family. “The priests are good people. They understand the situation here, they visit with us and offer help if they can,” Atef Labib says. “We can’t imagine our lives without them. I know I’m alone, but I have a relationship with God. He provides for me when I need him.” Mr. Labib was born in Abu Qurqas and took to working the land as his father and grandfather before him. He has five daughters and one son, and has tried to give them all a better life. But after his house was destroyed, all that work seemed for naught.

“We need to convince them God is with them and going to help.”

He made no court claims for the damaged property. Instead, after the violence subsided, the family moved back into their home. “I blocked the windows and made the doors thicker. We buttressed the doors with metal rods,” he says. Fewer than three weeks after the family’s return, however, Mr. Labib decided to sell the house and move to another part of the village inhabited by other Christian families. They had come to fear meeting strangers on the streets of their quarter — which is mostly Muslim — and hoped they would find a more secure atmosphere among their own. “We needed to feel safe among people who might care for us,” he says. But the situation grew direr. Due to the hurried nature of their move and local knowledge of their desperation, Mr. Labib sold his ancestors’ house for less than half its market value. The family had to

take loans from friends in order to purchase and furnish their new home. More than the material losses, the move took a considerable psychological toll. “Imagine living in one place all this time and leaving at a moment’s notice … and to know that it was out of my hands,” Mr. Labib says. “When I left my home, I knew all my neighbors. That house was all I knew and I was used to it. When I moved, even though there are Copts around me, I’m not close to them.” Sitting next to him on the couch of their threadbare new home, Mr. Labib’s son Abanob nods hearing his father’s story. “I didn’t expect that kind of behavior from people,” the 21-year-old explains. As a result of the trauma, he’s begun to limit his interactions with people he doesn’t know. “I know I should be careful when I speak to new people,” he says.

A Christian farmer sits with the family in the living room of his home in Abu Qurqas.

Caution and anxiety have pervaded the entire community, whether people were directly targeted by the violence or not. “It affects their travel, their communications with other people, and also their relations to the church,” Father Haidar says. In the past, on holidays and celebrations, the church would be crammed with people. But these days, attendance is much lower. People stay home to guard their houses; they avoid taking dark streets at night during the village’s frequent power outages. That fear is anchored in reality — during the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, security services across the country melted away. Though they have since returned to the



Show your support for the courageous Christians of Egypt

streets, they remain mostly inactive. The rise of political Islam, many here say, has led to the emergence of an uglier version of communal life in rural Egypt. “Before the Muslim Brotherhood era, all people used to love and care for each other. After that, they showed how to hate — they showed extremism and fanaticism,” Mr. Labib says. “There are good Muslims, but there are also extremists who show hate.”


very day, Atef Labib rises early and rides his donkey to the plot of land he rents outside the village, where he farms soybeans and corn. He moves from row to row, hunched over, softly tapping his hoe to the earth, separating the crops and tilling the land. Dressed in white, he cuts a sharp figure against the small green shoots, his sinewy body hunched over the land. At noon, when the scorching sun is high overhead, he comes home to rest, returning to the field in the afternoon to continue his work. But more than two years after the move, the family is still trying to rebuild and the shadow of the past looms large. Mr. Labib spent his savings and borrowed money to furnish the family’s new home. Furniture, kitchenware and appliances — in particular a new refrigerator — cost the family a small fortune.



When their new home was finished, Mr. Labib had limited money left to invest in his field; he could not afford enough seeds and fertilizer to make full use of his land. Without sufficient fertilizer, he grew weak plants and yielded a weak harvest. His earnings were low. It launched a vicious circle of poverty and debt the family is still struggling to break. “Now, agriculture is very hard. It takes a lot of work and the rent is so high. It takes all the money that we get,” Mr. Labib explains. Rent on farming land has increased almost $300 per plot since the revolution. Now Mr. Labib pays 9,000 EGP (about $1,285) per year for roughly one acre. Egypt’s Christian farming community faces more than just prejudice; the country’s deteriorating economic situation impacts everyone. Fertilizer has grown more expensive and shortages have forced men such as Mr. Labib to buy from the black market, where the price has more than doubled. The price of seed has increased, while the scarcity of diesel fuel has made pumping water from nearby canals to irrigate the fields more expensive. On top of that, the price of crops is anything but stable. “Even if the price of crops goes up, the rent for the land and the price of seeds and fertilizer goes up, too,” Mr. Labib says of the industry’s volatility.

A Christian farmer works the fields near his home in northern Egypt.

Near his plot of land, families toil the fields, but Mr. Labib works alone. As with many others in this community, the Labibs sent their son outside the village to seek a better life. Abanob works in Cairo in an aluminum workshop. Mr. Labib’s grandchildren attend universities in other major cities in Egypt. For the subsistence farmers of Egypt, the profession seems to be dying off as children of landowners and day laborers move into urban areas to pursue other livelihoods. “You can see agriculture has no future. Almost all my friends tried to get other jobs if they could find them,” Abanob explains. Even before the present turbulence, many wanted to leave Egypt entirely. Abanob applied for visas to travel three times, but was refused. He plans to try again soon. “If he left, I would wish him luck to have a good job. He has a hard time in his job in Cairo, and abroad he would have better life conditions,” Um Abanob says of her son’s plans. It’s hard for a mother to argue when Egypt’s situation grows increasingly worrisome by the day. Atef Labib nods as his son describes his hopes to leave Egypt. “It is a hard lot, here,” he says. Sarah Topol is a Cairo-based journalist whose writing has been published in The Atlantic, Esquire, Foreign Policy, Harper’s and The New York Times.


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2,000 Years

and Counting

The spirit of St. Thomas endures in southern India by Jose Kavi

St. Thomas Church in Palayur is a leading pilgrimage site for Christians in India.




mana Pulikoottil is certain of one thing: No matter what, she will never leave Palayur, her sleepy village in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. After all, Palayur is closely associated with a saint she believes has seen her through the trials and hardships of life. She credits St. Thomas the Apostle with helping her not only to rear her two sons, but also to look after her late husband’s ailing parents, especially in the 24 years since he died of kidney failure. “All we have are a 10-cent plot, a small house and lots of blessings from Thoma Sleeha,” says the sariclad woman in her late 40’s, using the apostle’s name in the local language, Malayalam. “We love our punniyavalan [“saint”] and feel indebted to him,” Mrs. Pulikoottil says as she waits for a priest from her parish dedicated to the doubting apostle. It is a Tuesday morning and the parish will be conducting special devotions to its patron saint. She grows excited as she narrates blessings to have come to her family through St. Thomas, the man who introduced Christianity to India in the first century. Among other things, Mrs. Pulikoottil’s son was cured of allergies after bathing in a pond where the apostle is believed to have baptized the first converts in India. The Rev. Jackson Koonamplackal says he has heard many such stories after he came to the parish this March, just three months after ordination. “Those stories have deepened my faith since I arrived here with lots of questions and doubts,” says the 26-year-old priest. He had studied for a time in Rome, where some scoffed at the idea that St. Thomas had visited India. In time, Father Koonamplackal says, even he began to grow skeptical.

“Doubt is the devil,” he says now. “What I have heard and seen have convinced me of St. Thomas’s presence here. “I now realize why God had sent me here,” he adds. “This is an opportunity to grow in my faith.” It has grown with surprises that come almost daily. “Once,” he says, “an old woman asked me to pray for her son who had no child, even after five years of marriage. I prayed for them during Mass. A week later, she told me her daughter-in-law was pregnant.” But such remarkable events, he says, pale beside the enduring faith of the people he serves. Every day, some 100 people come to the church to recite the rosary and celebrate the Divine Liturgy, beginning at 5:45 a.m. “Many come walking more than a mile. I used to wonder how they could reach the church even in heavy rain and wind,” he says. His pastor, the Rev. John Ayyankanayil, says parishioners believe it is their duty to preserve the rich legacy of the faith they have inherited. As he explains: “They feel so privileged to be residents of this place where St. Thomas made his first Christian community in India.”


he Christians of Palayur should be proud of their legacy, says George Menachery, an Indologist who edits the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India and the Indian Church History Classics. “Palayur is one of the oldest Christian centers in India. It can claim to have had a continuous Christian presence for 2,000 years,” says the 75-year-old professor emeritus. It is believed St. Thomas landed on India’s coast in 52 A.D. and set up eight Christian communities across Kerala. Among those



The CNEWAConnection

u RIGHT Godmothers in Palayur get ready for group baptism. u FAR RIGHT An elderly woman attends the St. Thomas novena in Palayur.

CNEWA supports Christians in India through churches that have nourished the region’s flock for millennia. In particular, the agency works closely with the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches — two Eastern Catholic communities that trace their roots to St. Thomas. For decades, CNEWA has helped India’s priests, sisters and lay leaders shelter, feed, clothe and teach children; prepared priests and educated sisters; and built and furnished hospitals and clinics. CNEWA today supports a variety of institutions and programs, including St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters; the St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary of the Syro-Malabar Church, the oldest seminary in India, where hundreds of young men are preparing for the priesthood; and the Grace Home, which cares for H.I.V.-positive children and adults. To support these and other vital projects to help our brothers and sisters in India, call 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).



churches, only three remain, including the one in Palayur. Descendants of these Christians — some 10 million, spread all over the world — are now called St. Thomas Christians or Nasrani (followers of the Nazarene). Though divided into at least seven different denominations, these Christians represent a unique culture that fuses Syriac forms of worship with local Hindu customs and traditions. Two of these denominations are Catholic: the Syro-Malabar Church, with four million members, and the SyroMalankara Church, with about 500,000 members. Professor Menachery says a large number of Nasrani — including Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis, the head of the Syro-Malankara Church — have roots in Palayur. Indeed, Palayur is awash with history. Palayur historian Jose Chittilappilly, who has authored a book on the St. Thomas Church, says the saint came to Palayur because of its flourishing Jewish community in the first century. The parish, in gratitude, has built a memorial chapel as a tribute to the early Jews. For more than a millennium, Palayur was one of three Christian centers in Kerala. But it began to lose its prominence following a split among the Nasrani in 1653 after a group revolted against colonial Portuguese Catholic missionaries, who had claimed jurisdiction over all of India’s Christians. Motivated by the spirit of the Inquisition and the reforms of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Portuguese denied the

authentic authority, privileges, rites and traditions accorded to the Thomas Christians by the Church of the East — founded by St. Thomas in Persia — on whom the Nasrani were dependent for bishops. The Nasrani affirmed their communion with the bishop of Rome, but they sought to retain their historic ties to the Church of the East. Yet the Portuguese identified communion with Rome with Latin traditions and rites and demanded Latinization as the price of this union, dividing the Nasrani into camps: those who accepted it (later identified as Syro-Malabar Catholics), and those who did not (non-Catholic Thomas Christians). The two groups vied for control of Palayur until the matter was settled near the end of the 19th century, when a court awarded it to the Catholics.

The region also suffered greatly during the reign of Tipu Sultan, who ruled much of southern India in the late 18th century. Under his regime, armed forces razed Palayur’s church in 1790 and carried out a campaign of forced conversion to Islam. Of those Thomas Christians who did not flee, Mr. Chittilappilly says, many submitted to conversion to save their property and their lives. The church of Palayur began to regain its splendor after the SyroMalabar Catholic Archeparchy of Trichur declared it a regional shrine in the year 2000. Despite its modest flock of some 515 families, it is now recognized as a major parish. But the community’s small size belies the enormous faith of its people and the many visitors drawn to it from around the world. These days, the site could well be thought of as Kerala’s Jerusalem, drawing a steady flow of pilgrims and tourists throughout the year.


visitor to Palayur could easily miss its church. Lying on the northern side of a busy road connecting Guruvayur, a town housing Kerala’s most famous Hindu temple, and Chavakad, a commercial center dominated by Muslims, the building looks similar to many of the ancient churches dotting Kerala’s landscape. An arch at the main entrance announces what sets this church apart: “St Thomas Archdiocesan Shrine Palayur, Founded by St. Thomas the Apostle, 52 A.D.” Two square granite pillars supporting the arch also bear statues of St. Alphonsa — the first woman saint of India and a native of the village — and St. Thomas. Leading to the church is a granite-paved walkway called Mar Thoma Patha. Statues depicting 14 major events in the life of St. Thomas — from being called to be a disciple to his martyrdom — line the two sides of the path,

resembling Stations of the Cross in Roman Catholic churches. The church is built in European and Indian architectural styles. On the western end of the nave is a huge black cross with an octagonal base and eight stone lamps. Jose Chittilappilly says it sits on the same spot where the saint is believed to have first erected a cross. The church lies between two ponds associated with the apostle. The pond on the western end is called Boatkulam (“boat pond”). It was part of a waterway that brought the saint to Palayur from Kodungallur, some 30 miles south of the church. A huge statue of the saint, some 45 feet, which the church claims is the largest statue of the saint in the world, towers over the pond. Near the pond is the Indian Christian Historical Museum, a three-story building housing a large collection of relics and artifacts of



“ What I have heard and seen have convinced me that St. Thomas’s presence is here.” the cultural heritage of St. Thomas Christians. Most people prefer to visit a larger pond on the eastern end of the parish grounds. Called Thaliya Kulam (“pond of Thaliya”), this pond is where the saint is believed to have baptized a group of Brahmins — members of the highest caste of Hindu society. According to tradition, St. Thomas noticed the men taking water in their cupped hands and tossing it into the air, symbolically offering it to Surya, the god of the sun. He then asked them to make the water stay in the air as a sign Surya had accepted the offering. The Brahmins derided this as impossible. St. Thomas then scooped up water from the pond and threw it upward. Water drops remained suspended in the air until they disappeared. Those

who witnessed the event were stunned, and many requested baptism. St. Thomas later baptized them in the same pond.


oday, Thomas Christians celebrate their faith through a variety of rituals, most connected to the customs and traditions of their ancestors. The calendar is decked with important celebrations, feasts and devotions. Many such activities take place on Muppittu Njayar, or “First Sunday,” so named for occurring on the first Sunday after the tenth of every month. After celebrating the Divine Liturgy, parishioners process to the Thaliya Kulam, some 200 yards away. The priest carries a relic of St. Thomas in a monstrance under a canopy. Ahead of him, parishioners carry the saint’s statue, while a trustee leads prayers. The

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procession continues around the pond, paying respect to the saint. After the procession, the priest continues another custom unique to this parish — he feeds a grain of rice to babies preparing to eat solid food, a tradition followed in Hindu temples. Another practice on the First Sunday is feeding rice gruel and vegetable curry to those coming to the church. Joy Chemmannur, a parish trustee, says people take turns sponsoring the meals. “We have a long list of sponsors. The last one may get his chance after a three-year wait,” he says, adding the custom is another adaptation of a Hindu ritual. One of the most important events on the First Sunday is the celebration of baptism at the Thaliya Kulam. Families arrive from all across Kerala. Godmothers sit with the children in their laps, with godfathers, parents and relatives standing behind. From the baptismal font in the pond, Father Koonamplackal invites godparents to bring the candidates up one by one. The pastor, Father Ayyankanayil, describes another major annual event: the pilgrimage on the Sunday before Palm Sunday, for which more than 30,000 people travel from various parishes in the archeparchy. The main procession from Our Lady of Lourdes SyroMalabar Cathedral starts at 4 a.m. and reaches St. Thomas Church 12 hours later. “Thousands of children, women, young and old men walking in blazing sun has become the biggest proclamation of faith in the Archeparchy of Trichur,” Jose Chittilappilly says.

After a baptism in Palayur, the congregation processes to the main church.

Parishes also conduct similar pilgrimages on Fridays during Lent, leaving an archieparchial basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows around 9 p.m. and arriving in the early morning. They return home after the morning liturgy. Palayur Catholics support this march by holding vigil in their church, the pastor adds. In July, the parish observes two important events, celebrating the feast of St. Thomas on 3 July, and commemorating his arrival at Palayur on 15 July. These celebrations have brought a renewed vigor to the parish. Davis Antony, the parish’s sacristan for the past five years, says he has seen it himself, with more young people offering their help and volunteering for church activities.

Mr. Antony says most parishioners have also experienced some personal blessing from St. Thomas. He tells of an incident eight years ago that brought him closer to the church. While alone at the western side of the baptismal pond, he saw an old man in tattered clothes at the other end, near the altar. Thinking that some beggar had come, he rushed to tell him to go to the church. But as he approached, he found that the man had vanished. Mr. Antony says he is now convinced he had a vision of St. Thomas. From across Kerala, others continue to be drawn to the site, called by a spiritual allure they cannot quite put into words. The sacristan says some parishioners who had left Palayur now feel something is missing. They tell him they want to come back. Professor Menachery says such testimonies are part of Palayur’s

power — and a testament to the deep and enduring faith it inspires, which has truly stood the test of time. That, he explains, is part of what makes Palayur unique. “It is doubtful,” he says, “whether there are many places in the world that could claim a similar continuous Christian presence for nearly two millennia.” Jose Kavi writes about social and religious issues in India from New Delhi.


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from our world

So, we cooked pasta. The children stood in line and the queue never stopped. Why? Because the children thought it would be the first and last meal we would serve. They would take the meal, hide it in a plastic bag and come back! ONE: How did you develop the original children’s home into the complex that exists today? SL: Back in the beginning, the original building was made of mud. It was in ruins. There were holes in the roof. The children had no proper beds, no mattresses, no sheets and no blankets. We started saying: “How can we continue to stay here?”

Sister Lutgarda Camilleri


hen Sister Lutgarda Camilleri, 67, took on the care of the children of Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1996, she took on a child care facility that “should have been demolished some 50 years ago,” wrote CNEWA’s Mercy Sister Christian Molidor in 2001. Since then, Sister Lutgarda and her community, the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, have developed a beautiful facility for an increasing number of children. Sister Lutgarda recently sat down



with ONE magazine’s Don Duncan to talk about the children’s home and her own journey.

The police would come with babies. I would say: “No, we can’t take babies. How can you take a baby into a place in this condition?” Then, a visiting brother from the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany, encouraged me to write a funding proposal. Once I did, I sent it to him and to CNEWA, and that is when we got funds to build the new orphanage building. First, the funds came from CNEWA, then from Germany. After that, the lion’s share came from Caritas. CNEWA gave us $25,000 initially and then another $25,000 to help finish the building. The new orphanage building finally opened in 2002.

ONE: What was Kidane Mehret like when your community took it over in 1996?

ONE: How many staff members work at the orphanage currently?

SL: It had absolutely nothing. We couldn’t find anything we could use. Nothing. Not even a drop of oil. Oil is a very precious thing for Ethiopians; most food is cooked with oil. But God’s providence never, ever failed us.

SL: We have 38 paid workers in the children’s home: people caring for babies, matrons for the older children, laundry and kitchen staff, a secretary, an assistant manager and a driver. And then there are the volunteers.

ONE: Tell us about your volunteers. SL: We work mostly with Project Abroad. It is an English organization, but it works all over the world, and they help connect us with volunteers. Many of them are very good with babies. At the moment, one of them is giving instruction in computers, another is teaching an English class and another, a math class. Then, we have other volunteers that apply directly to us through our web site. ONE: How many children does the orphanage house currently? SL: At the moment, we have the lowest number ever: 80. The government policy has changed. All abandoned children must go to government orphanages now, and no longer come directly to us. I think the policy change is due to child trafficking. The government in Addis Ababa gives the older children to us, especially if they are sick. They come to the sisters because no one else wants them. It is not easy. Many of the older orphans have contracted H.I.V. ONE: Is H.I.V. — the virus that causes AIDS — an issue for many of your children? SL: The majority of our children lost their parents to AIDS-related infections. Some were lucky enough not to contract the virus themselves, but others were not so lucky. Every month, the H.I.V.-positive children get a checkup. It is a government requirement. They have a blood count and according to their count they are prescribed medicine. Some do not have to take medicine yet, but they still have to go for the checkup. We have others that are full blown and are on full medication.

Our H.I.V.-positive children live a normal life. It is like: “I have AIDS, you do not. We eat together, even if I want to eat from your plate and you eat from mine.” We give them a plate each but they share. They sleep in the room, they play together and they go to school together. But then, at a certain age, they start asking questions. “Why? Why do I have to take this medicine? Why me?” And I have to tell them that it is not their fault but they can live a life like the others. They can even get married. They can have children on condition that they consult a doctor. ONE: Are many of the children adopted? SL: Many of them are. Adoption rates grow higher the younger the child. Babies and children up to 6 years old all get adopted. However, the majority of the older children are not adopted. Here at the orphanage, I do not think the children lack anything that most children have, except one very important thing: family. We tell them that we are a big family, but we cannot give them the same

Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus care for orphans at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa.

individual attention that a mother and a father can give. We try to love them. We try to educate them. We care for them — but as you can see, there are many of them and few of us. ONE: And those who have left the school and subsequently left Ethiopia? Do you ever hear from them? SL: I had a big thrill last week. I did not know about Facebook, but the students said: “Sister, please, we’ve been sending requests for you on Facebook.” I said: “I don’t even know how to open it!” [She laughs.] Then someone showed me and I found my own picture on there. Former children of mine had put up my picture, and there were so many nice comments — “I love you mom,” “I miss you so much,” “I never had anyone like you.” These were adopted children. I nearly started crying. I said: “I don’t deserve this, Lord. I know the situation around us is not easy, but God is always helping us in other ways.




on the world of CNEWA


here are several strong misconceptions about the Christian presence in India. Some mistakenly think the faith only arrived in recent centuries. Others presume the Catholic Church is Latin only. And still others think the minority Christian presence in India (about 2 percent of more than 1.2 billion people) is fully dependent on the West to address its pastoral needs. But having just returned from a pastoral visit to this beloved land, I celebrated the uplifting spirit of the church in India, especially its rich Eastern Catholic dimensions. I experienced the ancient spiritual heritage that began with the missionary activity of St. Thomas the Apostle, the rich liturgical customs of both the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches and — more than anything else — the dynamic missionary thrust of these Eastern churches in India, a spirit that reaches the world.



At every turn, Pope Francis is inviting and challenging us to be a missionary church. He wants each of us to accept the call of Baptism to continue Pentecost in our time. Well, the Eastern churches in India do this extremely well. In fact, they serve as dynamic examples of how to continue the tradition passed on to St. Thomas and the other apostles. Pentecost is alive! We speak much about “new evangelization” in the West — and rightly so, as our missionary spirit seems to have dissipated in this part of the world. But the Eastern churches of India have been living this “new” evangelization for many years, since the arrival of St. Thomas in the year 52. Churches in the south of India, which have been blessed with a strong growth of the faith, now reach northward to the great yearning of peoples waiting to encounter Christ. Even in regions where laws forbid evangelization, the message of missionaries resonates; acts of charity for the

poor in health care, education, community development and intercultural dialogue and understanding — works that reveal the face of Christ — these gently bring the good news of God’s love to all in mission lands, including our own country. As you read about the Thomas Christians (Page 30) in this edition, I invite you to celebrate with them the privilege and blessing of our faith and offer some prayers of thanks for the missionary hearts of the Eastern churches in India. Let their example be a stimulus for us to be even more effective in our own new evangelization efforts. God bless the church of India! Msgr. John E. Kozar



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