God • World • Human Family • Church
The Joy of a Priest in Galilee Kerala’s “House of Hope” Helping Ethiopians See a Brighter Future Refugees Start Anew in the American Southwest
one COVER STORY
A Day in the Life of an Israeli Priest by Michele Chabin with photographs by Ilene Perlman
Coming Home Syriac Christians return to their homeland in Turkey text and photographs by Don Duncan
Nineveh, U.S.A. Chaldean communities flourish in the American southwest by Joyce Coronel with photographs by Nancy Wiechec
Kerala’s House of Hope Sisters in Kerala nurture children with special needs by Jose Kavi with photographs by Jose Jacob
The Future at Their Fingertips Visually impaired students in Ethiopia learn independence by James Jeffrey with photographs by Petterik Wiggers
4 36 38
DEPARTMENTS Connections to CNEWA’s world People Sister Micheline Lattouff, R.G.S. by Diane Handal Focus on the world of CNEWA by John E. Kozar
t A parishioner of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in the Galilee welcomes visitors.
OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION
Volume 41 NUMBER 4
Help CNEWA spread simple kindness among those who need it most 6 Front: Father Androwas Bahus greets a visitor to his parish in the city of Shefa-‘Amr, Israel. Back: An altar server waits for the liturgy to begin at Holy Family Chaldean Catholic Mission in Phoenix. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 2, 30-31, 33-35, Ilene Perlman; page 3 (top), CNS photo/Paul Haring; pages 3 (upper left), 20-23, Jose Jacob; pages 3 (upper right), 3 (far right), 24-29, Petterik Wiggers; pages 3 (lower left), 6-7, 9, 11-13, Don Duncan; pages 3 (lower right), 14-19, back cover, Nancy Wiechec; pages 36-37, Tamara Abdul Hadi; pages 4, 38-39, John E. Kozar/CNEWA; page 5, CNEWA. ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar
14 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 ©2015 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
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to CNEWA’s world
Helping Children in Need As the Catholic Church begins the Jubilee Year of Mercy, CNEWA, in this edition of ONE, turns to those crying out in a special way for compassion and mercy: the children of our world. For decades, Catholic Near East Welfare Association has been a champion of needy children throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Working through our partners in the field — priests and sisters, bishops and caregivers of the Catholic Eastern churches — and strengthened by the generosity of our benefactors and friends, CNEWA has touched the lives of countless children suffering from abandonment, persecution, poverty and war. In the pages that follow, you will find two powerful features that illustrate CNEWA’s support for children in need. Kerala’s House of Hope (Page 20) visits a school for children with special needs in India, showing the tender mercies of the sisters who care for them. The Future at Their Fingertips (Page 24) takes you to a school for the blind in Ethiopia, where young people are learning to see possibility. We are reminded again and again just how much mercy is a part of our mandate and our mission. We invite you to read Msgr. John E. Kozar’s Focus essay on Page 38 for his thoughts on all this and more. And we thank you, as always, for generously and prayerfully making CNEWA’s mission of mercy possible. You are changing lives and helping to make every year for CNEWA a “Year of Mercy.”
Refugees in Jordan CNEWA continues its support of Iraqi Christian refugee families in Jordan, many of whom fled ISIS in the summer of 2014. While safe, they struggle to find a place to live or ways to feed their families. Jordan is treating these refugees as guests — their situation is considered temporary, with Jordan just a transit station until they can move to a third country. As a result, refugees are not permitted to find permanent work. They are living very meager lives, lacking even the most basic necessities. But just ahead of Christmas 2015, CNEWA distributed food tickets, milk and blankets to help nearly 2,000 families.
Annual Report Online CNEWA’s 2014-15 Annual Report, outlining programs, projects and financials for 2014, is now available online. For the first time, this year the report is posted as a “virtual magazine.” In his introduction, Msgr. Kozar underscores the important role of our donors. “Because of you,” he writes, “CNEWA has been able to extend the loving hand of Christ to the poor and displaced in Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon — reaching out to some of the tens of thousands of people who have had to flee their homes and start over.”
Reports on the Middle East By any measure, it’s been a difficult year in the Middle East, with hundreds of thousands of people facing extraordinary challenges. War, persecution, displacement and poverty have all taken a toll. But CNEWA has accompanied our brothers and sisters on this difficult journey, as they have fought to maintain their dignity, their hope and their faith. Our regional directors in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem have sent us updates that help paint a clearer picture of what that work has entailed in 2015.
To read the report and view the video, visit this link: www.cnewa. org/web/annualreport2015.
You can read them all online at www.cnewa.org/web/ mideastreport.
OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org CNEWA Visits Virginia As part of CNEWA’s parish visitation program, Development Director Norma Intriago and Multimedia Editor Deacon Greg Kandra visited St. Thomas More Parish in Lynchburg, Virginia, to speak about CNEWA’s work with refugees in Iraq and Syria. The response from the parish was enthusiastic and generous. The pastor, Msgr. Michael McCarron, has been a longtime supporter of CNEWA and of our work in the Holy Land. If you would like CNEWA to visit your parish, contact Ms. Intriago at firstname.lastname@example.org. Parish Hall in Gaza Restored In November, the community center for Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Gaza reopened, following its restoration by CNEWA’s staff in Jerusalem. Funds for the restoration represent a portion of CNEWA’s allocation from a collection authorized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — totaling $1,835,200 — taken up last autumn in parishes across the country. The parish, which housed families seeking refuge during the violence between Israel and Hamas in summer 2014, can now utilize the center for events such as presentations, plays and parish receptions. The facility also includes bathrooms, a computer lab, a gym and a kitchen. For more on how CNEWA utilized funds from its portion of the collection taken up in parishes in the United States, including a third disbursement released in late December, visit: www.cnewa/ usccbreport.org.
Schools for Iraqi Refugees Since the displacement that began in the summer of 2014 with the ISIS invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, thousands of Iraqi children have faced the challenge of attending schools in Iraqi Kurdistan that teach in Kurdish, a different language. Now that is changing. In October, four new schools opened in northern Iraq, serving more than 2,400 displaced refugee
children in Erbil, Dohuk and Zakho. One of the schools, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is fully supported by CNEWA, which furnished, equipped and supplied the first year’s operating costs of the school, built by our partner, Misereor. The school has enrolled nearly 600 students and is providing job opportunities for dozens of displaced Iraqi Christian teachers and staff.
Only on the Web
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There is more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • D etails about CNEWA’s funding to help displaced Christians in the Middle East • H ow CNEWA is assisting vulnerable Lebanese families and refugees • E xclusive videos showing a Melkite wedding in Galilee and the life of Christians resettling in Turkey
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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Coming Home Full of fervor and faith, Syriac Christians return to their homeland in Turkey text and photographs by Don Duncan
or the few dozen Christians living in villages near the ancient Syriac Orthodox monastery of Mar Evgin, the cliffhanging sanctuary represents hope. As they gaze on it at night, bathed in light, they know their church is with them. On those nights when the electricity fails and the monastery remains in darkness, they panic. “They call up the monastery asking, ‘Why is there no light?’ ” says the Rev. Joaqim Unfal, the sole monk in residence, who runs the monastery with a handful of lay people. Mar Evgin dates to the fourth century and is one of the first monasteries built in Tur Abdin, the “mountain of the servants of God” in Syriac. Despite the vicissitudes of fortune over 16 centuries — Roman persecutions, Arab Muslim incursions, prosperity, Timur the Lame’s assault, and centuries of obscurity — Tur Abdin remained the historic heart of Syriac Christianity. By 1915 the region, which spans two southeastern provinces of modern Turkey and lies along the Turkish border with Syria and Iraq, included hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Assyro-Chaldean Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic. Yet the events of the Saifo (or “sword” in Syriac), the term used by Syriac Christians to describe the genocide of Christians that began in 1915, altered Tur Abdin. Together with Armenians and ethnic Greeks, Turkey’s Christian population was devastated by a campaign of massacre and forced emigration that nearly wiped out the Christian inhabitants of an unraveling Ottoman Empire. In the 1980’s, surviving Christians and their descendants found themselves caught in the crossfire between armed members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) and the Turkish state, a vicious
15-year conflict that raged until a cease-fire in 1999. By the turn of the 20th century, Christianity in Tur Abdin had all but vanished — its longstanding Christian majority reduced to a tiny minority of some 3,500 people, and its ancient monasteries relegated to lonely outposts on the periphery of Christendom. Standing on a ledge of Mar Evgin’s lofty mountain perch, Father Joaqim can see the plains of Syria and Iraq stretch out below, continuing on to the horizon. There, war, civil strife and the rise of ISIS have caused untold misery and the dramatic flight of peoples, including the depletion of indigenous Christian populations. Many see these events as the veritable extinction of Christianity in its birthplace. However, events in Turkey in recent years offer a glimmer of hope that all is not lost. Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union led to significant international pressure on the nation to protect better its minorities. Meanwhile, abroad, members of the Syriac Christian diaspora collaborated to bring people and resources back to their ancestral homeland. Today, undeterred by the horrors of war on the horizon, hope abounds in Tur Abdin, its people looking to a brighter future. Indeed, after a century of loss, many now view Tur Abdin as cradle of rebirth. “I always have hope,” says Father Joaqim, who as a child left Turkey with his family and settled in the Netherlands. “We should not disconnect the hope. Hope should always stay alive.” Among symbols of hope for local Christians, Mar Evgin distinguishes itself. Home to some 350 monks at its height in the Middle Ages, the monastery had been virtually abandoned since its last monk
passed away in 1968. For years, its caretakers were members of a Yazidi family who had taken up residence on the grounds. In 2010, Father Joaqim’s superiors assigned the monk the task of rebuilding the monastery and renewing it as a center of Christian prayer. Today, a fourth-century church, some living quarters, a small school and a cloistered courtyard have returned to regular use. Father Joaqim offers the divine mysteries daily, celebrates the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, provides pastoral care for three nearby Christian villages and welcomes some 15 students to study Syriac and the rites and traditions of Syriac Christianity. “For us, the stones are not important,” says Father Joaqim, seated in the monastery’s central courtyard. “We care more for the spiritual stones.” Opposite the monk, caves carved into the cliff face once housed monks, serving as reminders of the vast history to which the region’s Christians feel intimately connected. “Many families have come to this monastery, and their faith became stronger.” In much the same way, signs of reconstruction, both physical and spiritual, are evident in Christian enclaves all across Tur Abdin.
eartened by the cease-fire — and encouraged by then Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit’s public call in 2001 for Turkey’s emigrated minorities to return — many of the Christian families who had fled during the unstable 90’s have filtered back to their homeland. As with Mar Evgin’s rebirth, abandoned Christian villages have begun to flower once again in Tur Abdin. “We just took a step no one has done before,” says 25-year-old
Ishok Demir. Although born and reared in Switzerland, Mr. Demir moved to the village of Kafro with his parents in 2006. “We are giving an example to other Christians — to take the same step and to make the move.” About 20 miles north of Mar Evgin, Kafro might be compared to Lazarus. Orthodox Syriac families who had left for Switzerland, Germany and Sweden organized themselves in order to return together. With the money they had saved in Europe, they built new, larger houses that today stand beside the ruins of their old, abandoned homes — retained as a testament to their former exile. “After we did this, other villages saw what we had done and made the same move,” Mr. Demir says. Since 1999, some seven villages in the area around Kafro have returned to life through the repatriation of Christians.
In Mardin, one of the larger cities of Tur Abdin, signs of this minor Christian renaissance are apparent in its hilly, ancient streets. Down one such street lies Café Izla Art, named after Izalla, an ancient name for Mardin still used for nearby Mount Izla, on which dozens of ancient monasteries once flourished. Established in February 2015 by the Mardin Syriac Cultural and Solidarity Association, the café is a trendy spot where local youths of all creeds gather. Inspired by vintage films and magazines, the décor incorporates old movie posters and classic periodicals. Films, such as Charlie Chaplin’s “The Dictator,” are projected onto another wall. A stack of copies of a monthly newspaper, Sabro, sits near the bar. Covering Syriac issues, the paper was established three years ago and is distributed across Tur Abdin and Istanbul. “In the last three to four years, a dynamism has arrived in the area,”
says Gabi Yerli, the café manager and president of the Mardin Syriac Cultural and Solidarity Association. A Syriac Orthodox Christian born in Istanbul to a Tur Abdin Syriac father and an Armenian Catholic mother, Mr. Yerli moved to Mardin 14 years ago with his family. “Now I am doing this job to preserve our culture, to protect it,” he says. A few blocks away, workers repair Mardin’s shuttered evangelical Protestant church. A Protestant mission in Tur Abdin was established by American missionaries in the 1810’s, and a church was erected 50 years later. Today, the Protestant community in Tur Abdin numbers a mere 30 people, half of whom live in Mardin, according to Pastor Ender Peker. Nevertheless, they share a common experience with the other Christian communities in the region. “We are renewing this place not just for the Protestants living here, Ayhan Gürkan teaches children Syriac prayers and hymns at a parish school in Midyat.
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF CNEWA
CNEWA began in Turkey.
Overwhelmed by the needs of the Christians fleeing the horrors of
genocide in Tur Abdin and Van, the Greek Catholic bishop of
Constantinople reached out to
friends in North America for help.
Catholics responded generously to the bishop’s pleas for help,
prompting Pope Pius XI to establish
CNEWA as an agency committed to
the humanitarian and pastoral works of the Catholic Eastern churches.
Sadly, many of the descendants of those Christians who survived the
horrors of that genocide are again
on the run. Their safe havens in Iraq and Syria are today embroiled in
conflicts that mirror the conflicts of a century ago in brutality and ferocity.
CNEWA, thanks to the support of its benefactors, remains in the Middle East as a beacon of hope for
Christians and all those of good will. To learn how you can help us do more, call:
1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
but also for nearly one million tourists visiting Mardin each year,” says the pastor, adding that this influx of visitors is an opportunity for the Protestant church to share its story. For now, the church is a mass of rubble while stacks of child-sized
wicker chairs used for Sunday school before the church closed 50 years ago litter the nave. Amid the construction work, these chairs appear as if frozen in time — remnants of a more vibrant era the pastor hopes to restore. Once the renovation is complete, he says, the building will serve both as a place of worship and a platform for interfaith activities. The old quarter of Diyarbakir, another of Tur Abdin’s larger cities, is also home to an important, and now completed, church renovation project: Sourp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church. Among the largest Armenian churches in the Middle East, it was closed during the genocide and repurposed several times — used, for instance, as a German army barracks in World War I and later as a textile factory. Roofless, it was not reopened as a church until 1960. In 2011, Sourp Giragos was restored to its former glory from funds donated by Armenians scattered throughout Turkey and the vast Armenian diaspora. Today, the 25,000-square-foot complex includes the church with its many altars, parish houses, chapels, a school and a cafe. As with the Protestant church in Mardin, Sourp Giragos’s role goes beyond serving the handful of Armenian Christians who remain in Diyarbakir today; it is most of all a symbol of hope and perseverance for Armenians all across Turkey, and the world. Even non-Christian Armenians, such as Ayla Karabakian, who descends from surviving families of the genocide who converted to Islam, come to the church to light candles. Ms. Karabakian says she feels drawn to Sourp Giragos on ethnic and cultural grounds. Some Diyarbakir Armenians reared as Muslims, such as Gaffur Türkay, have returned to their ancestral faith as adults, now that living as a
Christian in Tur Abdin has again become possible.
s part of the process of “Turkification,” President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s project of cultural homogenization in post-Ottoman Turkey, languages other than Turkish were discouraged or banned. The Syriac language — a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus — was among those suppressed. To this day, Syriac is forbidden in schools. The Treaty of Lausanne, signed by Turkey in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, provides for the protection of Turkey’s minorities and education of non-Muslims in their own language in areas where their numbers form a “considerable proportion.” This article has never been implemented and, as a result, generations of Syriac Christians today only know the oral version of their language, which they have learned at home. Knowledge of the written, formal version of the language, which is used for the celebration of the Eucharist and in all the divine mysteries of the Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches, is less common. Yet today, the sound of children chanting prayers and hymns in Syriac is a feature of many churches across Tur Abdin. Where the government has done little to improve the situation — aside from allowing for the creation of graduate-level Syriac language programs in universities — churches have filled the gap by providing language classes on their premises. The courtyard of Mar Barsawmo Syriac Orthodox Church in Midyat is full of children. Boys jump and pounce through beams of sun, chasing a soccer ball, while girls play hopscotch or braid one another’s hair. The parish church teaches some 80 students in classes held as often as six days a week during the summer.
“For some, the glass is half empty. I see it as half full.”
p Februniye Akyol is co-mayor of Mardin. q The faithful gather to pray at the Church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin.
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Teacher Ayhan Gürkan signals the end of the play break with a discreet hand gesture, and all 30 students file into class. Once seated, they open their books and await his instructions. For the day, they have learned new words in Syriac and recited prayers and hymns in the language. Their next lesson will be reading from a comic book on the life of Jesus, in Turkish. “We chose this book to teach them the story of Christ because they can understand better in Turkish,” says Mr. Gürkan. “They haven’t mastered written Syriac, yet.” While such initiatives are signs of survival, every single act of Christian resilience in Tur Abdin is private or independent, devoid entirely of state backing or support. In parallel to pastoral efforts to preserve the faith and culture in non-confrontational ways, many in this new generation of Christians in Tur Abdin have taken a more direct approach, engaging politics head on. They say these informal, crowded extracurricular projects are not enough; only visible, vocal advocacy will pressure the state to extend them their rights as a recognized minority. This political awakening is due in large part to the growth of the
Kurdish political cause. After the 1999 cease-fire, Kurdish nationalist political thinking moved away from the immediate demand for an independent state toward a push for improved minority rights. This crucial shift opened a window of opportunity for other minority groups, including Christians. While too few have any clout on their own, aligning with the more numerous and politically active Kurds has offered these Christian activists a fighting chance to improve their lot. A product of this new political landscape, Februniye Akyol, a 27-year-old Syriac Christian, was elected co-mayor of Mardin last year, after running on the Democratic Regions Party ticket — a local-level political affiliate of an alliance that recently won 59 of the Grand National Assembly’s 550 seats. Today, the municipal building and its official publications bear Turkish, Syriac and Arabic script to reflect the tongues heard in the streets of the polyglot city, a gesture of inclusion unthinkable just a few years ago. “We now have a platform on which to fight for our rights,” says Ms. Akyol, sitting in her corner office. In the past, she says, minority
groups were more guarded and conservative in their approach to politics. “Now they are changing their attitudes, seeing that they can ally with existing political movements and have a voice.” Part of the struggle facing the Christians in Tur Abdin is internal. Some in the community, chastened and traumatized by decades of suppression and persecution, are unwilling to demand more. Many fail to see hope when all around them, in the wider region, signs of despair abound. “For some, the glass is half empty,” says Ms. Akyol. “I see it as half full.” Downstream in this developing political current are other Tur Abdin Christians, many of whom are former émigrés who cut their teeth in politics and community organizing in Europe. On a recent afternoon in Midyat, Tuma Çelik, a 52-year-old who hopes one day to serve in parliament, helps Evgil Türker, a 49-year-old Christian community organizer, move into the new headquarters of the Federation of Syriac Associations, an umbrella organization headed by Mr. Türker. Mr. Türker spent 23 years living in Switzerland and returned to Tur Abdin in 2012. Mr. Çelik divided his 25 years abroad between Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, returning in 2011. Both men say their organizational and political experiences in the diaspora prepared them to make the most of political opportunities showing up now in their homeland. “The political change happening here now can be seen in the context of a shift happening in the larger world,” says Mr. Çelik, who serves as editor-in-chief of the newspaper Sabro, which the Federation of Syriac Associations publishes.
“The world has shifted its focus on minorities and minority rights, and we have been able to see how this could work for the future of Turkey.”
hile Tur Abdin’s Christians may take different paths in divining a place for their community in modern Turkey, together they all offer reasons to be hopeful. Indeed, hope forms the core of Christianity’s continued survival in Turkey. However, it is a hope continuously in peril, as political realities shift around it. War in Syria and Iraq casts a dire shadow, and even without immediate threat of spillover, there have been grave repercussions in recent months. In July, after Turkey conducted airstrikes on ISIS and Kurdish targets in Syria and northern Iraq, respectively, the cease-fire between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Turkish state broke down. Since then, tensions across Tur Abdin and southeast Turkey have escalated, resulting in violent confrontations and a significantly increased presence of the Turkish military across the region. In this climate, Diyarbakir has reached a flash point. On a recent afternoon, mere blocks from Sourp Giragos Church, Kurdish protesters had unearthed cobblestones in the narrow streets of the old quarter, digging a small trench to obstruct the advancement of Turkish security vehicles. For the Christians, renewed conflict threatens to pull the rug out from under their feet, shaking the very stability that halted their exodus and encouraged their return. Further, it could evaporate the possibility of political representation offered by Kurdish cease-fire politics. Back at Mar Evgin Monastery, Father Joaqim points out Syriac inscriptions carved high up on the
Children play in the courtyard of the Syriac Church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin. The parish teaches some 80 students.
walls of the monastery’s buildings. Many centuries old, the inscriptions offer words of hope, telling of adversities overcome earlier in the Christian story. These etchings prove the troubles of today are by no means the first faced by the people of Tur Abdin. A recently published hagiography of the monastery’s founder and patron, St. Eugenios, recounts the early years of the monastery: a litany of miracles from within the faith and of existential threats from without. According to the document, during one particularly trying moment, an angel appeared to the monk, saying: “Do not be afraid of those who can kill your body; they cannot kill your soul.” This, Father Joaqim says, is the difference between the physical and the spiritual stones in the rebuilding process. Irrespective of the turmoil nearby, he continues his work, buoyant with hope. “We are going to get a very big bell from Germany,” he says excitedly. “It’s about four feet high and weighs one and a quarter tons.”
He and his colleagues are erecting a stone structure to support it. On top, they plan to place a cross. But it is not the bell itself that matters, he says. It is what its knell will represent to Christians that counts. “When we ring the bell, the villages all around will be filled with hope.” A regular contributor to ONE, Don Duncan has covered the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and Agence France Presse.
DON DUNCAN HAS WRITTEN MORE ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN TURKEY ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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cnewablog.org/web/ community AND YOU CAN ALSO VIEW A VIDEO HE HAS PRODUCED:
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Accompanying the Church
Nineveh, U.S.A. Chaldean Catholic communities flourish in the American southwest by Joyce Coronel with photographs by Nancy Wiechec 14
Newly ordained, the Rev. David Stephan receives a kiss from his aunt during a reception at St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral in El Cajon. A Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, she traveled from Iraq to be with the family for his ordination.
inah Marzana’s blue-green eyes fill with tears as she recalls the moment her life changed forever. It was December, and she was holding her infant son as her husband, Zergo, drove along the road outside Tel Kaif in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. Her brother sat in the front seat beside her husband. Somehow, they’d lost their way. “My husband asked for directions from another driver,” Ms. Marzana says. At that point, the family discovered the men in the other car were armed. “They asked where we came from and if we were Christian. We told them yes. My husband — he stepped on the gas to try to get away.” But it was too late. The other car sped after them. Bullets ripped through the air, striking and killing her husband. Ms. Marzana was also badly injured by a bullet that lodged in her spine. Paralyzed for six months, she was unable to care for her son, Fadi. Her voice breaks as she describes the helplessness she felt. “I was nursing my son at the time and I heard him crying. I heard some ladies at the hospital asking, ‘Who will feed him?’ ” It was an agonizing two years before the soft-spoken, petite woman could walk normally. At that time, in 2009, she and her family decided to leave Iraq. “I couldn’t stay there — it was too hard,” Ms. Marzana says quietly. Her younger sisters nod, relieved to be far from a place where mortal danger is an everyday fact of life. Vian, 19, sums up their feelings: “Our religion — it means everything to us. We were so scared there.” Aunts, uncles and cousins of the family number among the tens of thousands of Christians, as well as Yazidi and other Iraqi minorities, forced from their homes by ISIS in August 2014, who now live in makeshift housing or in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, or further afield.
Ms. Marzana and her sisters hope to be reunited one day with their displaced family in their new home: a quiet suburb outside Phoenix, Arizona, a world away from the violence that drove them from their native Iraq. Before finding their way to Arizona, Ms. Marzana and her family first settled in El Cajon, California, home to some 60,000 Chaldean Catholics, most of whom hail from Iraq. For decades, Chaldeans have been building communities in the southwestern region of the United States. Now, as ISIS drives Christians from their homes in Iraq, these communities have grown into a base of support and hope across the globe.
ver the years, El Cajon, which lies east of San Diego, has taken on the shape of its growing community of Iraqi Christians. Signs in many of the city’s shops and restaurants are in Chaldean or Arabic, leading some to dub East Main Street, “Little Baghdad.” A stroll through the grounds of St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral is more reminiscent of the ancient city of Babylon, with sculptured lions of Ishtar guarding the entrance to the hall. From this city, Bishop Sarhad Jammo, a native of Baghdad, leads the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, a jurisdiction spanning 19 states in the west of the country. Second only to Michigan — the cradle of the nation’s other Chaldean eparchy — California has grown into a major Chaldean hub, with ten parishes and two missions. El Cajon alone also boasts two convents, a monastery and a seminary alongside a catechetical program serving 1,000 children, who learn to pray and celebrate the Qurbana, the eucharistic liturgy of the Chaldean Church, in a modern form of the Aramaic language.
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CNEWA is the Holy See’s primary vehicle to assist Catholics of the Eastern churches. Resource
limitations require CNEWA to prioritize by need. Thanks be to God, those Eastern Catholics settling in the
Americas, Europe and Oceania have
prospered, enabling CNEWA to focus on their brothers and sisters in need in their troubled homelands from Armenia to Ethiopia.
But in the pages of ONE magazine
and the ONE-TO-ONE blog, CNEWA
includes the stories of those men and women of the Eastern churches who, despite the many challenges, live out
their faith in environments so removed from the spirit and traditions of their homelands.
and thumb through the magazine’s
considerable archive of stories of the Eastern churches from Australia to Canada to Brazil.
On a warm Friday morning in mid-August, a red-haired altar server sweeps the floor in the hall at St. Michael Chaldean Church, where some 70 or so parishioners had just finished a morning game of bingo. Born in Baghdad, Domunik Shamoun, 11, came to the United States in 2008 with his two older brothers and parents. He expresses pride in his heritage. “I think it’s cool that Jesus spoke Chaldean when he was alive. I speak the same language,” he says during a pause from his work. At home he speaks Chaldean to his parents and English to his brothers. El Cajon’s Mar Abba the Great Seminary — the only Chaldean seminary outside of Iraq — reflects the vibrancy of the Chaldean community in the western United States. In 2015, Bishop Sarhad ordained four priests; three were
born in the United States, and a fourth arrived with his parents when he was 3. “I don’t think Chaldeans are just one nation among nations,” Bishop Sarhad says. “They have a major role in the redemptive plan of God.” That great destiny, he says, is not his own invention, but rather foreshadowed in the Bible when God called Abraham from the land of Chaldea. “He’s the one who said there is one spiritual God, the creator of humanity. I am the heir of that heritage. I cannot escape it,” Bishop Sarhad adds. The Chaldean heritage is evident from the moment the blue dome of St. Peter Cathedral appears along the highway that snakes through this sleepy town in Southern California. For Chaldeans, the church is the center of their lives.
tanding inside the cathedral on a late summer afternoon, Mark Arabo, a San Diego businessman and community leader, translates for Romey Saed, an Iraqi immigrant still learning English who arrived in El Cajon two years ago. His brother, who is now displaced in northern Iraq, hopes one day to join him. Mr. Saed works in a store, just as he did back home, but with one major difference. “Here, I don’t worry about my kids. I don’t worry about my wife. It’s nice. I do what I want.” Mr. Arabo is well known in the Chaldean community and beyond for his efforts to assist those displaced by violence. “They’re just so happy to be in America,” Mr. Arabo says. “A lot of them do have posttraumatic stress. Some of them still think that ISIS will come get them.” Noori Barka, a local businessman, works with many of the refugees. His company employs 35 people, 30 of whom are Chaldean. “The church is number one in our lives,” Mr. Barka says. “We are a small community. Everybody knows everybody.” Mr. Barka has worked to build a strong relationship with city leaders and help bridge the cultural divide. At first, residents were uneasy when they saw signs in Arabic; by 2014, they had grown comfortable enough to declare September “Chaldean-American Month” in El Cajon. He has spoken at events throughout the area, sharing the message that Chaldeans are descendants of some of the earliest Christian communities in the Middle East — something he says surprises audiences. He serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Club, where many Chaldean children participate in after-school programs. Mr. Barka is also in the process of creating a program to help Chaldeans establish businesses, something he says is in their blood. The idea
“Chaldeans have a major role in the redemptive plan of God.”
sprang from his experience helping many of his relatives set up shop. “Here they have opportunity. This is the place in the world that you can have nothing — no degree, no money — but you still can make it,” Mr. Barka says. Deacon Martin Banni, 24, a student at Mar Abba the Great Seminary, has only been in El Cajon two months. He and his pastor were the last two people to leave the village of Karamlish, near Mosul, when ISIS swept through the area last year, threatening Christians with death or the jizya tax if they would not convert. “Father called the bishop and he said, ‘It is finished. You have to go,’ ” Deacon Martin recounts. “So we rang the church bell. It was 11 p.m. Our people, they knew something bad was happening.” After helping carloads of villagers pack up, Deacon Banni and his pastor took the Bible and the Eucharist and left St. Barbara Church, built on the site where local tradition believes the thirdcentury martyr gave her life. “My body is here, but my heart is there,” Deacon Banni notes wistfully. Though he has found safety in North America, along with
p Bishop Sarhad Jammo heads the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of the Chaldeans. t People mingle outside St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral in El Cajon.
his parents and older brothers, he longs to return to his native Iraq, to serve his brothers and sisters who are suffering for the faith. Chorbishop Felix Shabi, a native of Karamlish who leads the Chaldean vicariate of Arizona, says his brother priests share similar sentiments. “I want to be with my people in their time of suffering,” he says, though he acknowledges the Chaldean community in Arizona needs its leader. Chorbishop Shabi, known throughout the eparchy as “Father Felix,” came to the United States in 2002. He served seven years in El Cajon and erected St. Barbara Church in Las Vegas before relocating to Phoenix in 2009. “Here we are spread out. Our people are in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Glendale, Surprise,” the priest says, ticking off a list of some of the suburbs that comprise the Phoenix metropolitan area. Once a
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month, he travels two hours to Tucson to celebrate the Qurbana and attend to the Chaldean families who live there. “Many of them, their family has only one car, so if one is working, the rest of the family cannot get to church.” Chorbishop Shabi dreams of the day he can unite the Chaldeans of Phoenix in one church building. For now, the community rents two churches — one on Phoenix’s northwest side and the other on the southeast side.
ar Abraham Chaldean Church, the community’s headquarters in Arizona, was founded in 1995 by 70 Chaldean families who settled in the state. Raad Delly was among them. His uncle, Mar Emanuel III, led the Chaldean Church as patriarch and cardinal, and died in San Diego in 2014. Mr. Delly doesn’t have any grandchildren yet, but says that when he does, he will teach them their Chaldean heritage. Maha George, who sings in the choir at the Chaldean mission in Gilbert, outside Phoenix, says the same. Mrs. George left Baghdad
years ago after being shot by one of Saddam Hussein’s men while she was eight months pregnant. Her husband, Luay, worked three jobs to help establish their family, which now co-owns two car washes. “It’s our roots. It’s a great history to belong to,” Mrs. George says. “America took us in, thank God, but we don’t want that history to get lost. Somebody has to keep it.” The eparchy’s four new priests have all pledged to help preserve this legacy. Although only in their early 20’s, the men are steeped in their heritage. The Rev. David Stephan, 23, spoke before a packed cathedral at his ordination, sharing the tale of his journey in faith. Reared close to the church, he first felt called to the priesthood when he was 8 years old, and for a time he briefly considered entering the Jesuit novitiate after high school. Then Bishop Sarhad stepped in for what would prove an intense encounter. “He said, ‘If you are at your friend’s house and you hear that your house is on fire, and another house in your neighborhood is on fire, where would you go to first?’ I said, ‘My house, of course,’ like
‘what’s he talking about? Of course it’s logical that I would go to my house first.’ And then he just stared at me for about two minutes until finally it clicked, what he was trying to get through. This is my home. This is my house,” Father Stephan said to thunderous applause. The Rev. Simon Esshaki, 24, ordained in July, said new priests are key to preserving their identity. “Bishop Sarhad taught us that worshiping God is the most important thing you can do on this earth and that the Chaldean liturgy has treasures that are centuries old,” Father Esshaki said. At a celebration after the ordinations of two new priests, seminarian Rami Georgis reflects on the Chaldean identity, forged in the crucible of martyrdom. “Our faith is in our blood. We are not scared of carrying our faith. Our fathers, they shed their blood for the faith, for the community and their families.” In this, he says, the Chaldean Catholic community grounds itself. “When there is no church, they don’t feel alive,” he says. “So they start from square one, ask for a priest and establish a church.” Looking ahead, he sees hope. “God is going to be with us to defend us. He will carry us and renew us and make us strong.” Joyce Coronel’s work appears regularly in the Catholic press, including The Catholic Sun in Phoenix, Our Sunday Visitor and The Tidings in Los Angeles.
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Parishioners attend the liturgy at Holy Family Chaldean Mission in Phoenix. Chaldean Catholics Zinah Marzana and her mother, Victoria, live in Gilbert, Arizona.
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Children in Need
Kerala’s House of Hope Sisters of the Sacred Heart nurture children with special needs by Jose Kavi with photographs by Jose Jacob
n early June, the beginning of the academic year in India, a school in the state of Kerala buzzed with uncommon excitement. A student, Jijomon Mathai, had been selected to participate in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games. The 18-year-old young man from a remote village in the southwestern Indian state would go on to join some 7,000 athletes with special needs from around the world in Los
Angeles. There, he would compete before an international audience. “We are very excited Jijomon was selected for the Indian volleyball team,” said Sacred Heart Sister Elsa Tom Karakatt, principal of the school known as Ashabhavan, the “House of Hope” in Malayalam and Hindi, the local languages. The school now holds Jijomon as a model of what children with special needs can achieve, given proper care and support.
Through this initiative in Nedumkandam, a village in Kerala’s Idukki province, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart have been serving children with special needs since 1994. A religious community of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, they offer a loving environment to children with autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities. Jijomon came to the school in 2006, the same year Sister Elsa took over as principal.
“He was a tiny, malnourished child,” she recounted. “Because of his learning disability, he was almost like a vegetable, and could hardly eat his food.” Over nine years, he has learned to excel in all activities, from basic education to singing, dancing and games. The lives of many children have improved greatly after coming to Ashabhavan, said K. K. Jayachandran, a Kerala legislator and an associate of the school for the past 15 years. He attributed this success to the care and attention the sisters and their lay colleagues give to each student. “Generally, our society does not care much for such children,” the Hindu assemblyman said, also commending Ashabhavan for serving people of all creeds. Another Ashabhavan associate, Thomas Ramapurath, said parents often hide disabled children from the public, to spare themselves and their other children stigmatization. Or, in some cases, parents choose to ignore their child’s special needs. “Some parents consider it a shame to send these children to institutions such as Ashabhavan. They are sent to public schools that are not equipped to help them,” explained the retired bank manager, the first chairperson of Ashabhavan’s governing body. Over the years, both Mr. Ramapurath and Mr. Jayachandran have observed improvements in these social attitudes, which they attribute to Ashabhavan’s public outreach efforts. Ashabhavan is one of about 300 special educational schools in Kerala. According to the 2011 census, about 762,000 of Kerala’s 33.4 million people suffer with disabilities. Throughout the subcontinent, most live in rural areas. According to Sister Elsa, who served as secretary of the All Kerala
Sister Elsa, the principal, said the school strives to teach the children self-reliance. Special Schools Association for nine years, church groups manage nearly 75 percent of schools catering to children with special needs. Of the 11 such institutions in Idukki, all but one are church-based, she said. Ashabhavan, added the 49-yearold sister, strives to teach self-reliance. Its curriculum runs the gamut from daily necessities such as hygiene and grooming to vocational skills, such as candle making, tailoring and other useful arts and crafts. Through practical, patient lessons and a nurturing environment, Ashabhavan’s Sacred Heart Sisters are helping some of India’s most vulnerable young people achieve a better life.
rom its humble roots — little more than two rooms inside an orphanage for girls attached to the convent — the school has grown by leaps and bounds. It began with the pioneering efforts of sisters in Thodupuzha, 50 miles west of Nedumkandam. As more children arrived from distant villages in Idukki, a larger facility became necessary, Sister Elsa said.
Idukki, Kerala’s second largest district, covers 1,729 square miles of rugged mountains, crisscrossed with serpentine roads through massive tea and cardamom estates that employ hundreds of thousands of people. The district is also home to thousands of small-scale farmers owning fewer than five acres of land. Sister Elsa said they came to Nedumkandam because of a bank manager — the father of an autistic boy — who was so impressed with their work in Thodupuzha, he hoped to bring a similar institution in his own village. His son was among the first students at Ashabhavan. By 2000, Ashabhavan enrolled some 25 children, still growing in number and age. Soon, limited space became a problem, and the sisters pressed their superiors to erect a separate building. Their request was granted in 2002. Ashabhavan now comprises two buildings connected by a corridor. An L-shaped three-story building houses the principal’s office, faculty room, dormitories and classrooms for both academic and vocational
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Caring for children in need
throughout the Middle East,
Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe is a core program of
CNEWA. And the needs of children served by the many child care
initiatives of the Catholic Eastern
churches vary from region to region. But children with special needs,
such as Jijomon, Navin and Gifto of the House of Hope in India’s
southwestern province of Kerala, remain of special concern to the
church, as many of these little ones have been ignored, or worse, in
societies that fear disabilities as a sign of divine displeasure. To learn more about
how you can help, call:
1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
training. The other, a two-story building, contains a kitchen and dining hall, with additional classrooms and therapy centers on the second floor. In its 21 years, Ashabhavan has cared for 255 children. Currently, the facility hosts 68 boys and 55 girls from various villages in Idukki. Among them, 67 are Christian, 51 are Hindu and 5 are Muslim. With few exceptions, Sister Elsa said, the students in Ashabhavan come from poor families.
The home’s staff boasts 31 teachers, including six sisters. Some of Ashabhavan’s senior students work as helpers — such as Simi Saji, who sells candles and other student crafts at a shop near the village’s main road. “All of them are trained and committed,” said Mr. Ramapurath. “The sisters not only feed the children with their own hands, but eat from the same plate. No one [else] can show such love and affection to these children.” The Syro-Malabar Catholic added that he chose to begin working with the sisters after being impressed by their sincerity and transparency. He has also encouraged his bank to join the local Lions Club to celebrate Onam, Kerala’s harvest festival, with the Ashabhavan children for several years running. One of the sisters at the school, Sister Jincy Paul, said she deliberately chose to work with children with special needs. “It is easier to teach able children. But few people are willing to care for these children, to love them,”
p Two of the school’s sisters help a young girl with her leg braces, while her mother comforts her. u Jijoman Mathai, center, was chosen to compete in the Special Olympics.
she said. Sister Jincy had pursued a two-year diploma in special education to prepare for her role at Ashabhavan. A teacher must be patient, she added, and adjust expectations to suit individual ability levels. Georgekutty Nidiyedathukunnel, who joined the Ashabhavan staff as physical trainer and sports teacher a year ago, said the school’s comprehensive program has changed the children. “Introverted children have come out of their shell and bloomed,” he said. And, he added, Jijomon’s selection to the Olympic team has injected a new spirit in the school. Sister Elsa also gave credit to another contributor to the school’s success: the State Council of Educational Research and Training of Kerala, an autonomous
government body that researches methods and policies to improve education quality. By keeping its program current, Ashabhavan can offer the most to its students. In March, the school opened a secondary center in Rajakkad, about 15 miles north of Nedumkandam, to answer increasing requests for help from nearby villages. Ambily Kavumattom, the lead instructor in Rajakkad, said around 40 children came to them in the first three months. Mrs. Kavumattom, who surveyed the villages as part of her earlier work with the government, estimated about a quarter of children born in those villages suffer from various kinds of disabilities. She suspected pesticides, such as endosulfan, lay at the root of this trend. Though the chemical was banned in Kerala in 2002 — and worldwide in 2011 — for its high toxicity and link to birth defects, some recent studies have still found residue in soil samples, likely due to decades of aerial spraying and, as some have suggested, lax enforcement.
t the beginning of the school year, Navin Binoy stepped through the gate of the main campus, holding his mother’s hand. At the entrance, he left her side and walked up the steps to greet a teacher. When his mother left, tears trickled down his cheeks, but he remained composed. By the next morning, his spirit was restored, and he happily participated in school activities. Beena Binoy said Navin, eldest of her four children, has shown great improvement since coming to Ashabhavan. “Earlier, he would not talk and looked lost.” In two years, she said, he has grown more responsive and alert. Gifto Bobby, 12, has been coming to the school for the past five years. His mother, Solly, said he has become talkative and active after going to the school. Gifto was first diagnosed with a learning disability at only 18 months old. “I was sad in the beginning,” she said, “but I consider him my biggest blessing.”
Sister Jincy’s family members had been upset when they learned of her decision to work with specialneeds children. However, their attitude changed after meeting Jijomon and his younger sister, Nisha, who also attends the school. “Now my family members come here to request the children to pray for them,” she said. Though Sister Jincy admitted she had been nervous at first, she has also grown, leaving behind fears and reservations, noting: “I cannot think of life without them.” Jose Kavi writes about social and religious issues in India from New Delhi. LEARN MORE ABOUT HELPING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS IN INDIA ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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Children in Need
The Future at Their Fingertips Visually impaired students in Ethiopia learn independence by James Jeffrey with photographs by Petterik Wiggers
eurke Habtam stands before 99 of her classmates, reading aloud from a sheet of announcements. Among other topics, she notes the day as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. The 15-year-old’s deft fingertips glide back and forth over Braille indentations on pages held in front of her burgundy uniform. With that, the assembly marks the beginning of another school day at Shashemene School for the Blind, which teaches first- through sixthgrade students, ages 7 to 18. The girls, 47 in all, line up before a flagpole. One affixes the flag of the surrounding Oromia region to the rope, using a mark on the cloth to find the top. Alongside a second pole, 52 boys stand in a similar arrangement while one attaches the
green, yellow and red flag of Ethiopia. After the students raise the flags and sing the national anthem, they file away, each placing a hand on the shoulder of the student to the front, while many use another hand to trace a wall guiding them to class. However, it soon becomes clear this caterpillar-like procession is more of a formality; throughout the day, blind and partially sighted students walk about the school unassisted, navigating rooms and passing through doorways without having to feel their way, guided by their own sense of spatial mapping. “They learn the school’s layout and always seem to know where to go,” says Sister Ashrida Mendes, 60, a petite Indian sister with a ready smile. She is one of three Franciscan
Sisters of St. Mary of the Angels who manage the school, which lies about 150 miles south of Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. Students range from fully blind to partially sighted, with impairments owing to a variety of problems — many preventable — such as small pox, measles, vitamin A deficiency, malnutrition, glaucoma or inherited retinal conditions. Regardless of their unique circumstances, students can all expect to learn the same crucial trait: independence. “Here we try to teach the students to do everything on their own,” Sister Ashrida says. “It’s about giving them life skills for when they enter the wider world afterwards.” In a second-grade mathematics class, students sit paired at desks with wooden clock faces studded
Thanks to its generous benefactors, CNEWA has supported the Shashemene School for the Blind for decades — one of the 54 child care institutions in the country receiving more than half a million dollars annually. In gratitude for CNEWA’s many benefactors, Sister Ashrida says this regular support is a balm to remedy the constant state of financial uncertainty, and offers prayers for those intentions of CNEWA’s benefactors known only to God. To support the Shashemene School and its work with the blind, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
with metal at the hour positions, learning how to calculate time. The school fosters a strong ethos of nurturing, encouraging older or more academically minded students to guide their peers. Ranked number two in his grade, 8-year-old Tamensken assists 10-year-old Kaseem, who can only partially hear from one ear. Even at his young age, Tamensken has big plans. “I want to be a lawyer,” he says. In a nation where, according to a 2005 United Nations report, fewer than 1 percent of children with special needs have access to education, the sisters and staff of the Shashemene School for the Blind have been helping students achieve such goals for decades.
n the morning, boys gather around bunk beds in their dormitory, squaring off bed sheets before positioning, tucking in and smoothing blankets. At the bottom of each set of bunk beds is a pair of drawers, one for each boy, storing neatly folded clothes and a handful of other possessions. “Every Wednesday a teacher inspects their bed spaces and awards marks that go toward their grades,” says Lucas Tisino, who has taught at the school for more than three decades and whose slim
frame and sharp features belie his age, 51. “The students don’t like to depend on others. They want to do it all on their own.” During mid-morning recess, the children enjoy a snack and busy themselves in a range of distractions before their next class. Although classes are coeducational, recreation and boarding are separated. In a fenced-off area, boys play a quick game of soccer. The goalkeeper, 12-year-old Teshta, positions himself according to the sounds of the ball scuffing the ground, then lunges or dives to block a shot he judges inbound. Though he sometimes misjudges, he is never discouraged, and often succeeds in redirecting the ball. Such tenacity is also often needed for the school’s mentors. “It can be hard when you aren’t able to see a response in the children’s faces,” Sister Ana says. “You have to always strain and give your energy, and you need a lot of patience and understanding.” Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, girls move in groups of two, three or four, hanging their arms around each other’s shoulders q Children at the Shashemene School clean their dishes after breakfast.
“It is a joy to see students growing up and getting their dignity.” p Sister Ana Bereira and Sister Ashrida Mendes help manage the school.
as they pace up and down walkways. Some chat, laughing. One student knits a scarf as a friend manages the ball of luminous green string. Others study and practice Braille. “Reading Braille is a challenge, but they never give up,” says Sister Ana Bereira, 32. As with Sister Ashrida, Sister Ana comes from Goa, India. “Once they get to higher education, it might take them longer to complete, but they stay on; they know education is the only way forward for them.” Seated at an open-air table, 13-year-old Yeshenwork sits still, moving only her fingers across the sheets on her lap. “It’s no problem to read,” she reports. Nearby, a girl named Tinsaiay presses a sharp metal prod into a stencil over a sheet of Braille paper. The small perforations quickly transform the page into a letter to a friend. Sister Ashrida displays a homemade Braille book, explaining how the students make these for themselves — even winding threads
into string for bindings — to take as reference material when they leave the school. “They want to excel, and are thinking of the future,” she says. “They will not be sidelined in anything; they want to explore everything. … “I remember one student in particular,” Sister Ashrida says. “She was blind and had lost both her legs in a fire. But she was always smiling. Now she is at another school continuing her studies in the seventh grade, sharing her skills with two other blind children.” This attitude is not uncommon, Sister Ashrida says. “The students always seem to look on the positive, brighter side of things.” Another alumnus made a particular impression on her. After graduating from university, one young man could not find a job, she explains. Undaunted, he returned to the university, seeking job placement assistance. Four months later, he telephoned Sister Ashrida to discuss his new job, and other news. “He told me he had also gotten married. He said he needed the help of a woman,” she says, laughing.
ong before dawn on the day of its grand opening, 23 February 1981, families were already arriving at the school for the blind in the town of Shashemene. At the time, it was only the second school of its kind in the country. At 6 a.m., arrivals celebrated Mass with the Rev. John Bonzanino, the Italian priest who founded the school, along with two Irish Sisters of Charity, Mary McAteer and Rosario Finnera. The celebration included reading the passage from the Gospel of St. Mark in which Jesus restored Bartimaeus’s sight. Originally consisting of three small classrooms and two dormitories for 33 pupils, the school moved in 1983 to the large compound that serves it today. This includes a U-shaped bungalow complex containing a dozen classrooms, a library, a science laboratory, washrooms, dormitories, a dining hall and numerous other facilities. Sister Ana chose to come to the school after hearing about it through her superiors. “I always wanted to do something different and related to special needs, so I said, ‘I will try.’ I had to give it a go — otherwise how would I know?”
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For all their accomplishments, the challenges are undeniable. Sister Ashrida says securing a future for students less academically inclined is always a concern. “We aren’t able to teach them other skills. What will they do afterwards? I’m always thinking of how we might help them.” A previous school administrator highlighted another complication still evident today. “The fact that there are no local contributions is regrettable,” wrote Sister Jacintha in a booklet to mark the school’s silver jubilee in 2006. “Unless and until society changes its attitudes towards the blind and disabled, and takes up its share of responsibility, there will be no lasting solution to the problem.” Thanks to education and media, attitudes in Ethiopia toward blindness have improved, says Argaw Fantu, regional director in Ethiopia for CNEWA. But in rural
and more remote areas, Mr. Fantu notes, many people still consider any form of disability a curse, often shutting children in homes, away from society. Sister Ashrida points out 18-yearold Lubo, sitting with her friends. “When she arrived five years ago she couldn’t walk, having been hidden in her home for so long,” Sister Ashrida says. “It’s a joy to see students growing up and getting their dignity.” Change, incrementally, is coming to Ethiopia, thanks to the likes of the school and other organizations — the vast majority of which are international. “Former students are very successful,” Mr. Fantu says, “not only at leading independent lives but by contributing to the nation — showing that blindness is not a curse.” “We never know if our benefactors will always be able to help — they may have their own crises to deal
p Lucas Tisino, who has worked at the school for more than three decades, teaches students with Braille.
with,” Sister Ashrida says. “We have to trust in God that we will find what we need. Though it’s not just financial investment we need but also personal investment and expertise.”
n Saturday morning, students greet the day leisurely. Speakers inside the school are tuned to a local radio station. A group of girls gathers beneath one speaker as they tend to one another’s hair. Some girls have close-cropped hair — newcomers, Sister Ashrida explains, must be shaved if they arrive with head lice. Once this threat has been dealt with, however, the girls eagerly take charge of hairdressing, arranging one another’s hair into various styles prevalent in Ethiopia.
“If the hair is fine it might take me 45 minutes to an hour; if the hair is thick it could take two hours,” says partially sighted Bontu, 15, weaving the hair of a younger girl into the tight braids of the shuruba style. She uses a pen to part the hair and start on a new section while she discusses her impairment. “I am happy. There is no problem; it is God’s will,” she says. “I am ready to accept what he has given me — at least I can see something.” Over on the boys’ side, sprightly second-grader Tamensken is jumping rope, his face set in concentration, as the other boys count from the sounds of the rope hitting the ground. “The most important thing I learned [at Shashemene],” says Yetnebersh Nigussie, 33, who attended the school in the early 1990’s, “was give as much as you can.” “When you give, you fill a gap,” she says. “People think that by receiving you fill a gap, but the sisters showed me it’s not like that,” continues the well-known Ethiopian lawyer and disability activist, who lost her sight at the age of 5. In Ms. Nigussie’s office at the Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development, which she cofounded, she discusses other challenges she’s surmounted — including those tied to gender roles, which tend to portray men as more suited to leadership positions. “For me, women have always been leaders,” she says, describing how the sisters were her earliest and most important models of leadership. Under their guidance, she adds, she grew in the Catholic faith that has helped inspire and sustain her efforts. Only a small minority of the school’s students is Catholic; most
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are Ethiopian Orthodox or Muslim. This pattern holds across Ethiopia, where the Catholic Church is the second-largest provider of schools after the Ethiopian government, even though Catholics account for fewer than 1 percent of all Ethiopians. “This is the essence of the Catholic Church — it’s all encompassing, especially with schools,” Mr. Fantu says. “Everyone appreciates and values its holistic formulation, which isn’t just about teaching, but also ethics, about how to live.” Students at Shashemene have absorbed this lesson well. During a typical day, numerous moments hint at the collective support and courage that abound among students. After dinner, the boys gather to sit along a low wall to sing a hymn. As a small boy moves to take his place, he stumbles. In an instant, a boy already seated extends a hand to support him,
while a larger boy standing beside reaches an arm around to steady him. “They don’t have fears,” Sister Ana says. “Those of us who can see are so afraid, we worry about everything we do. But not them — they travel all over the country, they get jobs, and they come up in life.” James Jeffrey is a business journalist based in Addis Ababa. His work has appeared in African Business magazine and the Austin Business Journal.
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Accompanying the Church
A day in the life of an
by Michele Chabin with photographs by Ilene Perlman
ifteen minutes before the liturgy, the pews at Sts. Peter and Paul Church are nearly full as people of all ages arrive. Anticipation builds as the parishioners wait for the Rev. Androwas Bahus to finish his prayers of preparation — they in their Sunday best, he in white and gold vestments. Finally, the priest switches on the lights of the recently refurbished church, the glow of chandeliers illuminating dozens of gilded icons on the wall depicting the life of Jesus. The parishioners straighten up as the Melkite Greek Catholic Divine Liturgy begins. They smile when the parish’s many children gather before the priest for a blessing, and listen intently to the homily, focusing on the importance of quietly helping the needy, and placing trust in God. “Create a relationship with your Father in heaven,” Father Bahus says. “We know that when we give, we receive.” At the end of the Eucharist, the priest urges his parishioners to attend a solidarity rally that afternoon at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee, which, just days earlier, had been badly damaged in an arson attack.
In the seven years since becoming parish priest in the city of Shefa‘Amr — a small city in the Galilee with a mixed population of Christians, Muslims and Druze — Father Bahus has inspired his parishioners to move beyond their fears and work toward the good of their small, tight-knit community. Under his guidance, the city’s Melkite Greek Catholics — who, along with Christians from other denominations, comprise a quarter of the city’s population of 40,000 — have made great strides in renewing faith and community. By pooling its resources and enthusiasm, the parish has renovated and restored their Ottoman-era stone church, built a thriving community center and supported church-run schools, the budgets of which have been slashed in recent years by the Israeli government. According to parishioners, the parish has experienced a revival ever since Father Bahus arrived. People speak highly of his enthusiasm, charisma, activism and determination to stem the tide of Christian emigration from Israel. They admire his efforts to foster communal responsibility and a deep sense of belonging.
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“Abuna has changed everything,” says Amal Mishael, using the Arabic term for “father.” A middle-aged community member, Ms. Mishael was visiting her 82-year-old grandmother, Nadia Shihab, during the priest’s weekly communion call. He makes roughly 75 such home visits per week to those not well enough to attend parish liturgies. “It keeps me fit,” he says, referring to the hundreds of stairs he climbs in the process. Seated alongside more than a dozen of her relatives, who spend every Sunday afternoon together in Ms. Shihab’s spotless home, Ms. Mishael says that until Father Bahus took up his post, her mother had not been to church in a decade. “Now she goes to church every week to hear his sermon. Now there’s not an empty seat in the church during the liturgy. He has returned the faith to the people.” Aida Gamal, another relative of Ms. Shihab, compliments him on his warmth and compassion as she tries to get him to eat another sweet. “We are grateful to have you as our abuna.” As he heads out the door and to his next stop, Father Bahus says such tributes are gratifying, but ultimately it is not his efforts but those of his flock that deserve recognition. “It is their work and their generosity sustaining the parish. Whatever the need, the people here are always ready. I’m just the engine,” he insists.
orn in the northern Israeli coastal city of Acre in 1969, Father Bahus hails from a deeply religious Catholic family, which over the years has produced 16 priests and one patriarch. His father, formerly the director of the Melkite school in Acre, was also the parish cantor, a role of considerable importance in the Byzantine Christian tradition.
Drawn to the church at an early age, he entered the junior seminary in Nazareth at the age of 14. He recalls how, when he was 18, his parents instructed him to get a university degree instead of going straight into the priesthood. He honored their wishes but, drawn to his calling a year later, asked the advice of the late Archbishop Maximus Salloum of Galilee. “The bishop told me, ‘We are waiting for you; prepare to go to Rome to study.’ “When I told my parents, my father said, ‘Wait 15 days and if you feel the same way, then go.’ My mother said ‘No way, forget it; I want to see you married.’ ” Although Melkite Greek Catholic priests are permitted to marry before entering the priesthood, they cannot marry after receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders. By September 1989 he was studying Italian in Rome. Soon, he entered the Greek Pontifical College of St. Athanasius as a seminarian. He earned an undergraduate degree followed by a graduate degree in philosophy. During his fifth year in the seminary, he and his fellow seminarians faced a familiar question. “The seminary asks whether we wish to marry before we become priests,” Father Bahus says, noting some 75 percent of the Melkite priests in the archeparchy are married. Ultimately, he declined, and today says he has no regrets. “When you make important decisions, it’s important never to look back.” Finally, in 1996, he was ordained a priest. Upon his return to Israel, the newly ordained priest asked Archbishop Maximus to permit him to lead the parish in Acre. “He had asked other priests to serve there, but it is a very small
place, with only 400 in the Greek Catholic community. The building had been abandoned for 20 years and there was no resident priest.” The archbishop granted the request on the condition that, during the week, he also serve as vice director of the St. Joseph School in Nazareth. The fresh-faced priest brought his trademark enthusiasm back to Acre, where he made it a priority to renovate the church and reinvigorate his childhood parish, small though it was. Then, seven years ago, he assumed his position as parish priest in Shefa-‘Amr, where he celebrates the Divine Liturgy three times on Sundays, among other priestly duties — providing spiritual support to his parishioners, visiting the sick and presiding at baptisms, weddings and funerals. Father Bahus also celebrates the liturgy once a week in Acre and spends three to four days a week in the city of Haifa, where he serves as the chief financial officer in the archbishop’s office. Three or four times a week he celebrates the liturgy at the Sisters of Nazareth School in Shefa-‘Amr, where he serves as the school’s spiritual leader. “There are 74,000 Melkite believers in the Galilee who attend 30 churches,” he says of the region he serves, which is home to nearly half of Israel’s 162,000 Christians. “There are another 5,000 to 6,000 believers in Jerusalem and the West Bank. We are the largest church in Shefa-‘Amr.” z Father Bahus has made education a priority at his parish. Here, he makes a point while instructing children at his church. u On Sunday, the priest brings communion to the elderly and homebound.
“Whatever the need, the people here are always ready. I’m just the engine”
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The priest says he spent his first year in Shefa-‘Amr “bringing people back to church.” Opening a new community center, called Home of Our Lady, was an important part of the process. Inside its modern, airy spaces, community members host film nights, youth activities, conferences, school meetings and memorial services. As a general guideline, he asks every family to make a monthly donation of about $30, both to improve the parish and make the community feel more invested in what happens here. Some of that money has helped repair and restore the formerly sagging church building, which is now a place where couples are proud to hold their weddings.
srael is perhaps the best place in the Middle East to be a Christian, but who knows what the future will bring?” the priest reflects as he cuts up tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad in the rectory kitchen during a rare hour of downtime. “These attacks on our churches in Israel,” he says, referring to recent arsonist attacks, “show me that anything is possible. The Middle East is not a secure place for Christians.” But instead of feeling helpless in the face of political forces beyond their control, he continues, Christians — especially the young, who often move abroad — need to feel a sense of empowerment. “Following the attack on the Church of the Multiplication, our young people, the Facebook people, said to me, ‘What are you waiting for, Abuna?’ So other church leaders from a variety of denominations and I called on the people to pray and also to take action.” Father Bahus acknowledges the region’s religious leaders can fall behind the curve. “In this case, our communities pushed for a reaction so we organized the rally at the torched church.” As with minorities all over the world, he says, “We must work to protect our presence. Emigration has been a problem. Many of our young people study abroad, in Europe and North America, and they find a nice, quiet way of life. Our challenge is: How do we bring them back?” The priest says one of the problems facing young Israeli Christian professionals, and Israeli Arabs in general, is the undercurrent of racism and discrimination in the workplace, despite its illegality. Although Christian Israelis are among the most educated people in the country, and can serve as a
Father Androwas has fostered a sense of community in his parish and often visits with families.
bridge because they speak both Arabic and Hebrew fluently, some Jewish employers refuse to hire Arabs. “We have integrated ourselves into Israeli society. We work in every hospital, in education, in pharmacies. Our young people are looking for jobs with autonomy, where they don’t have to ask for an individual to give them a job.” Walking to the chapel of the Sisters of Nazareth School, he suggests the best way to keep young Christians connected to their faith and the Holy Land is to provide a strong Christian education. “Our schools are perhaps the single most important tool in shaping a Christian identity, where our children are brought up in a totally Christian atmosphere. It’s the key to our survival.” Unfortunately, he says, the Israeli government has slashed the budgets of semi-private schools, including Christian ones. “So we have been forced to charge the parents higher tuition and many of our parents cannot afford to pay.” With few external sources of funding, the burden falls largely on the parishioners. As with other Christians in Israel, Father Bahus says, Melkite Greek Catholics have a rich and complex identity. “I consider myself an Arab Palestinian Christian and Israeli citizen. It is a mixture — a cocktail, if you will. We are all of these things, one inseparable from the other.” As Arabs, he says, “we have the same language as Muslims, the same culture and the same problems.” Even so, the priest acknowledges there have been violent exchanges
between Christians and Druze in Shefa-‘Amr in the past. A formal truce between the warring families led by the city’s faith leaders put an end to the hostilities. “This land is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews, and there are some sick extremists who want us to be divided against each other. Our challenge now is to learn how to live together, to consciously decide how to live together.”
ater in the afternoon, Father Bahus stands before a bride and groom in the packed church, joined at the altar by the Rev. Fuad Dagher, the parish priest of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Shefa-‘Amr. Father Dagher says he is attending out of respect for Father Bahus and the couple, both Greek Catholics. “Father Androwas is a leader who is open-minded. He has a great heart for ecumenism.”
Ecumenism among the various churches in the Middle East is so strong that the Melkites celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar used by the Orthodox churches, and the Orthodox celebrate Christmas on 25 December, the Gregorian calendar used by the Catholic and Protestant churches. “This is our way for us, as a minority, to show Christian unity to the larger majority,” Father Dagher says. Sheikh Ahmad Abbed al Wahab Hassan, a Shefa-‘Amr imam, describes the priest as “a partner” who encourages interreligious cooperation. “We come together during the bad times and the happy times,” he says. “We are a community.” Fueled by this enduring sense of community, 20 years after entering religious life, Father Bahus, now 46, says he is as determined as ever.
“I will continue on the path of our Lord Jesus Christ, serving my church and my people with the grace that God has given me.” Jerusalem-based journalist Michele Chabin has written for USA TODAY, National Catholic Register, Jewish Journal and ONE.
TO READ MORE FROM MICHEL CHABIN ABOUT BEING A CATHOLIC PRIEST IN ISRAEL, VISIT OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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cnewablog.org/web/priest AND CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO ABOUT A MELKITE WEDDING AT THE PARISH: onemagazinehome.org/ web/videopriest
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from our world ML: When I was 17, the priest in the high school would invite us to do spiritual exercises: praying, reflection. But I wanted to play with my friends. I had my goal, but God had another goal for me. I went anyhow, just to be with my friends. But during one retreat, at the final Mass, we sang a song: “Leave all and follow me and I will be your only path in your life.”
Sister Micheline Lattouff by Diane Handal
With the Year of Consecrated Life now over and the Year of Mercy beginning, ONE’s Diane Handal introduces us to a woman whose work bridges both. Good Shepherd Sister Micheline Lattouff’s mission is mercy, particularly toward the poor and vulnerable in her homeland of Lebanon. Working among the growing population of Syrian refugees settled in the Bekaa Valley, she founded a school to serve the displaced children — almost all of whom are Sunni Muslim. Here, Sister Micheline discusses her life and her vocation. ONE: Who or what were the major influences in your life? Sister Micheline Lattouff: When I was in high school, we had a priest. I was very impressed by this priest. He gave his time to students — listening to problems and,
sometimes, sharing a day to pray and reflect on our lives. I was very influenced by him and wanted to give to people as he did. Also, I was very impressed by my family. They were caring and giving to poor people. There was an old woman who used to beg and sell gum outside church. And, I wanted to help her and give her money, and my dad said, ‘don’t take the gum, just give her the money.’ Our house was always open to people in need. During the civil war we would invite people to stay with us. They lived in the basement. At the start of every day, my mother made the sign of cross, to offer up her day as a prayer. ONE: What made you decide on your vocation?
I felt very touched by this; I listened to the voice of God speak to me through this song. I decided to be a sister. I went home, but didn’t say anything. My little sister Marcelle did the same retreat weekend with the Good Shepherd Sisters. And then, Marcelle signed up for another retreat. Who should arrive to pick her up but Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf. She is the provincial now, but was responsible for the novitiate then. I was ironing my brothers’ and sisters’ clothes and Sister MarieClaude said, “Don’t you want to come on this retreat with your sister?” I said yes. ONE: Did you ever want to get married? ML: I was a tomboy and used to play football with the boys. I climbed trees with boys. I did have a boyfriend, but it was not very serious. I told this boy I was friendly with that I decided to enter the novitiate. The boy told me I was crazy. My reply was that all people who want to become nuns are crazy because they want to help people. ‘When I do my vows,’ I thought, ‘I will invite him.’ But there was no future for me with him. I was 17 or 18 years old. My main goal up to then was to study and work. Marriage was not a goal.
ONE: Why did you choose the Good Shepherd Sisters? ML: In the retreat, there was a visiting sister from Sudan, and she was telling us a story about how she works in Sudanese prisons with women prisoners and how these women are in bad shape — no toilets, no sanitary napkins. I was very inspired by how this sister helped them. And I could not believe a woman would be in this situation in Sudanese prison, losing her dignity with no one there but this one sister to help. This retreat, the second, was the turning point for me. That is when I told my family I wanted to be a Good Shepherd sister. The decision became very clear to me. My sister came back, got married and had two children; I went into the novitiate for two years. What really inspired me to join Good Shepherd was the fact that they would work with unrepresented people that needed help. I was inspired that they were not nuns who just prayed; they were nuns who helped the poor people. I could have gotten married and had kids and helped people and had a family, but maybe the person that I would have married would not have the same desire to help others. I did not want to be tied down; I wanted to give my life to help people. ONE: When did you take your final vows? ML: I made my final vows in 1998 in Beirut, at my parish. I was 29 years old. ONE: What motivates you? ML: I try to find what message God is sending me. I try to learn what God is trying to have me do.
“I try to find what message God is sending me … to learn what God is trying to have me do.” In 2005, I started looking at people in the villages and their suffering. The children used to play in a graveyard. Once, they burned the tail off a cat for fun. They had no normal games or activities. Their parents are illiterate and have no resources to rear their children. I felt the Bekaa region needed support, like sheep without shepherd. I was frustrated; I thought, “What can I do for children in this area?”
Sister Micheline, center, talks with a refugee from Homs, Syria, at his camp in Deir El Ahmar, Bekaa.
successful in their studies and their life, when I see them able to pass through the difficulties and continue to achieve. ONE: What have been some of your more difficult moments? ML: The more difficult moments are when I have nothing to give the refugees. It is so difficult for me.
ONE: So what did you do? ML: I started asking teachers in public school, “If I make a center for children to visit after school, will you help?” And the principal offered benches and desks for free, and teachers volunteered. On Christmas 2005, I began a new experiment: From 3 to 5 p.m. an after-school program for Lebanese children from 9 to 15 years of age. ONE: What have been some of your more rewarding moments? ML: The best moment for me is when I see the children happy,
ONE: What thoughts sustain you during difficult times? ML: I believe in human beings and God. I believe that God is capable of changing a person, when I see people improving from work, when I see success of people and developing. There is a saying: The candle that is just smoking, not lighted, still has a life in it — still has hope in it. I have no right to turn it off. I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation, my mission is to show him the spark and light it.
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on the world of CNEWA
he church universal has been invited by Pope Francis to join him in celebrating a Year of Mercy, which we initiated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in December. During this year, our Holy Father encourages us to put on the eyeglasses of mercy and compassion in all our human thoughts and actions. This might seem simple to some and impossible to others. But those two words — mercy and compassion — are the heart of the Gospel. They comprise CNEWA’s mandate. In CNEWA’s world, we are blessed with a myriad of ambassadors of Christ who live out this mandate
every day in their good works in serving all: rich and poor, good and bad, friends and enemies. I know this firsthand, as I am privileged to visit many countries where CNEWA accompanies the Catholic Eastern churches in pastoral outreach to all in need. I recall many examples of religious sisters and priests assisting women who are second-class citizens in many cultures with no rights for education or employment opportunities. Many women served by our partners are the most vulnerable: mothers with young children, abandoned women, domestic workers and those with special needs.
I also recall the mercy and compassion of our CNEWA partners as they serve those who are not even considered citizens of a country because they have no social status and, as a result, do not officially exist. But the church reaches out with mercy and compassion and affords them a dignity that emanates from the death and resurrection of Christ. I recall thousands of little children forced to flee their homeland or forced to live in the streets as orphans and how CNEWA supports with mercy and compassion the needs of these little ones and gives them a home and the loving environment of a holy
p The Coptic churches have not abandoned the Zabbaleen â€” the garbage people of Cairo.
family. Sometimes, religious sisters have become their spiritual mothers and give them a sense of hope and security, surrounding them with an abundance of compassion.
I recall the heroic example of countless religious men and women and dedicated lay associates, doing what many would consider impossible, but always responding to the needs of others with mercy and compassion. There are those surrounded by the atrocities of war and oppression, the victimization and horrors of terrorism, the lack of basic food and water â€” and yet, they continue to radiate the victory of the cross to Christians and nonChristians alike.
I recall how the church, with the help of CNEWA, brings together victims and perpetrators in the embrace of mercy and compassion and how enemies become new friends.
These partners of CNEWA teach us very clearly that to respond with mercy and compassion in every instance in our thoughts and actions is neither simple nor impossible.
z The Sisters of St. Dorothy serve hearing-impaired children at the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem.
One thing is certain: With the help of God, we can give it our best effort. Thank you for your abiding prayers for our ambassadors of Christ, our partners in the field, who provide the ultimate classroom for how we might celebrate this Year of Mercy. May God bless them and may he continue to bless all of you for your prayerful and financial support. May this coming year be filled with mercy and compassion.
Msgr. John E. Kozar
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The official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)