God • World • Human Family • Church
Welcoming the Stranger in Jordan
Growing the Faith in Ethiopia Nurturing a Point of Light in Egypt Taking Chances in Georgia
one COVER STORY
Welcoming the Stranger Franciscan Missionaries aid Iraqi refugees text by Diane Handal photographs by Tamara Abdul Hadi
Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant Finding new ways to spread the Good News text by James Jeffrey
‘My Great Hope Is the Sisters’ Sisters of the Destitute uplift the poor text by Jose Kavi with photographs by John Mathew
A Letter From Georgia by Anahit Mkhoyan photographs by Antonio di Vico
Finding Common Ground Church programs boost community in rural Egypt text and photographs by Don Duncan
Connections to CNEWA’s world Focus on the world of CNEWA
t Children greet visitors in the village of Garora, on the outskirts of Delhi, India.
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OFFICIAL PUBLICATION CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION
Volume 42 NUMBER 4
Their days are kinder The future looks more hopeful All because of you
12 Front: Sister Hanne Saad sits with Lucien, a 7-year-old Iraqi refugee from Qaraqosh, in Amman. Back: Abraham George, an Ethiopian Catholic, carries the cross during the Sunday Divine Liturgy in Bahir Dar. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 6, 8-11, Tamara Abdul Hadi; pages 2, 38-39, John E. Kozar/CNEWA; pages 3 (upper left), 32-37, Don Duncan; pages 3 (upper right), 5, CNEWA; pages 3 (lower left), 14-17, 18 (inset), back cover, James Jeffrey; pages 3 (lower right), 26-31, Antonio di Vico; pages 3 (right), 20-25, John Mathew; pages 12-13, 18, Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images. ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar
26 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 â€” 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 ÂŠ2016 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
Thank you for helping CNEWA reach out this past year to those in need
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to CNEWA’s world
Sharing Hope In October, the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement honored CNEWA with the Graymoor Sharing Hope Award at their annual fundraising dinner in New York City. Presenting the award, the Very Rev. Brian F. Terry, S.A., minister general, cited CNEWA’s “outstanding and steadfast work in serving our Lord by helping suffering people throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. CNEWA provides an inspiration of hope echoing the friars’ charism ‘to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.’ ” After thanking the minister general for his generous gesture, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, reminded the guests that the friars and CNEWA “share the same DNA, as we together carry forward the legacy of Father Paul [Wattson], who shared in the founding of CNEWA some 90 years ago.” It was a fitting occasion for the friars and the CNEWA family, as members of the church gathered together to honor the legacy of the servant of God, Father Paul of Graymoor, who was among the first to respond to help the sufferings of Christians in the Middle East in the early 20th century.
Iraqi Partners This past autumn, CNEWA was privileged to welcome to our New York offices two distinguished partners from Iraq. In separate visits, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil and Church of the East Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana of Dohuk shared both their concern and their hope for their homeland. During his visit in September, Archimandrite Emanuel noted that, overnight, Christian communities founded by the apostles on the soil stained with the blood of the martyrs lost their shrines, their relics and their patrimony. “The sense of loss is profound,” he said, adding, “we share in the liturgy and in the sacraments. … We share all, as seeds of hope.”
In October, during a wide-ranging discussion, Archbishop Warda focused on the future. “We can’t be a church that complains all the time about persecution,” he said. “Persecution started on Good Friday. It’s not a new event for being a Christian. It started there and continues. It’s not the first experience, not the only experience. It’s happened in different parts of the world, and churches were able to emerge stronger than before.” CNEWA, Coast to Coast As part of CNEWA’s parish outreach program, CNEWA team members traveled in the autumn from one end of the United States to the other, raising awareness of CNEWA’s work, particularly
among suffering Christians and minorities in the Middle East. Multimedia Editor Deacon Greg Kandra gave talks at Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego in October; in November, he preached at St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer and Sacred Heart, two parishes in Groton, Connecticut. Talks were also held at parishes in New Jersey and Massachusetts as interest in the ongoing mission of CNEWA continues to swell. Contact CNEWA at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about how CNEWA can visit your parish. Refugees Not Losing Hope As displaced Syrians continue to flee to Lebanon, CNEWA continues to support the most vulnerable among them, especially children.
OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org Through the generosity of its donors, CNEWA has teamed up with local partners to provide education, psychosocial support, and skills workshops and training for about 4,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, along with assistance to poor Lebanese children and women. One 15-year-old Armenian Syrian boy named Mano lost a year of school and suffered serious trauma after fleeing Syria with his family. Tutorial classes at the Karagheusian Social Center in the Beirut suburb of Bourj Hammoud enabled him to catch up, and he is now enrolled in an Armenian school, where he is described as a “superb student in sciences.” Hospital Help in India In a recent letter, Sister Marylet, S.D., who administers Jyothi Hospital in the Indian state of Karnataka, thanked CNEWA and its benefactors for helping with the health care needs of the poor scattered throughout the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Belthangady. CNEWA helped the hospital to purchase some instruments for their medical outreach programs — including a blood analyzer, oxygen supply system and heart monitors. “We give free treatment to the patients who come from very desperate situations,” Sister Marylet wrote, “and your project was a great help.” Jyothi Hospital is run by the Sisters of the Destitute, whose patients are among the poorest in local villages. To learn more about the sisters and their mission, turn to Page 20 of this magazine.
A CNEWA Success Story Rachel Kassahun once studied at the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis Catholic School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Run by the Daughters of Charity, and supported by CNEWA, the school serves the poorest of the poor. More than 600 students who have passed through the school have gone on to higher studies and today live independent and productive lives — including Rachel. Today, she teaches at the school, giving back to those who gave so much to her.
Only on the Web
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There is more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • Visit the Mother of Mercy Clinic and the Pontifical Mission Community Center in Jordan • Learn about Iraqi Christians facing an uncertain future with horror and hope — and faith • Get a glimpse inside the Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Lebanon — which CNEWA has supported since its beginning — with an exclusive video at cnewa.org/web/dbayehrefugee • Read a full report of CNEWA’s response to the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa at www.cnewa.org/web/ ethiopiadrought • Meet some of the remarkable men and women who have been part of CNEWA’s history, as part of our ongoing “90 Years, 90 Heroes” series
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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Care for Marginalized
Welcoming the Stranger
Franciscan Missionaries of Mary serve Iraqi refugees in Jordan text by Diane Handal with photographs by Tamara Abdul Hadi
n June 2014, ISIS stormed Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, routing its security forces. Once in command, militants began canvassing neighborhoods. Coming upon houses whose occupants were Christian, they painted the Arabic letter N ( ) نon its door, for “Nasrani,” or Nazarene — a term for Christians. For the Fattah family, this mark inaugurated the greatest hardship of their lives. “Ten men, 15 to 20 years old, came to our house in Mosul in many cars with guns and swords,” says Rakan Fattah, 45, a tall man with deep-set brown eyes. “They wore fatigues, had long beards and carried the black and white flag of ISIS,” he says. The unit’s leader, who was maybe 30, entered and gave the family a message: Convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed. “They came in and took everything, kicked us out and would not allow us to take anything,” Mr. Fattah says. Conversion was out of the question, and “even if we did pay the tax, we knew we would be killed.” When it became clear the Iraqi army would not return to liberate the city, the Fattah family fled to Qaraqosh, a Christian town in the Nineveh Plain, carrying only their passports. For three weeks, they lived in an unfurnished building. Despite efforts by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to hold ISIS at bay, resistance collapsed and ISIS flooded the plain, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee deep into Iraqi Kurdish territory. The Fattahs lived on the floor of a church along with 400 other Christians for a month before finally deciding to leave Iraq. They sold their car and bought airline tickets to Amman. Sister Hanne sits with Lucien, a 7-year-old refugee from Qaraqosh, in his residence in Amman.
The experience of the Fattah family, though harrowing, is by no means unique. ISIS has uprooted many in Iraq, with current estimates suggesting about four million internally displaced persons and nearly 400,000 refugees abroad — Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious sects. Rakan Fattah and his brothers, Rayan and Riyadh, now live in a three-room apartment with their mother and their father, who has suffered a stroke and heart attack. Their two sisters fled, one to Iraqi Kurdistan and the other to Lebanon. Tall, slender and very pale, 37-year-old Riyadh Fattah sits near his aluminum crutches in an unheated room, dressed in layers. A hemophiliac, Riyadh had carried treatment supplies with him from Iraq. However, they are dwindling and the family cannot afford to replace them, says Rakan. Yet the Fattahs, along with many in their position, have also found help in the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Through the sisters, the family has been able to purchase groceries, fix their stove, buy a washing machine and seek medical assistance. Dedicated to accompanying the most vulnerable, the sisters work to meet needs ranging from material aid — food, utilities, furniture, clothes or heaters — to providing emotional and spiritual comfort where hope flickers and fades. These women of service strive to be messengers of mercy to those plagued by suffering.
n central Amman, a magnificent blue dome flanked by minarets stands out against the morning’s pink horizon, among hills crowded with buildings. A memorial dedicated by the late King Hussein to his grandfather, King Abdullah, the mosque’s distinctive appearance makes it one of the city’s key landmarks.
Such monuments can help newcomers — particularly refugees — become oriented in a new setting. Jordan has a vast and varied refugee population, including tens of thousands of Iraqis, some of whom first fled to the kingdom after the first Gulf war in 1991. While many refugees live in the nation’s well-known camps, the great majority has taken up residence in various urban centers. Not far from the King Abdullah Mosque, in an unassuming house constructed of the stone typical of buildings in Amman, live the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Hailing from around the world — Italy, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Poland and Syria — the six sisters in Amman make up a handful of some 6,300 Franciscan Missionaries of Mary serving in 75 countries. Within its walls, Sister Antoinette Odisho finishes morning prayers. “When I pray, I feel more strong and peaceful,” says the convent’s superior, a 48-year-old woman with wavy salt-and-pepper hair and piercing green eyes. “I have to be strong because there are cases I am affected by,” she says of her work with Iraqi refugees and the poor in Jordan. “I feel for them, but I have to manage the situation.” Born in Hassake, Syria, Sister Antoinette has been in charge of the Amman convent since 2012, taking over for Sister Wardeh Kayrouz, who worked for more than 20 years ministering to refugees and the poor and now serves in Lebanon. “Since ISIS came in, there has been much more damage to the people,” Sister Antoinette says, calling attention to prevalent chronic issues such as depression. “Their lives are on hold in exile. They won’t go back to Iraq, saying it’s not safe for Christians, but as refugees they’re barred from working in temporary asylum countries such as Jordan.”
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“The Iraqis have a faith in God that is astounding.” To meet the great needs of this population, Sister Antoinette and her team act both as sisters and social workers. But the dual role does not come easily. “I get nervous under pressure,” she admits. “I pray for insight into the truth. Wisdom comes with time and experience.” Her experience so far includes apostolates in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. She worked with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary for years before making her final vows in 2011. She first encountered the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary at 28. Though she had been considering marriage, she gave up the prospect when she felt called by God to a life of service.
“But I get more than I give,” Sister Antoinette says. “As God sends me to help them, God sends them to help me to grow.” Sister Brygida Maniurka, 54, from southwestern Poland, agrees. “During my 26 years in the Middle East, I have given something, but I have received so much more,” says the dimple-cheeked sister. “I had a normal life before,” she says. “I went to dance clubs every week.” Yet she had felt the tug of her calling all her life. “From childhood I thought about being a missionary,” she explains. “I have a passion; I love people.” Sister Brygida currently serves as the provincial bursar of the Middle
East, managing the finances of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. “I am happy to be in my mission and religious life; it changed my personality.” In particular, she credits exposure to Arabic culture with broadening her outlook. “Eastern spirituality is very rich.” In Syria, Sister Brygida spent seven of her 20 years in Raqqa working with special-needs children, administering physical therapy and speech therapy in collaboration with hospital programs. “I like to nurture life in another person,” she says. “We need someone to push out the potential inside us.
“When I see children blossom, it makes me very happy. It is the best moment of my life,” Sister Brygida says. Yet challenges dwell beside triumphs. “The most difficult part,” Sister Brygida says, “is when we receive a family and the need is more than we can offer — when someone has cancer, and we don’t have the possibility to do the operation. And, each family has illnesses due to trauma.”
ix-year old Weaver, a boy with close-cropped light brown hair, recently arrived from Qaraqosh with his family. Weaver does not speak; but he screams, shakes and jumps up and down. His father, Azhar George Matti, 53, says the boy spoke in Iraq but stopped when the explosions began. In their tiny apartment, the man sits on a sofa decorated with brown flowers. Above two matching
chairs, a small pink rag doll with pigtails adorns the wall. A teacher in a Catholic primary school in Qaraqosh, Mr. Matti has two other children — a 10-year-old daughter, Lourde, who should be in fifth grade, and another son, 7-yearold Lucien, who should be in second grade. His wife, Rajja, 41, with black hair swept back into a ponytail, seems to stare through the wall as he recounts the family’s journey. “One day after a liturgy, I saw a priest and five parishioners coming out of the church. ISIS took each one into the marketplace and shot them,” says Mr. Matti. “I prayed for ISIS, too,” he says, in addition to their victims. “They don’t understand what they are doing.” The Matti family fled to Erbil by car. For one year, they lived in one room in an empty building. Then, as with the Fattah family, they sold their car and bought plane tickets to Amman.
t Sisters Hanne, Gina and Brygida prepare lunch. z Sister Seraphina visits the home of the Khudhur family, Iraqi refugees from Qaraqosh. p Richard and Zina Khudhur sit with their children in their home in Amman.
“It was a very hard experience in Iraq.” Though their current situation is still poor, Mr. Matti speaks positively. “It is good for our spiritual lives now,” he says. “God will provide.” Sister Hanne Saad, 71 years old with bushy eyebrows and short white hair, sits beside Weaver. She wraps her arms around him as he shrieks and bounces, rocking him gently. Born in Hammana, Lebanon, Sister Hanne trained as a nurse and first worked in a small public hospital in southern Egypt. She
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The CNEWA Connection
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary number among our chief partners working with CNEWA in the Middle East, with a mission that extends into Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. With the help and support of our benefactors, CNEWA subsidizes the good works of these sisters — most notably, with care of refugee and displaced families from Iraq and Syria. Focusing on families not registered with the United Nations — who thus receive no international assistance and aid — the sisters spend time with the families, assessing their needs, offering help and counsel. Concerned for the welfare of the hearts, souls and bodies of those most vulnerable, the sisters work with women, children and the elderly. In Jordan, the sisters run summer camps, which offer activities and events for refugee children as well as those born in the kingdom. One of the most popular such programs, held at the St. Joseph School in Zerqa, offers sessions every year for hundreds of children from low-income families. The sisters also administer workshops and training sessions for the formation of lay leaders, with classes held at our Lady of Peace Center and at the sisters’ convent in Amman. Spiritual retreats, liturgies and activities designed to develop leadership skills all ensure that these ancient faith communities survive, even under difficult circumstances. These efforts and more have helped ensure that those most in need receive support and hope in one of the most troubled and challenging corners of the world. To continue supporting the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
Sister Antoinette helps an Iraqi refugee study at her convent in Amman.
spent many years in Rome, the hub of the community, working in administration. “I love this community and its spiritual mission,” she says with a warm smile. “To be with these people, to listen to them, it gives me joy. If one day, I don’t visit, I don’t feel normal.” The Matti family met with the sisters a few weeks ago and their needs are being identified and assessed, says Sister Seraphina Moon, 47, from Jeju Island, Korea. Sister Seraphina’s white scarf highlights her jet-black bangs as she discusses her journey to the religious life. “I was not Christian,” she says. “I had no belief in God. My family is Buddhist. “One day I went to a church. I was 21. I dreamed that night of Jesus and Mary. I knew them from pictures, but I didn’t believe in any god. But, I felt something good,” she says. Sister Seraphina felt her dream was a sign. In Korean culture, she says, dreams are given weight as signs of the future and symbols of good fortune. Her first response was to play the lottery, she says, but nothing came of it. After finishing high school in Korea, Sister Seraphina went to Sydney, Australia, for college to study English and marketing. It was there that she met a community of Benedictine sisters and stayed in a guesthouse with them for a month during Christmas. “I loved that moment,” she said. “I felt maybe I found a way I can live and what God means to me. I wanted to be a sister.” Initially, her mother did not approve. Sister Seraphina’s father
had died young; her mother, at that time 30, supported her four children by running a small soup restaurant. She did not want her daughter to leave. “Little by little, I learned that this was what I wanted,” she says. “I met the Franciscan Sisters in my parish. My model now is St. Francis. I reflect his life with my life.” In 2004, Sister Seraphina took her first vows. She was 31 years old. Later, in 2010, she relocated to Jordan and began working as a volunteer with Caritas while studying Arabic. Little did she realize there would follow the worst refugee crisis since World War II. “The Holy Spirit guided me to my decision,” she affirms.
Support the sisters’ mission to serve the needy in Jordan Please help today
he Khudhur family arrived in Amman a month ago from Qaraqosh. “Our Christian neighbors next door were killed,” says Richard Khudhur, 39. “We fled to Erbil with the Peshmerga and stayed for a little over a year, living in an unfinished building in one room.” At the entrance to the family’s flat, laundry hangs out to dry. Thin mats lie on the floor, and plastic bags line the window to reduce the cold draft. The family must go out to bathe, as the bathroom has only a small toilet and no bath. Mr. Khudhur, sporting a goatee and black knit cap, and his wife, Zina, 34, live in the Hashmi neighborhood of Amman with their three children — Elena, age 10; Johan, 6; and Onel, 4. They were given money for their flight from Iraq from the church and friends. They fled with no IDs. The children were terrified, he says — especially Onel, who started wetting himself. Elena snuggles between her parents. She is learning English, she says. “I like everything in school. I want to be an engineer.”
She beams as she brings out her third-grade report card with perfect grades. “In the market, ISIS would sell girls. They pick them up off the street,” Mr. Khudhur says. The slave markets in Iraq are used as a way of attracting new recruits to the Islamic State, according to the United Nations. In the corner, Johan and Onel inflate orange, blue and green balloons. One breaks, and everyone in the room jumps. The sisters are helping the family by paying their rent and providing basics — food, blankets and mattresses. Sister Seraphina says they will buy a washing machine, too. As with the Fattahs and the Mattis, the Khudhurs, once middle class, have fallen into poverty. They are trying to survive far from home with little hope, dependent on good people such as the sisters to provide
what they themselves cannot, just to get through the next day. “The Iraqis have a faith in God that is astounding,” Sister Seraphina says, “after all the tragedies of war. It makes me pray to be a better religious.” Sister Antoinette shares the same desire to effect the greatest good. “I pray to God to send me to the most vulnerable people to help.” Formerly with the Associated Press, Diane Handal covers the Middle East for ONE.
DIANE HANDAL HAS MORE ABOUT LIFE IN JORDAN ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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Forming Church Leadership
Finding new ways to spread the Good News by James Jeffrey
rggh!” exclaims 20-yearold Bethlehem, pulling her two fists apart from against her chest, struggling not to erupt into laughter. “That’s it, good job; open your heart to the truth,” says Nancy Greenhaw, inviting some 200 other university students to join in playfully miming the act. These young Ethiopian university students have come to the city of Bahir Dar — located about 250 miles northwest of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and famed for Lake Tana and its island monasteries — for a weekend catechetical program, albeit one with evangelical fervor. The Catholic Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie organized the program as part of an effort to address the growing phenomenon of young Ethiopians leaving the traditional sacramental Christianity of the Ethiopian Catholic and Orthodox churches for the evangelical Christianity preached by itinerant
preachers scattered throughout Ethiopia. “The Catholic Church belongs to you — it’s your church, you make it what you want it to be,” announces Mrs. Greenhaw’s husband, Lloyd, in a rich baritone. He points to the gathered students. “You can do away with the division and scandal in the church.” With his commanding voice, white hair and beard, Mr. Greenhaw could do a passable impression of a latter-day Moses. This team of husband and wife, currently in their 70’s, has been working among young Catholics for more than 20 years. This work has often taken them far from their home near San Antonio, Texas — including Papua New Guinea and many interior states in Africa — and now Ethiopia, at the invitation of Abune LesanuChristos Matheos, bishop of Bahir Dar-Dessie. The bishop understands well the challenges facing the Catholic and
Orthodox churches today; prior to his ordination as a bishop, he served as a chaplain in Addis Ababa, a sprawling urban center that draws young men and women from throughout the largely rural and poor country. “When people, especially the young, discover religion, it’s an emotional reaction and they want more. And if they don’t get it, they will look elsewhere — to other churches,” Abune Lesanu-Christos says of the growing phenomenon of the young embracing evangelical Christianity in a land where traditional sacramental Christianity has deep roots. The nation’s preeminent church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, has largely shaped Ethiopian culture, since its establishment in the fourth century. Ethiopian Christians in Addis Ababa celebrate the feast of Christ’s baptism.
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The CNEWA Connection
For decades, CNEWA has supported the formation of Ethiopia’s religious leaders — lay and clerical — and has worked diligently to sustain traditional Christianity in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia remains one of the earliest cradles of Christianity in the world, and CNEWA seeks to nurture those deep roots and encourage growth. Increasingly, that involves forming laity to help spread the Gospel. Most recently, CNEWA has partnered with the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians in the Vicariate of Meki to train young lay leaders, and has helped promote vocations through an annual vocation awareness camp. Thanks to our benefactors, we also provide assistance to a catechetical program known as “On the Way to Emmaus” in the new Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie and support the St. Francis Catechetical Center in Gassa Chare, which serves two large parishes and several missionary outposts. These programs help strengthen the Christian faith of people in the area through the formation of catechists and community leaders. While Catholics are few in Ethiopia, Catholic concerns are not; these include strengthening the nation’s historically dominant but resource poor Orthodox Church. At the request of the Catholic bishops, we have supported clergy formation throughout the vast country, including most recently the education and formation of Orthodox clergy in the region of Bahir Dar. To help build up the faith in Ethiopia, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
According to the most recent census, the number of Ethiopians identifying as Orthodox has declined to 44 percent of the population; 18 percent now identifies as evangelical Protestant. About a third of the population identifies as Sunni Muslim, with indigenous tribal religions and Catholicism — always a tiny but disproportionately influential faith community due to its schools and social service institutions — making up the balance. Some observers contest these figures — especially in heated arguments between Orthodox Christians and Muslims. None dispute, however, that the number of self-identified evangelical Protestants continues to increase largely at the expense of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. “The great expansion of universities in the country is both a challenge and an opportunity for the Catholic Church in Ethiopia,” says Argaw Fantu, regional director of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “We need to accompany these educated faithful in their faith journey, enabling them to become the future church of this country.” Without such support, he says, “Catholics going to university may be drawn away from their ancestral faith by growing evangelical groups which are well poised to influence those with doubts about their faith.” Whether or not they have any such doubts, the students gathered in Bahir Dar exhibit a clear desire to embrace and nourish their faith. “I want to be a better Catholic,” says 20-year-old Rebecca Sisay. “I hear many questions from others about Catholicism. I don’t know what to say to them when they ask: ‘Why do you have idols? Why do you believe Mary is a virgin?’ ” z Students sing hymns during a celebration of the Divine Liturgy. u A priest prepares a censer with the help of young parishioners.
ahir Dar, a sun-soaked city of wide avenues lined with palm trees overlooking the tea-colored waters of Lake Tana, is where in the 16th-century Portuguese Jesuits attempted to impose Catholicism on the Ethiopian people — firmly entrenched in their Orthodox faith for more than 1,000 years — with the disastrous consequence of a five-year civil war and, ultimately, the banishment of Catholics from the country until the 19th century. Today, there still stands a crumbling, moss-covered building erected by the Spanish missionary Pedro Páez in the compound of St. George Orthodox Cathedral.
At lunchtime, it fills with Bahir Dar’s Orthodox faithful wearing various kinds of white shawls, all glowing in the sun: The men wrap gabi around their shoulders, while the woman wear netela around their heads, framing their faces and sometimes drawing the eye toward nikisat — traditional tattoos of crosses on foreheads and linear markings along jawlines. After taking root during the fourth century in the northern Ethiopian capital city of Axum, Ethiopian Christianity developed in virtual isolation, hemmed in by countries embracing Islam from the seventh century onward. Before their zealous actions led to the final
rupture between the churches of Ethiopia and Rome, Portuguese missionaries comprised one of the first major influences from the outside world, and helped Christian Ethiopia resist conquest by the indomitable Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi. Now people speak again of Islam exerting pressure — bolstered with Saudi funding — while Ethiopia’s Christian community suffers growing internal division. “Muslims are promising a better life to people — they sponsor a whole family, provide a car and shop, as long as you become Muslim,” says the major archbishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Church,
“Catholicism is about real love — there’s room for everyone.”
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Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa. “Meanwhile Pentecostal churches are attracting youth, providing an emotional outlet for those who are sick or unemployed. They give hope and desire, even the possibility to go abroad and escape poverty.” The church’s university chaplaincy program is not the only example of its commitment to strengthen sacramental Christianity; nor are its concerns limited to the Catholic Church. Upgrading the education and formation of the Orthodox clergy, particularly through the Orthodox Church’s clergy training centers, has received support from Ethiopia’s Catholic bishops, and from funding partners such as CNEWA. The chaplaincy program for university students elicits a buoyant response. As the day progresses, however, the heat takes its toll, causing eyelids to droop. But Nancy has come prepared. Plugging her iPhone into a speaker, she tells the crowd to stand and join her in song and movement. “Jesus is my rock and he rolls my blues away,” she sings, gesturing theatrically. “Now you do it!” At other times, musical interludes take on a more Ethiopian flavor, accompanied by a keyboard and an impassioned student coordinator with a microphone at the front of the audience. “Alsemam!” 24-year-old Ephrem Argaw exclaimed in Amharic, “I can’t hear you!” The students spring to life — clapping along with song and dance rooted in a liturgical tradition they share with their Orthodox peers, just as they share a common liturgical language: Ge’ez. Mr. Argaw believes Pentecostal preachers have been able to attract followers through such emotional worship. Catholic priests, he adds, might come across as less prepared by contrast. “Priests often have to
“We need to accompany these educated faithful in their faith journey.”
focus on other things, such as running schools. They are few, and they have too much to do.”
or much of its recent history, Ethiopian culture has experienced tensions between conservative and rural religious values and the aspiration to be
zemenawi — “modern,” in Amharic. Whereas the country has been shaped by faith for millennia, most of its people range from expressly devout to tolerant and respectful of religion. At the same time, however, the deep-seated belief in the value of modernization, held particularly by Ethiopia’s rulers, has often
Students listen and take notes during the chaplaincy program in Bahir Dar.
fostered suspicion toward traditional institutions such as churches and mosques. The 1974 overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie — who personified Ethiopia as an African Zion — ushered in the Communist military dictatorship known as the Derg, leading to the suppression of the
Orthodox Church, the nationalization of its lands and the imprisonment of many priests. Catholic churches continued to operate, primarily because of their support for public services, such as schools and hospitals. But the Derg took measures such as timing political rallies to clash with Sunday morning
Orthodox and Catholic liturgies. Pentecostal churches benefited, not constrained by formalities and structured hierarchies. Even before the Derg, the Orthodox Church operated at an agrarian level for more than a millennium. Now, however, it finds itself ill equipped to compete in a modern, rapidly urbanizing society in which greater integration with the West has brought about both a confident materialism and a rapid growth in Pentecostal Christianity. “Globalization and urbanization mean that many people are more cut off from traditional support systems: family, society and religion — but the church doesn’t follow up,” says Joseph Alumansi, a Ugandan Catholic who, along with his wife, Serah, joined the Greenhaws for the program. “Pentecostals come knocking at your door,” says Mrs. Alumansi, who was born in Kenya. “We are social beings, so it’s a very effective approach. In a Catholic parish, a new face often isn’t recognized; you have to make much more of an effort to be noticed. The church needs a fundamental change: to reach out.” Others, however, caution against going too far in a bid to compete with Pentecostals and their energized preachers. “I go the other way, and try to show the advantages of contemplation, and the fact that you don’t need me or my preaching,” says Abba Groum Tesfaye, spiritual director of the Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie. “The solution isn’t in the preacher; people keep changing preachers, hoping to find a better one. Many worshipers have forgotten how to be silent, reflective, how to relish the words of Scripture. I try to show them how to do it for themselves
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— and it works, the students come and tell me.” Recently he organized a meeting of dozens of lay catechists from across Ethiopia. Lay formation, he says, has become essential to compensate for the shortfall of priests. “Some Catholics find it beneficial being coached in their faith by a layperson,” says Abba Tesfaye. “Things are going on fast around us, and youth are leaving because we didn’t attend; we didn’t show them you can be joyous and remain a Catholic.” In early 2016, Pope Francis met Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Mathias in an expression of ecumenical solidarity in the face of similar, modern challenges. However, a long cultural memory sometimes hampers efforts to promote unity. “One month ago, after priests came to visit us, a few Orthodox fanatics started throwing stones at the building where we met,” says 21-year-old Abunet Temesgen, attending the Bahir Dar program from Debre Tabor University, about 30 miles to the east. After local police said they could not guarantee their safety, the students stopped meeting at the building. “Now we just talk on the phone, we don’t meet — there’s nowhere to go.” “Many Orthodox priests still think of the events of the 16th century, so we are trying to create an awareness of the contemporary special needs that exist between our sister churches,” says Argaw Fantu. To this end, Mr. Fantu says, CNEWA provides support for Orthodox Church’s Holy Trinity Theological College in Addis Ababa. “It’s mutually beneficial for both churches,” says the school’s dean, Abune Timotewos, an Orthodox priest in his 70’s. “Better to be together than divided. And the
Catholic and Orthodox churches share so many common traditions.” The elephant in the room, however, remains the loss of parishioners to evangelical proselytism — the weight of which has been felt more acutely by the Orthodox Church. “The Orthodox religion is a challenging one, it requires time and commitment,” says Girma Batu, vice academic dean at the college. “The preference among many youth today is for simplicity and enjoyment — they don’t want to do our 55 days of Lenten fasting, despite the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian: ‘Fasting is a feast for the soul.’ ” Indeed, religious life on the whole has grown increasingly competitive. On the outskirts of Addis Ababa, about 200 yards from the entrance to the Capuchin Retreat and Research Centre is a newly built Pentecostal church. On the other side of the center’s grounds is a newly built Orthodox church, while the Muezzin’s Arabic call from a nearby mosque can be heard, followed by noisy Islamic preaching over a loudspeaker in Amharic — a new development. “It might be better if religions used radio stations,” laments Abba Daniel Assefa, the 40-something director of the Capuchin center. Nevertheless, the bespectacled priest admits the center is also very much an active participant in this evangelistic milieu, helping Catholics better understand and deepen their faith. “Through retreats we deal with the spiritual dimension, while our research aims to reveal the treasures, such as the literature and history, of Ethiopian Christianity. Both roles complement the other; we don’t keep them separate.”
n a Wednesday evening in Addis Ababa, a group of some 25 Catholic students,
mostly members of the International Movement of Catholic Students, gather at a small chapel to pray the Stations of the Cross. “Catholicism is about real love — it’s ecumenical, not about division. There’s room for everyone,” says 26-year-old Elizabet Ephrem, who works for the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat while studying for a master’s degree in human resource management. “What’s not to love about that?” “I’m proud of the person I am; my personality has developed out of the Catholic Church,” says 30-yearold Dawit Derajay, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology. Inside the simple red-bricked chapel, the students lead the Stations of the Cross by themselves — there is no priest present. Three students dressed in white vestments, one holding an intricate traditional Ethiopian metal cross flanked on either side by another holding a small candle, move from station to station as the rest of the students stand and kneel before them, praying in Amharic. In acts such as these, Joseph Alumansi sees hope. “The church laity is a sleeping giant,” he says. “The sleeping giant in Ethiopia needs to rise up and become an evangelizer.” James Jeffrey is a freelance journalist based in Addis Ababa. He writes about Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa for various international media, including BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera and CNN.
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Care for Marginalized
‘My Great Hope Is the Sisters’ text by Jose Kavi with photographs by John Mathew
t 10 years old, Amrita Kumari has made up her mind: She wants to become a doctor. Her road will not be easy; Amrita is in the first grade, whereas most children her age have attended school for at least five years. But such obstacles have not stopped her from dreaming. “I want to treat people and make them healthy,” says Amrita. Her father, Amit Kumar, looks on with pride from the kiosk attached to their hut, from which he sells toffee, chips and other snacks. Amrita lives with her three siblings and parents in a slum east of the Indian capital of Delhi. Her tiny hut — consisting of one room with a tarpaulin roof and walls lined with torn clothing — sits on the edge of a sewer. Children in tattered, dirty clothes with unkempt hair and distended bellies play around three dozen such huts that constitute the area called Reti Mandi — “sand market,” perhaps referencing the heaps of sand opposite the sewer. Pigs and dogs walk in and out of the huts as women cook outdoors on charcoal ovens made of mud. Men wrapped in shawls, bent with age, sit in corners, idle. Youngsters huddle around in an open space playing cards or watching games on mobile phones. Reti Mandi is located in the Ghaziabad district, home to many who work in the capital, and functions as a bedroom community to Delhi. However, those who support themselves as day laborers — including Mr. Kumar and his neighbors — often have only meager shanty dwellings to their name. These poor Dalit groups — members of the lowest caste, also known as “untouchables” — contain the majority of illiterate Sister Sumitha Puthenchakkalackal serves a midday meal in Ghaziabad.
people in the district. Yet, out of its 3.32 million people, about 78 percent of Ghaziabad’s population is literate — slightly better than the national average of 74 percent. Surrounded by his two daughters and two sons, Mr. Kumar shares his dream: Find an escape for his children from the squalor in which he has spent 25 years. Poverty had kept him away from school, but he is determined to go to any length to ensure his children enjoy a higher quality of life. “I do not want them to be like me — eking out a living collecting scraps or garbage. The only option is to educate them,” the 35-year-old Hindu says. “My great hope is the sisters,” he adds, referring to the Sisters of Destitute, a Syro-Malabar Catholic congregation of women that has worked among the underserved people of Ghaziabad for the past 23 years. Sister Sumitha Puthenchakkalackal, who heads the sisters’ social service wing in the region, says the district’s slums put their charism to the ultimate test. Founded in 1927 by the Rev. Varghese Payyappilly, a priest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of ErnakulamAngamaly, the community is charged to work and witness the Gospel among the sick and destitute. “Our aim is to help the integral growth of people, especially the destitute, through human development activities,” Sister Sumitha explains. In this work, she says — offering services, creating opportunities and bolstering the hopes and dreams of people such as Mr. Kumar and Amrita — the sisters find their greatest joy.
he Sisters of Destitute began working among the Dalit people in 1993, after establishing a house in Mariamnagar
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“It is a heartbreaking experience, visiting some of the Sisters of the Destitute and witnessing their work,” writes M.L. Thomas, CNEWA’s regional director in India. These sisters live and work among the poorest in India’s densely populated neighborhoods and slums. Through the years, CNEWA has supported the sisters in a number of ways. In the Delhi slum of Reti Mandi, we provide medicines and food. Thanks to our benefactors, we also support the sisters’ work with tribal children in the hilly regions of Idukki in Kerala in southwestern India, and assist in the formation of novices. “I think CNEWA’s mission is to spread the love of the church,” Mr. Thomas says. “We must strengthen the hands of those who devote their lives to spreading the Good News … and who are extending those hands to give a peaceful embrace to those in need.” To help the sisters offer that embrace, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
(“Mary’s town”) in Ghaziabad, some 25 miles east of downtown Delhi. The Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church’s first religious congregation for men, first built up the local Catholic enclave in early 1980’s and invited other religious congregations and lay Catholics to join them. The sisters erected the Jeevandhara (“life stream”) Welfare Center in 2003 as a rehabilitation center for physically disabled girls. Attached to their provincial house, the center’s establishment commemorated the golden jubilee for the congregation’s apostolates outside Kerala. Soon, the sisters increased their outreach to poor residents of their neighborhood, says Sister Rania Kureeckal, who works as a nurse in the district hospital, a governmentrun institution. She recalls pleading with their provincial for permission
to work among the poorest of the poor. “Our provincial had a soft spot for the poor, especially the people of the slums. She was concerned about their situation and wanted to help them come up in life,” said Sister Rania, a regional superior based in Deendayalpuri, located about two miles from Mariamnagar. She says the sisters started visiting slums in 2003 to conduct informal classes for children and adults with the help of a Carmelite priest. They would leave the Mariamnagar convent in the morning, visit areas such as Nai Basti, Bombay Colony, Nat Gali and Vikalang Colony before returning home in the evening. However, they realized they could not participate completely in the life of the community with such an arrangement. So, three sisters, including Sister Rania, lobbied their superiors for permission to live with the community.
z An elderly woman in Ghaziabad rests against a building. u Children gather to recite morning prayers before school.
After much discussion, they rented a one-room house at Masjid Gali (“mosque lane”) in the middle of Deendayalpuri, a neighborhood where the government had resettled slum residents. “We wanted to stay with the people and become part of their lives,” explains Sister Rania. Enthusiasm was one thing; actually living it out, they learned, was challenging beyond expectation. “Some said we had made a rash decision. But our provincial was supportive and guided us,” she recalls. They spent their first day in prayer. “We prayed a lot, as there was no security in that vulnerable place. Our main weapon was prayer.”
Sister Rania recalls being startled from prayer in their first night by the cries of a woman. They slowly opened their rickety door to see a man dragging his wife by her hair and kicking her. “We tried to intervene even though we were scared to death,” she says. Fortunately, they were able to talk to the man and halt the abuse. She recalls another incident that rattled some nerves. They used to hold a clothing fair, distributing used clothes collected from Christian schools. Once, their novices had come for the event, while Sister Rania was attending to urgent matters elsewhere. The crowd surrounded the young women and snatched the clothes out from their arms. Terrified, they fled, leaving behind all they had been carrying. This event did not dishearten them. “It opened our eyes to the
people’s acute destitution; they were that desperate even for clothes,” Sister Rania says. The hardships of the life they had chosen extended to every aspect of living. “We used to sleep on the floor and ate what the people had — just rice and lentils. We drew water from a common hand pump,” says Sister Rania. After six months in a rented house, the sisters bought a small plot of land on a nearby street, where they built a three-room house. Each day they would attend a morning liturgy at their Mariamnagar convent, a half-hour walk away, and then return to the neighborhood after breakfast.
ettled in their new environment, the sisters refined their focus on the needs of the community. Education became central to their ministry.
“Most people work as rickshaw pullers, day laborers, rag pickers. Some indulge in begging,” Sister Rania says. For this population, education is seldom on the horizon. The sisters encouraged the parents to seek school admission for their children and appointed teachers to conduct special classes in impoverished neighborhoods. They also helped children complete the enrollment process for nearby schools. St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School in Mariamnagar, managed by the Carmelite fathers, currently enrolls more than 100 children from Reti Mandi — including Mr. Kumar’s sons and daughters. At the same time, the sisters also began to teach informally, forming groups to reinforce the dignity of women and the importance of literacy, and hosting classes on a variety of topics in the narrowlaned neighborhoods.
“Our main weapon was prayer.”
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A school attendant distributes milk in an underserved neighborhood of Ghaziabad.
Sister Sumitha says after nearly eight years of experimenting with such informal schooling methods, they resolved to open a more traditional school adjacent to the convent. The construction of the four-story school began in January 2016; by July, they had begun teaching classes up to the second grade. “Here they are serious about teaching,” says Binita Sharma of Nai Basti, a mother of three students of the school. “Our children have become much more disciplined in four months.” Mrs. Sharma adds that she withdrew her children from another school to seek admission in this
one. “They used to sit idle in the other school, and learned nothing.” Moreover, this new school is closer to home and costs only a fraction of their previous tuition. Her children stand nearby, grinning. Tanuska, her eldest girl, and Prince, her son, want to become teachers; her younger daughter hopes to join the police. Sister Sumitha says they plan to admit Reti Mandi children to the school as of the next academic year, beginning July 2017. Due to life circumstances, the children often demonstrate erratic attendance. “The children would disappear for months when their parents go to their native villages,” Sister Sumitha explains. Because of this, the sisters decided to follow the curriculum set forth by the National Institute of Open Schooling.
The open school system is an Indian government project launched in 1989 to provide education in remote areas with a flexible learning method to help improve the country’s literacy rate. Inspired by the initiatives of Jesuit Father Thomas Kunnunkal, the project aims to reach millions of children who cannot attend regular schools for various reasons. The project also aims to deliver education to some 10 million disabled children outside the education system and a UNESCOestimated 287 million illiterate Indian adults. The system has tutored and distributed tenth grade degrees to nearly a million students since the beginning. Currently almost two million students are enrolled today.
The results in Ghaziabad have impressed even the teachers. Kalpana Bisht, who teaches in the Montessori section, says the children were initially unruly and mischievous. “But now, they have become attentive in the class.” Sister Sumitha finds disciplining the children a Herculean task, but worth the trouble. “They used to come to the school in the same soiled dress they wore at home. It took months to convince the parents and children about the importance of neatness and hygiene.” While the school provides uniforms to tuition-paying students, Sister Sumitha says they plan to introduce uniforms for all students next year, including those unable to pay. The school also provides a protein-rich meal to help prevent malnutrition among students. The children forget formalities at noon; after lining up to collect their mid-day meal, they eat squatting on the dusty ground, laughing and socializing.
hile strongly focused on education, the sisters’ work seeks to address a broad range of social needs. As one of their first acts after settling in the slum, Sister Rania says, they opened a TB-DOTS center — a tuberculosis treatment and control strategy recommended by the World Health Organization — in a hospital managed by the Missionaries of St. Joseph in Mariamnagar. The sisters have recruited health care workers to provide services to residents. They also organize evening prayer meetings called satsang, where participants read from the Bible and sing hymns accompanied by drums. Although the area is predominantly Hindu, Sister Rania says, they find the people appreciate
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their efforts. Ajit Pradhan, a local official of the Bharatiya Janata Party — the dominant political party of India, which adheres to an ideology of Hindu nationalism known as Hindutva — says the sisters’ faith is no cause of worry. While the party promotes legislation designed to prevent conversion from Hinduism — many so-called nationalists fear Christian charity and community outreach could be attempts at proselytization — Mr. Pradhan says he has known the sisters since they began working in his neighborhood 15 years ago. “They come here to teach our children and distribute medicine. We never suspect they have come to convert,” he says. Mr. Pradhan, who has completed 12 years of schooling, says only 10 percent of people in his enclave pursue an education. He is convinced only education can bring his people out of their misery. “All want to educate their children, but they cannot afford fees; they have no money,” says the community leader. Mr. Pradhan hopes the sisters will open a boarding school. “We have to take the children out of this setting. There will be no change in them if they have to come back to the slums after classes.”
He says he can channel at least 400 students to the sisters, if they take the lead on such a project. Whatever its merits, such a project remains constrained by the realities on the ground; resources are scarce, Sister Sumitha says. “Who will meet the expenses?” Despite the scope of the problem, the sisters will continue to work with the people of Ghaziabad to find a solution, as they have done for more than two decades. Through these monumental efforts, the dreams of children such as Amrita may yet come true. Jose Kavi writes about social and religious issues in India from New Delhi. READ MORE ON THE SISTERS OF THE DESTITUTE ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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Responding to Human Needs
A letter from Georgia by Anahit Mkhoyan with photographs by Antonio di Vico
was 15 years old when I encountered religious sisters for the first time. They came to the village of Arevik in northern Armenia, where I lived with my parents. I asked my mom, “Why are they dressed like that?” Just to answer that question, she had to go back into history. For a typical Soviet child who continuously saw atheistic propaganda on the walls of school corridors, leveled to catch the most pupils’ attention, it was hard to understand who sisters were and
why they would choose such a difficult life. Nevertheless, my mother made sense of it, gradually, and other things as well; for instance, why people in our village were called “Franks” — a nickname for Armenian Catholics, referring to the influence of French missionaries centuries ago. This was the beginning of my long journey with my church. Not long after, a priest began celebrating the liturgy in our village church, the oldest Catholic sanctuary in Armenia. I joined the church choir
Anahit Mkhoyan, director of Caritas Georgia, visits the Harmony Center, which serves the elderly in Tbilisi.
and participated in the activities, lessons and camps organized by the Armenian Sisters of Immaculate Conception in our village. In 1994, while still a student, I started working in the newly formed Ordinariate of the Armenian Catholic Church in Armenia as a secretary. My spiritual father, Archbishop Neshan Karakeheyan, who at that time served as vicar general for
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“When God gives us chances, we have to take them with their challenges.”
For two decades, Caritas Georgia has provided a wide range of services — including classes and health care — to the most vulnerable populations of the Caucasus.
Armenian Catholics in Armenia, was one of the people who invested much in my personal, spiritual and professional development. In 1998, I had the opportunity to become acquainted with the work of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. They worked in a city called Spitak, which still suffered from the disastrous earthquake of December 1988. They were managing a house there for children and adults with multiple disabilities. After serving in that house for a while, I was inspired to create a volunteer group to work with people with special needs. When I shared my crazy idea with my spiritual father, he told me about Faith and Light, a multi-denominational Christian group that assists developmentally disabled people and their families. They were amazing in their vocation and community life. Thus in 1999 we started the first Faith and Light community in the Catholic Church in Gyumri — the second-largest city in Armenia. Nowadays, there are three communities with more than 80 people involved, and I still volunteer with them. That same year, I married and started enjoying the grace of having a family. I have three daughters and an amazing husband and motherin-law, who really helped me to manage this big beautiful family alongside with my busy career. In 2002, after working with the church for eight years, I decided to change my career. Right at that moment, Caritas Armenia needed a manager for a project focused on domestic violence — a subject not well understood at that time in Armenia, or even for me. I conducted research and designed
the methodology later used to help women and children who lived in violence in Gyumri. For me, working with the church’s charity was symbolic; I was working in the church and participating in the creation of a constitution and statements of mission and values with the head of the Armenian Catholic Church in the Caucasus, Archbishop Nerses Der Nersesian; his vicar general, then Bishop Neshan Karakeheyan; and Zevart Nanaryan from Catholic Relief Services Lebanon, who joined us as a consultant. I adored the mission and admired the work the organization did for the poor and vulnerable. A decade later, after starting the biggest project of Caritas Armenia to date — the construction of the Disability Care Center, the largest and most modern facility for people with special needs in Armenia — I decided I needed to move on; we human beings need breaks, even from the things we love. Change helps us to evaluate and understand clearly what is dear to us, what we prioritize and what we keep doing just because it is part of the life routine. My family and I moved to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, where I worked with a secular development organization. But after two years, even as my career evolved to that of a consultant focused on organizational development and cultural sensitivity, my heart remained with Caritas. As I reached out to Caritas Internationalis — the umbrella organization that brings together all national Caritas organizations — I received a call from my bishop, Archbishop Rafael Minassian. Caritas Georgia, which he serves as president, needed a director. It was the end of 2015, and for me it was very difficult to decide. First, it was such a short period to move the family again — this time to another culture and reality. Even though
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The CNEWA Connection
t A Georgian woman dines at a Caritas-administered soup kitchen. u Children, the elderly and lowincome families benefit from Caritas programs that provide hot meals. y Georgian children study English at a Caritas youth center.
CNEWA has worked closely with Caritas Georgia to uplift those in need in Georgia for decades. The people of Georgia have endured war, earthquakes, political upheaval and more — and CNEWA, with our friends at Caritas, has helped them feel they are not forgotten. Our support over the years has included reaching out to help the infirm, orphans and those suffering from poverty or hunger. More recently, a growing population of poor elderly citizens — the “new orphans” — has benefited from CNEWA’s assistance, from warm winter programs to home health care assistance. Through our generous donors, CNEWA has assisted Caritas Georgia’s outreach efforts to children in need, including its art therapy program and emergency medical aid to families impacted by war. In recent years, Caritas has expanded its social services — setting up soup kitchens for the elderly, children and the homeless, and providing some modest sense of stability in an unstable world, with day programs that bring those who are forlorn and forgotten a sense of belonging. To help the people of Georgia know they are not forgotten, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
Armenia and Georgia are neighbors, the two cultures and peoples are very different from one another. Second, I have worked with people of many different cultures, but doing day-to-day management of a local organization without knowing the language was a bit daunting. But I had to take the decision to accept or not as God’s challenge — or gift — to once again work in the church and organization I love. Challenge accepted. It meant that I had to move again and, at 41, start learning a new language. And I am! I understood that change is one of the most important things in our lives. It helps us to stay humble in the continuous path of learning, it enriches us with knowledge and it makes us tolerant because we see that things can be at once good and bad in different ways and places. One of the most empowering moments for me thus far was meeting with Pope Francis while he made a pastoral visit to Georgia earlier this year. The trip’s organizers asked that I join Camillian Father Pawel Dyl in greeting the pope at a meeting with charity workers in the capital of Tbilisi. While I was waiting for him to arrive, I was trying hard to keep my self-confidence. I was the only woman standing there among the whole male community of clergy. I had a confused feeling of pride and fear, until the moment he stepped out of the car. That humble look and sincere smile changed everything in a moment — one of the most remarkable moments of my life. As I walked along with him, escorting him to his chair, the
feeling of pride hit me, but this was pride in him. I was so proud that we have him as our spiritual leader. He was so caring while greeting and talking to people, so humble and human. He is a good example of how we, the leaders of charitable organizations, have to work and feel about our work: humble in our arrangements and sincere in our interactions. I acknowledge one thing forever: When God gives us opportunities, we have to accept them with all their challenges. He is always there if we keep walking with him and, once in a while, he gives us the strength to cheer up and press on. n
WATCH A VIDEO SHOWING SOME OF THE WORK OF CARITAS IN GEORGIA:
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Responding to Human Needs
Finding Common Ground text and photographs by Don Duncan
n a typical evening, 61-year-old Waheed Zaghol can be found sitting on the bank of the small canal opposite his home in Izbet Chokor, a village of Christians and Muslims about 60 miles southwest of Cairo. In the waning light, he speaks to his neighbors and watches the village children play, making the most of the final hours of the day. Mr. Zaghol, a Coptic Catholic, came to Izbet Chokor from the Egyptian city of Asaeed in 1970. Though he had arrived seeking work, he quickly came to think of the small hamlet as his home. There, he met his wife, Farha, with whom he has reared six children — four sons and two daughters. Over 46 years, Mr. Zaghol established himself in Izbet Chokor, a process that paralleled the development of its Christian community. When he first arrived, the village lacked a church; a priest would visit from the nearby oasis city of El Faiyum to conduct prayer meetings in private homes, which eventually developed into celebrations of the Divine Liturgy. In 1991, a small hall was built to serve as a church. Today, the village — which numbers 1,500 people — is home to two mosques and three Coptic churches: Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical Protestant. Its residents coexist in peace, living and working closely together. “The sense of community here is very good,” Mr. Zaghol says from his perch by the canal. “The relationship between Christians and Muslims has been excellent for many decades here, even after the revolution.” Copts represent about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 82 million The canal running through Izbet Chokor, called Al Bahr by locals, acts as a lifeline to the village.
— making up the largest Christian community in the Middle East. The vast majority belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church, led by Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. The Coptic Catholic Church represents some 175,000 people — a tiny minority within a minority — who share the rites and traditions of the Orthodox and remain in full communion with the Church of Rome. Under the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s Copts felt a certain measure of security. While his dictatorial administration was criticized for abuses of human rights and due process, it also held at bay extremist currents — such as Salafist ideologies and the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful Islamist political organization — traditionally hostile to Christians and other minorities. When, fueled by the hopes of the Arab Spring, Egyptians ousted Mr. Mubarak in January 2011, the nation’s Copts felt a sudden rush of anxiety. They feared the same insecurity affecting their brothers and sisters in the faith across an increasingly unsettled Middle East. Their fears were borne out, to some degree. Since the revolution, Christian communities across Egypt have seen an increase in church burnings, interreligious conflict, abductions — especially of women — and forced conversions. However, not every corner of Egypt has endured such acrimony; many communities, such as that of Izbet Chokor, have managed to weather the storm, keeping afloat the vessel of tolerance, coexistence and interfaith love. “If we had places like Izbet Chokor everywhere, it would be excellent,” says Amba Antonios Aziz Mina, Catholic bishop of the Eparchy of Giza, whose episcopal see includes the village. Izbet Chokor’s celebrated harmony is no accident. Its sense of
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Most of Egypt’s eight-million-strong Christians — called Copts — belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Only a handful — about 175,000 or so — is Catholic. Despite their small numbers, Coptic Catholics make a big impression in their communities through dynamic, inclusive institutions that serve the people of Egypt on the basis of need rather than creed. Since our founding 90 years ago, CNEWA has worked to accompany the Copts of Egypt through parishes, local church institutions and the men and women religious who provide loving care to the people most in need. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, CNEWA supports a number of social service activities of the Coptic Catholic Church in Izbet Chokor, including the renovation of housing, helping the parish to operate its clinic with equipment, and providing support to the vocational training workshop. All these works strengthen community and promote interreligious harmony. To become a part of this tradition of unity and support, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).
community stems from a mix of shared lifelines — such as the canal, called Al Bahr (“the sea”), used by all for washing, laundering clothes, watering crops and swimming — and active institutions — such as the St. Paul Service Center, a non-denominational community hub supported by CNEWA and administered by the Coptic Catholic parish of St. Paul. “The service center connects Muslims and Christians. And among the Christians, it connects Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholics,” says Abuna Marcos Saleh Zeki, who pastors the parish. “The center makes all of these people feel the same sense of community, and so they can connect with each other without any problems.” In a time of increased interreligious tension, this center’s work has taken on a critical significance, hailed by some as a model for the promotion of peaceful coexistence.
part from a few colorful murals on its gable, one might drive past the service center without noticing it. The discreet compound comprises a handful of buildings, some grassy areas and a swimming pool — a point of pride for the village. Although the compound appears quiet and sleepy from the outside, its interior buzzes with activity. Every morning, a bright orange bus arrives with children and staff, quickly flooding the grounds with the sounds of children at study or play. The center offers a preschool service to some 115 Christian and Muslim children from Izbet Chokor and three surrounding villages. On a hot day, a number of the preschoolers spend their playtime in an inflatable pool. Preschool Principal Nagwa Youssef sprays them with cool water from a hose, eliciting shrieks of laughter.
“The mix of religions enables the kids to know each other and their differences and to deal with those differences,” she says, “so when they go on to public school, they will be able to deal with everyone they meet. They won’t feel that others are strangers.” Once through with preschool, the children attend public school in nearby El Faiyum. As public schools in Egypt are generally poor — a report from the World Economic Forum published in September ranks Egypt’s primary education quality in the bottom five worldwide — the service center at Izbet t A choir sings at St. Paul’s Coptic Catholic Church. q Kindergarteners sit for a lesson at the St. Paul Service Center.
Chokor organizes classes and extra tutoring for children in primary and secondary school. In the summer, special intensive catch-up sessions are organized where students can review and clarify what they had covered at school during the year. A stone’s throw from the preschool, three infants with special needs snack on a mid-morning yogurt in one of the classrooms. In the next room, special-needs teenagers thread beads to make necklaces. “We try to advance several areas of learning at the same time,” says Mary Abu Seif, a volunteer teacher at the special-needs section. Lessons focus on general mobility, life skills such as personal hygiene and general cognitive function through games and puzzles.
On the second floor of the building, a group of young women file into an arts workshop where they sit at sewing machines or around craft tables. This workshop works to empower women by teaching them trade skills they have not acquired at home, such as dress and jewelry making. The hope is that they can eventually monetize these new skills to improve their respective life situations. It is also an occasion for Muslim and Christian women to work together, to learn from each other and to grow as one community. “When I speak to someone here I don’t think about whether she is a Muslim or a Christian,” says Jihane Eid, a Muslim resident of Izbet Chokor and an attendee of the workshop. “Above all, I am speaking to a human being. I never
“The mix of religions enables the kids to know each other. … They won’t feel that others are strangers.”
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think of ‘us’ and ‘them’; we are all together here.” The center also serves other, less formal functions. The Christian Youth Club meets one evening a week for recreation and catechism. This week, they are gathered around a television watching Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid,” giggling periodically at the shenanigans on the screen. Once the film ends, a discussion begins on how small gestures — such as Chaplin’s gesture of helping the child in the film — can have a large impact on the lives of others. Sister Salwa, one of two sisters from the convent of the Little Sisters of Jesus, a short walk down the road from the center, steers the conversation. She asks if anyone can think of examples of such small gestures in their own lives. “I have a friend who is sick and I go visit him,” pipes up Samih Magdih. “In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus says: ‘When I was hungry you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty, A study group of teenagers meets on evenings in the courtyard of the St. Paul Service Center.
you gave me to drink.’ These little gestures are what matter,” adds Ossama Aantar, another young club member. “The model for this is Jesus,” concludes Madonna Mandoh, the only girl in the group. While the youth club is underway inside, another group of teenagers has gathered in the center’s grassy inner courtyard to study and socialize. There, they huddle in the dying light of sunset, discussing mathematics, their faces lighted up by the shining screens of their laptops. “The service center is helping people here to go beyond school and go to university,” says Abuna Zeki. “We reinforce and improve on the education the youth are getting. We are also raising the standard of health care here.” The service center’s primary care clinic is the first stop in health care for everyone in and around Izbet Chokor, regardless of religion. The clinic consists of a reception, a handful of treatment cubicles and a dispensary. While there are nurses constantly present at the clinic, on specific days of the week, a physiotherapist
and a dermatologist hold visiting hours to treat specific needs. Once a week, in another building in the complex, the center runs its Mother and Child Wellbeing clinic. This pre- and postnatal health project has been running for 15 years. Currently, it helps some 70 women and their children. “The first challenge we face regarding maternal and child care is unawareness, then poverty and then illiteracy,” says Sister Salwa. Once a week, Sister Salwa and Dr. Hanne Lufti present relevant information to the women on aspects of maternal and infant health. At the end of the seminar, Dr. Lufti holds a clinic where she can treat or advise the participants. “I try to make the most of the doctor’s knowledge and presence,” says Amal Ramandan Orabi, a mother of three from Izbet Chokor.
ince 1970, the year Waheed Zaghol first set foot in Izbet Chokor, the Christians and Muslims of his generation have witnessed a progressive development of services, culminating in a prolific community center.
Mr. Zaghol’s sons, Mourad and Wael, helped build various parts of the center. His grandchildren attend its preschool. Wael’s wife, Hanen, teaches in the center’s specialneeds section. Mourad’s wife utilizes the services of the mother and child clinic. In this respect, the Zaghol family is not exceptional. The St. Paul Service Center’s success — and indeed the success of Izbet Chokor as a haven of interfaith harmony — owes to the simple fact that everyone in the village has a stake in building that reality. The center merely crystallizes this shared will. “Yes, the service center is special. It’s the banner of the village,” Mr. Zaghol says. “But there is still room for improvement. We need to upgrade and we need to expand more in health and education.” While the establishment of basic health and educational services has long been a priority for the church in Izbet Chokor, these efforts have recently been accompanied by physical, infrastructural improvements to aspects to the village. For example, a project called the Samaritan Homes seeks to ease the hardship of single or widowed mothers by renovating their homes and offering the women a monthly stipend for essentials. So far, 18 women and their children have benefited. Another area of improvement concerns the canal; because many residents also use it as a dump for sewage and trash, Al Bahr is becoming a toxic lifeline. “The kids would go swimming in the canal, and they catch all sorts of diseases including liver and kidney infections,” says Sister Hélène, of the Little Sisters of Jesus. A long-term goal of the church is to provide proper sewage disposal for the village and to dredge the canal — a costly and time-consuming
Help Egypt’s poor families hold on to the spirit of hope Please help today www.egyptcnewa.org
proposal. In the meantime, the church has an interim solution: the swimming pool. Come early evening, the pool is easily the most animated feature of the service center. A recent hot evening saw the pool filled with children on summer camp, visiting from their Coptic Catholic parish in Manhary village, near the city of Minya, some 110 miles south of Izbet Chokor. “Izbet Chokor is quiet and there is space and calm for us to do what we wish,” says Joe Bishay, 15, who works as a lifeguard. The campers, between 10 and 12 years old, splash around with wild abandon. Their parish priest, Abuna Fady Farouk, challenges those nearby to a game — to plunge underwater and try to hold their breaths for as long as possible. They all submerge in unison and then, one by one, they breach the surface like strange hyperactive sea creatures, gasping for air. “Izbet Chokor means a lot to us,” says Abuna Farouk. “It’s very important that there exist other Christian places like this. It gives us a sense of hope and it inspires us to try similar projects in our own village.” This cross-pollination of ideas and approaches might prove to be
a steady, continuous countercurrent to the forces of ignorance currently dividing Egypt. In so large a country, however, Izbet Chokor remains but a tiny point of light. “We need to see what is happening there on the level of the nation, all over Egypt,” says Amba Antonios. “Then Egypt can truly start out in the right direction.” 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.
VIEW A VIDEO BY DON DUNCAN ON ONE ASPECT OF LIFE IN IZBET CHOKOR:
onemagazinehome.org/ web/videoizbetchokor AND READ MORE ABOUT LIFE IN THIS EGYPTIAN HAMLET ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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on the world of CNEWA
s I write, I am planning another pastoral visit to India in just a few short days. No doubt this upcoming trip will only confirm in my heart and soul how there are so many needs among poor children in this very large country — but it will also remind me of what beautiful treasures are the little ones of India. Despite horrible conditions of poverty, neglect and abuse, the children there manage to smile. When I try to bring smiles on their faces, I am rewarded with the gentle and reassuring messages that they reflect back to me: Life is very difficult, but there is always reason to be joyful. That joy and those beaming faces seem to radiate in the programs that CNEWA is so privileged to support. Being a priest who loves to engage — some would say “entertain” — the children, I find myself always more the beneficiary of loving joy, rather than the benefactor of good will. And the joy of these beautiful
children is infectious, especially for their priests, sisters and other caregivers. Even the sisters who insist on discipline and good order cannot resist the power of those grinning little ones. And that only brings out the best in me — as I, too, am captivated by their joyfilled smiles and laughter.
for all God’s little ones, at whatever age. So many of the programs of the church restore dignity to more than just those in need, but to their families and communities as well. In this sense, the church in India is the ultimate “pro-life” voice in a society where so many are excluded from enjoying a decent life.
Imagine a 7- or 8-year-old entrusted with the care of two or three younger siblings. This is a very common experience in India. Sometimes, there is no mother figure, or she is out all day working to feed her children. Often, responsibility falls upon the oldest child — perhaps 7 or 8 or 9 years old, hardly big enough to hold a baby in their arms — yet they provide all the loving support and care of someone much older.
Your support helps to maintain the smiles and the joys of India’s poor children, in spite of their suffering. Your prayers and your gifts to Catholic Near East Welfare Association refresh their joy, upholding the dignity of all God’s children and helping big brothers and big sisters to care for their “little ones.”
Children with special needs, both physical and mental, are typically marginalized and oftentimes receive no opportunity for education, selfhelp or decent care. The church, with the support of CNEWA, makes a big difference in the quality of life
On their behalf, I offer you their beautiful smiles as a warm “thank you,” and their prayers asking God to bless you.
Msgr. John E. Kozar
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