30 January 2018
Thanks to a project supported by CNEWA, Wagdi Attalah is healthier and working to get his high school diploma. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: CNEWA is privileged to support numerous initiatives and institutions that serve marginalized, poor and vulnerable populations in Egypt. One such establishment, called Good Samaritan, comprises two facilities that provide care for children in need. CNEWA helps Good Samaritan centers to shelter, feed and clothe children whose parents have died or are too poor to afford these necessities. We also help share the gift of education with underserved children in areas where schools are scarce or unaffordable. Michel Constantin — our regional director in Beirut, who oversees our work in Egypt — recently shared this story of one family benefiting from these on-the-ground services.
Wagdi Attallah is 17-years-old and suffers from asthma and lung problems. His family consists of his mother and himself. Before Magdi was born, while she was pregnant, she had health complications which affected Wagdi’s present condition and requires chronic medications. His mother now suffers from many problems with her eyesight.
Their main source of income was from selling buffalo milk, but after the buffalo died, they lost that revenue and became poorer and poorer. Their house was in extremely poor condition, with just two small rooms. There was no toilet or kitchen.
Related: Egypt’s Good Samaritans
Through a project supported by CNEWA, and in collaboration with the Good Samaritan Center, we were able to improve conditions for Wagdi and his sick mother. The house was rehabilitated. A bathroom and kitchen were built, along with concrete and tiling to repair the house. We installed doors and windows and painted the walls, and also did some electrical work on the building.
Wagdi’s condition has improved dramatically. He is now studying for his diploma. We are still there to help him as needed — supporting him with assistance in his health care and education.
Thanks to the generosity of CNEWA’s donors, his future now looks much brighter.
30 January 2018
The Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko celebrates the Divine Liturgy inside an abandoned facility once used to develop grain seeds. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
In the current edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz takes us to Ukraine for a look at how the church there is seeking to grow — often under daunting circumstances:
Despite decades of official atheism, Christian symbolism is compellingly strong in central and eastern Ukraine, which is why many are cautious to enter dwellings where Greek Catholics worship: The buildings often lack the proper symbols and icons.
In the 700-strong village of Mala Vilshanka, the Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko...is blessed with two enormous rooms inside an abandoned, run-down Soviet-era facility once used to develop new grain seeds.
He celebrates the sacraments regularly with about a dozen parishioners — although as large a group as half the village comes out on Epiphany to bless water in January — yet the small community “wants something of its own,” he says.
“The parish and I want an appropriate religious atmosphere here,” Father Hrishchenko says. “You don’t want to go to a random café; you want something of your own. But we have no money to build one.”
Still, the parish has the luxury of a separate room for social events and gatherings crucial to building a parish community. Father Hrishchenko uses the space for screening films, putting on plays and inviting guest lecturers to speak on such topics as marriage, ethics and holidays.
“Even though there is the internet and people can instantly access information, it’s more useful to have a ‘human library,’ an expert to talk about the Holy Scripture and other topics,” he says.
The 35-year-old priest also leads another parish in neighboring Bila Tserkva, comprised of some 40 faithful who gather inside a dilapidated Soviet-era household goods store — a brick building with a crumbling façade.
For two years, when he had no car, Father Hrishchenko would take the bus to the village parish and then hitchhike back to the district center in every kind of weather.
Such concessions are necessary when resources are tight. The average Ukrainian monthly salary barely reaches $200, and diminishes as one moves farther away from urban centers.
“It would take 20 or 30 years’ worth of donations to build a church on what we get in our donation boxes, which hardly covers expenses for liturgy — bread, charcoal, candles and wine.”
Read more about how Catholics are Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith in Ukraine in the December 2017 edition of ONE.
30 January 2018
In this image from 17 January, residents walk through the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp. Many have expressed fears over their future after the U.S. cut aid to the U.N. agency that supports them.
(photo: Joseph Eid, AFP/Getty Images)
Fears in Syrian camp for Palestinian refugees (Reuters) In Burj al-Barajneh camp, Amira Nassar fears for the future after the United States cut aid to the U.N. agency that helps her and many others among the estimated 170,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Sitting in an old people’s center, talk turns to the impact on their healthcare...
Big changes are reshaping Jerusalem (Bloomberg) The number of employed east Jerusalem Arabs is rising, salary gaps with the city’s Jewish population are narrowing, more are learning Hebrew — 6,000 currently study the language in classes — and registration at higher education institutions in the western sector is up. City Hall has established an employment center in east Jerusalem and plans a second one. There are even growing applications for citizenship, said Ben Avrahami, the mayor’s adviser for east Jerusalem affairs. This from a population of permanent residents that can file for social security benefits but doesn’t have the right to vote in national elections...
A journey into Iraqi Kurdistan (The New York Times) The Mar Mattai monastery clings to the side of a steep mountain, and on a clear day a visitor can stand against its fortresslike walls and discern far below the winsome farmlands of Upper Mesopotamia. Here, in the cradle of civilization, the building is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. From this peaceful perch, it is difficult to imagine the horror...
Syrian carpenter rebuilds life in Homs (Xinhua) It wasn’t easy for the 43-year-old Rabea Sahloul to start his life from scratch alone in his shattered neighborhood in Homs city, as his neighbors and friends he grew up with are no longer there. People say that feeling lonely or as a stranger is not only when you lose a home, but when the loved ones are no longer there such as friends and neighbors, those who give life a taste and a meaning...
Man arrested for looting Byzantine-era coins from archaeological sites (The Jerusalem Post) A resident of the Negev’s Beduin village of Bir Hadaj was arrested Sunday for looting more than 150 Byzantine-era coins from numerous nearby archaeological sites, the Antiquities Authority said Monday. According to the Authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit, a call was received Sunday afternoon reporting that an unidentified suspect in his 50’s was walking around the ruins of the city Halutza with a metal detector...
29 January 2018
Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, holding cross, and Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago, right, watch a Palestinian worker make crosses made of olive wood on 27 January at the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society in Beit Sahour, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas, remembers the smell of woodworking and the feel of wood in his hands from when he was a child in his family furniture factory in Celaya, Mexico.
“Here they are working with olive wood; in Mexico we worked with cedar. We see the connection with our brothers here,” Bishop Rodriguez said as he walked through the small family-run Odeh Factory, which produces traditional olive wood statues and souvenirs to sell to pilgrims and tourists. “I see the effort that is needed, and the talent, (to do this work) as a way to support and feed their families. I can see this is the work of Christians. I don’t have to be told that, you can see it in their work.”
Bishop Rodriguez was among 10 bishops who participated in the 18-27 January USCCB Hispanic Bishops’ Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. They met with local Christians as well as with other Palestinians and Israelis to get a firsthand understanding of the situation and to advocate for “bridges not walls.” Many bishops said the pilgrimage gave them a better understanding of the Palestinian Christian reality in the Holy Land and gave them the opportunity to express their solidarity with the community, which makes up less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population.
On 27 January, Catholic Relief Services hosted the bishops in the traditionally Christian village of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, for a tour of the CRS Fair Trade Partner Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society, and a visit to one of the artisan workshops CRS recently helped renovate to improve working conditions.
“It has given me a special understanding of the reason why the number of Christians in the Holy Land is decreasing and the difficulty of living here because of the occupation,” said Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida. “While I have felt a great sadness at their situation, I have also marveled at the resilience of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza.”
Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland described Gaza with its 2.3 million people as a “virtual human prison,” where residents cannot leave and others cannot enter. While there is a political aspect to the situation, the humanitarian side of it cannot be ignored, he said.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, touches a statue of Mary made out of olive wood at the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society in Beit Sahour, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
“People have the right to freedom of movement, right to life. I would hope that somehow, someday this will get resolved,” he said. “Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have their narrative, but (the situation must be dealt with) in a way which respects the dignity of the human person.”
He said although the students of Bethlehem University with whom they spoke gave him hope as they expressed desire for peace, their prospects for gainful employment were minimal, and many young Christian Palestinians emigrate because of lack of work.
“We can’t judge one side over the other but ... justice and peace must reign between these two communities living here,” said Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago. “This is possible only if each one recognizes the dignity of the other.”
“We have been exposed more to the reality of life here and have heard ... of the fear of Israelis near the Gaza border,” said Bishop Perez. “I could relate to the fear of being shot at. People have died. That was as disturbing as seeing the limitation of movement of people from Gaza.”
“There have been situations in the world where, in their moments, people felt there was no hope and there was nothing to be done,” he added. “But history has shown through God’s grace and intervention and goodness of people situations have changed.”
29 January 2018
Pope Francis and Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, release doves at the end of the pope’s meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome on 28 January. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
Pope Francis’ visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome combined elements of his parish visits with elements of his visits to centers for migrants and refugees.
While the basilica is a fully functioning parish, most of its members are migrant women working in Rome and sending money home to their families in Ukraine.
In his speech to the community gathered at Santa Sophia 28 January, Pope Francis offered his own reflection on “The Vibrant Parish: a Place to Encounter the Living Christ,” which is the theme of a multiyear renewal effort in Ukrainian Catholic parishes around the world.
“A vibrant parish is a place to encounter the living Christ,” he said. “I hope that you always will come here for the bread for your daily journey, the consolation of your hearts, the healing of your wounds.”
A vibrant parish, he said, also is the place to pass on the faith to the younger generations.
“Young people need to perceive this: that the church is not a museum, that the church is not a tomb,” the pope added. They need to see that “the church is alive, that the church gives life and that God is Jesus Christ, the living Christ, in the midst of the church.”
But Pope Francis also spoke about the loneliness of being a migrant, the hard work and low pay many Ukrainian women receive in caring for children or the elderly in Italy and, particularly, the worry and concern over the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.
The pope also used the visit as a way to underline the importance of remembering the past and honoring those who dedicated their lives to preserving and sharing the faith, including under the harshest conditions, when the Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed by the Soviet Union and its bishops and many of its priests were imprisoned.
The first person he honored was the late Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, who was exiled to Rome after 18 years in Soviet jails and gulags. The cardinal built the basilica as a cathedral for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was banned in its homeland.
Pope Francis said the cardinal wanted it “to shine like a prophetic sign of freedom in the years when access to many houses of worship was forbidden. But with the sufferings he endured and offered to the Lord, he contributed to building another temple, even grander and more beautiful, the edifice of living stones which is you,” the pope told the faithful.
Pope Francis attends a meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, welcomed Pope Francis to the basilica. He said that while officially there are about 200,000 Ukrainians living in Italy, the number is probably double that. About 17,000 people attend the Divine Liturgy each week in one of 145 Ukrainian Catholic communities in Italy; they are served by 65 priests, the archbishop said.
The archbishop also said he hoped Pope Francis’ visit to the basilica would be just the first step toward a papal visit to Ukraine.
Pope Francis urged the community members to remember all those who suffered in Ukraine to preserve the faith and to hand it on, including mothers and grandmothers who baptized their children or grandchildren at great risk when Ukraine was under Soviet domination.
That same commitment to faith and desire to share it, he said, is seen today in the Ukrainian women who work for Italian families and become witnesses of faith to them.
“Behind each of you there is a mother, a grandmother who transmitted the faith,” the pope said. “Ukrainian women are heroic, thank the Lord.”
The war in Eastern Ukraine, which has been continuing for four years, also was on the minds and hearts of the pope and the Ukrainian faithful. Archbishop Shevchuk said that while “Russian aggression” continues, the international community has forgotten about the fighting.
Pope Francis told the Ukrainian community, “I know that while you are here, your hearts beat for your country and they beat not only with affection, but also with anguish, especially because of the scourge of war and the economic difficulties.
“I am here to tell you that I am close to you, close with my heart, close with my prayers, close when I celebrate the Eucharist,” the pope told them. “I beg the Prince of Peace to silence the weapons.”
Before leaving the basilica, Archbishop Shevchuk took Pope Francis down to the crypt to pray at the tomb of Bishop Stefan Chmil.
Earlier, Pope Francis told the people in the basilica that when he was 12 years old and then-Father Chmil, a Salesian, was ministering in Buenos Aires, he would serve Divine Liturgy for the priest.
Being an altar server three times a week, he said, he learned from Father Chmil “the beauty of your liturgy,” but also about what was happening in Ukraine under communism and “how the faith was tried and forged in the midst of the terrible atheistic persecutions of the last century.”
You can watch a video about his visit below.
29 January 2018
Religious sisters pray inside St. Thomas Church in Palakkad, India. Read about the priest who serves the parish in A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala in the December 2017 edition of ONE.
(photo: Don Duncan)
29 January 2018
Pope Francis embraces Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, during a meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome on 28 January. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
Pope visits Ukrainian Basilica in Rome (Vatican Radio) On Sunday afternoon Pope Francis paid a visit to the Basilica of Santa Sofia, home to Rome’s Greek Catholic Community of Ukrainians. The Pope exchanged greetings with the Major Archbishop of Kiev, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and in his address the Pontiff recalled the great models of Cardinal Josyp Slipyi, Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Czmil, and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, former Major Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine...
Jordan’s King: ‘Jordan will remain a protector of Jerusalem’s shrines’ (The Jordan Times) His Majesty King Abdullah on Sunday met with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Minister Derek Browning, a Royal Court statement said. During the meeting, attended by HRH Prince Ghazi, the King’s special adviser for religious and cultural affairs, the King and the minister stressed the importance of enhancing dialogue, tolerance and co-existence among followers of various religions...
New bishop for Ahmedabad, India (Vatican Radio) The Holy Father, Pope Francis has appointed The Rev. Athanasius Rethna Swamy Swamiadian, the new Bishop for the Diocese of Ahmedabad, India. Currently Father Athanasius was serving as the Rector of Vianney Vihar, the Interdiocesan Major Seminary in Baroda...
Gaza hospital forced to close over power crisis (Andalou Agency) A hospital in the northern Gaza Strip has shut down over an acute power shortage plaguing the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Monday. In a statement, the Ministry said the Beit Hanoun hospital had suspended health services over the shortage. “Patients will be transferred to other governmental hospitals,” it said...
Russian Orthodox leader criticizes bitcoin craze (RT) Bitcoin mania makes people lose their minds and lose everything they have, according to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. “People are losing their minds. Everyone says: What am I waiting for? I have to act, I have to buy these bitcoins. And then they are buying, pawning property, selling their homes. Then, bitcoin collapses within two weeks, and people understand that they did not win anything, but lost, they lost everything they had,” the patriarch said, speaking before Russia’s Federation Council...
26 January 2018
How can the church reach out to help children in families coping with alcoholism or abuse? Check out the video above to see what’s being done in Kerala, India. (video: by Don Duncan)
This Friday, we’re introducing a new feature on the blog, “Friday Film Festival.” It’s a chance for us to revisit some of our video reports from the last few years and introduce them to a new audience.
These videos, archived at our YouTube channel, offer a rich and varied glimpse into CNEWA’s world, with a chance to see and hear some of those we serve in a way that’s intimate — and sometimes surprising — but always inspiring.
To kick off our feature, we have a video from last year, produced by Don Duncan, showing efforts to save children from families tainted by alcoholism and abuse.
You can read more in our magazine about how the church is Breaking the Cycle among the young in Kerala.
Meantime, click on the video above and watch.
26 January 2018
Children at St. Rita School in Zahleh, Lebanon, gather for class. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: we’re pleased to share with you this update from Michel Constantin, our regional director in Beirut, describing how CNEWA’s support for a school in Lebanon is helping young refugee children from Syria recover from the trauma of war and look forward to a better future.
Being close to the Syrian border, Zahleh and the region were a safe destination for around 2,650 Syrian refugee families. Some 2,000 Syrian Muslim refugee families found shelter in tents and 650 Christian families rented small apartments. Out of the total number, around 500 were children — the main victims of the war in Syria.
Dozens of Syrian children were screened by the Greek Catholic Archbishopric Social Center to be out of schools in Zahle; they were at risk of becoming a lost generation, along with nearly 80 vulnerable Lebanese host community children. They had been enrolled in school but had learning weaknesses that made them at risk of dropping out of school.
For this reason, the Greek Catholic Archbishopric of Zahleh approached CNEWA for help. We were able to provide assistance during the academic year in remedial classes (Arabic, French, English and mathematics lessons), psychosocial support and summer school. Children were taken out on trips to discover new places in Lebanon, enjoying a more carefree time, with the hope of releasing the stress of their daily lives.
Initially, St. Rita School provided regular classes to Lebanese children in the morning shift. As the needs rose, it was decided to use the location to provide remedial classes in the afternoon shifts for the Syrians, along with tutorial classes to some Lebanese who were at risk of dropping out of school.
A student at St. Rita works on his classwork. (photo: CNEWA)
Below is the account of one student who benefited from this arrangement, sent to us by the school’s director, Zeina Aamoury:
Lea, a 10-year-old Syrian girl in the 5th grade, has been enrolled in Saint Rita School since 2016.
Ever since Lea was four-years-old, and still living in Syria, she would wake her mother up early in the mornings, wanting to go to school. Lea would literally cry when told by her mother to go back to sleep. The family circumstances were difficult; along with her mother, Lea lived with her father, who worked as a laborer in wall painting, and her brother Elias, who is three years younger, all sharing a tiny house with two rooms in Syria. Unfortunately her father spent his money on drinking and gambling.
Lea’s mother tried her best to ensure that her children lived peacefully. She wanted to create a nice family atmosphere for her husband and children, and never stopped praying to God to give her strength to endure this hardship. But it took a toll on her. Eventually, she became weary and got very sick. To add to her misery, in 2011 when the war broke out in Syria, the family had to flee the country seeking refuge in Lebanon.
But in Lebanon, life was still difficult. The father continued drinking and gambling.
Since the family became refugees in Zahleh, they received assistance from different social charity organizations. They lived in one room which was furnished by the mother’s relatives.
During the last academic year (2016-2017) when St. Rita School offered afternoon remedial classes for the Syrian children, Lea was the first student to register.
At the beginning, it was very difficult for her to adjust and to adapt to new methods of learning; in Syria all materials were taught in Arabic, while in Lebanon our core education is based on foreign languages. As school staff and teachers, we try our best to overcome all these obstacles to ensure that the refugee students attending the remedial classes are supported on both levels educationally and socially. We are fully aware of their hardships: losing all their belongings, having their houses completely demolished, living in a strange country and wondering all the time whether they will ever return to Syria.
But for Lea, the classes and supportive environment made a world of difference. Her life took a new turn. She amazed her teachers with her dedication and good work. She showed huge interest in her education and astonished all her teachers and administrators when she asked them to cover a two-year program in one year — and she completed her year successfully!
Lea is determined to study hard — to be part of the generation who will restore her beautiful homeland, Syria. She strongly believes that if it weren’t for the efforts exerted by all those who are helping her and hundreds other refugee children to study and follow their education in Lebanon, she would have lost her future for sure. Instead, she now has the chance to dream and hope.
For more on life among the refugees in Zahleh, read Hardship and Hospitality in the June 2017 edition of ONE.
26 January 2018
Palestinian children play in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on 15 January.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
The U.S. suspension of $65 million in aid to the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees alarmed advocates who work with Palestinians living in camps.
Hilary DuBose, country representative to the Palestinian territories for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, said her agency is “deeply concerned about the impact such a dramatic cut in aid will have.”
The agency, UNRWA, “is one of the major providers of critical, basic life-sustaining support services — including food assistance, education, health care, sanitation management — in the refugee camps. These needs exist.”
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said cutting the aid to refugee assistance would be inhumane.
“We have visited the refugee camps in Gaza and, even with the assistance they receive, they live very meager and undignified lives,” said Bishop Cantu, who was participating in the Hispanic Bishops’ Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. “The separation wall has already devastated their economy. Able-bodied Palestinians who would want to work and are trying to work can’t find sufficient work to support their families. It would be absolutely inhumane to cut the aid.”
He added that politicians must move away from taking offense at the words they say to one another and move toward thinking what is best for humanity.
U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed frustration with the lack of movement in Mideast peace. Early in January, Trump blamed the Palestinians and threatened to cut U.S. funding. Later, the U.S. government suspended a $65 million payment to UNRWA, which serves more than 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered across the Middle East.
On 25 January, Trump said the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive U.S. aid money.
Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Giulia McPherson, interim executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, were among advocates who signed a 24 January letter from humanitarian aid groups. The letter, spearheaded by Refugees International and Norwegian Refugee Council, objected to the withdrawal of U.S. funds. It was addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, national security adviser.
“We are deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of this decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” the groups said in their letter. “Whether it is emergency food aid, access to primary health care, access to primary education, or other critical support to vulnerable populations, there is no question that these cuts, if maintained, will have dire consequences.”
They said they were “particularly alarmed” that the decision — which will impact humanitarian aid to civilians — was not based on an assessment of need but rather “designed to both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them.”
“This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance,” they said.
They reminded the U.S. leaders that, in 1984, the Reagan administration justified its decision to provide humanitarian aid to famine-struck Ethiopia by declaring that “a hungry child knows no politics.”
In a statement at the United Nations 25 January, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the U.N., noted that the Vatican “deplores the sufferings of millions in the Middle East due to armed conflicts.” He called on the Security Council to end the humanitarian crises in the region based on solutions in the U.N. Charter.
Speaking during the Security Council open debate on the situation in the Middle East, Archbishop Auza also emphasized the “urgent need” to resume negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians toward a negotiated two-state solution.