24 January 2017
Born without arms, Jilumol Thomas grew up cared for by the Sisters of the Destitute in a home supported by CNEWA. She now works as a graphic designer. (photo: CNEWA)
Jilumol Thomas has done more — and with far less — than most of us can imagine. This 23-year-old young woman has defied the odds again and again, and is continuing to show others a quiet heroism that comes from trust in God.
CNEWA’s regional director for India, M.L. Thomas, wrote to tell us about her recently:
Jilumol Mariott Thomas — “Jilu” to her friends — was born the second of three children of Thomas Nellanikkattu and Annakkutty of Karimannoor near Thodupuzha in Kerala, the southern state of India. Tragically, she was born without arms. When Jilu was just four years-old, her mother died. Jilu was taken to the Mercy Home run by Sisters of the Destitute at Changanassery, a small town in Kerala, India supported by CNEWA in its childcare program.
At the Mercy Home, Jilu got support in abundance from the sisters. They set up a canvas for Jilu and gave her color pencils. In time, she learned how to battle her physical shortcomings. She started practicing graphics on a computer. Earning high marks in school, she eventually graduated and secured a degree in Animation and Graphic Design from Media Village in Changanassery.
After earning her degree, she started working on some computer-related jobs for private organizations. She later served as an office assistant at a church-run hospital at Paimkulam.
But her dream was to make a career in graphic design. Bishop Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath, Bishop Auxiliary of the Syro Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamali, invited Jilu to join Viani Printing Press, run by the Archdiocese in Kochi city. A work space was specially created for Jilu at Viani by rearranging the computer table, mouse and keyboard; it was set up in such a way that she could work with her feet.
The little girl born without arms or hands is now reaching and touching many with her talent — and her spirit.
Someone once asked her, “When you cry, how do you wipe your tears?,” and she replied: “I have no hands to erase my tears. Let me meet everyone with laughter and a smile so that I never need to cry.”
Jilu credits her faith, her family, and the sisters who raised her for teaching her what is possible.
“There are people who discourage me,” she says, “but I learned many lessons from them regarding life. A bird sits on the branch of a tree with a firm belief that the branch will not break away from the stem. Similarly, the journey of my life is with full trust in my merciful God.”
24 January 2017
Boys carry sandwiches on 20 January in Aleppo, Syria. Conveying Pope Francis’ closeness to the Syrian people, a Vatican delegation visited Aleppo 18-23 January, following the end of the hostilities that left thousands dead and the city in ruins. (photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Conveying Pope Francis’ closeness to the Syrian people, a Vatican delegation visited Aleppo following the end of the hostilities that left thousands dead and the city in ruins.
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary-delegate of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, visited the city 18-23 January, accompanied by Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, and Msgr. Thomas Habib, an official at the nunciature, the Vatican said 24 January.
The delegation met with “Christian communities and their pastors, who expressed gratitude to the pope for his constant concern for beloved Syria,” the statement said.
They also visited several refugee camps and Catholic institutions assisting in relief efforts, including a humanitarian assistance center run by Caritas Aleppo.
According to the Vatican, during a meeting with the church’s charitable institutions, Msgr. Dal Toso and the delegation emphasized the importance of providing relief assistance to the Syrian people.
“With the support of the universal church and thanks to the generous contribution of the international community, such help may be intensified in the future to meet the growing needs of the people,” the Vatican said.
Members of the delegation also took part in an ecumenical prayer service that coincided with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, as well as several meetings with Islamic representatives.
The “responsibilities of religions in educating for peace and reconciliation” was among the issues discussed during the meetings, the Vatican noted.
24 January 2017
Iraqi soldiers inspect the debris on 22 January at St. George’s Monastery (Mar Gurguis), an historic Chaldean Catholic church on the northern outskirts of Mosul, which was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. The U.N. is racing to prepare emergency aid ahead of the battle for western Mosul.
(photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)
At Syria talks, a pledge to safeguard truce (AP) Syria talks in Kazakhstan between the Damascus government and rebel factions have concluded with Russia, Turkey and Iran striking a deal on a three-way mechanism to consolidate the country’s nearly month-old cease-fire...
U.N. ‘racing’ to prepare emergency aid ahead of battle for western Mosul (Reuters) The United Nations said on Tuesday it is “racing against the clock” to prepare emergency aid for hundreds of thousands of endangered civilians in Mosul with an Iraqi army offensive looming to oust Islamic State from the western half of the city. Iraqi officials said on Monday government forces had taken complete control of eastern Mosul, 100 days after the start of their U.S.-backed campaign to retake Iraq’s second largest city from IS insurgents who seized it in 2014...
‘Gaza infrastructure nearing collapse’ (The Jerusalem Post) Gaza’s infrastructure is on the verge of collapse, the Israeli NGO Gisha said in a detailed report it issued on Tuesday, which painted a bleak picture of the lack of basic utilities in the Hamas-controlled Strip. It described how Gaza’s 1.8 million residents lack regular supplies of electricity, drinking water and adequate telecommunication services...
Turkey’s beleaguered Christians aim to stay resilient (National Catholic Reporter) “People are naturally afraid, so many are staying away from the churches,” Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul, told NCR. “But Christians and Muslims are united against this violence, and the police who’ve been guarding our churches are kind and considerate. Though no one knows what will happen, we’re talking together and sharing our concerns...”
Communist Kerala leader warns church on commercialization of schools (UCANews) The southern Indian Kerala state chief minister and communist leader has lambasted some private schools for corrupt practices and warned that the church, which has worked extensively in education, not to fall prey to the commercial education lobby. Pinarayi Vijayan spoke at the diamond jubilee of church-run Devagiri St. Joseph’s College in Kozhikode district on 17 January. He lauded the Christian service in education but warned that it is fast becoming a for-profit enterprise...
Pope tells media to reject prejudice, leave space for hope (CNS) At a time when the media seem to feed a “vicious cycle of anxiety” and a “spiral of fear,” Christians should respond with honest stories that identify problems and evil, but also inspire real solutions, Pope Francis said...
23 January 2017
Students studying to become catechists offering a blessing to their instructors at the end of the course. (photo: James Jeffrey)
Journalist James Jeffrey reports on efforts to grow the faith in Ethiopia for the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. Here, he shares some meals with catechists —and shares some further thoughts with us.
At the end of a day full of evangelical fervor, I found myself reflecting on how a simple dinner, that act of breaking bread with others, could be nourishing physically but also mentally and spiritually — plus particularly useful for a journalist with his notebook at hand.
My first night in the balmy lakeside town of Bahir Dar, just before the start of the weekend university chaplaincy program on the role of evangelicalism in modern Catholicism, coincided with the conclusion of a preceding course, similarly instructing missionaries, religious sisters and laypersons.
Joining them for dinner, as I sat eating from my plate of injera — Ethiopia’s indigenous spongy pancake-shaped grey bread — topped with rice, beetroot, potato and other fresh vegetables, it was hard to imagine the somewhat diminutive-looking religious sisters who sat around me were, in fact, evangelizers.
But I was soon reminded of what inner strength can lie beneath the surface.
“It took me about two years to learn Amharic,” said Sister Veronica, a soft-spoken Kenyan missionary sister with a ready smile, working in the Benishangul-Gunzu region near the Sudanese border, a remote and hard to reach place all but invisible from contemporary Ethiopia.
“We get to go home once every three years.”
“More important than what I miss is what I find,” said the Rev. Goaquim Silva, a Portuguese missionary priest based in Ethiopia for six years.
I began to understand why many people find missionaries unsettling figures — they have a disconcertingly humbling effect on oneself.
Dinner for each of the following two nights occurred at the table of Abune Lesanu-Christos Matheos, Bishop of the Bahir Dar-Dessie eparchy, along with those running the university chaplaincy program, and other various guests invited by the bishop.
Conversation flowed, covering topics from the dilemmas of evangelical worship to the remarkable history of Christianity in Ethiopia to global collisions between the major faiths of the modern world.
My main problem during all this was trying to eat my delicious meal of injera — eaten with one’s hand — and scribble in my notebook while following the thought-provoking conversation.
“People often just want to sing, there’s no reflection or critical thinking,” said Nancy Greenhaw, an American Catholic instructing on the program.
There was a chorus of agreements and nods from around the table.
“Easy, fast, immediate — that’s what they want,” said Serah Alumansi, a Kenyan Catholic also helping on the program. “They don’t want to be challenged.”
The bishop paused in lifting his injera clasped between fingers to his mouth.
“The negative side of the evangelical movement is that it can become a ghetto and closed in,” he said. “But you can’t do that with the Holy Spirit, it moves how it wants.”
During one meal, sitting on my right was Magdela Wolnik, a Polish journalist producing a documentary about Ethiopia for the international organization Aid to the Church in Need. Like me, she barely said a word, content to listen to the words of those who know more, and benefit from them.
Those around me had recourse to speak of another — who, in all likelihood, knows more than they do.
“Pope Francis has said that it’s a sick church that does not evangelize, it sickens from the stale air,” someone noted. “Following such a new course, it may run into accidents — but he’d prefer a church of accidents than a sick church.”
I’m not sure who said that; by this stage I was really struggling with my injera, pencil and notepad. But the point hit home.
Read more in Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant in the Winter edition of ONE.
23 January 2017
Villagers in Izbet Chokor, Egypt, greet one another along the road that runs through the hamlet, which both Christians and Muslims have made their home. Learn how they are Finding Common Ground in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
23 January 2017
Government officials take part in the first session of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on 23 January 2017. (photo: Aliia Raimbekova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syria’s warring sides kick off talks in Astana (Al Jazeera) A delegation of Syrian rebels attending a new round of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital will not hold direct talks with representatives of the government, according to opposition sources. The meetings in Astana, organised by Russia and Turkey, are aimed at strengthening a shaky ceasefire that has largely held despite incidents of violence across Syria...
U.S.-backed forces brace for ISIS’ last stand in Iraq (CBS News) CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports that in some neighborhoods of eastern Mosul, there is a sense that things are returning to normal. Iraqi forces have managed to liberate the eastern half of the city right up to the Tigris River, which divides it roughly in half...
U.N.: Syrian child refugees struggle to get an education (Reuters) Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are struggling to get an education and many are being pushed into work or early marriage instead, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Monday. Around 187,000 youngsters — roughly half the school-age Syrian children in the country — are not going to classes, the agency said, as it launched a documentary on their situation...
Pope Francis calls for continued prayer for Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Following the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis noted that we are currently in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has for its theme this year “Reconciliation — The Love of Christ Compels Us...”
Russian Orthodox phone goes on sale for $25,000 (RT) Why would you pay $25k for a phone that isn’t even a smartphone? Well, why wouldn’t you, if it was covered in gold leaf, had 18-carat gold buttons, and most importantly, had an Orthodox cross engraved on it? Moscow-based mobile phone company Gresso created 988 (the year Christianity was adopted in Russia) of the phones, ranging from $6,300 to $25,000, depending on how blinged-out the model is. There is a version with diamond encrusted buttons, for example...
20 January 2017
Tags: Syria Pope Francis ISIS Russian Orthodox
Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy attend the liturgy at Fasilides Bath during the annual Timkat Epiphany celebration on 19 January 2017 in Gondar, Ethiopia. Timkat is the Ethiopian Orthodox festival which celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. During the festival, Tabots — or models of the Ark of the Covenant — are taken from churches around Gondar and paraded through the streets to Fasilides Bath. (photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)
20 January 2017
In this image from last May, people visit the ancient historical site of Syria’s ravaged Palmyra following its recapture by regime forces from ISIS. Syria’s antiquities chief said today that ISIS militants have destroyed part of the ancient theater in the city and ruined other parts of the historic site. (photo: AFP/Louai Beshara/Getty Images)
Syria confirms ISIS has destroyed ancient ruins in Palmyra (BBC) Militants from ISIS have destroyed part of the Roman Theater in the ancient city of Palmyra. Syria’s antiquities chief said the tetrapylon — a group of four pillared structures which were mainly modern replicas — has also been ruined. The jihadists recaptured the UNESCO-listed archaeological site in December from government troops...
‘I went to Aleppo to study; I left in a convoy of refugees’ (The New York Times) One summer day I joined a group of young women in an upscale neighborhood of western Aleppo. We walked through a market carrying banners critical of the regime. A few minutes later, pro-Assad militiamen arrived in several cars and began circling us. We ran. A girl and I who sought refuge in a house in an alley were arrested...
Russian Orthodox believers take icy plunge on Epiphany (Reuters) Hundreds of thousands of Russian Orthodox believers took a plunge into sub-zero waters across Europe on Thursday to wash off their sins as part of Epiphany feast day celebrations. The annual 19 January commemoration of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River saw more than 150,000 people dip into several ice holes across Moscow, Tass news agency said...
Lebanon prime minister calls for billions in foreign aid to help refugees (Reuters) Lebanon’s prime minister called on Thursday for “adequate and substantial” foreign investments worth nearly $10 billion to address the Syrian refugee crisis and upgrade the country’s crumbling infrastructure. At least 1 million people fleeing neighboring Syria’s war have poured into Lebanon since the conflict began in 2011, making up a quarter of the small country’s population and seriously straining its public services...
Priest from Diocese of Orange to head USCCB ecumenical office (CNS) The Rev. Alfred Baca, a priest of the Diocese of Orange, California, has been named the new executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Father Baca, pastor of St. Columban Parish in Garden Grove, California, since 2015, will assume his new post 1 July...
19 January 2017
Tags: Syria Ecumenism ISIS Russian Orthodox
Msgr. Richard Lopez helped raise awareness about the plight of Syrian Christians among high school students in Atlanta. (photo: Michael Alexander)
One of CNEWA’s dedicated supporters is a priest in Atlanta, Georgia, Msgr. Richard Lopez. We first met him in 2014, when he was teaching theology at an Atlanta high school and helping raise awareness about the plight of Christians in the Middle East:
Students at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, were stunned to hear about the plight of their brothers and sisters in the thick of the Arab Spring during a presentation given by Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
“I honestly had no idea what was going on,” St. Pius X senior Abby Barnett, 17, says. “Once we had the presentation, though, we started talking more about it in class. It was really eye-opening.”
News of church burnings, homeless children and abducted church officials concerned the school.
So they decided to do something about it.
St. Pius X’s student-led, anti-genocide group, STAND, enlisted the help of students at Marist School in Atlanta to host an ice skate-a-thon for Syrian students in need.
Nearly 50 students enjoyed the Marietta Ice Center last November, and raised about $400 to donate to CNEWA for Syrian children. The money raised helped about 10 Syrian children receive backpacks, shoes, coats and other school supplies.
...Msgr. Richard Lopez, professor of theology at St. Pius X High School, says he is proud of his students for representing the “essence of our religion — to help those in need.”
“Adolescents will embrace a cause,” Msgr. Lopez says. “Give them a reason to stand up against evil, they will.”
Since then, Msgr. Lopez has retired, but he continues to support the work of CNEWA in whatever ways he can. We asked him what motivates him. He responded in an email that was both poignant and powerful:
I guess the first reason for my motivation would be that anything that happens to the Body of Christ happens to us. It remains a mystery to me how Christians in the West who live in such comfortable security should not be outraged about the abuse of other Christians in the Middle East. That outrage should lead to active charity and active political involvement. I think the fact that over the years I had Iraqi, Syrian and Egyptian Christian students and often heard first hand accounts of their relatives suffering motivated me to do something for those being persecuted.
I believe as Christians we have to honor the pain, the suffering, and the death of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East by active involvement in their recovery and restoration. They are literally the “roots” of our religion. Their shrines, their churches, their monasteries, indeed in some cases their language, belong to the earliest days of our faith. How can we stand by and let that glorious patrimony be destroyed? They have endured and kept the faith under periodic persecution and discrimination for 1400 years and kept that faith under pressures we have been spared. God have mercy on us if we do nothing to save and honor them.
We remain grateful to people such as Msgr. Lopez who continue to spread the word about our work — especially among the young — and who remember our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are so often forgotten.
19 January 2017
Children welcome a visitor in the village of Garora, on the outskirts of Dehli. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visited India recently. See more of his images and read his impressions here.
(photo: John E. Kozar)