Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
25 April 2013
Aleena Gichie

Some of the women of CNEWA’s world are these sisters from the Society of Nirmala Dasi (“Servants of God”) in India. In this 2007 photograph, they share a light moment over a meal at Anugraha Sadan (“House of Blessings”) in Trichur. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor,  R.S.M.)

Aleena Gichie is a charitable giving advisor for CNEWA in New York.

“In the church and in the journey of faith, women … have a special role in opening the doors to the Lord.” So observed our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. And it sure is true here at the Catholic Near East Welfare Association! Women make CNEWA work. So I want to take a moment to share my appreciation for the women of CNEWA.

First are the sisters who do God’s work in the places we serve. For example, Sister Belaynesh in Ethiopia. She runs a Catholic school that serves the poorest of the poor. But her children receive a quality education and free meals to sustain them, thanks to her careful stewardship. I marvel at how she stretches every penny into a nickel and every nickel into a dime for the sake of her children. Sister Belaynesh doesn’t have much, but she is creative. Some of her classrooms are built from old shipping containers.

There are also the women who work in the nine CNEWA offices around the world. Perhaps the best known was Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M., who has been a part of our family for many years. You probably saw her photos and stories in ONE magazine or read the emails she used to send. Sister Christian is now retired, but not without blessing us with her gifts — both on paper and in person. My prayers and gratitude are forever with her.

Eileen Fay is another wonderful woman of CNEWA. You may have had the pleasure of speaking with Eileen if you have ever called our New York office. She is a donor relations representative who has worked with us for more than 50 years. Eileen recently retired. Yet she didn’t leave us — she continues to support the mission of CNEWA by very generously volunteering three days a week.

Last but not least are the women who are reading this blog post — our donors! You deserve a special “thank you,” for you are the ones who make possible our great work. With your help, CNEWA and our partners, like Sister Belaynesh, are able to do far more good. God bless you and all of the women in our family. You are making it a better world for all!

To learn about some of the other great women working with CNEWA, check out this video. And to find out how you can help keep their work going, visit this giving page.

Tags: CNEWA Sisters Education Donors Women

30 March 2012
Norma Intriago

Children in Ethiopia work out at Sister Ayelech’s “gymnasium.” (photo: CNEWA)

Norma Intriago is a fundraiser in the development office of CNEWA in New York.

With so many war orphans in her care, Sister Maria worries how she can feed them all. But today, thanks to you, she has hope. Hope for the neediest children in Iraq — and all of her sisters serving the poor in CNEWA’s world.

May God bless every single one of you who made a generous gift to our Celebrating Women campaign. You may remember a special benefactor of CNEWA pledged to match you dollar-for-dollar. I’m writing to tell you the promise was kept. The power of your generosity has been doubled!

Sister Maria isn’t the only beneficiary of your gift. Another is Sister Ayelech. She runs a humble Catholic school in Ethiopia that I visited. Her school is a home-away-from-home for some very poor children. I witnessed how she stretches every dollar so it really counts.

It was summer when I visited. School was out and some of the children had no one to watch after them. With almost no money, Sister Ayelech created her own “summer school.” She turned simple mattresses into a fun gymnasium. Thread and needles became crafts class.

Sister Ayelech even rescued discarded sewing machines from a local dump. These were transformed into an opportunity for jobless mothers to earn money to care for their families — and earn another valuable currency: hope.

With you standing behind them, Sister Ayelech and Sister Maria can continue serving the poor and witnessing to the Gospel in some of the poorest places on earth.

On behalf of all the religious women with whom CNEWA partners, I thank you for your celebration gift. And remember: you didn’t give just one gift. With the dollar-for-dollar match, you gave two. Be sure the sisters will double their grateful prayers to God for you.

And if you haven’t had a chance to participate in our Celebrate Women campaign, don’t worry. You still have time. Click here by Saturday to double your gift to religious women and the poor whom they serve.

Oh, and one more piece of great news: You inspired yet another benefactor of CNEWA to offer an additional matching gift challenge — $50,000 for the formation of novice sisters. You’ll hear more about it soon. Until then, thanks again!

Tags: Iraq Ethiopia Sisters Africa

27 March 2012
Erin Edwards

Nirmala Dasi sisters walk with young patients on the grounds of Grace Home in Trichur, India. (photo: John E. Kozar)

We’ve profiled the amazing work of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in ONE magazine numerous times over the years. Earlier this month, CNEWA President, Msgr. John Kozar, had the opportunity to meet with some of these women and see first-hand the “thankless” work they do on behalf of society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala. In the November 2010 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the great work of these sisters on behalf of children and adults with H.I.V/AIDS at the Grace Home in Trichur, India:

With the school-age children gone, a quiet falls upon the grounds of Grace Home — that is until a 2-year-old boy noisily pushes his pintsize tricycle across the facility’s marble floor. The tricycle plays an electronic version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Energetic and healthy — in fact, rather pudgy — the boy first came to Grace Home in 2009 covered in scabies and looking lean, says Sister Lisi, who calls him simply Chakara, or “sweetie” in the local Malayalam language.

“He would cry all day and all night,” she says. “Maybe he was thinking about his mother — she lost her mind and lived with Chakara in the Kuttippuram Railway Station, taking him here and there. Or maybe he feared he was going to be given away.

“He’s in good condition right now,” boasts Sister Lisi, adding that Chakara’s CD4 count is high, at more than 800. “He doesn’t need ARTs.”

Chakara’s attachment to Sister Lisi is unmistakable. He clutches her habit at the knees. She picks him up and puts him back down. He pushes the tricycle around some more and then into her feet. Sister Lisi ignores him. Chakara gets fussy and she picks him up again.

“At his age, he needs a mother’s concern and love,” says Sister Lisi. “I feel like I’ve been appointed his mother. Now he’s getting so much love. I don’t know how much love I have to give, but whatever I have I give.”

Sister Lisi’s love and devotion are characteristic of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters. All 300 of its members, including 50 devoted to persons living with H.I.V./AIDS, “care for those who nobody else will care for,” says Msgr. Vilangadan.

The Nirmala Dasi Sisters care for society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala, Mumbai and as far away as Kenya. But no matter where they serve, says Msgr. Vilangadan, “they must be witnessing. We must show how Christ lived and show the kind of person he was — humble, poor, hardworking, striving to save the souls of the poor and sick. Our life must be an extension of Christ’s life.”

To learn how you can help CNEWA continue to support courageous sisters like the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, visit our “Celebrating Women” campaign on Causes. There is still time to give to our March matching challenge in honor of these women and others like them in the countries CNEWA serves.

Tags: India Sisters Kerala HIV/AIDS

22 March 2012
Erin Edwards

In this photo taken in 2010, a woman fetches water from a well in Kerala. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Today is U.N. World Water Day and in many of the countries CNEWA serves, there is a water crisis of some sort to which we have responded. We recently wrote about CNEWA’s efforts in helping with Lebanon’s water supply crisis.

There are similar problems in India. In Kerala usually the women and girls of the family have to travel a mile or more on foot from their homes in order to retrieve gallons of clean drinking water. CNEWA has funded water tanks in many villages in Kerala, in order to eliminate such a burden. Just this month, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar was able to witness firsthand the positive impact these tanks have had on the people of Kerala:

Besides construction projects and renovations at the parish proper, CNEWA has been instrumental in helping the people of this parish to improve the quality of life by assisting in the building of substantial houses and water holding tanks. The area is very mountainous. Normally the rains come with great force and cause annual flooding, mudslides and loss of soil. With the water tanks, they now can break out of the cycle of being inundated by floods or suffering from drought.

After a most moving and loving visit with the parishioners at the church hall, we headed out with the pastor to a much more remote area of the parish. We saw firsthand the dynamic difference a new durable house can make for the poor and how having a controlled supply of water gives the cycle of life new meaning. We had some very steep climbs to arrive at these sites, but the recipients of our charity were beaming to show us their new homes and their water catchment systems. Thanks to you for giving them this new dignity through your kind donations over the years! CNEWA has funded over 40 such water tanks just in 2011 alone. Over the years, hundreds of families have benefitted from CNEWA’s water tanks in this part of India.

To learn more about Kerala’s water woes, read Rain Rich, Water Poor in the May 2010 issue of ONE.

Tags: India Water Women in India

21 March 2012
Erin Edwards

From left, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, Dominican Sister Maria Hanna and CNEWA Regional Director for Jordan and Iraq Ra’ed Bahou gather with Dominican Sisters outside the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Jordan. (photo: CNEWA)

Last December, during his pastoral visit to the Holy Land, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar had a chance to visit with Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena at their clinic in Jordan. These sisters — whose provincial house is in Iraq — staff hospitals, orphanages and schools for those still in Iraq and those Iraqis displaced throughout the Middle East. They do not turn their backs on the people, and the dire circumstances in Iraq seem to drive them to want to do more. Last August we were able to catch up with a few Dominican Sisters visiting the U.S. and gain some insight into this fearless congregation of sisters:

Your community lost its mother house to the violence.

Sister Diana Moneka: Yes, it was bombed several times. But God was with us. When they bombed our mother house the first time, the missile fell on a bedroom where four sisters were sleeping. It was 1:30 a.m. They couldn’t escape. Pressure from the fire prevented them from opening the door. A sister sleeping down the hall eventually got them out. The sisters were so shocked, but after a while they felt the presence of God. They realized, “We’re still alive because of God.”

How is morale among the sisters?

Sister Maria: They are very down and frustrated. Whenever there is some activity and work, and they’re busy and producing, they are happy. But sometimes, they get very frustrated.

Sister Diana: We’re walking with people step by step, every day. Wherever there is a bomb, we’re with the victims. Caring for traumatized people is a very difficult task, because their trauma wears off on you. Coming back home, if you don’t have a big community that supports you, the spiritual and psychological parts are very hard.

We’ve lost lots of family. I lost my brother. Five years ago, he was shot. One sister, two of her nephews were kidnapped and disappeared. Another, her nephew disappeared and they have heard nothing about him. It’s been almost five years now. We’re trying to help people and at the same time dealing with our own trauma.

Sister Maria: In the past six years, we have not had one meeting with all the sisters together. We used to have them at the mother house. This is very difficult for the sisters, because we can’t unite together. We want to build a new mother house. We have the property and the blueprints, but we do not have the money.

Click here to read more of our interview with the sisters.

Tags: Middle East Jordan Health Care Dominican Sisters

20 March 2012
Beth Clausnitzer

Girls discuss reading material with Filipino Teresian Amabel Sibug at the Pontifical Mission Library in Amman. (photo: Tanya Habjouqa)

Beth Clausnitzer is CNEWA’s director of Donor Services.

While planning CNEWA’s campaign to celebrate women in the church with my colleagues, I found my emotional focus being pulled in two directions: the tireless work of the religious sisters who devote their lives to helping others, and the lay women who support their missions, either directly or indirectly. Mercy Sister Christian Molidor and Megan Knighton have shared their thoughts on the work of the sisters. Now, I would like to share my thoughts on the work of laywomen.

To outsiders, it appears that laywomen make smaller sacrifices than women in religious life in service to God. A sacrifice, however, is still a sacrifice and it should never be undervalued. Time that is devoted to working with the poor, assisting with fundraising or simply volunteering to clean the church hall following a social event — all of it counts.

Every day, I look around CNEWA’s office and see women who could easily earn a larger salary in the secular business world, yet they choose to earn less knowing their sacrifice serves the greater good. Many times I’ve stepped into the elevator — our offices are located in the Terence Cardinal Cooke Center, home of the Archdiocese of New York — and have overheard conversations that ranged from possible solutions for solving technical problems to soothing words of encouragement being given to an immigrant who had sought asylum to avoid religious persecution in his homeland. The range of work that lay women do for the church is broad and never-ending.

I’m proud to be counted among these women. From this office worker living in New York City to all of the women of the church around the world, I celebrate you, your strength, your dedication, your contribution and your love.

For more posts related to our Celebrating Women initiative, click here.

Tags: CNEWA Jordan Women Amman

19 March 2012
Erin Edwards

A resident of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Pulincunnoo, Kerala studies for class.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)

Today, many Roman Catholics celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. There are numerous religious orders and charities that bear this saint’s name — including St. Joseph’s Orphanage, a home for girls run by the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel in Kerala. The girls’ parents are unable to support them financially, so St. Joseph’s affords them better opportunities and hope for their future. In the September 2005 issue of ONE, Paul Wachter wrote about this home named after the saint:

While it is true that nearly all the “orphans” at St. Joseph’s have parents, the opportunities available to them at the orphanage and affiliated schools offer the young women better lives, the sisters said. “Otherwise there would be even less opportunities for the girls,” said Sister Priscilla Anna. Through the schooling at the orphanage and the after-school program, the sisters believe they are breaking a cycle.

“Our goal is to see all our girls with a good job and/or a good husband,” Sister Priscilla Anna said. “That way, when they have children, they will be able to present them with better opportunities than their parents offered them.”

For more, read St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’. To learn how you can support girls like the residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage — and the work of religious sisters like that of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel — join us as we “Celebrate Women” this month through a matching gift campaign that supports this admirable work. You can also join our community on to share your appreciation for women and sisters!

Tags: India Kerala Orphans/Orphanages

15 March 2012
Erin Edwards

Teacher Manna Gebreyons, interacts with her students at a Catholic school in the Tigrayan village of Sebia, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)

In 2009, we interviewed Sister Winifred Doherty, a member of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, about empowering women in Ethiopia. She stressed the importance of knowledge as a tool of empowerment. Having access to education provides the opportunity for success and prosperity. Though Catholics are a minority in Ethiopia, Catholic-run schools are making a difference. Take a look at our interview with Sister Winifred Doherty below:

Tags: Ethiopia Education Africa Catholic Schools

15 March 2012
Megan Knighton

Sister Leema Rose, one of four Nirmala Dasi Sisters working in Dharavi, a slum in the center of Mumbai, makes her evening rounds to visit the sick and those struggling to make ends meet. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Megan Knighton is a Major Gifts Officer for CNEWA.

When I was 21, I spent the summer working in India with a group of sisters and lay women. I had never traveled that far from home and I remember being petrified hovering over the Pacific Ocean on my 24-hour flight to Chennai. I was going to work for the Christian Council of Social Services, an ecumenical organization dedicated to eradicating poverty, improving healthcare and supporting workers’ and women’s rights. It has also partnered with CNEWA. Idealistic and young, I had big ideas about what people needed. I wanted to help implement various on-the-ground models for improving the lives and dignity of the poor, particularly women. But what I learned on that trip was far more than just practical and effective ways to deliver humanitarian care.

It’s amazing how much of my life as a middle-class, American woman is embedded in privilege. I can wake up every morning and take a warm shower, go to my kitchen and have a cup of tea and an English muffin, take the subway to my 9-to-5 job and sit in my cubicle reaching out to donors and feeling good about my contribution to the world. I have acollege degree, in fact a graduate degree. I have insurance and access to quality healthcare whenever I need it. I can facebook and tweet all day if I want to from my office computer, my Blackberry, or my laptop at home. I can go to sleep at night assured that my neighborhood is, for the most part, safe and protected. I am, generally speaking, a very blessed woman.

What I experienced in India was a little different. The word that best captures the spirit of Chennai is contrast. Modern art museums next to shanty towns. Mercedes driving next to ox-carts. Educated, female business owners walkingnext to poor prostitutes. One woman I worked with summed it up rather succinctly: “In America, women wear mini-skirts, they go out on the town, they have choices. But it is here, in India, where we have some of the most educated women in the world, while the poor women suffer from one of the highest rates of H.I.V./AIDS in the world.” That is a chilling contrast.

The sisters and women I met and worked with in Chennai understand the reality of poverty, H.I.V., depression, addiction and domestic violence that afflicts their community. But this doesn’t stop them from using their incredible strength, creativity and energy to help. They labor every day to ensure that the rights and privileges they’ve worked so hard to obtain are protected. They devote their lives to ensuring that families are cared for and well fed, and that children are immunized. They teach women skills to work and support their families. Theyhelp men overcome alcoholism and depression through empowerment workshops and retreats. This is the power of women to change their communities for the better.

I left India with a deeper appreciation for what religious women and men have done to allow me to have the privileges and freedoms I now enjoy. I also came away with a deep reverence for the sacrifices of those women I worked with who truly understand the power of kindness and perseverance to change the world. Let’s celebrate these women!

To learn more about the sister pictured above, check out our interview below with photojournalist Peter Lemieux. He told us about his experience working with the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in Mumbai, while reporting the July 2011 story, ‘Slumdog’ Sisters for ONE.

Tags: India Women Women in India

13 March 2012
Erin Edwards

A photo of Sally, a young Iraqi woman in Jordan, taken in April 2010. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)

In May of 2010 we were introduced to Sally, a lovely young Iraqi refugee in Jordan, by Sister Wardeh of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Sister Wardeh, a good friend and warrior for CNEWA, has worked with displaced Iraqis since the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. Sally’s story was especially poignant: this vibrant 19-year-old woman was battling cancer. Her chemotherapy was no longer working and she needed expensive surgery. CNEWA friends were able to rally behind Sally and her family. We raised $15,000 in one day to pay for her surgery. That gave Sally the precious gift of life, and the blessing of time.

Sadly, the time was short. We heard some sad news from Sister Wardeh recently: after a brave battle against the disease, Sally had “gone home to God.” We remember Sally and her family in our prayers, and we also remember those who cared for her so lovingly — people like Sister Wardeh. We are so thankful she introduced us to Sally — and thankful, too, that our CNEWA family was able to pull together and help her when she needed it most.

Join us this month as we celebrate the work of sisters like Sister Wardeh in the lives of women like Sally.

Tags: Refugees CNEWA Iraqi Christians Jordan Amman

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