CNEWA and the Eastern Churches

Last evening, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, addressed about 100 prominent Italians about the needs of Eastern Christians, especially those of the Middle East, at the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Rome.

CNEWA cohosted the reception with the Congregation of the Eastern Churches.

Greetings to all of you and a special greeting from the Archbishop of New York, His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who is also the Chair of the Board of CNEWA. My profound thanks to His Eminence Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, for his generosity in offering us this very beautiful venue to visit with you tonight. Also a word of thanks to His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, who has enlightened us about the rich tapestry of the Eastern churches and their great needs. But most of all, thanks to each of you for joining us to learn more about the CNEWA family.

A little less than three months ago, a Hurricane named Sandy devastated the northeast coastline of North America, especially areas of New York City, its environs and the coastline of New Jersey. Many people were killed, tens of thousands lost everything, neighborhoods were washed away, businesses disappeared and the losses reached more than $60 billion dollars.

But within hours, days and weeks, thousands of volunteers came from far and wide to assist the victims of this horrific storm to help people rebuild. And slowly, life has begun to return to normal. Despite many serious difficulties ahead, and much suffering yet to come, we will survive — we will overcome — we will flourish.

Almost every day, in an area of the world called the Middle East, people face forces far greater than the destruction of a hurricane: they face the storms of conflict, hostility, hatred, poverty, injustice and religious and political persecution. At times, there is little hope of survival, let alone the opportunity to rebuild and to live in peace with hope.

The Catholic Church in this part of the world, especially its family of Eastern churches, is small in number, but deeply rooted in the history, culture and fabric of society in the Middle East. It is the presence of the church that offers the poor, the oppressed and the victims of the daily storms of life a sign of hope, where otherwise there would be only flight, fear and despair.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Lebanon this past September, he brought a message of peace and hope to all. He proclaimed the church will always be with the poor to accompany them in their sufferings, to defend them in their basic human rights, to help sustain them in their needs. As God’s children, we all deserve basic human respect and dignity and seek to be good citizens of our homelands. I was there and witnessed firsthand how this humble frail man dressed in white shared his message of peace and love with all — Christians, Muslims, Jewish people — all. For three days during his visit there was an abiding calm.

CNEWA reaches out to the Middle East, together with the Holy Father’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches, to assist the patriarchs, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers of these Eastern churches in proclaiming Christ’s message of peace and hope.

Our aid takes many forms: helping to sustain schools open to all, sometimes in very remote areas. We support seminarians and religious novices in their formation to become dedicated priests and religious. Imagine the joy and excitement I experienced in a Christian Bedouin village in Jordan when a newly ordained Melkite deacon was hoisted on the shoulders of the parishioners and led in a dance by the elders of the community as a sign of pride in their native son. CNEWA helped lead him on his journey of service in the church. We support many facilities that lovingly serve abandoned children or abandoned adults, sometimes shunned because of their physical or mental challenges. I have many vivid memories of the loving smiles and hugs of happy and joyful children cared for by the gentle hands and hearts of religious sisters and priests. CNEWA accompanies these precious ones in their needs. I recall the tender and compassionate attention given by loving religious sisters to the sick, to expectant mothers, to little ones — most of whom are Muslim, but all treated as God’s children. Sister Alessandra will give you a fuller picture of CNEWA’s role in supporting healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, clinics and other life-giving programs. CNEWA offers emergency relief to victims of civil war and to those fleeing oppression political, territorial or religious persecution and many other outreaches.

Our partnership with the Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East extends to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Israel and Palestine. Beyond the Middle East CNEWA serves Eastern churches in Eritrea, India, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine and Ethiopia. I have fond memories of barefoot Ethiopian children in the highlands in the early morning running alongside my vehicle beaming with big smiles on their way to a school supported by CNEWA and being warmly greeted by parents and elders.

Wherever the Eastern churches develop, suffer and ask for our help, CNEWA responds.

Most of us have grown up in the Latin or Western tradition of the Catholic Church. CNEWA wants to invite you to learn to appreciate the other “lung” of the church — its Eastern lung as the late Holy Father, John Paul II, used to say. We breathe so much better with both lungs, especially when both are healthy.

This evening, I invite you to take some deep breaths with me and prayerfully consider helping our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East: The Syrian Christians in the middle of a civil war; the poor in Gaza trying to hold on to a glimmer of hope; the million-plus Iraqis who have fled their homeland because of persecution; the poor Coptic families, searching for work and freedom to raise their families in Egypt’s cities and villages; the Palestinian people seeking a homeland — just a few of the many needs CNEWA responds to.

There is an envelope in your CNEWA packet you have received. Prayerfully consider making a generous gift to CNEWA now or in the near future. Join Cardinal Sandri and myself in responding to these dramatic needs in the name of Jesus and in collaboration with our Holy Father.

We are here to welcome you to our CNEWA family and to invite you to breathe the fresh air of the Holy Spirit with both lungs.

Thank you for your kind attention and generosity.

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