CNEWA Director Plunged Into Geopolitical Mess

Reprinted with permission of The Catholic Register. Read the original article here.

Scholar, professor of theology, promoter of ecumenism, Adriana Bara has worn many hats. But as the newly appointed national director of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), she is convinced she has taken one more step on the path that she has always wanted to follow — to work for the Kingdom of God and to put the Gospel message of compassionate love into action.

Her new role has plunged Bara into a pressure cooker world of multiple humanitarian crises as she directs CNEWA Canada’s relief efforts in Ukraine and other geopolitical hotspots.

Bara, however, has a clear idea of her own personal mission. She quotes the Gospel of Matthew as she reflects on her new role. 

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you took me into your home, I needed clothes and you gave me something to wear. I was sick and you took care of me… whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25: 31-46).

Need has always been great in the areas of the world that CNEWA serves — the Middle East, northeast Africa, including Ethiopia, India and Eastern Europe where war, displacement and poverty leave a devastating impact on human lives.

“But we have emergency projects in places like Ukraine, Ethiopia and Lebanon,” said Bara, adding that the war in Ukraine has had a domino effect on the economies of several countries, driving food prices up and increasing the number of people in extreme poverty.

Anna Dombrovksa, Bara’s colleague as the Ottawa-based projects officer for Ukraine, confirmed the need for emergency relief in Ukraine. 

“Winter is coming soon and Russia is shifting its strategy in the war against Ukraine,” she said, joining the conversation at Bara’s request. “They are trying to eliminate the energy infrastructure in Ukraine and destroy power plants with unprecedented shelling, leaving homes, churches and hospitals without power for light and heating.”

Constantly in touch with people on the ground, Dombrovska spoke recently to Fr. Vitaliy Herasymiv of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Kyiv. He told her there is an urgent need to reinforce the basements of churches, which are being used as bomb shelters. 

An 20 October pastoral letter from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops of Canada reinforced Dombrovska’s point and appealed to Canadians for urgent action.

“The war in Ukraine rages on with no end in sight, claiming the lives of thousands of innocent children, men and women, with millions more on the move as refugees in search of safety, food, shelter, clothing and medicine, in addition to the destruction of countless homes, schools, hospitals and businesses,” said the letter. “As winter approaches, hundreds of thousands of people will have no heat in their homes, with energy being used as a weapon of punishment. Yet, today, as winter approaches, the people of Ukraine need your support more than ever.” 

The bishops appealed to Canadians to donate to Ukraine through their local parishes, or through charities such as CNEWA Canada, Aid to the Church in Need and Development and Peace-Caritas Canada.

Now as the war drags on into another winter, and the world media is no longer focusing intensely on Ukraine, CNEWA needs to maintain the momentum and step up to help Ukrainians as they fight for their very survival, Bara said.

But Ukraine is not the only country with a population in dire straits.

Bara and her colleagues held marathon Zoom meetings from 11-19 October where representatives of various countries presented their needs and project proposals. 

While the need in so many countries is undeniably enormous, Bara said she is heartened by the generosity of Canadians who have opened their hearts and wallets to help Ukrainians and others in need. 

In Ukraine, for example, CNEWA has so far distributed more than $5.5 million in emergency aid. Since the start of the campaign when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Canadian contributions have helped to fund aid convoys, shelters for the displaced, care for people with special needs and basic food and hygiene supplies for families. 

Another country with special emergency needs at this time is Ethiopia where CNEWA works with local partners to relieve the suffering of starving millions caught in the crossfire of a war between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. 

Born in Romania, Bara holds a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Montreal. She taught at Concordia University for four years beginning in 2009.  From 2013 until her appointment as CNEWA’s national director, she was director of the Canadian Center for Ecumenism in Montreal.

Despite the challenges she faces, Bara is excited to be in her new role and sees it as an opportunity to make a positive difference. 

“I am particularly sensitive to the needs of vulnerable children and hope to make an impact in this area,” she said. “I dedicate myself 100 percent to CNEWA’s mission in my heart.”

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