Msgr. John E. Kozar, President of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) was invited to be the keynote speaker at a Convocation and Priests’ Study Day for the priests of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, on 18 April 2016. I was fortunate to accompany him on this short trip.
The topic of the Study Day was the current situation of Christians in the Middle East. With over 150 priests, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and two other bishops in attendance, Msgr. Kozar spoke about his recent trip to Erbil and Iraqi Kurdistan. Accompanied by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, monsignor led a pastoral visit to the many different projects that CNEWA supports for the over 120,000 Christians who fled the onslaught of ISIS in August 2104.
It was Msgr. Kozar’s second trip to Erbil. He spoke of the tremendous needs of the displaced people in the region. He told the assembled priests of how CNEWA works with the local church to build up the societal and human infrastructure of the camps where the displaced Iraqis are housed. Although there have been noticeable improvements in their lives — many no longer live in tents and have educational and health care opportunities available — the longer they are away from the homes, the greater is their despair.
Monsignor reported on one the more creative projects which CNEWA supports: namely, two mobile clinics which can bring medical care to those who are at a distance from Erbil and unable to access the more permanent clinics which have been set up. He also spoke warmly of a visit to a village where he was welcomed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians as well as Yazidis.
The presentation was followed by a lively exchange of questions and comments. Many of the participants said that they found the Study Day very helpful in informing them about a critical topic that is important to their ministries.