ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

An Association in Mission

CNEWA has always been a means by which people of East and West come together in expressing one faith.

In the previous issue of this magazine, Monsignor John Nolan anticipated traveling to Bethlehem to be with “God’s people” for Christmas during his twenty-fifth year of service to these needy people of the Near East.

Ten days before Christmas he learned that he was appointed bishop. On January 6, Pope John Paul II ordained Bishop Nolan in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He has subsequently moved on to his new appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for Military Services. Our prayers and best wishes go with him.

Bishop Nolan wanted to thank and encourage readers in their support of this unique mission called Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). He had become synonymous with this pastoral and humanitarian mission in Lebanon, Ethiopia, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, India, Jordan, and other places much removed from the mainstream of American life. He knows that this vital work continues through the network here and abroad of Catholic religious and laity who make up this Association. Monsignor Robert L. Stern, associate secretary general of CNEWA, guides the organization in its continuing work.

CNEWA is very much an “association” in the sense that it is a group of people united in their participation in a catholic, or universal, mission to allow others to “fare well,” no matter what their faith, race, or nationality. Since its incorporation in 1926, CNEWA has been a generous expression of the compassion of Catholics in North America united in the mission of the universal Church. Today, CNEWA is an international agency linking people who are usually considered separated by great distances and opposing cultures. Together, they respond to the urgent and long-term community.

Perhaps the most visible and concrete programs of CNEWA’s mission are the sponsorship programs. They build the Association through thousands of personal associations between individuals. More than anything, they let members of CNEWA cross the bridge linking North Americans to people of that area from the Balkans and the traditional Near East of Asia Minor through the Middle East and northeast Africa to India. Sponsorship is a personal commitment of people to people as individuals. It is a personal way to make the human family closer.

CNEWA’s Child Sponsorship Program has let American families and individuals make a commitment to support needy children on a one-to-one basis. Religious women and men along with lay people overseas carry the day-to-day responsibilities for these children, but sponsors make their work possible.

CNEWA’s Novice and Seminarian Sponsorship Programs offer a more particularly religious affiliation within this Association. As young women and men develop their vocations, they have the spiritual and financial support of people half a world away. Through their commitment to each other as members of one family in Christ, these people of East and West grow as members of one world and one faith. Geographical distances and cultural differences fall away to reveal the unity of the People of God in action.

Mission is central to the People of God, who share the good news of Jesus with everyone. Sponsorship of novices and seminarians is active engagement in this mission. For young women and men in religious formation in India, Lebanon, the Holy Land, and elsewhere, the financial support of North Americans makes possible their education. More importantly, though, these native Christians grow in awareness of their spiritual kinship with people of the West even as they remain faithful to their Eastern traditions.

The association established through sponsorship in turn extends to everyone the novices and seminarians later touch as religious and clergy. In fact, sponsorship could be the most important and longest lasting testament to their spiritual formation: It makes real and extends the love and respect within the universal Church. As active sisters, brothers, and priests, they will witness to both the missionary character and the universality of the Church.

Last fall, a young Indian priest named George Augustine and his former sponsor, Victor Legendre from Springfield, New Jersey, stopped by the CNEWA office in New York City. This event was as special for our staff as it seemed to be for them. They spoke with joy of their association during the years George was in the seminary, and it was clear they would continue to give each other spiritual support, respect, and love throughout their days.

Conversation turned to their personal coming together in faith through the sponsorship program. As the discussion progressed, Anthony de Mello’s name arose. We spoke of his uncommon gift for helping people find our shared values outside the distinctions of East and West. This Jesuit from India, a spiritual guide for people from diverse backgrounds, was much admired by Father George.

Young religious women and men in India see Father de Mello as a model of the authentic Christian missioner in our world. He spoke across distances and cultures to the human heart. His appeal is universal. The mission spirituality of Anthony de Mello is obvious in the help of CNEWA sponsors. They build bridges across great distances, and the Church will be stronger for it.

Recently the tragic news from places where CNEWA has long served – Lebanon, the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and Ethiopia – challenges us again. The cycle of violence and suffering continues to crush innocent victims. The general picture is as distressing as it was when we first learned of these human tragedies and chose to respond.

Yet, through this Association and its sponsorship programs in particular, individuals help individuals in real and profound ways. On this level people make a difference – helping people survive, giving them hope, and expressing unconditional love.

Bishop Nolan described the joy and hope of his priestly role as bringing God to people and helping people find their way to God. All Christians share this priestly function, though it is often overlooked in the definitions we might choose to limit the meaning of our words. Through CNEWA’s sponsorship programs, particularly for novices and seminarians, sponsors perform this priestly role in the spirit of mission.

Following Bishop Nolan’s ordination in Rome, the Holy Father praised the work of CNEWA for its dedication to the global mission of the Church. “For many years, Bishop Nolan’s ministry has borne witness to this universal dimension of the Church,” he said.

The Association’s ministry continues. Clearly, no matter who leads this papal agency, CNEWA remains most vital as an association of Christians participating in the universal mission of the Church.

Michael Healy is editor of Catholic Near East.

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