Remembering Brother Joe
In February, a member of the CNEWA family, Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C., entered eternal life at the age of 95. In the 1980s, the man affectionately known as “Brother Joe” served as the director of our regional office in Jerusalem. He also served as the first vice chancellor of Bethlehem University and the university’s second president. As the university described him, he was “a permanent fixture [at the university] for most of its existence, educating thousands of teachers, civil society and business leaders, parents, nurses, scientists and church workers.”
Brother Joe has been recognized by many for his devoted work in Palestine, particularly with those living in refugee camps as he spent more than 42 years in Bethlehem. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, in an email to CNEWA, he summed up his life: “My philosophy is ‘helping others’ — be they students, the poor, anyone in need.” It is a philosophy he lived out beautifully and passionately.
May his memory be eternal.
As this edition of ONE goes to press, Pope Francis has just returned to Rome from his historic apostolic trip to Iraq, 5-8 March, making him the first bishop of Rome to visit what was ancient Mesopotamia, whose diverse peoples today struggle to rebuild their homeland after more than four decades of war, displacement and persecution.
The pope’s itinerary included meetings with priests and religious men and women in Baghdad, an interreligious meeting in Ur, the hometown of the prophet Abraham, a courtesy visit with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husaymi al-Sistani in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, and visits with the faithful in Mosul, Erbil and Qaraqosh — all of it documented on our blog: cnewa.org/blog.
As CNEWA’s president, Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, said recently, “In visiting Iraq, Pope Francis is also visiting us — seeing firsthand the loving work that CNEWA has undertaken, along with our partners in the field, to make Christ present in Iraq. In a special way, we share in the excitement and joy of this moment, a moment that bears witness to the Good News so many are hungry to hear!”
95 Years of Service
March 2021 marks another milestone for CNEWA, as this special agency of the Holy See commemorates its 95th anniversary. Since its creation by Pope Pius XI on 11 March 1926, Catholic Near East Welfare Association has become the leading Catholic agency for its pastoral and humanitarian support of the Eastern churches in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
As CNEWA moves closer to marking a century of service, accompanying the Eastern churches in ways that, as our mission statement puts it, “build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope,” “we intend to share the stories of the remarkable witnesses of the Gospel who have offered their lives in service to all the people of God through this remarkable agent of good,” said CNEWA’s Msgr. Vaccari.
Bringing CNEWA to You
Beginning with the New Year, CNEWA has expanded its family of print and digital resources for donors and readers. “People, Look East,” whether in its email, blog or magazine form, offers readers insights into the world of the Eastern churches, the communities of the faithful that CNEWA is privileged to serve. This series — the magazine version of which is launched in this edition with Atonement Friar Elias Mallon’s article, “Catholicism: The One and The Many” — joins our newsletter, “CNEWA’s World,” which launched last year and delivers to your inbox a weekly news summary with important developments around the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
Together with ONE, our website and our blog, these tools provide timely updates that can bring CNEWA’s world into your world. Visit cnewa.org to see more.
In early February, Lebanon marked six months since the massive blast that devastated Beirut left hundreds of thousands homeless. The Holy See’s Congregation for Eastern Churches has charged CNEWA and L’Oeuvre d’Orient, a Paris-based Catholic charity that has long partnered with CNEWA, to coordinate worldwide Catholic aid for Lebanon.
As of early February, individual benefactors and donor agencies had provided CNEWA with more than $4.2 million in assistance for food distribution, repair to damaged homes, and the rehabilitation of hospitals and clinics. CNEWA has also worked with six congregations to repair and restore 16 facilities damaged by the blast that offer programs and services to families. The need remains dire, and efforts to help Lebanon recover will continue for years.
“The people of Lebanon are living the experience of Calvary,” CNEWA’s Msgr. Vaccari said. “They cannot be abandoned in solitude.”
Ethiopia in Crisis
Ethiopia has been facing a severe humanitarian crisis since violence erupted in the country’s northern Tigray region in early November. In January, a delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia traveled to Tigray to meet with Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin of the Eparchy of Adigrat and to assess the situation of the faithful and the local church.
The delegation said the bishops and his priests had been shuttered since the end of November and had experienced “unspeakable intimidations, sufferings, refutations, frustrations and loneliness.” The people have mostly fled their homes for rural areas in search of safety, they said.
“Many people, in particular children, the elderly and women are in critical need of food supply, medicine, water, shelter and psychosocial support,” said Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director in Ethiopia. Early estimates indicate that some 4.5 million people in the Tigray region have been affected by the fighting, and that $37.6 million are needed to provide food, water, shelter and medical care.
COVID Aid Distributions
In December, the Holy See’s Congregation for Eastern Churches reported that its COVID-19 emergency fund — which included CNEWA’s major contributions — distributed more than $11.7 million in aid, including food and hospital ventilators in 21 countries where members of the Eastern churches live. More than 3.4 million euros ($4.1 million) were allocated to people and institutions in the Holy Land and included the provision of ventilators, COVID-19 tests and other supplies to Catholic hospitals, scholarships to help children attend Catholic schools and direct food aid for hundreds of families.
In Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, funds purchased rice, sugar, thermometers, P.P.E. and other vital supplies. The fund also helped some eparchies to purchase the equipment needed to reach parishioners remotely with livestreamed liturgies and spiritual programming, after gathering onsite was prohibited due to quarantines and lockdowns.