Syro-Malabar faithful celebrate the conclusion of a spiritual retreat in the Archeparchy of Changanacherry. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Trivandrum. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Msgr. John E. Kozar visits an orphanage run by the Franciscan Clarist Congregation in India. (photo: John E. Kozar)
I recently made a pastoral visit to India with CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. As I sorted through the photographs, the images that my camera highlighted revealed to me the importance of CNEWA’s ministry of accompaniment to the Catholic Eastern churches — and, at the same time, the honor and privilege entrusted to our CNEWA family in walking with them.
These Eastern churches are ancient and apostolic; they are challenged by poverty, hatred, oppression, persecution and “smallness,” but they are unique in their individual character and identity.
Rather than dictate to these individual churches how they might be more like “us,” CNEWA proudly walks with them to uplift them and fortify them in proclaiming their faith and their traditions.
More than anything else, each is a church full of faith, sometimes in a very heroic sense. Helping them maintain this faith is the single greatest act of accompaniment we can offer. Despite overwhelming odds, they endure and remain faithful to our Lord. And we are privileged to witness their daily professions of faith.
The little children radiate in their smiles how a loving Jesus brings joy to their hearts. With a simple signing of the cross, singing of a spiritual hymn, kissing an icon, or preparing to receive the Body of Christ in Communion, these little ones lovingly embrace their faith and invite our continuing expressions of support. They bring us honor as we walk with them.
People who are hungry or who have no shelter find comfort in the church. Although displaced and forced to flee from their home, they still have another “home” — the church. CNEWA reaches out to help nourish them, to bring them basic health care, to provide temporary housing — in short, to remind them they are not alone. While we assist them in their needs, they remind us that we are all members of God’s family. Our prayers for them are infinitely redounded by remembrance of us in their prayers.
Liturgically, the Eastern churches we serve are very unique. Their liturgical expressions in word and in action allow us to step back in admiration and to appreciate their history and culture. Probably most impressive to me personally is the dignity each church tradition gives to their respective liturgical practices. Whether in an open field, in a tent, in a beautifully adorned church sanctuary — wherever they gather for the Eucharist — it is a holy place and the fullness of our faith is celebrated at the altar.
Almost all of the seminarians of these Eastern churches are supported by our good-will offerings, as are men and women religious in their novitiate years. These young people represent the future of these churches and make their commitments to serve in the midst of war, oppression, persecution and poverty — what many would consider a losing proposition. But CNEWA accompanies them as they continue to say “yes” to the will of God and the call of his son. What a humble example of service for each of us!
Our CNEWA family also supports education and faith formation. All the values that Jesus himself has taught us are lived out in the educational and catechetical programs we support. Some of my most vivid, most humbling experiences have included visiting with children who benefit from Catholic education or faith formation and seeing their interaction with one another, especially with children who do not share their faith tradition. Children who otherwise would be sworn enemies find new study pals in this Christian environment.
Despite their “smallness,” some of these Eastern churches are dynamic in their missionary outreach. Here in North America, and throughout the world, many dioceses have missionaries from the two Eastern churches in India — what Cardinal Dolan calls the “new Ireland.” As we continue to walk with them in their homeland, they bless us with their missionary zeal.
These are just a few of the many pastoral and humanitarian avenues of accompaniment that CNEWA undertakes. Please give thanks to God for the honor entrusted to our CNEWA family in walking with these Catholic Eastern churches. Your prayers and generous donations have sustained our efforts for these past 90 years. In humility we acknowledge that through our good works, we have helped to sustain many people in their faith, despite terrible odds.
But all the credit goes to Almighty God. Thank you, God, for the gift of faith and the honor you bestow on us. Please, God, continue to bless Catholic Near East Welfare Association.