Syrian refugee children greet visitors in the refugee camp of Zahleh, Lebanon, in January 2016. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Children gather for a meal at the Mariam Tsion School in Saesa, Ethiopia. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Youth of a Mishing community, an indigenous tribal group in India, put on a performance in their village. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The Trippadam Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center offers Indian women in need a safe, loving home. (photo: John E. Kozar)
When we communicate with our donors to express our thanks for their generous prayers and financial gifts, we often refer to the gratitude that ultimately comes from the “poor,” those who “suffer” and those who are “persecuted.”
These are broad categories and we might not appreciate the range of these beneficiaries of CNEWA’s good works and support. Let me elaborate a bit.
It is normal to focus on the material needs of the poor. We think of hungry and starving children; mothers desperate to feed or shelter their little ones; an elderly person without a place to call home; or victims of war, floods or other calamities forced to flee, always uncertain what tomorrow might bring.
We especially think of children who have been orphaned, those whose cries and hollow stares penetrate our hearts. We think of children who hunger for education and would give anything to be able to have a formal schooling environment. We think of the elderly, often those most easily forgotten or marginalized. Societies sometimes consider them expendable.
We think of those with special needs who find little or no acceptance in many cultures — those with physical and mental disabilities or social outcasts because of class structures. We think of those victims of religious bigotry or ethnic classification, or those “in the middle” and not accepted by either side. Social and economic exclusion is a reality for so many in our world.
We think of those who are really persecuted, even unto death. They are violated and taken away; they are sometimes killed, but always considered “second class.”
What I am describing is a canvas of the broken, fractured world in which CNEWA is privileged to serve. And in our humble way, with your most generous support and prayerful accompaniment, we do our best to serve those who are poor, those who suffer and those who are persecuted.
I am blessed with vivid memories from my many pastoral visits to those we serve. I’ve seen hungry children being fed and cared for at the hands of religious sisters and church-related programs in areas of conflict and oppression. I have seen the faces of desperate mothers who seek comfort for their ailing children — and find a loving and gentle hand extended by the church.
Little orphans are cared for with love beyond telling and are enriched by newly formed “families” in facilities and programs supported by CNEWA. I have seen these little ones with beautiful smiles and new stories to share with others. Many of the tears have long since dried up. The church brings the gentle face of Jesus to God’s children.
And talk about being happy to be in a school setting! Whether it is from the back of a cart, in a field or in an actual school building, the little ones whom we accompany at CNEWA are thrilled to learn and listen attentively.
I have vivid recollections of beaming elderly residents in refugee camps, in abandoned villages, or war-torn areas of conflict, who are surrounded by the love and Christ-like embrace of religious men and women. CNEWA is there to accompany them. In times of war, priests and sisters literally help them walk on their journey to a new home. When they are homeless, we help to find them shelter. When they are orphaned we welcome them into a new family.
The church offers a powerful antidote to the poison inherent in cultures that reject the dignity of all, especially those who have special challenges or those who bear social stigmas because of class, religion or ethnicity. Many of the good works supported by CNEWA reach out to all and proudly proclaim that God loves all his children. There is no “pecking order” with our God — we are all embraced by his love. We do not exclude and only offer help to “our own” — Jesus makes it clear that we love all.
In many circumstances the love and caring extended by the church and supported by CNEWA is a unique experience for those who know nothing but hatred, exclusion or injustice. Whether it be a mixed group of Muslims and Christian children on a playground enjoying a game of soccer, or Hindu and Catholic children entertaining me on a visit with song and dance or a mixed group of elderly folks gathered together to share a meal provided by the church or those in need of healing, finding physical and emotional support at health clinic supported by CNEWA — in all of these and so many other instances the church, and CNEWA alongside her, reaches out to the poor, the suffering and the persecuted.
The needs seem always to grow and they never really go away. But the Holy Spirit inspires us to continue our journey of accompaniment. Remember the smiles of the children and their desperate mothers, the joy of the elderly who no longer are without a family, those “outcasts” with a new sense of dignity. All of our CNEWA family ask me to thank you for your support — and, better yet, they promise to remember you in their prayers. God bless you.