Maronite Patriarch Retires
On 26 February, Pope Benedict XVI announced the retirement of the patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Cardinal Nasrallah Peter Sfeir. For nearly 25 years, Patriarch Nasrallah served as the spiritual leader of the 3.1–million strong Maronite Church. Ordained in 1950, the patriarch worked closely with two of his predecessors before being enthroned as patriarch in 1986.
During the latter years of the Lebanese Civil War, which raged from 1975 to 1990, the patriarch served as a strong voice of reason and an advocate for peace. In his writings and speeches, he often expressed his vision of a more peaceful, democratic and prosperous Lebanon. He also spoke out against political injustices and strengthened and expanded church–led projects and institutions assisting the needy and disenfranchised.
With the ardent desire for peace in your country, you led the church and traveled the world to console those obliged to emigrate, wrote the pope.
I am sure that you will always accompany the journey of the Maronite Church with your prayers, your wise counsel and your sacrifice.
More on Middle East Synod
On 8 February, CNEWAs Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission and the Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations organized and sponsored a symposium on the recent Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East called by Pope Benedict XVI. Two participants in the synod, Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Dr. Bernard Sabella, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, spoke about the issues raised there, especially those that concerned invigorating the role of Christians and Christian institutions in the Holy Land.
Held at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, the event drew more than 170 people from the region, including heads of major Christian institutions, principals of Christian schools, lay leaders and representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Catholic social service institutions, religious orders and most parishes.
From 9 to 11 February, Bethlehem University hosted a three–day international conference on Christian–Muslim relations. Sponsored in part by CNEWA–Pontifical Mission, the conference consisted of lectures by prominent Christian and Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world on issues related to interfaith peace and violence, followed by open discussion.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, Brother Peter Bray, the universitys vice chancellor, Dr. Mahmoud El–Habash, the Palestinian Authoritys minister of religious affairs, and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan of Jerusalem together opened the conference. Other speakers included experts from Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Help Egypts Christians
CNEWAs national office in the United States has launched an appeal to support Egypts Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of that nations population of 80 million — the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Coptic Christians, most of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, run child care centers, clinics, homes for the handicapped, hospitals and vocational training institutes. They receive, however, little or no state support for these endeavors, which benefit all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims. To learn more, visit www.cnewa.us/web/helpegypt.
In February, benefactor Bill Doty traveled to Ethiopia with Gabriel Delmonaco, who directs CNEWAs national office in the United States. They visited ten CNEWA–supported institutions in the Northeast African country, including schools, orphanages and a center for the blind.
During the weeklong visit, the pair attended the inauguration of the newly built 11th and 12th grade classrooms at the Kidane Mehret School in Dessie, which enrolls 1,800 students, and the groundbreaking ceremony of a similar expansion at the Blessed Gebre Michael School in Mekele, which enrolls 1,300 students. Mr. Dotys generous support made possible the expansion of both schools.
The trip gave Mr. Doty direct exposure to the agencys work in the country and a closer look at its diverse people, rich culture and social challenges.
Discrimination against Indias 17 million Christian Dalits — peoples who are considered members of a low caste in officially caste–free India — continues, reports CNEWAs assistant regional director for India, M.L. Thomas.
Denied benefits guaranteed by the countrys constitution on account of their religious faith, vast numbers of Christian and Muslim Dalits will identify themselves as Hindus in the upcoming census.
The church in India is heavily involved in improving the socioeconomic situation of Dalit Christians, he said. Most Catholics of the Syro–Malankara Catholic Eparchy of Marthandom are from the Nadar community. Considered a ‘Backward Community by the nations constitution, Nadar Catholics are largely ignored by the state, forcing the eparchy to provide everything from schooling to waste water management.
For decades, Mr. Thomas said, Christian and Muslim leaders, as well as members of secular civil society, have decried the discriminatory laws. But to little avail.