Violence! The violence in our world, in our countries, cities, towns and neighborhoods; the violence in patterns of behavior that impacts our families, schools, workplaces and the rhetoric of partisan politics; the violence we choose confirms the reality and presence of our greatest enemy: sin and the influence of the devil, “the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).
The whole world has been exposed to the horrific violence and evil inflicted upon the sovereign people of Ukraine. Beginning with the Russian Federation’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, and most recently with the invasion that began in February 2022, the intensity and savagery has resulted in the mindless loss of life, destruction of property and the global threat of food shortages and socioeconomic chaos.
CNEWA’s mission and work often bring us to locations where violence and sin have disrupted the lives of people of all ages, cultures, genders and religious expressions.
This edition of ONE articulates the power of good over evil, life over death, and grace over sin. An article invites us to reflect upon the impact of violence on the children in Syria and the heroic work of three communities of religious women in the country. We read about the efforts CNEWA is making on behalf of Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Slovakia and the pain of Ukraine’s displaced families. A CNEWA-organized and led delegation, under the leadership of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, visited these countries from 29 April through 3 May.
Much needed attention is given to our work in Iraq through our support of a health clinic, and we hear from Father Emanuel Youkhana of the ecumenical organization CAPNI, or Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq. I recall my visit to Iraq last November with Michael La Civita, CNEWA’s director of communications, and how Father Youkhana reminded us how the suffering in Iraq was due to “man-made disasters.”
We also provide a look into the Coptic Catholic seminary in Egypt, St. Leo the Great. The seminary, which is largely subsidized thanks to you, the donors of CNEWA, is a place where future heralds of the Gospel learn to preach a message of merciful love and grace as the antidote to violence and sin.
Over the past several editions, I have devoted this column to reflections on major themes in the encyclical of Pope Francis published in 2020, “Fratelli tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.” In light of the spiraling number of violent incidents in recent months, worldwide and here in the United States, such as the racist-driven mass shooting in a supermarket in Buffalo and the slaughter of innocent children in Uvalde, Texas, the thoughts of the pope in the last chapter of the encyclical seem even more compelling.
In one he underlines the important role of religion in the building of genuine fraternity among all people. We need to recognize that each one of us constitutes “the visible image of the invisible God.” In addition, for Christians, we do not want to miss the “the music of the Gospel.” Pope Francis writes:
Yet we Christians are very much aware that ‘if the music of the Gospel ceases to resonate in our very being, we will lose the joy born of compassion, the tender love born of trust, the capacity for reconciliation that has its source in our knowledge that we have been forgiven and sent forth. If the music of the Gospel ceases to sound in our homes, our public squares, our workplaces, our political and financial life, then we will no longer hear the strains that challenge us to defend the dignity of every man and woman.’ (277)
In the second area worthy of our prayer, reflection and action, Pope Francis writes:
The truth is that violence has no basis in our fundamental religious convictions, but only in their distortion. … ‘Each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths of dialogue and not by constructing new walls.’ (282, 284)
I ask you, readers of ONE, friends of and donors to the mission of CNEWA, please work to end injustice; be instruments and bearers of hope!
The United Nations, in its 2030 agenda for sustainable development, identifies as sustainable goal 16 the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies. As Christians, we are dedicated to the promotion of peace, the fruit of justice. There are many paths to pursue that goal. One sure path is to be instruments of hope. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of the Holy See, addressed the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2021. His reflection captures the mission of CNEWA and Pontifical Mission:
For Christians, hope is the most divine gift that can exist in the heart of mankind. It sees and loves what will be, in time and in eternity. Hope ‘is expectation, fervent expectation, impassioned by the ultimate and definitive fulfillment of a mystery, the mystery of God’s love.’
Love! I pray that the final word and lived witness of the CNEWA family be the language and witness of love. Notwithstanding the horror and nightmare that millions of Ukrainian people have experienced and lived through, what have we learned from them? Permit me to conclude with the powerful words of Archbishop Borys Gudziak in his 15 May 2022 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame:
Because you and I see … a nation of down-to-earth heroes, plucky patriots, hardcore lovers. Those who look into eternity overcoming their fears. Countless Ukrainians demonstrate the greatest love for ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15:13). Despite the devastation and war crimes, marauding and torture, mendacious lies and craven cruelty, we see their life. They have heart and you are demonstrating that you want to share your hearts with them … We pray that the cross will again lead to the resurrection, to the victory of life over death.