When CNEWA’s president Msgr. John Kozar looked at those gathered around the room Wednesday, he described it as a gathering of “family.” But if it was a family affair — and with about 60 people scattered around on sofas and easy chairs, it felt familiar — it was also one with a purpose.
The event, held in the faculty lounge at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York, brought together supporters, donors and interested Catholics from around the greater New York area to learn the latest on the situation in Iraq and Egypt from Msgr. Kozar. He traveled to the region for a pastoral visit earlier this month, along with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
The 45-minute talk, delivered without notes or a text, was impassioned, urgent and deeply personal. Msgr. Kozar detailed the harrowing conditions Iraqi Christians are enduring, even eight months after the ISIS offensive began last August: crowded tents, cramped halls, crude shipping containers serving as makeshift apartments for multiple families. He described the work CNEWA has undertaken in the country, helping to provide education, housing and health care to the tens of thousands who have been displaced. He saluted the courage and commitment of the ones he called the “footsoldiers” of the church, the sisters who are trying to meet the daily needs of so many in their charge. (Read more about the “Exodus” in Iraq.)
And, significantly, he spoke poignantly of the Iraqi people’s indomitable spirit.
Again and again, he said, he encountered resilience and hope. “They wanted us to know one thing,” he said quietly. “They wanted us to know they love the Holy Father. And they wanted to thank him for his prayers. They wanted us to know they were believers.” And he recounted meeting a little girl who told the visitors, “They have taken our homes. They will never take our faith.”
It was the same story, he explained, in Egypt. Msgr. Kozar also told of visiting Cairo and meeting the “garbage pickers” — who have some of the most thankless jobs in the country. There are hundreds of thousands of them, yet their neighborhood isn’t even marked on any official map. But, he said, they have tremendous faith.
It is that faith, he said, that continues to uplift all the peoples of that troubled region — and faith which CNEWA is working to sustain and support through its many programs.
That support comes from the prayerful generosity of many people, known and unknown, as one of the hosts of the event, Msgr. Peter Vaccari, said.
In an interview after the talk, Msgr. Vaccari, the rector at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, described an effort the seminary undertook this year during Lent.
“For the last two years, we’ve tried to raise consciousness about the dwindling population of Christians in the Middle East,” he explained. “The seminary is a place where a lot of people come for retreats, days of education, classes. We wanted to make the seminary a place where we can offer people a chance to be more conscious of the work we’re doing during Lent. So we put up offering boxes, asking people to contribute, knowing that this could be their Lenten work of mercy, joining their prayers with a contribution to CNEWA.”
That effort collected nearly $5,500 for the agency.
The event at the Huntington seminary, meantime, raised over $40,000 for CNEWA’s programs in the Middle East.
It is Msgr. Vaccari’s hope that these efforts will also help plant seeds in the hearts of the seminarians, who will remember the work of CNEWA after they are ordained and further help spread the word.
“You are all missionaries,” Msgr. Kozar said at the end of the evening, pointing to all those gathered in the lounge. “You are the ones who can help us do what we do by telling others.”
Our brothers and sisters in Iraq continue to pray for all those who are praying for them — and their hearts are full of gratitude. “They will never take away our faith,” the little girl said.
And to find out how CNEWA can come visit your parish and share our story — so that YOU can help share it — please contact us