“ ‘And Who Is My Neighbor?’ The Faces of CNEWA” introduces gallery visitors to the peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe served by Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Taken by a cadre of female photographers, who have tackled rough and even hostile conditions while on assignment, the images from “ ‘And Who Is My Neighbor?’ The Faces of CNEWA” reveal the innate dignity and beauty of every person, each one made in the image and likeness of God.
The photographs are drawn from CNEWA’s treasure trove of images commissioned for its award-winning magazine, ONE, which the Catholic Media Association has honored consistently as among the best in Catholic publishing in North America since the magazine began as “Catholic Near East” in 1974. These images represent a mere handful of photographs taken in Armenia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine between 1989 and 2022.
Join CNEWA’s director of communications, Michael La Civita, for a tour of the photo exhibit in the videos below.
A full photo gallery can be found at the bottom of the page.
Children love the camera, when they are safe.
Children bear the greatest brunt of the crises — natural and humanmade — impacting every region where CNEWA serves. Christian Molidor was a professional photojournalist and as a Religious Sister of Mercy, entering the community in Illinois in 1959. She joined the CNEWA team in 1984 and, for more than 27 years, roamed CNEWA’s world with her camera, capturing extraordinary moments through some difficult times, including famine and war in the Horn of Africa, civil war in Lebanon and natural disasters in India. Her image of a laughing child, taken on assignment in Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000, is classic Sister Christian, revealing the pure happiness in the child — and the inner joy of the artist herself.
(photo: Christian Molidor, Catholic Near East, March-April 2001, The Kunama of Eritrea)
What can be happier than children making bubbles?
For the children Ilene Perlman photographed at the St. Rachel Center in Jerusalem in 2017, joy had been in short supply until this day care for the children of migrants was founded by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s Hebrew-speaking vicariate. Once warehoused, these children now have a loving, comfortable and safe space while their mothers — once traumatized by the perils of trafficking — earn a living. The center, supported by CNEWA, has become a source of hope for families torn apart by circumstances beyond their control.
(photo: Ilene Perlman, ONE, June 2017, Found in Translation)
Photos 3 and 5:
Beyond the river Jordan, on its east bank, the Kingdom of the Hashemites remains a bastion of stability, despite the turbulence that surrounds it and the troubled undercurrents that threaten it from within.
In 1994, photographer Miriam Sushman traveled to the kingdom’s Christian Bedouin villages that lie in the center of the country near the Crusader-built castle in Kerak. There, within the sandy lanes and idle hills and fields, she photographed the inhabitants of Smakieh, including a five-year-old and the parish priest, whose ancestors once roamed throughout Arabia with their livestock.
Centered in a cluster of sleepy villages — which CNEWA has supported in numerous ways for decades — the Bedouin Christians of Jordan tenaciously preserve their way of life and ancient traditions, captured in Miriam’s iconic photographs, even as the lure of the capital of Amman and beyond promise a brighter future.
(photo: Miriam Sushman, Catholic Near East, November-December 1994, A Fish in the Desert)
For many of the inhabitants of Armenia’s remote villages in the mountainous north, the future is behind them — many of the inhabitants are pensioners, as working-aged men have left the country, leaving behind their parents, wives and children, usually for good.
The youth leave for military service and university studies; most never return. Yet the church, which CNEWA supports in a variety of ways, is present to all, and Armenian Catholic Father Hovsep Galstyan, photographed by Nazik Armenakyan, spends much of his day traveling through the villages of his parish, spending time with his parishioners, listening to their concerns, providing counsel, celebrating liturgies and offering prayers.
“I’m not the best example of a servant, a sower of seeds of the Gospel,” he wrote. “Just the same, I hope to provide a glimpse of the life of a priest serving … in the Caucasus — and more specifically, a married priest.”
(photo: Nazik Armenakyan, ONE, Spring 2020, A Letter From Armenia)
The life of a priest in Galilee, despite the geographic and demographic differences, is not altogether different from the life of a priest in Armenia.
Photographer Ilene Perlman and writer Michele Chabin spent a day — actually, more than one — covering a Melkite Greek Catholic priest. The team followed Father Androwas Bahus as he celebrated liturgy in Shefa-‘Amr, a small city in Israel, visited parishioners, attended school events at the Sisters of Nazareth School, where he serves as a counselor, and finally attended a wedding, where he presided at the ceremony. CNEWA has long supported the many works of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Israel.
“I consider myself an Arab Palestinian Christian and Israeli citizen,” he said in a rare moment of downtime. “It is a mixture — a cocktail, if you will. We are all these things, one inseparable from the other.”
(photo: Ilene Perlman, ONE, Winter 2015, A Day in the Life of an Israeli Priest)
In the heart of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley lies the village of Bechouat, a Maronite Catholic hamlet known locally for its shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
For nearly a decade, however, its inhabitants hosted Syrian Muslim refugees, families who had fled the merciless violence of neighboring Syria’s long and destructive civil war.
At first, the refugee children had little to do; their schooling interrupted, they played with the debris of materials used to build temporary facilities, such as tents, as photographed by Tamara Hadi in late 2013. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, with support from CNEWA’s benefactors, responded, opening a school for the children and helping to restore some semblance of normality in their young lives.
(photo: Tamara Hadi, ONE, Spring 2014, Syria, Shepherds and Sheep)
At the very southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent is Kanyakumari, a lush coastal district of the state of Tamil Nadu.
There, the church works among the region’s most marginalized peoples: Adivasi, often described as Indigenous or tribal peoples, and dalits, so-called untouchables, who belong to the lowest level of Hindu society’s complex caste system.
Photographed by Meenakshi Soman in 2018, then 76-year-old Devaki has cared for her paralyzed son, who is bedridden, for nearly 30 years. “I have three daughters,” she says. “They visit occasionally and help bathe him.”
She and her 48-year-old son look forward to weekly visits from a mobile clinic run by the area’s Syro-Malabar Catholic community. “I have visitors,” he says smiling of the priests, sisters and nurses who regularly spend time with him and his mother, not only to care for their health, but to listen and counsel.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman, ONE, December 2018, Healing the Forgotten)
An image of a nun driving a car was once considered cliché. Photographer Nazik Armenakyan’s candid shot of Sister Hakinta Muradyan driving a car full of children is fresh, exuding the children’s pure joy.
The Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception run a center for the children in the remote town of Tashir, nestled high in the Caucasus Mountains, once home to a Russian religious sect exiled by the tsars. It is a lonely place, abandoned by its working-age men. Yet, for the children and parents of Tashir, the town is paradise:
“I very often say that this center is Tashir’s paradise. I do not exaggerate. This is a rare bright spot where children learn, experience proper human interrelations, where they see justice and receive maternal affection and care,” says Samvel Sukiasyan, a father of two boys, who has reared his children alone since his wife left — an unusual reversal of roles in the town.
“There are lots of problems in this town,” says Sister Hakinta. “Sixty percent of the children have no fathers around. They are either dead or haven’t returned from abroad.” Their mothers, she adds, struggle to stay out of poverty. “We have tried to take at least this burden off their shoulders.”
(photo: Nazik Armenakyan, ONE, Summer 2016, Armenia’s Children, Left Behind)
Photos 10 and 11:
There is no mistaking, Bethlehem University — located in the City of David in the Palestinian West Bank — is a Catholic university.
When De La Salle Christian Brother Peter Bray was invited to lead the university as vice chancellor in 2008, he was asked, “What is an unashamedly Catholic university trying to do here?” Fewer than 2 percent of the Palestinian population is Christian. The photographs taken by Ilene Perlman for a letter from Bethlehem illustrate well what Brother Peter has come to know passionately.
Two thousand years ago, he writes, “there were no Christians here at all, then, so what was he trying to do? Jesus makes it very clear in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 10, verse 10: ‘I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’ That is what Jesus was seeking to do and that is exactly what Bethlehem University is seeking to do.
(photo: Ilene Perlman, ONE, September 2019, A Letter From Bethlehem)
“It is at the core of everything we are doing.”
In her self-deprecating style, Mercy Sister Christian Molidor recounted that she joined CNEWA before the alphabet was invented. When she arrived in 1984, Msgr. John G. Nolan, then the head of CNEWA, had no idea what to do with the Illinois native, so he sent her “packing.”
She went to India, where she visited orphans, catechists, priests, senior citizens, the handicapped and her beloved religious sisters. She helped cook and clean. She did the wash and hung the laundry. And she photographed. She took thousands of pictures of smiling children, sisters laughing and patients praying. She collected their stories, wrote them down, squirreled them away in her head and shared them for decades.
Unlike most photographers, Sister Christian Molidor engaged with her subject and participated in taking the picture, disarming them. And so, her presence is felt in her images, even though she has gone before us. In a way, she lives in the people and places that she photographed. And her legacy at CNEWA continues, as this special work of the church, with the help of providence and the generosity of people of good will worldwide, strives to follow the lesson of Jesus to “go and do likewise” and bind the wounds of a broken world.