24 June 2016
A priest in a Dalit village in India leads a prayer service. India is facing new challenges in encouraging vocations to religious life. (photo: John Matthew)
In the Summer 2016 edition of ONE, Jose Kavi writes about how India is facing new challenges in recruiting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It is a subject he knows intimately, as he reveals below.
How does a former seminarian feel when asked to write about religious vocation and modern challenges? Not so easy, to say the least.
First, he would find most ideas and views very personal, reviving old memories. Second, it would lead him into introspection.
Both happened in my case. I had left the Society of Jesus after spending 10 years in it.
As a child, I had never nurtured a desire to become a religious or a priest. There was no plan for the future, as I knew there is a limit to the dreams of someone born in a poor Syrian Catholic family in the Malabar region of Kerala. However, in my final year of school, I responded to an ad that Mission Home, a minor seminary in Palai, had inserted in a church publication. “Undecided about your future? Come to us.” There could not have been anyone more undecided about the future than I was. The response from Mission Home was to meet a Jesuit priest in Calicut, the nearest town to my house.
Life changed dramatically when I topped the school in the 10th grade public exams in 1971. I forgot about the Mission Home letter. Relatives, friends and neighbors insisted that I join a college. However, no one came forward with financial help, except my parish priest.
He offered to take me and my father to Palai, some 300 kilometers [nearly 200 miles] away from home, where some of our relatives lived. My father had his roots in that central Kerala town. The plan, as my mother suggested, was that I would stay with one of the relatives and study at St. Thomas College of Palai.
Unfortunately, we reached Palai a day after the college closed admissions. The principal, a priest, refused to make an exception for someone who scored at the top of his class. “Rules are rules,” he thundered.
I left the place with my father, feeling dejected and worried. We decided to walk to the relative’s house so that my father could show me places associated with his childhood. He had migrated to Malabar in the 1940’s looking for better prospects.
As we came down a hilltop after visiting Lalam’s new church, I noticed written on a gate: St Joseph’s Mission Home. I told my father about the letter I had received and he said, “Let us go inside.”
We saw a two-story building ahead of us behind a large statue of St Joseph holding the infant Jesus. The place was quiet and we found an old priest with a flowing white beard seated on a chair on the verandah. When we told him about the letter, he asked us to see the rector, a Jesuit priest named Ignatius Vellaringattu. Later, I learned the old priest was Monsignor Jacob Vellaringattu, the rector’s elder brother and founder of Mission Home.
The rector looked at my certificates, opened his table drawer and placed them inside. My father planned to leave me behind. I was not prepared to join a seminary. I was coming out of my village for the first time and wanted to meet my numerous relatives living in central Kerala. The rector gave me two weeks, and then expected me to come back.
We then visited all our relatives in Palai and Idukki area. Everyone was happy that I was joining a seminary, but I had my doubts about my vocation.
With those doubts, I returned to Mission Home. I was told to sit with others in a large hall on the second floor. After some time I got bored. I was never used to such discipline at home. I went to the balcony and watched the trees and flowers that surrounded the building.
Soon, a senior student, looking very serious, came and told me that the monsignor was calling me. Having no clue why I was called, I went to the elderly priest’s room. He scolded me for being undisciplined and threatened to send me home. It took me some time to realize that I had violated a cardinal rule of the place: never waste study time.
The incident took away my home sickness and soon I joined the crowd, obeying all rules and attending prayers. As days passed, it dawned on me that I also could become a priest. Watching some of my companions, I thought: “If he could become one, why can’t I?”
Within five months, I was sent to Patna with five others to join the Jesuits there. Life moved on and I went to novitiate in 1975. In the quietness of that place and during long hours of prayer and reflection, doubts about my vocation returned. The words from the Bible, “Many are called, but few are chosen” rang in my mind. When I shared my doubts with the novice master, he said they could come from the evil spirit, and he asked me to pray earnestly.
But the doubts continued, so at the end of the two-year novitiate I asked for six months to decide about taking vows. When I shared my doubts and anguish with other novices, they said they too had the same problem, but they trusted in the Lord. After six months, I took my first vows and became a full-fledged Jesuit.
Yet, vows did not dispel my doubts and dryness. They became all the more acute during annual retreats. Meanwhile, I spent some months in mission stations before joining a college in Ranchi for English studies.
During the three years at the college, I wrestled with my doubts. I had recurring nightmares in which I was asked to decide my future. I felt insecure to leave the comfortable seminary life.
At the end of college, I was listed for a philosophy course in Pune. I went for a personal retreat directed by a Jesuit priest, a friend. I shared with him my inner struggles and doubts. He then advised me to leave if I really felt that I had no vocation. The longer I linger in the seminary, he warned me, the worse my life would become.
I decided to leave finally, even though it was like a jump into the dark. My spiritual director and provincial tried to dissuade me from leaving. I stood my ground and signed my papers. And peace came into my heart.
That was 34 years ago. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate what my 10 years in seminary had taught me. I have no hesitation to acknowledge that who I am today is entirely because of those formative years. The interesting part is that I have never stopped feeling my Jesuit-ness.
Did I really lose my vocation?
Read more in On a Mission From God in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
24 June 2016
Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Pope Francis arrive to visit the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral at Etchmiadzin in Vagharshapat, Armenia, 24 June.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
A solid, sorrow-tested Christian faith gives believers the strength to overcome even the most horrific adversity, forgive one’s enemies and live in peace, Pope Francis said.
Arriving in Armenia 24 June, Pope Francis went straight to the twin concerns of his three-day visit: Promoting Christian unity and honoring the determined survival of Armenian Christianity despite a historic massacre and decades of Soviet domination.
The high profile of the pope’s ecumenical concern and the importance of faith in Armenian culture were highlighted by making the trip’s first official appointment a visit to the cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church at Etchmiadzin.
The arrival ceremony at the airport was defined as informal, but featured a review of the troops and a greeting by a young boy and a young girl, who offered Pope Francis the traditional gifts of bread and salt. His entrance into Holy Etchmiadzin, as it commonly is known, was heralded with the pealing of church bells. As the pope and patriarch processed down the aisle between crowds of flag-waving faithful, a deacon led them, swinging an incense burner.
For the first two events on the papal itinerary, the English translations of the speeches of the pope’s hosts — the Armenian Orthodox patriarch and the country’s president — repeatedly used the word “genocide” to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1918.
The pope’s prepared text for his speech in Italian used the Armenian term “Metz Yeghern” or its Italian equivalent, “the Great Evil.” However, when speaking, the pope added the Italian “genocidio.”
Turkey objects to the term “genocide” and recalled its Vatican ambassador for about a year after Pope Francis in April 2015 quoted St. John Paul II in describing the massacre as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Pope Francis, visiting the Orthodox cathedral at Etchmiadzin and addressing government officials later at the presidential palace, did not focus on the tragedy, but on the faith of the country’s 3 million people, the need for reconciliation and peace in the region and the role of Christians in showing the world that faith is a power for the good of humanity.
For both nights of his trip, Pope Francis was to be the houseguest of Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“This sign of love eloquently bespeaks, better than any words can do, the meaning of friendship and fraternal charity,” the pope said.
In a world “marked by divisions and conflicts, as well as by grave forms of material and spiritual poverty,” he said, people expect Christians to provide a witness and example of mutual esteem and close collaboration.
All examples of brotherly love and cooperation, despite real differences existing among Christians, the pope said, “radiate light in a dark night and a summons to experience even our differences in an attitude of charity and mutual understanding.”
Besides being an example of how dialogue is the only way to settle differences, he said, “it also prevents the exploitation and manipulation of faith, for it requires us to rediscover faith’s authentic roots,” defending and spreading truth with respect for the human dignity of all.
Catholicos Karekin echoed the pope’s emphasis on the importance of Christian cooperation “for keeping and cherishing Christian ethical values in the world (and) for strengthening love” which is the only path to true security and prosperity.
He told the pope, “after the destruction caused by the Armenian Genocide and the godless years of the Soviet era, our church is living a new spiritual awakening.” Nearly 90 percent of Armenia’s population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church; Catholics, mostly belonging to the Eastern-rite Armenian Catholic Church, make up almost 10 percent of the population.
At the presidential palace later, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan praised Pope Francis for having used the word “genocide” a year ago. “We don’t look for culprits. We don’t spread accusations,” he said, according to the English text given to reporters. “We simply want things to be called by their names.”
While the pope and president were meeting privately, Armenian public television broadcast images from the Armenian memorial prayer service Pope Francis presided over at the Vatican last year. They included the clip of him using the word “genocide.”
Pope Francis told the president and government officials, “Sadly that tragedy, that genocide was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims” that extended to “planning the annihilation of entire peoples.”
Unfortunately, he said, “the great international powers looked the other way.”
“Having seen the depths of evil unleashed by “hatred, prejudice and the untrammeled desire for dominion,” people must make renewed commitments to ensuring differences are resolved with dialogue, he said.
“In this regard, it is vitally important that all those who declare their faith in God join forces to isolate those who use religion to promote war, oppression and violent persecution, exploiting and manipulating the holy name of God,” Pope Francis said.
At a time when Christians are again experiencing discrimination and persecution, he said, it is essential that world leaders make their primary goal “the quest for peace, the defense and acceptance of victims of aggression and persecution, (and) the promotion of justice and sustainable development.”
24 June 2016
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem celebrates Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City on 27 March. Pope Francis today accepted the resignation of the patriarch, who reached the retirement age of 75 last year. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Twal retires (Vatican Radio) His Holiness Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who reached the age of 75 for retirement last October. The Pope has elevated to Archbishop Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, former Custos of the Holy Land for twelve years, and appointed him as Apostolic Administrator sede vacante of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He will hold the position until the appointment of a new Patriarch...
Pope arrives in Armenia (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of John Paul II who visited Armenia in 2001. But this papal visit will take place in a very different context. Pope Francis has made sure that this meeting between churches has a popular element to it. As always during his journeys he has come to be with the people of the nation unusually for Armenia in the public Square...
Ecumenism to be focus of pope’s Armenia trip (Vatican Radio) Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion at the beginning of the fourth century and the great majority of people in the country today belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church which is part of the Oriental Orthodox family. Relations with other Christian communities, including the small Armenian Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches, are very good and Pope Francis will be focusing on the importance of ecumenical dialogue and action at a prayer service on Saturday...
Armenians demonstrate to demand election of new patriarch (Fides) A group of Turkish Christians of the Armenian Apostolic Church organized a protest demonstration yesterday, Thursday, 23 June, in Istanbul, outside the headquarters of their Patriarchate, to ask the election of a new Patriarch...
Council discusses fasting, marriage (OrthodoxCouncil.org) On the fourth day of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated by the delegation of the Patriarchate of Romania at the Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of Gonia. Afterward, the hierarchs continued their work in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh sessions of the Council. The ninth session of the Council continued the discussion on The Importance of Fasting and its Observance Today, while the tenth and eleventh sessions focuses on The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments. Following extensive and honest discussion about various canonical and pastoral perspectives of the two agenda topics, the primates and individual hierarchs of the local Orthodox autocephalous Churches proposed a number of suggestions and clarifications...
23 June 2016
Elderly Armenians such as Hamaspyur Nazaretian — shown here in her shelter in Gyumri in 2014 — move donor Thomas Straczynski to support CNEWA. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
Thomas Straczynski knows the meaning of working to enrich people’s lives. For 37 years, he taught social studies and American history at a New York area Catholic school.
Today, he’s retired from the classroom. But his commitment to helping others remains strong — which is why he’s a devoted CNEWA donor — and, a CNEWA hero.
“I was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,” he explains. “A very close-knit ethnic Polish community. Every Sunday, I’d see the local diocesan newspaper called the Tablet. I was about ten, and read an article about a town called Taybeh.”
It’s a town in Lebanon, where local Christians — needing funds to build a church — asked potential contributors to “buy” a brick. “It hit me that, gee, I can contribute to building a church halfway around the world,” Thomas recalls. “So I sent in my little contribution, and got a letter back from a local bishop. I still have the letter. I’ve never been to Lebanon, but if I ever go I’d love to check on my brick.”
Not long afterward, he read an informational mailing from CNEWA. “It was during the 1950’s, and I was hooked,” he remembers. “I became very interested in the Eastern churches. I’ve always had a love for the liturgy, the iconography, the music.”
Once he became a donor, CNEWA’s magazine — today’s ONE — began arriving in his mailbox regularly. “I loved the stories,” he says. “When I was teaching, I had CNEWA send me thirty or forty copies, which I would give to my students. I got many of the kids interested. Hopefully, I made a difference.”
Several years ago, Thomas extended his support of CNEWA’s work into his estate planning. He’s now a CNEWA Legacy Donor, a decision that came naturally.
“When it came time to update my will, one of the first organizations that came to mind was CNEWA,” Thomas explains. “When I read an article in CNEWA’s magazine about the elderly, I realized how important it is to help people like me. You have pensioners in Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine. They’re really suffering. And the reason they’re suffering is because they’re my age.”
Thomas knows his life is comparatively blessed. “I live in circumstances they couldn’t possibly imagine,” he says. “It hit me like a ton of boulders that these people are cast aside. Pope Francis refers to the ‘throwaway culture.’ They deserve so much more. To not go hungry. To not freeze in winter, or be lonely because their children and grandchildren have gone off to make their fortunes.”
He agrees it’s important to support churches and Christian medical clinics. Both are major facets of CNEWA’s mission. “But we need to remember the old and marginalized, who no one else remembers. Abandonment is not a pretty thing. And that’s why, in my will, I specified that whatever goes to CNEWA should be primarily for the elderly.”
Does he encourage others to remember CNEWA when developing their estate plan?
“Absolutely,” Thomas Straczynski says. “It’s a no-brainer. It gives me a good feeling to know it will be used well. There’s so much hope for Christianity. We have to spread that hope to places where we can make a difference.”
Interested in learning more about wills and bequests? Visit this link.
23 June 2016
The icon known as “Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls” appears on the separation wall in Jerusalem. (photo: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
The website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem last week told the story of a powerful image of the Virgin Mary that has profound meaning for the people of a divided land:
Graffiti painted along the Separation wall, charged with political and social messages, have always been a form of protest against Israel’s unjust measures. Near the Emmanuel Monastery in Bethlehem, an icon of the Mother of God emerges on the 8-meter high concrete wall, revealing with its beauty the failure of communities to love one another.
Made at the request of the local faithful and some internationals, the icon of Our Lady who brings down walls was written on the Separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem in 2010. The purpose of their request was clear; an icon that could bring along hope that the wall would come down some day.
According to Ian Knowles, the iconographer who wrote the icon, the inspiration behind Our Lady originated from a speech that Pope Benedict XVI had given at a special assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops in 2010. During the assembly, His Holiness referred to chapter 12 of the book of Revelation and talked about a woman who is clothed with the sun and gives birth with a cry of pain. He linked how this chapter in the Bible is a prophecy about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. “That gave me an image of Mary, who is pregnant, clothed with the sun chased by the beast that wants to devour her child,” Ian pointed out.
Before the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land in 2014, graffiti of a giant serpent, that is eating babies, was painted along the wall that leads to the icon of Mother of God. “It is quite prophetic to see this serpent near the icon of Our Lady. In the book of revelation, the woman is chased by the beast, which wants to eat her child” Ian said. “Once the image was complete, it was as though it called out the hideousness of the wall.”
Read more about the icon. And if the name Ian Knowles sounds familiar, he was profiled not long ago in the pages of ONE:
Mr. Knowles waxes rhapsodic when describing how icons continue to fascinate Christians after so many centuries. “It’s a profoundly spiritual art. It’s not a secular art about a spiritual theme; this is actually in some ways an embodiment of Christian culture. ... It’s a bit like a relic: You actually touch God, in a way — not because of what it looks like, but because of the thing itself. The whole process by which it’s created and made and fashioned and worked is within a profoundly religious context, so it sort of incarnates it.”
You can also learn more about the meaning and importance of icons here.
23 June 2016
A child naps in a home between Saesa and Idaga Hamus in Ethiopia. To read about the recent visit of CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar to Ethiopia, and see more dramatic pictures, check out his photo essay in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
23 June 2016
In the video above, Pope Francis expresses his solidarity with the people of Armenia and says he will be visiting them this weekend as a pilgrim and a brother. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis sends video message to Armenia (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a video message to the people of Armenia, ahead of his visit to the country this weekend. In the message — delivered in Italian — the Holy Father says, “[It is] as a servant of the Gospel and a messenger of peace [that] I desire to come among you, to support [your] every effort towards peace — and I would share our steps on the pathway of reconciliation, which generates hope...”
Palestinians praying in demolished Gaza mosques (Middle East Monitor) Two years after Israel’s demolition of mosques in Gaza in its latest offensive against the Strip in 2014, Palestinians today continue to pray in what remains of the damaged structures. Gaza’s religious property incurred $50 million in damages during Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” the committee in charge of assessing the damage incurred by the Ministry of Endowments said. It noted that 73 mosques were completely destroyed and 197 were partially damaged during the aggression, adding that 10 of its staff members were also killed...
Ethiopian government reports on food aid during drought (AllAfrica.com) The Government of Ethiopia has supplied 627,000 metric tons (MT) of food aid to affected areas since the outbreak of the current drought and 222,000 MT of food aid in the second phase of relief response. People in Oromia, Amhara, Southern Nations and Nationalities, Afar, Beshangul Gumuz and Gambella regions have benefited from the food aid, according to official sources...
Melkite synod cancelled (CNS) The Melkite Catholic Synod of Bishops was cancelled after 10 bishops boycotted, resulting in a lack of quorum. Only 12 of 22 bishops traveled to Ain Traz, summer seat of the patriarchate. Those who did not attend called for the resignation of Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, who has held his post since 2000. They are protesting the duration of his time as patriarch and some landholdings of the Melkite Church...
Holy and Great Council concludes third day (OrthodoxCouncil.org) On the third day of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated by His Beatitude Patriarch Irinej of Serbia at the Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of Gonia. Afterward, the hierarchs continued their work in the sixth, seventh, and eighth sessions of the Council...
22 June 2016
Monday marked the first day of Summer — and our Summer 2016 edition of ONE is here, too.
You can check out the online version at this link.
This latest edition of our award-winning quarterly focuses on being a “Witness to Hope” in the world CNEWA serves. Features include a look at new efforts to foster vocations in India; a sobering but hope-filled glimpse at the fatherless children of Armenia; and a stirring photo essay by Msgr. John E. Kozar, on his recent travels to Ethiopia.
Take a look! We think you’ll like what we have to offer.
Meantime, Msgr. Kozar has more about the Summer edition of the magazine in the video preview below.
22 June 2016
In Armenia, Tatyana Dilbaryan rears her three children alone. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
The Summer 2016 edition of ONE features a poignant glimpse at children in Armenia who are growing up without fathers:
Many men in the northern Armenian town of Tashir leave the country to work abroad; unemployment tops 50 percent in the region. Many who work in Russia provide the minimum means of subsistence for their families back home, but some never return. As a result, women are left behind to shoulder the burden of running households and rearing children on their own.
David’s 49-year-old mother, Tatyana Dilbaryan, wears a smile, but the lines on her brow mask the difficulties she endures. The question lingers: Why has it come to this?
“I don’t know the answer. Perhaps he saw that I managed to do everything myself,” she says of her husband. “I raised livestock, worked in the fields, did everything for my children,” says Tatyana, still smiling despite a welling of tears in her kind eyes.
“We are good. We’ll get through this, my children will grow up and everything will be alright.”
The church is working to help these families. Read on to learn how.
22 June 2016
Pope Francis walks with refugees during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 22 June. The pope invited more than a dozen refugees to sit near him on stage during his catechesis. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope on refugees: Christians don’t exclude, they welcome (CNS) Flanked by a group of refugees, Pope Francis appealed to Christians to care for and welcome those whom society often excludes. “Today I’m accompanied by these young men. Many people think they would have been better off if they had stayed in their homelands, but they were suffering so much there. They are our refugees, but many people consider them excluded. Please, they are our brothers,” the pope said 22 June during his weekly general audience. The group, holding a banner that stated “Refugees for a better future together,” caught the pope’s attention as he was making his way to the stage in St. Peter’s Square. He signaled them to come forward and instructed aides to allow them to sit in the shade on the stage...
Report: Air strikes in Syria kill 18 civilians (BBC) Activists say at least 18 civilians have been killed in air strikes in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the headquarters of so-called Islamic State (IS). Dozens more people were injured in the raids on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said it was not able to determine who carried out the strikes, though another group blamed Russian warplanes...
Jordan closes border to Syrian refugees after suicide car bomb (The New York Times) Jordan sealed its last entry points for Syrian refugees on Tuesday after a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb in a no-man’s land on the border, killing four Jordanian soldiers, a police officer and a civil defense officer. The attack took place about 5:30 a.m. on the sand berm marking the frontier between the countries, near a refugee camp where an estimated 60,000 people have been living in harsh conditions...
Eritrea accuse Ethiopia of planning a full-scale war (Voice of America) The government of Eritrea told the U.N. Human Rights Council that its neighbor Ethiopia is planning to launch a full scale war against its territory...
Official texts of Orthodox council available online (OrthodoxCouncil.org) The official texts of the opening speeches and addresses for the Holy and Great Council are available at https://www.holycouncil.org/documents in their original languages. Translations will be posted as they become available. More than 320 journalists, representing 138 media outlets and 25 countries, have received credentials for the Council. Daily media briefings are broadcast live at approximately 15.30 GMT +3 (8:30 am EDT) at https://www.holycouncil.org/live, and available as video on demand. The Council continues meeting through 25 June, concluding with the Divine Liturgy on 26 June...
Kerala divorce rate highest in India (IndiaLiveToday.com) Family courts in the prosperous, southern state of Kerala ruled on just over five divorces every hour in 2014 — 130 every day — more than any of the 12 Indian states that compile such data, according to government data. Although India does not appear on the world divorce statistics records, a global divorce repository (compiled by the University of Illinois, USA), because it lacks nationwide data, the volume of divorces handled by courts in Kerala and the other 11 states indicates that couples are more willing than ever to separate than stay — as tradition still demands — in bad marriages...
Work begins to try to save Christianity’s holiest shrine (The Washington Post) Work has begun to save the holiest shrine in Christendom. It won’t be a simple patch-and-paint job. This is the alpha and omega of restoration projects. They are going to repair Jesus’ tomb — with titanium bolts. Over the next nine months, a team of Greek conservationists will restore the collapsing chapel built above and around the burial cave where the faithful believe that Jesus was buried and rose from the dead after the Crucifixion...