22 March 2019
In Ethiopia’s Afar region, girls wait to fill containers at the local water pump. The United Nations marks World Water Day on 22 March. In a message for the day, Pope Francis declared that access to water is "a fundamental human right." (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
21 March 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Ethiopia United Nations
The Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, archbishop emeritus of Ottawa, seated, visits the office of CNEWA Canada, in Ottawa. (photo: CNEWA)
Today we had a special visitor in our Ottawa office: The Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, archbishop emeritus of Ottawa.
In 2003, he accepted the invitation of the Holy See’s Congregation of the Eastern Churches and helped establish CNEWA in Canada. He was the first chair of CNEWA Canada until his retirement in 2007. At 87 years old, he is still very active, with a keen sense of humor. The CNEWA staff had a great time meeting him.
You are in our prayers Archbishop Gervais! May God give you many good and healthy years ahead.
20 March 2019
Tags: CNEWA Canada
Ayyub Bhikoo, an official of Al-Jamie Mosque, speaks during a 17 March 2019 prayer service at Sacred Heart Church in Auckland, New Zealand, for victims of the 15 March mosque attacks in Christchurch. (photo: CNS/Michael Otto, NZ Catholic)
19 March 2019
Tags: Muslim Interfaith
In this image from 2018, a young Syrian refugee holds a watermelon at his shop in the Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan. "A lot of young men left Syria because they didn't want to fight in the conflict," Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Catholic News Service. (photo: CNS /Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
As Syria’s civil war enters its ninth year, citizens in and outside the country find themselves in limbo. Catholic and other aid agencies are urging a swift resolution to the crisis.
Caritas Syria is campaigning for “an immediate end to the violence and suffering” and calling for “all sides of the conflict to come together to find a peaceful solution,” chiefly through reconciliation work.
“We are initiating reconciliation among the various communities to correct misconceptions in the minds of those living in Damascus, Ghouta, Aleppo and elsewhere about people outside their religious community,” said Sandra Awad, communications director for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria.
Caritas Syria is the country’s branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s international network of charitable agencies.
Awad told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus that a meal involving Christians, Alawites and Muslims brought about a wonderful understanding and compassion for the suffering shared by all.
She said a Christian woman told her at the start of the lunch that she did not want to sit next to a woman wearing a headscarf because Muslims had kidnapped her son. Militants had entered her home and beat her son, resulting in psychological problems for him. They shot another son’s legs, leaving him paralyzed. The militants kidnapped the third son with his wife and child.
But Awad said she told her, “This woman with the headscarf lost her husband from mortar shelling, and her 15-year-old son lost his legs. She is taking care of her children by herself without any income.”
The Christian woman then responded: “Yes, all of us have suffered.”
“I could see her ideas begin to change,” Awad said. “The people spoke about the pain they experienced during the war. They began to feel that people have suffered as much as themselves and perhaps even more,” she said and, as a result, they got along together.
During a Caritas-sponsored visit to the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, a Muslim man questioned why militants were calling for people to be killed, rather than supported.
“Let them see who is helping us,” he said. “A Christian organization is helping us now.”
Caritas’ reconciliation efforts underline the practical support it provides to thousands of Syrians by distributing food baskets, clothes and blankets as well as medical assistance and psychosocial support.
Pope Francis has been closely engaged with the Syrian crisis, consistently calling for an end to the fighting. He has acknowledged the assistance Caritas gives to Syrians regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation as the best way to contribute toward peace.
Syria’s war has killed more than 400,000 people and forced more than 6 million Syrians out of their homes inside Syria; 5.5 million have fled to neighboring countries since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.
CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity in England and Wales, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid and development agency, are part of the Caritas network.
In a statement provided to Catholic News Service, CAFOD said it “believes that until a political process addresses the underlying issues that led to the Syrian war, there will be no safe future in Syria for the millions of Syrians caught up in this conflict.
Syrian refugees sheltering in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, many for longer than they ever imagined, have expressed concern for their future.
“My family believes that we cannot return to Syria because our home was destroyed, so there is nothing to go back to,” Um Mohamed, using her familial name in Arabic, told CNS in the northern Jordanian border town of Ramtha, which abuts Syria. “But we’re also finding it impossible to stay in Jordan because there is no work, my husband is sick, and our savings are running out.”
Another Syrian refugee at the large Zaatari camp, also near the border, said she is worried about her son left behind in Syria.
“He was living in an area controlled by the rebels, although he didn’t fight with them. But because of being in that place, he and other young Syrian men have turned themselves into the Syrian authorities in the hopes of getting a lesser jail term,” Um Sami told CNS, saying the Syrian government views them with suspicion.
“But the fear is that the government will forcibly conscript these men into the Syrian military and put them in frontline positions without any training. Or, what if my son is never seen again?” she said, her eyes welling with tears.
Other Syrian refugees are fearful that the regime considers them “traitors.”
“A lot of young men left Syria because they didn’t want to fight in the conflict,” Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNS.
“A lot of refugees said to me, ‘I left so I don’t kill, and I don’t get killed.’ Even if they go back today, there is a new amnesty law, but there are no guarantees that they won’t be thrown into prison or sent to the frontline,” she explained.
Other refugees around Zahle, near the Syrian border in Lebanon, said they, too, fear a return, but for some there is no other choice.
A Christian aid worker told CNS about a Syrian widow who died unexpectedly in March. She left behind three young children who must go back to Syria to join relatives to care for them. But these family members live in the militant stronghold of Idlib in Syria’s north, making their fate uncertain.
Eight million Syrian children are now in need of assistance, including psychosocial support, according to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.
“Every single Syrian child has been impacted by violence, loss, displacement, family separation and lack of access to basic services, including health and education. Grave violations of children’s rights -- recruitment, abductions, killing and maiming continue unabated,” UNICEF said on 6 March.
Syrians live without “peace or war,” Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, told the Vatican news agency, Fides, on 11 March. “It’s an uncertain and difficult situation, which is becoming unsustainable for the weakest,” he said.
Archbishop Nassar warned that Syria’s historic Christian population has decreased in some areas by 77 percent, compared to the time before the conflict.
18 March 2019
Tags: Syria Jordan Caritas Relief
Members of the Chaldean Catholic community in Papatoetoe, New Zealand, placed flowers and a tribute outside Ayesha Mosque after the 15 March 2019, attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. The message reads in part: "Please accept our prayer and condolences in this terrible, painful time. God have mercy on the people and we pray for the injured ones. Your brothers, St. Addai Catholic Church, New Zealand." (photo: CNS/courtesy NZ Catholic)
The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.
“There is a lady in my community -- they beheaded her son in front of her,” the Rev. Douglas Al-Bazi, a Chaldean priest, told NZ Catholic. “Another man, they killed his parents in front of him.”
Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries -- including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 -- said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was “really angry.”
“There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people,” he said.
He said he told his parishioners that “we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand” the pain, “because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide.”
“I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand,” he added.
Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.
“I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them.”
Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.
Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable.
“I don’t know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, ‘This is not New Zealand.’“
At the end of Mass on 18 March, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand” in Maori and in English.
Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, “It is for your protection.” The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers.
15 March 2019
Tags: Muslim Chaldean Church
Nathalie Piraino, right, embraces Atli Moges, a financial technical adviser at Catholic Relief Services headquarters in Baltimore, following a 14 March 2019, memorial Mass honoring their four colleagues who died in the 10 March crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Moges spent three years working in Ethiopia, and knew the four. (photo: CNS/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)
Approximately 480 men and women work at the Baltimore headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid and development agency of U.S. Catholics.
None were more affected than Yishak “Isaac” Affin and Atli Moges by the 10 March Ethiopian Airlines crash that took the lives of all 157 on board -- including four who were not just colleagues, but their fellow countrymen and women.
Affin and Moges were part of the standing-room-only gathering at the CRS chapel 14 March, when Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori offered a memorial Mass. His concelebrants included a majority of the 14 bishops who serve on the CRS board of directors, in town for meetings.
Like the four who perished, Moges and Affin are natives of Ethiopia, which has approximately 100 million residents. Almost half lack access to clean water.
Trying to better themselves so that they could better their country, the four CRS administrators were en route to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, when their flight crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of the east African nation that sits in a region wracked by famine.
“They do their work from their hearts,” Moges told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet. “They were the kind of people who stayed in the office until midnight or worked Saturday if that was necessary.”
She speaks from experience.
A senior adviser for CRS in financial technical support, Moges came to Baltimore in 1988, but from August 2015 to March 2018 served in Ethiopia as the deputy country representative for operations.
Managing administration, finance, human resources and IT for a staff of approximately 200 during her time in Ethiopia, Moges said she worked with the four deceased staffers “very closely.”
They were typical of the 7,000 people employed by CRS, which prioritizes hiring and training local people in the nations it serves.
Moges said that Mulusew Alemu, a senior finance officer, was devoted to his Ethiopian Orthodox faith and “a delightful person, very respectful and hard-working.”
Despite his low-key demeanor, she said, Sintayehu Aymeku had “wonderful leadership skills.” A procurement manager who had lived for a time in the United States, Aymeku left behind a wife and three daughters.
“I had high hopes for him,” Moges said.
Sara Chalachew, who once spent three weeks in Baltimore on temporary duty, was promoted last December to senior project officer for grants. Moges said she was always smiling, and “got along with everyone on staff.”
Getnet Alemayehu was a senior procurement officer, known for being patient and persistent while navigating shipments.
Before Affin, a senior accountant, came to Baltimore in 2003, he worked as an auditor in Addis Ababa, where he knew Alemayehu as a driver, albeit one “studying at university.”
As Moges got emotional remembering the four after the Mass, Affin placed his right hand on her left shoulder.
The Mass included a choir comprised of CRS staff based in Baltimore.
Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the CRS board of directors, welcomed Archbishop Lori, who had made a short walk from the Catholic Center, headquarters of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to CRS.
“Sorrow shared,” Bishop Mansour said, “is sorrow lessened.”
“Why were such good colleagues taken from us?” Archbishop Lori said in his homily. “A tragic moment such as this, and the season of Lent itself, tests and probes the depth of our faith,” he said.
“It highlights the kind of faith, hope and love -- coupled with courage -- that undergirds the many risks you and your colleagues take each day to advance the kingdom of justice, peace and love in this world.”
Archbishop Lori said the four employees “died in pursuit of their mission to bring a measure of food security to regions of the world that are habitually plagued by famine. They met the Lord as they were dedicating themselves and their lives to the golden rule.”
14 March 2019
Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin protesting in New Delhi on 12 March to demand the government provide them with the social welfare benefits enjoyed by their Hindu counterparts but denied to them. (photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
Hundreds of Dalit Christians and Muslims took to the streets yesterday in India's capital, demanding welfare benefits they say are being denied to them.
The story below comes from UCA News:
Some 500 Christians and Muslims who belong to former untouchable communities came together in New Delhi on 12 March, two days after the schedule for the April-May general elections were announced.
“The country is in election mood. We want to put across our demands to the government that they consider the rights of our Dalit Christian and Muslim brethren,” said Father Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the Indian bishops’ office for Dalit and socially disadvantaged people at the gathering.
Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin demand that they be given social welfare benefits meant for the uplift of Dalit people. Both communities have been denied these benefits since 1950 because the government says their religions do not follow the caste system.
“Six decades is not a small period [that] we have been suffering this injustice,” said Father Raj. “There is a limit for everything. We have decided that we will support a political party who will put our demands in their election manifesto.”
The 1950 presidential order said only Dalit people of the Hindu religion can enjoy constitutional benefits such as reservations in government jobs, education institutions and financial help with studies. The order was amended twice to include Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990.
Both Buddhism and Sikhism also do not approve of the caste system, but they were included after the government accepted their argument that a mere change of religion does not change a person’s socio-economic situation.
But the same argument put forward by Dalit Christians and Muslims has not been successful in having another amendment applied. Christian leaders say political parties fear doing so because it could antagonize their majority Hindu voters.
“Most of the political parties have promised to consider our demand but no one has kept their word when they come to power. We want a firm promise now,” Father Raj said.
Delegates from most Indian states attended the rally which was organized by the National Council of Dalit Christians with support of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the protestant National Council of Churches in India.
An estimated 30 percent of India’s 28 million Christians have a Dalit background. They are scatted across different Indian states, and speak different languages making coordination difficult, said leader like M. Mary John, founder member of National Council of Dalit Christians.
13 March 2019
Tags: India Dalits Mumbai
A Chinese man mourns a victim of the Ethiopian Airlines crash during a commemoration ceremony on 13 March 2019, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
12 March 2019
Worshippers pray at the Shrine of Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan in Kuzhikkattussery, India, on 18 February 2019. Blessed Thresia has been approved for canonization.
(photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
For the nearly 2,000 sisters and 200 women in formation who make up the Congregation of the Holy Family, the long wait is over.
Since 2012, members of the order based in Kerala state in southern India have observed strict fasts and engaged in earnest prayer awaiting recognition from the Vatican of a second miracle attributed to the order’s founder, Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan.
Pope Francis recognized the miracle on 12 February, clearing the way for the canonization of the religious leader popularly known as the “patroness of families.”
“We are thrilled now. Our joy has no bounds as the pope has approved the canonization of our foundress,” Sister Udaya Punneliparambil, the congregation’s superior general, told Catholic News Service.
“Mother’s life has been a life of prayer and fasting. So, we have been following her model,” Sister Punneliparambil said.
“We are happy our prayers have been heard. Now we are awaiting the announcement of the date of the canonization,” she added.
Blessed Thresia was born 26 April 1876, the third of five children to Thanda and Thoma Chiramel Mankidiyan in Puthenchira, 21 miles south of Thrissur. She founded the Congregation of the Holy Family in 1914 and died 8 June 1926.
Devout and prayerful, young Thresia resisted her parents’ plan to have her married at age 10, as per tradition. Instead, she chose to lead a life of simplicity and austerity, despite belonging to a wealthy farming family. For instance, she slept on the gravel floor of her family’s home rather than in her bed.
“I cannot sleep comfortably on a bed when Jesus is hanging on the cross on three nails,” Thresia is seen telling her mother in an hourlong documentary, “Blessed Mariam Thresia -- the Patroness of Families,” produced by the congregation.
The film depicts her interest in family ministry and desire to share Jesus’ love by caring for poor, sick and dying people. It re-enacts some of her practices as recorded by her spiritual director and congregation co-founder, Father Joseph Vithayathil, whose cause for sainthood is underway, and her contemporaries.
In 1909, while under the spiritual care of Father Vithayathil, Blessed Thresia experienced stigmata. The bishop ordered that an exorcism be performed as her situation became public.
Undaunted by the setbacks, Blessed Thresia continued with her austere prayer life and dedicated herself to serving families in the community.
Father Vithayathil, under direction of the bishop in 1913, erected a “house of solitude” where Blessed Thresia could go to pray. Three friends joined her in the house.
In May 1914, she received canonical permission to launch the Congregation of the Holy Family in Puthenchira, which today is in the Diocese of Irinjalakuda.
In 1922, she moved to Kuzhikkattussery, a short distance from her native village, where she had been given eight acres by a Catholic family to launch a convent.
Struggling for funds and material to build the convent, Blessed Thresia took a 31-mile journey with another sister on foot and by boat to a Hindu king’s palace near Cochin. She planned to ask the king for funds to complete construction. Told the king was bedridden with a serious illness, Blessed Thresia made a potion from plants and instructed his assistants to apply it. The king was healed and sent word to bring the two women religious to him. He offered them high-quality teak from forests more than 90 miles away to complete the convent.
“All this wood is given by the king,” Sister Pushpa, vicar general of the congregation, told CNS while pointing to the roof of the sprawling 24-room convent, completed in 1922.
True to the charism of the order’s foundress, the convent includes a Family Retreat Center, where couples can attend a four-day retreat, offered twice a month.
“Even couples living separately for years and on the verge of divorces have gone back happily from here,” Sister Pushpa said.
Since 1987, the congregation has operated the Family Apostolate Training and Research Institute, where nearly 200 women religious, laypeople and priests are trained annually.
Blessed Thresia was declared venerable in 1999 and was beatified in 2000.
Father Vithayathil, who is buried in the same chapel with Blessed Thresia, was named venerable by Pope Francis in December 2015.
11 March 2019
Tags: Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Indian Catholics
A representative of the American Jewish Committee gives Pope Francis a certificate on 8 March 2019, certifying that a grapevine in Israel has been dedicated to him and promising that each year he will receive a bottle of wine produced with the vine's grapes. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Engaging in any form of anti-Semitism is a direct contradiction with the Christian faith, Pope Francis said.
Meeting members of the American Jewish Committee on 8 March, the pope shared his “great concern” over “the spread, in many places, of a climate of wickedness and fury, in which an excessive and depraved hatred is taking root,” including “the outbreak of anti-Semitic attacks in various countries.”
“It is necessary to be vigilant about such a phenomenon,” he said, because, as the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews said, “History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah, in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated.”
Cultivating good relations, showing respect for others and being vigilant against any sign of hatred and prejudice is “a call from God,” the pope said.
Christians and Jews, he said, must transmit to their children “the foundations of love and respect. And we must look at the world with the eyes of a mother, with the gaze of peace.”
Meeting the group on International Women’s Day, Pope Francis spoke of “the irreplaceable contribution of women in building a world that can be a home for all,” a home where believers strive to fulfill God’s command in Deuteronomy to “love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”
“Women make the world beautiful, they protect it and keep it alive,” the pope said. “They bring the grace of renewal, the embrace of inclusion and the courage to give of oneself.”
“If we take to heart the importance of the future, if we dream of a future peace, we need to give space to women,” Pope Francis said.
Interreligious dialogue, he said, is an important part of efforts to fight hatred and anti-Semitism. The dialogue aims to promote “a commitment to peace, mutual respect, the protection of life, religious freedom and the care of creation.”
Pope Francis urged Jews and Christians to work together, countering the spread of “a depersonalizing secularism” by “making divine love more visible for humanity” and engaging in common works of charity “to counter the growth of indifference.”
“In a world where the distance between the many who have little and the few who have much grows every day,” he said, “we are called to take care of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, the weak, the sick, children and the elderly.”
Pope Francis also encouraged Catholics and Jews to involve young people in interreligious dialogue as “an effective means of countering violence and opening new paths of peace with all.”
John Shapiro, president of the American Jewish Committee, thanked Pope Francis for deciding to open to scholars in March 2020 material in the Vatican Secret Archives covering World War II and the papacy of Pope Pius XII.
“We look forward especially to the involvement of the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the U.S. to objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as valiant efforts during the period of the Shoah,” Shapiro said, according to a statement from the AJC.
Members of the group also presented Pope Francis with a certificate testifying that a grapevine dedicated to him would be the first in a “vineyard of the nations,” a vineyard in Israel where each vine is sponsored by a Christian outside of the country. In addition, they told the pope, each year he would receive a bottle of wine from his vine.
Tags: Pope Jewish-Catholic relations anti-Semitism