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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
9 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Russians mark Christmas in Sochi, Russia. The Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas
on 7 January, according to the Julian calendar.
(photo: Alexander Ryumin/TASS via Getty Images)

9 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis makes his speech during an audience with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See for the traditional exchange of new year’s greetings at the Vatican 9 January. The pope said that religions are “called to promote peace” and appealed to “all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”
(photo: CNS/Alberto Pizzoli, pool)

Christian neighborhood in Mosul freed (Fides) On Sunday 8 January, the Iraqi regular army regained control of al Sukkar, an area in eastern Mosul once inhabited mostly by Christian families. This is what local sources reported to online magazine The area comprises at least 700 homes belonging to Christian owners, some of whom had been occupied by foreign militants of ISIS...

Syria truce under stain (Reuters) A Syrian truce brokered by Russia and Turkey was under growing strain on Monday as rebels vowed to respond to government violations and President Bashar al-Assad said the army would retake an important rebel-held area near Damascus...

Egyptian president announces plans to build country’s largest church (Fides) It will be the largest Coptic Church of Egypt, it will be inaugurated by 2018 in the new capital which is being built outside Cairo, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi will be among its direct sponsors...

Pope to diplomats: Break bad habits of war, injustice (CNS) At the start of a new year, Pope Francis laid out a laundry list of suggested resolutions for religious and political leaders for making a joint commitment toward building peace. No conflict exists that is “a habit impossible to break,” the pope said, but he underlined that kicking such a habit requires greater efforts to rectify social injustice, protect religious freedom, jump-start peace talks, end the arms trade and cooperate in responding to climate change and the immigration and refugee crises...

Marking Christmas, Patriarch Kirill urges Christians to spend less time in ‘virtual reality’ (TASS) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in his speech on Christmas Eve urged Christians to be more tolerant and forgiving, leave “virtual reality” for the real world and help those in need. “Let’s not be judgmental of each other’s weaknesses, more tolerant and kinder, give each other more joy and love. Let’s leave the virtual reality space for the real world, opening our hearts to people that really need attention and care,” the Patriarch said...

Ethiopians celebrate Christmas (Andalou Agency) Ethiopian Christians on Saturday celebrated Christmas in a festive and joyous atmosphere. Burgeoning star-rated hotels and malls that dotted the main streets of the capital city, Addis Ababa displayed colorful Christmas trees and lights. All Christian denominations in Ethiopia — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Seventh-Day Adventist — celebrate Christmas on 7 January, although elsewhere only Orthodox Christians mark Christmas on this day as opposed to the widely recognized 25 December...

6 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C., has been a fixture at Bethlehem University for more than
40 years. (photo: Bethlehem University)

One of the most familiar fixtures at Bethlehem University for several decades has been Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C. Affectionately known as “Brother Joe,” he has been a member of the CNEWA family for a long time. For several years, in the 1980’s, he served as the director of our regional office in Jerusalem.

He’s also a rarity: a CNEWA hero who has actually been around longer than CNEWA.

The university’s magazine saluted him shortly after his 90th birthday, in October of 2015, and told some of his story:

Brother Joe was born in Queens, New York, in 1925 where he grew up during the depression. With two siblings, his parents had three children to attend to in those difficult economic times. Brother Joe attended an elementary school run by Dominican Sisters, the parochial school of the Brooklyn diocese of Elmhurst, Queens. The diocese offered scholarships for students to its secondary school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, which was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. “I always wanted to be a priest,” Brother Joe says. “But at school I became interested in joining the Brothers. At 15 years old, Brother Joe left home to go to a training school for boys interested in joining the Brothers. “We were encouraged to focus on the vocation, and at that time it was common to leave home for that purpose” Brother Joe explains. He graduated in 1943 and went to Novitiate for one year’s training in the Brotherhood, after which he enrolled in Catholic University in Washington D.C. His class was sent to various schools after three years, before completing their Bachelor’s degrees, since there was a shortage of teachers during World War II.

When Brother Joe came to Bethlehem University in 1975, he was ready for a new challenge.

That new challenge was to serve as the university’s second president, a position he held for seven years. Forty-two years after he arrived in Bethlehem, he is still active at the school, continuing to help shape young lives.

We got in touch with him recently, and he offered a few thoughts on CNEWA (better known in the Middle East as Pontifical Mission):

The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission made a lasting impression on me to this very day, which is difficult to explain.

I had spent all my life working in the classroom with young men — wonderful work, but rather narrow in scope, between walls with regular hoursand specific topics but in a sense confining. That was life in the “Ivory Tower.”

The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission is quite different from teaching and being cooped up in the classroom all day. The classroom and labs are quite immobile and inside, with rare opportunities to be outside. But there is a world outside the classroom. I saw and felt this reality with the work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission.

One example — and perhaps the most outstanding for me — was visiting several handicapped children, living in a recently established center converted from a school to a home for mentally disabled children (with the help of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission — that was why I was there).

I had never worked with handicapped children. I was scared stiff the first time I visited the home. But seeing the children of all ages (including babies) made me want to cry, but gave me the strength to continue my regular monthly visits. I remember the first time one of my superiors from the United States came to see my work and I brought him to the center and how nervous he was about seeing these unfortunate children. Despite my attempts to prepare him, he had to excuse himself early in the visit.

Another highlight of my work was regular visits to the libraries sponsored by CNEWA/Pontifical Mission in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I was surprised the libraries were so well-used and the librarians were so popular. I always enjoyed these visits to the libraries, which were so helpful for education. I am pleased to say that in my supervisory position I was able to support constructing a public library in one corner of the university, having its own entrance outside the walls for the children and public, so it was accessible when the university was closed.

Even when the country was still adjusting to the results of the Six-Day War, which limited our work to the local scenes and Gaza, where we supported a school for the blind, I was rewarded by the great help we were able to give — such as loans, verbal support, personal visits and so on.

Today the most important work is the same as at my time: helping others. That means helping them earn a living, helping with medical needs or housing, especially when their house was destroyed or residents evicted. It also means helping, especially, the children, who often go hungry.

My philosophy is ‘helping others’ — be they students, the poor, anyone in need.

That philosophy lies at the heart of CNEWA’s mission, as well. We’re proud to have shared in that work with Brother Joe and the dedicated people at Bethlehem University. Ad multos annos!

Tags: Palestine Bethlehem Bethlehem University

6 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Children gather to recite morning prayers at a school run by the Sisters of the Destitute in India. To learn more, read ‘My Great Hope Is the Sisters’ in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: John Mathew)

6 January 2017
Greg Kandra

In this image from last month, people flee the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, Iraq. Thousands who are seeking safety are finding shelter in the homes of strangers, sometimes inside Mosul.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)

Russia ‘scaling down’ military presence in Syria (Al Jazeera) Russia’s military says it has begun scaling down its deployment to Syria with its sole aircraft carrier the first to quit the conflict zone. President Vladimir Putin ordered the reduction of forces in Syria on 29 December as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces, which has since dampened down the fighting...

The displaced of Mosul find shelter in the homes of strangers (AFP) The first stop for the thousands of civilians forced to flee their homes in Mosul is often inside their own city, sometimes in the homes of complete strangers...

Egypt’s Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas, mourn bombing victims (The Los Angeles Times) Emad Tawil on Thursday returned to the church where he survived a bombing that killed his wife and daughter last month, determined to celebrate Christmas even as he mourned. St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo is the mother church for Egyptian Copts, who celebrate Christmas on 7 January, based on the ancient Julian calendar. “Every time they bomb a church or attack us, they increase our faith,” said Tawil, 53...

Bishop says Turkish Catholics fearful, but government supportive (CNS) A church leader in Turkey said Catholics are fearful about attending church after recent terrorist attacks, but insisted local Christians can count on government protection. “Although we can move around freely, people are understandably afraid of coming to Mass and there’s been a drop in participation,” said Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul...

Young Lebanon refugees rap about their plight (The Daily Star) Calling themselves “The Homsies,” a group of Syrian teenagers in north Lebanon’s Akkar are using their musical talents to send a message of peace — and at the same time to help improve the lives of refugees. “If there is one thing everyone does, it’s listen to music. So this is a powerful tool to convey a message,” Qotiba, a 14-year-old from near the Syrian city of Homs, told The Daily Star. His song, “Al-Qusair — Spring of Freedom,” is a powerful and poetic expression of his longing for his hometown. “Syria is being destroyed and everyone should know that this is happening and that we want peace,” he said...

5 January 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro

A woman sings and plays piano in the Harmony Center in Tbilisi, Georgia. Founded by Caritas about a decade ago, the center serves as a caring and stimulating environment for seniors in need, and offers a variety of services and activities. The latest edition of ONE includes a letter from Anahit Mkhoyan, director of Caritas Georgia, describing how she came to lead — and love — CNEWA’s close partner in the Caucasus. (photo: Antonio di Vico)

Tags: Georgia Eastern Europe Caring for the Elderly Caritas

5 January 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrians fill plastic containers with water at a public fountain in Damascus on 3 January. (photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Drinking water a new casualty of Syria’s war (New York Times) For millions of Damascus residents, long-term concerns about the direction of the war in Syria have been replaced by worries about where to get enough water to do the dishes, wash clothes or take a shower. For nearly two weeks, the Syrian capital and its vicinity have been afflicted by a water crisis that has left taps dry, caused long lines at wells and forced people to stretch whatever thin resources they can find. As with most of Syria’s problems, the Damascus water crisis is a symptom of the war. Historically, most of the water for the capital has come from the Barada Valley north of the city, which is controlled by rebels…

In Aleppo, heads of churches pray together for peace (Fides) In Aleppo, at the beginning of the new year, on the occasion of World Day for Peace, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II presided over the prayer for peace in Syria at the Cathedral of St. Ephrem the Syrian. Besides bishops and priests of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Maronite Bishop Joseph Tobji, Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo and the Rev. Ibrahim Nseir of the Arab Evangelical Church also attended. The patriarch, the bishops and all those present prayed together for peace in Syria and an end to violence, and prayed for the return of the two bishops of Aleppo who disappeared in April 2013: Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi and Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim…

Syrians turn for help in Lebanon (CNS) Balancing boxes and bags filled with warm clothes for his family, Malak Elias Mnayeri waited for a taxi in the near-freezing temperatures outside Caritas Lebanon’s center in Zahle, close to the Syrian border. “Today I feel like a real father,” he told Catholic News Service, discussing the necessities he would take to his two children. The Syriac Orthodox family fled from Homs, Syria, four years ago.

“We used to live in dignity,” Mr. Mnayeri said. “I never thought we’d be living like this, always in need.” Through his work as an auto mechanic, Mr. Mnayeri’s family lived comfortably in Homs before the conflict started…

Iraqi civil authorities: Christians return to Basra (Fides) The celebrations for the beginning of the new year 2017 gave civil authorities of the province of Basra an opportunity to deliver positive messages toward Christians. In particular, the president of the provincial council in Basra, Khalaf Abdul al Samad, during his visit to an Armenian church in Basra expressed his intention to offer consistent support for the restructuring and recovery activities in the churches and help Christians return…

Christmas attacks confirm threats facing Christians in India (Crux) Four separate incidents of violence and intimidation around Christmas time illustrates that India’s powerful militant Hindu national movements continue to make life increasingly difficult for the country’s Christian minority…

Why are Yazidis being uprooted again? (Al Monitor) The Yazidi refugees who fled massacres at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq are now being forced to vacate their camp in Turkey — in the dead of winter, on short notice. Although journalists were not allowed in the camp, Al Monitor was able to talk with Yazidis who were going out to shop. Halef Smoki, who has lived in the Diyarbakir camp for more than two years with his five-member family, told Al Monitor the situation there has become miserable since the evacuation order was given. “They were giving us food and looked after us. Now we are told to leave. They tell us, ‘No more meals or water, and soon we will cut your electricity.’ Where are we supposed to go with children in the middle of winter? We no longer have a doctor because they took him away. We are left with nothing. We are under government order. We will do what they say. If we can stay, we will…”

Tags: Syria India Iraq Lebanon Violence against Christians

4 January 2017
Greg Kandra

Kindergarteners sit for a lesson at the St. Paul Service Center in the village of Izbet Chokor in Egypt. This hamlet is home to both Christians and Muslims, who have lived together peacefully for decades. Learn more about how they are Finding Common Ground in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

4 January 2017
Greg Kandra

In the video above, a Chaldean priest from Iraq says Christians have found support in one another amid persecution in the Middle East. Thousands of Iraqis are fleeing Mosul every day as a new phase begins in the battle to retake the city from ISIS. (video: Rome Reports)

Syrian cease-fire crumbles (The Washington Post) A Syrian cease-fire backed by Russia and Turkey is crumbling five days after it began, with government forces pushing offensives around Damascus and rebels threatening to suspend participation in new peace talks. The truce was to have been followed by a meeting between government representatives and mainstream rebel factions in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan...

Over 2,000 Iraqis a day fleeing Mosul (Reuters) More than 2,000 Iraqis a day are fleeing Mosul, several hundred more each day than before U.S.-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from Islamic State, the United Nations said on Wednesday...

Pope issues plea for nonviolence (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is calling for a renewed culture of nonviolence to inform global politics today, saying military responses to conflicts only breed further violence. The Pope’s appeal comes in his annual message for the World Day of Peace, which is marked by the Catholic Church on 1 January...

Sisters of Loreto mark 175 years on mission in South Asia (Fides) The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which brings together the religious better known as “Sisters of Loreto,” celebrates 175 years of missionary presence in South Asia. “With immense gratitude to God we celebrate the arrival in India of the first sisters, who 175 years ago brought the love of God,” Sister Anita M. Braganza, head of the religious Province of South Asia, said to Fides...

Church in Kerala forms support group for transgender people (CNS) The church in India’s Kerala state has formed a group of priests, nuns and laypeople to respond to the pastoral needs of transgender people, reported Formed in Cochin under the aegis of Pro-Life Support, a global social service movement within the church, the ministry is significant as it is one of the few outreach programs for the transgender community by the institutional church in India...

The unique traditions of Ethiopian Christmas ( Christmas in Ethiopia, like most other Christian holidays, is celebrated in its own unique way. Falling on 7 January, the holiday of Genna (also known as Lidet, or “birthday”), does not hold as prominent a place on the Ethiopian calendar as it does in other parts of the world. Easter (Fasika) reigns as the preeminent Christian holiday, but Genna nonetheless remains a major religious and cultural event throughout the country...

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