6 September 2016
Father Palathingal holds a young HIV patient named Christy, who never leaves the priest’s side.
(photo: K.L. Simon)
Several years ago, ONE took readers to a hospice in India offering care to AIDS patients.
That was when many readers first got to know a priest who worked with CNEWA for several years to support many of the unfortunate poor in India: the Rev. Varghese Palathingal.
He is known for his selfless and dedicated service to humanity, especially the marginalized.
His 25 years of service for the less fortunate, the abandoned, H.I.V.-positive patients and the homeless poor are remarkable and truly heroic.
To begin with, Father Palathingal founded the first community care and support center for the H.I.V./AIDS patients in South India, the Mar Kundukulam Memorial Research and Rehabilitation Complex.
He was able to help nearly 2,000 H.I.V.-positive patients, including children. The effort and risks taken by him had a significant impact. He gave peace and shelter to the patients who were about to die or had attempted suicide.
He not only cared for these persons but also provided rehabilitation for those who were regaining their health after treatment.
Father Palathingal educated the innocent children of the H.I.V./AIDS patients, those who were rejected from the regular school academies. He cared for these children in different ways.
First, he introduced prayer as therapy. He found this therapy is very useful for the patients to share their feelings and emotions; it brought them peace.
He also gave tremendous care to those who are mentally handicapped.Since 1987 he has been the Director and Principal of Pope Paul Mercy Home, a residential training center for those living with mental handicaps.
Every year nearly 500 mentally handicapped students get training from this special school without any discrimination. Father Palathingal introduced the practice of teaching these student in a natural, home-like setting. Through such specialized
training, the students were given a chance to improve themselves and be independent.At present, more than 6,000 persons have received training.
He also began new self employment opportunities for these disabled children. More than 500 boys and girls are employed in such fields as horticulture, masonry, gardening, cooking and printing, among others.
Father Palathingal is also a father figure for the destitute who cannot afford even one meal a day and who have no place to stay. Through a Noon Meal Program under a charitable society called Abhayam, started in 1996, he has been able to provide meals for almost 200 needy people every day in and around Thrissur. Now he chairs the organization. Through Abhayam, Father Varghese has been able to feed close to 480,000 hungry children so far.
Through the center for persons living with H.I.V./AIDS, Father Varghese Palathingal has worked to reduce the number of suicides among the patients, prolonging their lifespan. Usually these patients are rejected from the hospitals after first aid treatment.
But thanks to Father Palathingal, more patients are finding healing and hope. As he noted a few years ago:
“Most of them have attempted suicide. But after reaching the hospice, we find all of them yearn for life. They live happily though death awaits them. Our aim and motto is to give them a respectful and peaceful death.”
Read more about his work in Hoping Against Hope from the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.
1 September 2016
Eileen Fay, seen here in 1985, first joined CNEWA in high school. (photo: courtesy Eileen Fay)
For 55 years, one of the most familiar faces and voices at CNEWA has belonged to a diminutive New Yorker by the name of Eileen Fay.
Eileen joined CNEWA in 1961, when she was still attending St. Anthony’s High School in Greenwich Village. She spent a few hours every week after school — filing, typing and answering the phone. Soon, she became a full time employee, and what started as something to do after school grew into a full-fledged career in our New York office — a career that has spanned, incredibly, six popes.
Today, over half a century later, she is still a fixture in the office, working part time as a Donor Relations Representative — serving others as the friendly voice on the other end of the phone, helping to answer questions, provide information and facilitate giving.
Ask her what she has found so satisfying, and her eyes brim with tears.
“It’s the people here that I met,” she says. “It’s the donors who would call and I’d become friendly with. It’s the work that we were doing to help those in distress.”
But the most rewarding part of the job, to her, has been helping people in need.
“The need is so great.” she explains. “It’s just overwhelming, the help that is going overseas. It’s amazing — especially for the children who are suffering over there.”
“This place is in my heart,” she adds. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing. I feel so strongly about Catholic Near East, about the people who work here, the jobs that they do. It gives me a good feeling at the end of the day to feel like I did a good job with our donors. It’s heartwarming, just knowing that you are in touch, talking to another person who’s donating to CNEWA.”
She’s seen a lot of changes over the years. “It was a different world,” she says. “When I first started, it was typewriters and boxes and boxes of work lined up to be done. No computers. You had to make sure everything lined up on the page when you typed.” She laughs. “And it didn’t always line up.”
But what has lined up is her life with the life of CNEWA. And, it seems, it’s been welcome and rewarding intersection. She has now been with the association for more than half of its 90 years — and has no plans to leave any time soon.
“To me, CNEWA means my home. It’s like my second home. I enjoy the work I’m doing, the people I work with, and I just enjoy coming into this building every day.”
Eileen is still working for CNEWA, after 55 years. (photo: courtesy Eileen Fay)
30 August 2016
Father Szulczynski visits with a patient at a clinic in Tbilisi. (photo: Molly Corso)
When she profiled the Rev. Witold Szulczynski a few years ago, writer Molly Corso described him as “probably the only Roman Catholic priest to have ever built a Georgian Orthodox Church.” At the time, Father Szulczynski was doing remarkable work in partnership with CNEWA, through his ministry with Caritas Georgia:
As general director of Caritas Georgia — an international Catholic humanitarian organization — Father Szulczynski has undertaken countless social and economic projects serving Georgia’s needy of all creeds.
Originally from Poland, he has dedicated the last 17 years of his life to Georgia’s poor, Catholic and Orthodox alike. Approximately 80 percent of the country’s 4.7 million people belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church. Only a small fraction are Roman Catholic.
“The Lord is one. On the cross, he gave his life for the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Baptists — for everyone,” explains the priest.
Father Szulczynski and Caritas Georgia have their work cut out for them. More than a third of Georgian’s live below the poverty line.
“Every person that we help, it doesn’t matter whom, is a child of God and that is most important,” says the priest.
However, Father Szulczynski also stresses that his and his agency’s mission is not simply to fill bellies; it is also to elevate souls.
“[A] person — whether a child or a 70-year-old grandmother — needs more than just a piece of bread, or a table and mattress,” he says. “They are human souls and they need something more.”
For Father Szulczynski, building an Orthodox church for Georgia’s needy is essential to helping them bear witness to God’s love.
Growing up in a devoutly Catholic family in Poland, Father Szulczynski remembers receiving the call to priesthood early in life. Surrounded by uncles who were priests, he had plenty of role models.
“I always thought that becoming a priest meant serving the people,” he says. For him, the call was synonymous with helping those in need. As a young man he even defined it as “a symbol of love from the Lord to man.”
Writing in CNEWA’s magazine in 2000, Father Szulczynski noted:
“Those carrying out Christian service should have eyes to see and ears to hear and empathy for human suffering, as well as knowledge of how that suffering can be healed. For Christians, and especially those members of Caritas Georgia, charity is always an available service.”
That spirit inspires us in our work throughout the world. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering in Eastern Europe, visit this giving page to learn how you can help.
25 August 2016
Sister Nahla Francis serves as a nurse at the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan.
(photo: Philip Toscano-Heighton)
Some of the heroes in CNEWA’s world have worked to help heal the world.
Sister Nahla Francis, of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, served as a nurse in Mosul, treating the wounded of the Iraq war from 2002-2004. More recently, she served in Jordan, at Zerqa’s Mother of Mercy Clinic. Nicholas Seeley wrote about the clinic in ONE magazine in 2013 and interviewed Sister Nahla, who spoke about being a bridge between different faiths while also serving as a nurse:
ONE: What’s the most difficult thing about this kind of work?
SNF: When patients ask you to help them in certain things, and you cannot do it. Sometimes they have no money, but they need expensive medicine. We cannot always help them — this is the most difficult thing — or when the doctors tell an expectant mother to take a certain test, and she has no money to do it. It is so painful.
ONE: And what is the best part of a day? What gives you the most satisfaction?
SNF: The best thing? When you see a smile on a patient’s face — when she tells you, “I feel I’m at home here.” You know? So important! Or when women from far away come here, just to receive a shot, or something simple. I will ask them: “Why should you come here? Don’t you have a clinic there?” And they will say: “No, no. Here, I feel relaxed, I feel peaceful.” That is so important for us.
ONE: And you treat people of all different faiths?
SNF: We don’t ask them. Our mission here is for everyone. If you go to a hospital, sometimes they will include “religion” in your file. We don’t have that kind of stuff here — just the name and the age and what we need to know.
ONE: What do you think people in America should know about the situation here?
SNF: I was in America and I know, as a people, they are very kind and sensitive to others. But maybe they need to know we have different cultures. Different thinking, we can say. We are here, living with different faiths, like Muslim, Christian, whatever. But we are here as one family.
ONE: If you could say something to people in America about the situation of refugees, what would you say to them?
SNF: It is a difficult question. I have something in my heart, but I don’t know how to say it, even in Arabic.
[Sister Nahla pauses, then adds:] Let us live in peace, please. Let us live in peace, because we need it.
Indeed, we do. And we are grateful for the heroic efforts of people such as Sister Nahla who are trying to bring healing and peace to a world wounded by war.
23 August 2016
In this image from the late 1920’s, the Rev. Edmund A. Walsh, center, checks the mail at CNEWA's New York offices. (photo: CNEWA archives)
One of CNEWA’s earliest heroes was a man with a remarkable portfolio, the Rev. Edmund A. Walsh., S.J.:
The life of Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., makes great material for a Jesuit recruiter: founder of the Foreign Service School of Georgetown University; head of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia; first president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association; papal negotiator with the Mexican Government; liaison between the Holy See and the Iraqi Government for the foundation of the Jesuit College in Baghdad; and consultant to Chief Justice Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials.
As the first papal-appointed president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Edmund Walsh would secure the new organization’s existence and expand the work of Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle, the founder of the Association’s prototype.
To help launch the new organization, Father Walsh oversaw a one-time nationwide collection in the United States:
The purpose of this collection was emergency relief. “The wish of the Holy Father,” Walsh stated, “is rather to form a permanent society somewhat like the International Red Cross or the American Near East Relief.”
“It will be a centralized Catholic distributing agency,” Walsh continued, “which can materially assist the Holy See to meet the daily increasing demands made on the Holy Father for assistance in humanitarian works … education … social welfare work … as well as distinctly religious and missionary activities.”
In January 1927, Walsh’s drive tallied more than $1 million. “I had no idea myself,” Cardinal Hayes wrote to a colleague, “that we could get such a response.”
Father Walsh also helped secure CNEWA’s financial future, appealing for donations through the Papal Annual — a publication that only appeared once but which helped explain and dramatize the plight of the poor around the world. “Under God,” he concluded his appeal, “the future lies in your hands.”
Over the years, he gained a reputation as a savvy diplomat, a champion of the Russian people, an advocate for the causes of the Near East, and dedicated Jesuit. In 1931, Father Walsh transferred his presidency to New York’s Cardinal Patrick Hayes, who wrote to him, “I wish to thank you with my whole heart for what you have done for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and what you have done for the Church of God.”
Edmund A. Walsh died in 1956, but will long be remembered for his tenacity and vision — and for being a hero of CNEWA.
18 August 2016
Tags: CNEWA Eastern Churches Priests
The Rev. Francis Eluvathingal ministers to Syro-Malabar Catholic migrants in Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Many of the heroes we have met over the years have possessed a missionary zeal — and that is surely true of the Rev. Francis Eluvathingal. Father Eluvathingal is a Syro-Malabar priest whom we met while he was ministering to the Thomas Christians in Mumbai, many of whom have moved there from Kerala. Since 2015, he’s been the “coordinator general for the Syro-Malabar Migrant Faithful in India Outside the Proper Territory” — in short, he helps migrants stay connected to their faith.
When we caught up with him four years ago, he was a man very much on the move:
Rushing to a wedding ceremony outside the city, the priest jumps into the driver’s seat of his hatchback. He swiftly attaches his phone to the center console, fits the accompanying headset in his ears and backs the car out of the narrow driveway of the bishop’s rectory.
…The priest inserts a cassette tape of devotional hymns into the car’s stereo and waits for an opening. He spots one, slams his foot on the accelerator and speeds into the melee. Once on the road, he races through the traffic, passing another driver one moment, only to slam on the brakes at a sudden standstill the next.
“I’m a fast driver,” says the priest. “There are many things to do and very little time to drive.”
The priest’s dynamism mirrors that of his flock, most of whom have ties to the southwest state of Kerala. They or their parents migrated north to Mumbai, where the majority now prospers…
…“Keralites who migrated to Mumbai had very deep faith,” says Father Eluvathingal. “Once they came here and found jobs — on the railways, in government or in banking — and were happy in terms of their stomach, with bread on the table, they immediately began searching to satisfy their spiritual needs.”
Without a church of their own, the first Thomas Christian migrants joined one of the many local Latin Catholic parishes. Since the 16th century, when Portuguese missionaries settled in Mumbai and the neighboring state of Goa, the Latin Catholic Church has been the predominant church in the region.
… “In Kerala, the church is very strong. It has a political voice and strong influence on society,” Father Eluvathingal continues. “But Christian life in Mumbai is different because we’re very much a minority. We’re not even one percent of the population. The voice of our leaders is not heard or respected. At the same time, we have a very strong sense of Christian identity here because there’s a greater sense of unity and belonging. Our faith has a religious role, but also a social role.”
“I am a very happy priest,” he told us in a video interview several years ago. “The faith and the tradition we live is really rich.” He also has a blog and tries to minister to his growing flock online.
“Whatever time I spare from my vocational duties, I take to the internet and try to be active there. People feel helped, feel that the church is here to give solace to them and listen to their problems. And they find God’s hand in all their problems, in his providence. That kind of spiritual satisfaction has been a great joy for me.”
That joy helps to define a true CNEWA hero: one who gives to others with a generous heart and buoyant spirit, full of love for others and love for the Lord.
Watch an interview with him below.
16 August 2016
Tags: Migrants Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Priests
Sister Elizabeth Endrias assists a trainee at the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Anne Vocational Training Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: CNEWA)
One of the hallmarks of our CNEWA heroes is that they often give something beyond price and beyond measure: hope. Among those who do this selflessly are the women of the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Anne in Ethiopia.
Last year, we profiled one of them, a young woman named Sister Elizabeth Endrias. We first met her during our Year of Sisters, She was supervising the Women’s Promotion Center in Ethiopia’s capital, training some of the poorest women and girls in fabric cutting, sewing and embroidery. The purpose: survival.
The sister in charge, Sister Elizabeth Endrias, is 24 years old. But the program she’s developed is intensive. “Training takes from ten months to two years,” she explains. “This year we have thirty trainees in dressmaking and seven in embroidery.”
With resources limited, the school has begun charging a modest fee. For the poorest students, however, money is never a barrier. “In this case we intervene, inquire about their difficulties,” Sister Elizabeth says. “And when we find it necessary to support them, we offer them free education to complete their studies.”
She remembers the day one teenager arrived with her father. “He had the desire to help his daughter in her training. He told me the extent of their poverty but willed to pay.”
The father paid for two months, but grew ill and passed away. “Imagine the challenge facing this 18-year-old girl,” Sister Elizabeth says. “We not only exempted her from fees, but also gave back to her mother the two months payment that her father had paid.”
That young seamstress — her name is Hanna — plans to start a dressmaking business to support her family. “Sister Elizabeth is very special for me,” she says. “She rescued me from losing this opportunity after the death of my father. I am very grateful to her.”
The Congregation of the Daughters of St. Anne also runs clinics in Ethiopia — bringing healing as well as hope to so many in need. To help support these and other heroes like Sister Elizabeth Endrias, visit this page.
11 August 2016
Tags: Ethiopia Sisters Women
Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil was a leading force in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church was a good friend of and advocate for CNEWA in India until his death in 2011.
“All churches, East or West, have equal dignity and the same rights and obligations to preach the Gospel and address injustices” he said in an interview with CNEWA in 2000. Our story about the Syro-Malabar Church noted:
In the true spirit of Christ, a Syro-Malabar army of priests, religious and lay persons offer spiritual sustenance, moral education and social service programs to those in need.
Prior to his appointment as the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Mar Varkey Vithayathil, C.S.s.R., worked in various apostolates for more than 30 years. From his residence in Ernakulam, Kerala, this soft-spoken man explains that, after Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar is the second largest of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches; its influence is great.
...Centered in Ernakulam, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church reaches out to her country’ poor through an extensive social services network. Many of these programs receive direct support from CNEWA.
...Micro-credit programs encourage poor families to save their money; small loans offer women the opportunity to start their own businesses. A house-building program uses direct grants or loans to allow families to obtain basic housing. Health programs, latrine construction, safe drinking water, garbage recycling, biogas generators — which generate cooking gas from farm animal manure — smokeless stoves, organic farming and composting, AIDS awareness, vocational skills training, homes for the aged, orphanages and emergency disaster relief are just some of the many programs and services offered.
A driving force behind all of this for many years was Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil.
Born in Kerala in 1927, he joined the Redemptorists and was ordained a priest in 1954. After studying canon law in Rome, he returned to India to teach.
In, 1996 he became the apostolic administrator of the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church and of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly. In 1997, he was named a major archbishop. In 2001, the pope elevated him to the College of Cardinals.
CNEWA had the opportunity to welcome Mar Varkey Vithayathil, to our New York office in 1998, shortly before he was named a Major Archbishop. In 2001, he became a cardinal.
It was during Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil’s tenure that CNEWA opened its regional office for India in Ernakulam in 2003. Cardinal Vithayathil extended whole-hearted support to our programs and projects.
“Seventy-three percent of the priests and religious working in the Latin dioceses in northern India hail from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church,” Mar Varkey said in his interview in 2000. A large number of Syro-Malabar clergy work in Latin missions throughout India and the world — and the cardinal worked zealously to carry out the Church's ministry wherever possible.
In addition to his work as an archbishop, Mar Varkey was a member of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
As CNEWA marks 90 years of service to the world, we fondly remember the heroic support of our friends and partners in India, especially Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, whose generous spirit still inspires us.
9 August 2016
Selim Sayegh served for many years as the Latin patriarchal vicar of Jordan.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Selim Sayegh was an auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, serving for many years as the Latin patriarchal vicar of Jordan, based in Amman. He worked closely with CNEWA, particularly helping the poor and marginalized, most notably refugees and children.
Before he took mandatory retirement in 2012 at the age of 75, he chatted with us about the country he served:
Jordan is now passing through a difficult political and economic stage and we pray to God that we can overcome it in peace, and that we always proceed toward the best with clear thinking, wisdom and responsibility. We all know that achieving the best is not done by one push on the button or remote control, but it needs a strong will, time, planning, work and lots of sacrifices.
...The state does not consider the Iraqi migrants in Jordan as migrants, but as guests. Lawfully, they are not under the migrant’s laws and regulations. They are living in peace and enjoy security and privileges that cost the Jordanian government millions yearly. The government, for example, supports “bread for all” Jordanians and non-Jordanians. A minority from the Iraqi migrants is rich and does not need any support.
The church helps them in any way possible, especially through the Caritas Jordan and CNEWA/Pontifical Mission.
He also touched on a project close to his heart, the Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, a haven for children who are handicapped or developmentally disabled.
ONE: One of your most important initiatives has been Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman. Where did you get that idea?
Bishop Selim Sayegh: Our Lady of Peace Center addressed two prominent needs of the Church in Jordan. The first need is the service of the handicapped. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem established its schools and charitable institutions in Jordan in the middle of 19th century, but it has no institution or activity to look after the handicapped in Jordan. They are the poorest of the poor and most in need of services and help. I saw that the church should have a place to perform her duty and witness to Christian charity in this field.
The second need is to assist the church youth movements. The Christian youth in Jordan did not have any place for their spiritual retreats, camps, and other activities. In addition to this, Jordan was and still is the only country in the Middle East that welcomes those coming from Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, the nations of Europe and other countries. Many times, convents and organizations related to the Church ask us to arrange a place for their meetings in the Middle East. We all trust that the collaboration between [CNEWA] and Our Lady of Peace Center will last, so that it can continue to serve the handicapped freely to the glory of God. Jesus said: “Let them see your good works, that they will give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Selim Sayegh’s heroic dedication to the suffering and marginalized in Jordan has had an enduring impact — and we have no doubt his own “good works” will “give glory” for years to come.
Below is a video of the bishop, whom we also profiled in 2009 during the Year for Priests.
4 August 2016
Bob Baker, shown here with his wife Dita, has been a generous donor to CNEWA for 16 years. (photo: courtesy, Bob Baker)
Many of the unsung heroes in CNEWA’s world are donors who never seek attention, but make an extraordinary difference in the lives of others through their generosity. They are people like Bob Baker.
The San Diego Union Tribune profiled him a few months ago:
Sixty-three years ago, Bob Baker was a young Army corporal stationed at Outpost Harry during the Korean War when he embarked on what his commanders warned would be a suicide mission. When he ended up in the middle of a minefield during the night patrol for Chinese soldiers, he was glad that he made a deal with God. If he was able to come back alive, he would he would do whatever he was able to do.
“I told Him, if He spared me that night, I would go home, get married, have six children, become a success and do whatever he wanted me to do,” Baker said.
Bob Baker believes that God had a special plan for him, a plan that has guided him on his journey to helping others. Blessed with a beautiful family and the success of his business, the Bob Baker Auto Group, he has given back by generously supporting the Catholic Church, his community, plus programs for military veterans and the homeless.
He has also been a loyal friend of CNEWA for 16 years. Our development director, Norma Intriago, met him recently and recalls:
“Bob told us that, at one point, he wanted to become a priest but was told that because he came from a divorced family, he could not. Now he realizes that God had a different plan for him. He believes that everyone has value, and that God is there if you just listen. Just as God guided his life, his giving, God is there for everyone.”
Bob’s personal connection to CNEWA comes from his Christian Lebanese and Irish Catholic heritage. His paternal grandparents came from Lebanon and belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church. He struggled as a child, and at one point was destitute. So he is especially moved by CNEWA’s childcare initiatives, which assist needy children and orphans.
Faith and family are the pillars in Bob’s life, along with sharing those blessings with others through charity. As he explains, his guiding principle is simply this: “The main thing is to surrender to God and never give up.”
For his spirit of optimism, generosity and selfless giving — a genuinely Christian spirit that has changed countless lives, including many in CNEWA’s world — Bob Baker is truly a CNEWA hero.
Tags: CNEWA Donors