18 April 2013
It’s not every day you meet real-life heroes. But I’d like to tell you about some I’ve met in my travels.
Please take a moment to watch the video below. See if you don’t agree: what these women are doing is downright heroic! And you can help these heroes help others. Visit this page to find out how. Thank you and God bless you!
26 March 2013
Tags: India CNEWA Ethiopia Sisters
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As we mark the holiest week of the Christian calendar, we can’t help but think about our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East — those living in the land where Jesus walked, in the region that became home to the very first Christians.
The faithful are desperate for a sign of hope. I pray you will be that sign.
Please watch the video below to learn more. Then, visit this page to learn how you can help.
13 February 2013
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Refugees War Violence against Christians
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A Swiss Guard salutes as Pope Benedict XVI leaves his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on 13 February. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Dear CNEWA friends and supporters,
Pope Benedict’s resignation as pontiff has taken us all by surprise: We are not used to such public renunciations of power and status. But through his actions, our Holy Father is once again teaching us about humility and selflessness:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
On Ash Wednesday, the pope told a large crowd of pilgrims that he “decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me … for the good of the church.” For the good of the church. Throughout Benedict’s pontificate, he has worked tirelessly for the people of God. Despite his age, and deteriorating health, our pope has tackled some serious challenges, issues that threaten the future of humanity.
He has been particularly present in CNEWA’s world, traveling to Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, where he pressed for peace and justice. He has called for greater dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews. His love for the Christians of the Middle East prompted a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops to address their concerns. During his visit to Lebanon last September, I was privileged to witness firsthand his message of peace. There, not far from the violence in Syria, he offered loving guidance in an exhortation the significance of which is still not yet fully understood.
My dear friends and CNEWA family, please pray for him, and for his successor as Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Supreme Pontiff and Servant of the Servants of God.
Join me in thanking our Holy Father for his life of loving and gentle service to the church. Consider making a gift in his honor to CNEWA. Together, we build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope.
Msgr. John E. Kozar
13 February 2013
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI CNEWA Msgr. John E. Kozar
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Today we begin the holy observance of Lent. As we enter into this penitential season, I want to share a few thoughts with you. Please take a moment to watch the video below:
Lent is a wonderful opportunity to renew your body and spirit, and to place yourself in service before the Lord and his church. I pray my words help you on your Lenten journey — and stir you to make a generous gift for the Eastern Catholic churches and their ministry to the poor.
You can offer your Lenten dedication to CNEWA here.
20 November 2012
Tags: CNEWA Poor/Poverty Donors CNEWA Pontifical Mission
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CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar joins other dignitaries in the opening ceremony of the New Delhi event. (photo: Syro-Malabar Catholic Church)
Editor’s note: On Saturday, 17 November, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, addressed a missionary conference in New Delhi, India, organized by Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. His exhortation, “Into the Deep,” praises the Eastern Catholic churches of India for their missionary fervor and their generosity to the universal church.
New Delhi, India, 17 November 2012
Many thanks to you, Your Eminence, Cardinal George Alencherry, for your kind invitation to join you at this very festive celebration. It is an honor for me, as a Latin-rite priest, to address all of you and to share with you my thoughts about your missionary charism and the bright missionary future the Syro-Malabar Church shares with the church universal and the world.
It is also a special honor to be welcomed into this new diocese where my friend Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara is the newly installed shepherd. I fondly remember his presence in New York when he served at the United Nations as the secretary of the Holy See delegation there. Many hearty congratulations to you, Archbishop Kuriakose, and to the wonderful faithful of your diocese.
Let me tell you a little bit about me to better situate my sharing with you.
In various interviews with the media, I have been asked: “How would you describe your role as President of CNEWA?” My answer is always, “I am just a parish priest on loan to the world.” I then add that my priesthood is intimately linked to being a missionary.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I always wanted to pursue the priesthood. My heroes were visiting Maryknoll missionaries who gave presentations in our school. My ultimate hero was a Maryknoll bishop who had been imprisoned in China for many years. His suffering — including many instances of torture — and his abiding faith resonated with me in my formative years. I wanted to imitate his spirit.
While in the seminary, I had the great fortune of serving a summer in Juliaca, Peru, working in the Altiplano with an all-indigenous population. It was at high altitude, freezing cold — but the hearts of the poor were warm and welcoming and the missionary needs were great. I got the fever: the missionary fever. This was a life-changing experience. It confirmed for me some important values for my priesthood.
As a deacon in my last months of preparation for priesthood, I had the good fortune to meet Archbishop Fulton Sheen, former national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith — a role that was bestowed on me years later — a television and media star, and the personality who put the missions on the map in America. It was Fulton Sheen who boldly asserted in interventions during Vatican II that everyone is a missionary by baptism. This pronouncement would become the mantra for the Propagation of the Faith. I believe strongly this should be the mantra of the Syro-Malabar Church.
To finish up on my own missionary journey…
I was ordained a diocesan priest in 1971 and was very happy and satisfied in all of my priestly assignments, but the call to reach out as a missionary was strong and would not diminish.
I remained in my home diocese and did not join any mission society, but soon learned the lesson of St. Theresa the Little Flower that I could still be a missionary in prayer and in good works done in solidarity with missions all over the world — and remain at home.
Eventually, I became the diocesan director of Missions and then was given the honor of being national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies — a role that brought me many times to India, mostly in service to the Latin Church.
And now, I am the President of CNEWA — the Catholic Near East Welfare Association — and am learning to breathe with the other lung of the church, its Oriental or Eastern lung.
But I am still a parish priest on loan to the world.
But what has happened to the missionary spirit in my country and in much of Europe? What has happened to the spirit of Pentecost? In large part it has been overwhelmed by anxiety over legal and financial problems, an uncertainty about vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and an unwillingness to share and reach out to the missions in our own want. Without making a sweeping generalization, the flames of the Holy Spirit and the call to be missionary in a time of Pentecost have diminished greatly.
Enter the Syro-Malabar Church. You are a missionary church to the core. You are a church alive in the Holy Spirit. You live the mandate of Pentecost.
Fifty years ago, after centuries of suffering — losing much of your identity as an Eastern church, after breaking the shackles of Latinization — the spirit of St. Thomas broke through and you undertook a bold, risky venture to go where others would not. You set out for Chanda.
Bishop Januarius Paul Palathuruthy, a Carmelite of Mary Immaculate, like the first apostles, like St. Thomas, offered himself and the Syro-Malabar Church as a loving representation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His simple, but very measured “seven step” catechetical approach resonated with the poor. He began by teaching a simple signing of the Cross. Then came the image of Christ, who died for all, then the Bible and so on.
His abiding presence, his missionary heart, his patient endurance and especially the grace of God have brought about this miracle of evangelization in India. With a small group of migrated Catholics, the seeds of faith were planted and produced the fruits of 25,000 souls.
This has been a true Pentecost event in your history. Why did Bishop Januarius and the Syro-Malabar Church have such a miraculous harvest? You shared in your want, you served, you fed the poor and you healed the sick. All of this was accomplished through a very healthy partnership between the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church and its religious congregations — in the case of Chanda, especially with the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. It is not an atmosphere of competition, but one of fraternal collaboration.
Congratulations on this 50th Anniversary of this important chapter in your missionary history.
As you have set this missionary course these past 50 years, there continue to be many challenges, some sufferings, hardship and sacrifices that won’t go away — but there are blessings in abundance.
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life continue to flourish. The call to be missionary is exciting to many and is readily accepted by young people. Priesthood is not perceived primarily as a ceremonial vocation, but one of service, surrounded by a willingness to reach out “into the deep.”
I think of the marvelous example and call to serve as given by Archbishop Mar Joseph Kundukulam of the Archdiocese of Trichur. His legacy of countless social service and helping programs gave hope to the poor and disenfranchised. Having visited Trichur, I am inspired by his spirit, still alive and carried forward by Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, a dear friend who has honored me with a recent visit; Cardinal Alencherry, your major archbishop; and our dear brother, Cardinal-elect Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church.
I am also inspired greatly by Mar Joseph’s legacy in founding the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, who do heroic work with God’s special “little ones.” Their missionary hearts, their selfless giving is a towering beacon of service in the name of Jesus.
Their light is a beacon for vocations in your church.
There are countless religious sisters who are the “foot soldiers” of the Syro-Malabar Church. Their loving maternal affection, especially for children, gives the reassurance, the security and hope of Christ. They are catechists, formation directors, “adoptive mothers,” nurses and care givers; they are Christ.
Let me tell you about a little girl I met a few years ago here in India…
This 8-year-old girl came from an aboriginal area and was living at a hostel with some religious sisters — the only opportunity for her to receive an education. While there, she learned many hymns and songs of praise to Jesus and enjoyed learning about Jesus and his mother from the sisters.
While at home during school recess she was set upon by a group of fundamentalists, who accused her of proselytizing as she was heard to be singing songs to this Jesus. Her life was threatened and she was rescued, narrowly escaping bodily harm or even death for herself and her family.
I asked her: “Were you afraid when they threatened you?” She answered straightforwardly as she looked me in the eye and said, “No, because Jesus would watch over me.”
What a testimonial in faith from a little one not yet baptized, but led to Christ by the gentle and loving hearts of the sisters. And others want to follow in their footsteps; the Syro-Malabar Church continues to be blessed with many women choosing to be religious.
Your dynamic missionary spirit resonates at home and abroad, as it must. There is a real Pentecost spirit at work all over India.
I have been privileged to participate in a popular mission, presented by the Vincentian Fathers in Chenganassery. My hearing was a little impaired after four hours of high decibel shouting, giving praise, singing, testimonies, etc., but the fervor of the thousands of people present was dramatic and the whole thrust was missionary. It reiterated the mandate of Pentecost: “Go tell others what you know, he is risen! Alleluia!”
You present the missionary challenge very clearly to your people:
The John Paul II Peace Center, which is dedicated to the care of people of every age with severe physical and mental challenges, is part of the Paul VI Mercy Home, a complex of social service modules owned and operated by the Archeparchy of Trichur. (photo: John Kozar)
- You do not apologize for our faith, as Pope Benedict reminded us in his recent exhortation to the church in the Middle East. You celebrate your faith through our life in Jesus.
- You are not anonymous, you are followers of Christ, but you do not boast.
- You welcome and offer unconditional service to everyone, just as Christ reached out to all. In the West, we have largely separated our faith from our good works.
- You especially reach out to the poor, the lonely, the Dalit.
Ad Gentes — To the peoples of the world
First of all, in the vast mission territories of India, your missionary witness and presence is alive and well.
I am amazed and inspired that 24 Syro-Malabar bishops are serving in Latin dioceses in India, often with no recognition and little appreciation. This is an untold story, one that I personally share with audiences, especially in my own country. Almost 40 percent of diocesan priests serving in Latin dioceses in India are Syro-Malabar priests. And more than 60 percent of religious priests serving in Latin dioceses are Syro-Malabar.
The missionary outreach of the Syro-Malabar Church extends to every continent, to 36 countries. Three thousand religious sisters of the Syro Malabar Church serve outside of India, as do more than 1,200 priests, including 205 in my own country.
In some areas of the world, despite large numbers of Syro-Malabar faithful, you do not yet enjoy juridical status, but you do not retrench or retreat. You maintain your Christ-like service and missionary presence. You continue the legacy of St. Thomas. God continues to reward you with growth and vitality in your church and the refreshment of vocations.
In New York, I must comment on the missionary spirit of Father Jos Kandathikudy, Pastor of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church in the Bronx. At a recent celebration honoring the tenth anniversary of the parish, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and I, both privileged to join in this celebration, were overwhelmed by the dynamism of this young mission-minded parish and the Christ-like service of dear Father Jos. His missionary heart, as representative of the Syro-Malabar tradition, serves as a beacon to all of us in New York: Celebrate Pentecost, be happy, be faithful and respond to Christ. Go out into the deep.
We have just initiated a Year of Faith. Our Holy Father invites us to enter the “door of faith,” a life of communion with God, the journey of a lifetime.
He invites us, as Christ has called us, to leave everything behind to follow him, to be missionary.
In this call to be missionary, our Holy Father reminds us that faith without charity bears no fruit and charity without faith brings doubt. Charity and faith require each other. These are our walking orders to be effective missionaries.
We just concluded the Synod on New Evangelization, in which some of you participated. As Cardinal Alencherry has personally shared with me, perhaps there is nothing new about evangelization: just some humility needed to admit we have not done well the first time around or in evangelizing since Vatican II.
This reminds me of a commercial 15 to 20 years ago for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. As you have probably tasted them, Corn Flakes is the father of breakfast cereals, the simplest, most basic, probably the healthiest — no sugar coating, no chocolate covering, no nuts or yogurt flavoring — just simple corn flakes.
The commercial promoted the cereal with the motto: “Corn Flakes, try them again, for the first time.”
Maybe some have forgotten how good and tasty they are, how simple they are, how unadulterated. Maybe some have never even tried them. So: Try them again, for the first time.
Your church encourages all to experience the power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. To those maybe in my country, in Europe or in foreign lands, your invitation as missionaries in this new evangelization to try the faith again for the first time is warm and inviting. Go and tell others: He is risen, Alleluia!
And to those who have never known this Jesus of Nazareth, the Syro-Malabar Church offers this bread of life to the hungry, the poor, the alienated and the forgotten.
There are many celebrations of interest today:
- 50th Anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II.
- 50th Anniversary of setting the missionary course in Chanda.
- The anniversary marking the beginning of reclaiming and re-discovering your roots and your identity as an Eastern church.
- The beginning of a Year of Faith.
- The closing of the Synod on New Evangelization.
- The closing of a Syro-Malabar Year of Mission, which gathers us here these days.
But more than anything else, this celebration is about Pentecost. Despite sufferings, sacrifices, disappointments, you maintain the countenance of Christ.
Thank you, brothers and sisters of the Syro-Malabar Church. You challenge the church universal to be as Christ, the supreme missionary, and as Mary, his mother, the missionary to the Apostles. You enkindle the spirit of St. Thomas, your father in faith.
Pentecost is alive. The Holy Spirit is burning in your hearts.
Cardinal Alencherry, dear bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters and loving lay people — we who breathe from the other lung of the church, we love you and we need you.
Go tell the others: He is risen, Alleluia!
17 September 2012
Tags: India Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Msgr. John E. Kozar Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Christians
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A crowd of at least 350,000 people is seen in an aerial view as Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass in Beirut on 16 September. (photo: CNS/pool via Reuters)
Yesterday, in the presence of some 300,000 people from all over the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI formally ended his historic visit to Lebanon with a Mass. The main purpose of the trip was to bring to a conclusion the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which began in 2010. He drew that synod to a close when he signed and delivered his Apostolic Exhortation on Friday at the Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa. But Sunday was really the high point of the pope’s pastoral visit and it fleshed out so much of what this trip was all about.
The importance of this Mass was obvious to the government as well: security was tight and traffic, controlled. As Issam and I traveled to the outdoor venue, we passed thousands of soldiers and many more thousands of police, auxiliary traffic and safety personnel and many thousands of most helpful ushers, guides and crowd control volunteers. To put it mildly, Lebanon did itself extremely proud with the amazing organization and planning that was evidenced each day — especially Sunday.
The site chosen for this Mass was itself an amazing story, as it had previously been a garbage dump that was transformed into a flattened landfill alongside the Mediterranean Sea, offering a perfect setting for this liturgy: the sea to the west and the skyline of a growing downtown Beirut to the east and south. The government, Maronite Patriarch Bechara told me, had paid for this transformation, including the newly completed asphalting of the huge gathering area. And there was a magnificent altar built large enough for all the bishops, clergy and special guests.
The sanctuary was beautifully adorned with flora, Arabic art forms and, in a special way, some cedars of Lebanon. Additionally, there were giant television screens that were place hundreds of yards out into the crowds and elevated speakers all around so everyone could be a part of the action.
When Pope Benedict XVI arrived, he was transferred into the popemobile and began circulating and weaving through the throng to emotional cheers and chants. He had come to be with everyone and even a glimpse of him from far away made the long journey and the blazing sun worth it. The congregation loved the pope!
When he finally came to a stop in front of the altar and popped into open view, the throng went crazy; this is the pope in our presence. The Catholic Church is alive and well in Lebanon and in the Middle East.
I was given a most privileged seat right with the bishops and the Orthodox patriarchs and bishops in full view of His Holiness. I also was able to take some great photos. But, to be honest, photos and video did not do justice to this event. As they often say: “You had to be there.”
This liturgy reminded us so completely that this is the unity and oneness that we all want in our church and in our world. Pope Benedict XVI was the celebrant and in a way we were all his concelebrants — celebrating the love that Jesus has for each of us.
In his homily he returned to the oft-mentioned challenge not to be afraid, but to be faithful to the calling of our Christian heritage. He invited especially the young to be vigilant against the culture of drugs, alcohol and violence. He mentioned Syria again and invited everyone to work and pray for peace. He stated very strongly that we Christians in this part of the world do not ask for any special privileges, but the basic right to believe and to freely practice our faith.
I was overwhelmed by the universal character of this Mass: There were Latin hierarchs dressed rather uniformly, Eastern Catholic patriarchs and bishops dressed each in their very colorful and distinctive liturgical robes, Orthodox brother bishops celebrating with us, representatives of government, and most of all, the faithful, mostly Lebanese, but many others who had traveled from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, the Arab Peninsula, Turkey, and other countries. There were Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Muslims. For this solemn occasion, we were all brothers and sisters who want peace and mutual respect. And one man brought us together.
For the distribution of Holy Communion, a cadre of several hundred priests, accompanied by attendants holding huge white umbrellas over the priests’ heads, made their way through the crowds. Each communion station was thus very visible and distribution was most orderly.
At the end of Mass, the Holy Father summarized the points he had been making at each event and he thanked the Lebanese for their overwhelming welcome. He seemed genuinely touched during this pastoral visit.
Given the violence reported in the news these past few days, his visit and his message of peace resonated in the hearts and souls of Christians and all people of good will in the Middle East.
During these days, so many commented that they have renewed hope and confidence in the providence of God. But Pope Benedict XVI, this soft-spoken ambassador of peace, invited us in celebrating our Christian heritage to follow the example of Christ and be messengers of peace.
This whole experience in Lebanon and with the Christian family from all over the Middle East has been memorable. I have been richly blessed in being here and honored to share my humble reflections with you each day. Now I return to New York, departing late Monday night.
Thanks for being such an important member of our CNEWA family. So many bishops from all over the Middle East have expressed their profound thanks to you for your generosity and for your prayerful support. They have all promised to place you in their prayers.
The Holy Father is now back at his residence at Castel Gandolfo, and I hope he gets a well-deserved rest. But he’s a busy man, and I wouldn’t make any bets on that.
I write this in the midst of the cedars of Lebanon. God bless each of you. God bless Lebanon. God bless the church in the Middle East, and God bless this man of peace, Pope Benedict XVI.
17 September 2012
Tags: Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Middle East Msgr. John E. Kozar
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Pope Benedict XVI looks on as dancers leave the stage during his meeting with young people in the square outside the Maronite patriarch's residence in Bkerke, Lebanon, 15 September.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Saturday was a dramatic and long day — all shared with the youth of Lebanon. What an amazing day it was.
Issam Bishara and I arrived well before all the cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and dignitaries. But the venue was already teeming with young people — thousands of them. Part of the treat in arriving early was to have the opportunity to walk around with my camera and to meet so many of these terrific youth. They were so happy that I came from the United States to be with them and with the pope. Many of them wanted to be photographed with me, and I also enjoyed getting photo shots of many of them with their smiling faces and their spirit of joy and high energy in welcoming the pope.
The setting was itself exciting, located in front of the Maronite patriarchate in a large plaza next to a lovely new open-air chapel used for special ceremonies. The patriarch told me there were 13,000 rented chairs, but there were many more people than that present for this epic event.
Eight musical choirs and singing groups entertained and prepared the crowd for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. Everyone wore a cap with the papal insignia in the blistering sun. And many wore t-shirts with “Benoit 16” printed on the back — French is perhaps the most widely used Western language among Lebanese Christians.
After “warming up the audience” for more than four hours (and no one seemed to complain), the Holy Father arrived to a thunderous welcome as he approached the stage in his “popemobile.” The place went wild and he seemed to love every minute of it.
He was met by the president of the republic, who chose to sit down below the stage with the people, even though a special chair was reserved for him in front of the patriarchs; a nice touch for a man who seems very well thought of by the citizens of Lebanon. He himself is a Maronite Catholic, so this was on his “home turf.”
Speaking of patriarchs, they were all there with beaming smiles. Seeing them side by side, with the major Orthodox hierarchs immediately behind, it really presented a remarkable display of unity occasioned by the visit of this messenger of peace, Pope Benedict XVI.
Prior to the pope addressing all the youth assembled, we heard from two young people. One young man gave an impassioned plea to the Holy Father to bring unity to the church. He even offered a practical suggestion to the pope: “Holy Father, as a first step could you please consider having all the churches celebrate Easter on the same date?” He promised for all the youth present and all the Catholic youth of Lebanon that they would work hard to bring peace and unity to the world.
The pope seemed to be touched by his remarks and gave him a hug and held his hand and spoke to him for a minute or so, which is very unusual.
And how about the pope’s remarks? Well, he gave a very heartfelt talk to the young people reminding them how they are the future of Lebanon and how their efforts toward peace can have great impact for the entire Middle East. He encouraged the young not to be afraid. He also mentioned Syria and said: “The pope has not forgotten our brothers and sisters in Syria. They are in our hearts and are with us here.” We must pray for them and for the Syrian people. He also mentioned working with our Muslim brothers and sisters to make the world a better place. This seemed most timely as there were some ugly acts of violence and destruction on Friday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
An especially beautiful performance followed: A group of about 20 youngsters, all hearing- and speech-challenged kids, did a most expressive dance, using the reverberating beat felt on the stage floor to synchronize their delicate moves. Everyone, including the pope himself, was in awe of these beautiful young people.
I was very fortunate to be given better a better than I deserved, among a group of bishops. Seated next to me was Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop George Bakhouny from Tyre in southern Lebanon. He had hosted me during my previous visit last December and had himself visited us in our CNEWA office in May of this year. We had much to talk about and he introduced me to many bishops, especially Melkite and Maronite bishops. I also enjoyed some conversations with a number of patriarchs I had met and some Orthodox bishops.
To close the program, a famous Lebanese singer brought the crowd to their feet in a rendition of one of her classic hits. She seemed to be so honored to sing for the Holy Father, and the crowd was thrilled that she had been asked to do so.
It was an exhausting day, but one filled with so much joy and hope. And of course, the call to be peacemakers resounded at every turn.
On the way out of the venue, Issam and I had a huge challenge of navigating the crowd of thousands, all trying to fit into a rather narrow exit conduit. Two young girls insisted on being my “bodyguards,” and kept trying to open up the crowds for us, even though we were not in a hurry.
The church in Lebanon is very dynamic, and God rewards it with vocations and very committed youth. We need to pray for them, as they do for us, for we are loved as special friends — CNEWA was on the lips of many bishops and patriarchs. Thanks to all of you for allowing our good works to make a difference in this part of the world.
14 September 2012
Tags: Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Msgr. John E. Kozar Patriarchs
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Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, left, addresses Pope Benedict XVI and other church prelates at St. Paul’s Basilica in Harissa, Lebanon, 14 September. During the ceremony at the basilica, the pope signed the document summarizing the conclusion of the 2010 Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Today is the day that millions of people in Lebanon and the Middle East have been waiting for: The arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. He was scheduled to touch down at 1:45 in the afternoon and the excitement was building. Earlier this morning, there were already many military officials on the highway and at most of the intersections, getting in place for traffic control for the transfers of the pope from the airport to his residence at the nunciature perched high on a hill above Beirut.
I took advantage of the free morning to visit with Issam and CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission staff. We had a wonderful two-hour exchange that afforded me a great opportunity to share with them some of what I have experienced in my first year at the helm of CNEWA. They listened intently and offered some great insights and questions.
Since it is a very special time in Lebanon, I invited the staff to join me for lunch at a nearby restaurant — in honor of Pope Benedict XVI. We walked up the street to a nearby lunch place and enjoyed a meal together and continued with our sharing and telling of stories.
But we enjoyed a real bonus: While we were eating, the pope arrived at the airport and it was being broadcast live on a big screen television (in Arabic) on several local television stations. What a treat to eat and watch as his plane inched its way to the specially constructed reviewing stand. There, he was met by the president of Lebanon and his wife, the parliament’s speaker and his wife and the prime minister. And of course, the first to welcome the bishop of Rome to Lebanon was his own representative to this country, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia.
There were plenty of dignitaries representing all the major faiths and all the political parties and office holders. And there were plenty of excited and vocal youth with their colorful yellow and white matching outfits and hats.
The pope made his way along a parade route to his temporary residence high atop a hill overlooking Beirut, passing multitudes of waving and welcoming crowds. There were Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, Muslims, Druze — it seemed like everyone was on the streets to greet Benedict XVI.
The first major event took place this evening at 6, the formal signing of the Apostolic Exhortation on the Middle East. Issam and I were privileged to be invited to this grand event, which took place at St. Paul Basilica, which is staffed by the Melkite Greek Catholic Paulist Fathers. The Byzantine-style church offered a beautiful and solemn setting for this formal signing of the exhortation. The Holy Father entered amidst a very strong welcome of applause and shouts in Italian of “Viva il Papa”!
He was surrounded by all the Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East, as well as the major archbishops of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches. Though based in southern India, these two churches of St. Thomas have large numbers of Catholics in the Persian Gulf, and their pastoral needs are considerable. Also prominent were leaders of the Orthodox churches and Druze, Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders. Also near to the pope were about two-hundred bishops from a number of countries in the Middle East. Yours truly was honored to be here representing all of you for this historic gathering with the Holy Father.
Introducing the Holy Father with a very energetic welcome was His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregory III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. This beautiful church did justice to the solemn occasion as it is adorned with gorgeous mosaics with stunning detail and vivid colors.
Issam informed me that 31 years ago he was married at this lovely basilica, even though then it was not yet finished and lacked the luster of these priceless mosaics. So, this was indeed a special setting for him to join the Holy Father.
The pope did not speak long, but he invited those present, especially the church leaders, to put everything into the context of faith in God. More than his words and more than the document was the visible sign of unity by being in the presence of Peter. The vicar of Christ calls all of us to be one with Jesus and to share that love with all others. God is love, as we were reminded.
Given some of the violence during the past few days in Syria, Libya, Egypt and other neighboring countries, his call carries more meaning than ever. And the Catholic Church has much to contribute to the good of humanity. We do not need to think of ourselves as minorities against majorities, but as peacemakers who have much to contribute.
Joining the pope were some friends and great collaborators of CNEWA: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern churches, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem (who will be visiting us at CNEWA in New York next week) and some other bishops in the region. I had the opportunity to chat with them and Patriarch Gregory after the festivities.
Security is really tight and multilayered. Issam and I have been given the highest level of clearance, but there are still many checkpoints. The Lebanese are doing a wonderful job in all the planning and executing for this visit.
Tomorrow will be a super day for youth. We will gather in the early afternoon for a program by youth and then the pope will join us for the “Big Show” at 6. There will be dramatic music, lighting and lasers, filling the sky and many surprises I am sure — I can’t wait for tomorrow.
You are in my prayers, and I tell everyone that you send your love and good wishes to them and pray with them for the pope and for peace in the Middle East.
God bless Lebanon.
13 September 2012
Tags: Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Middle East Christians Interreligious Msgr. John E. Kozar
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Maronite Patriarch Bechara, left, walks with CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar at the patriarchal seat of the Maronite Catholic Church in Bkerke, Lebanon, 13 September.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Maronite Patriarchate)
I arrived at the Beirut Airport yesterday afternoon, where I was warmly welcomed by Issam Bishara, our regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. It was good to see Issam, and good to be back with my Lebanese family.
Along the route from the airport — which included passing through some obviously Hezbollah-friendly neighborhoods — there were many vivid reminders of Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit, which is both pastoral and state, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Many papal flags adorn buildings and hang from poles, while huge banners featuring the pope’s portrait are seen everywhere. Front-page stories feature him, accompanied by glossy photos of the pope and major religious and political leaders. The press seems excited to welcome this messenger of peace.
And even at my hotel, located some 50 meters from our CNEWA offices in Beirut, I am welcomed and immediately asked as they see my Roman collar: “Are you here to be with Pope Benedict?” At breakfast, several waiters struck up a conversation, eager to hear more about this man of peace; they could not contain their excitement about his visit!
Issam had arranged a morning visit to a health dispensary in Rouweissat Ideidet, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. This very humble health care clinic is located in a very poor neighborhood, which is a microcosm of Lebanon — it has every religious and political group living in proximity, but not together.
Sister Hanan Youssef, who directs the dispensary, showed us a simple sign above the entrance of this facility that states: “Religion is for God; this facility is for everyone.” And that is the warm and loving tone set by these sisters, who care for the more than 100 refugees a day. About half of them are Iraqis. The others are mostly Syrians who have fled the violence there. Some of the Iraqis have been routed and victimized twice: once from their original homeland of Iraq after the persecution of Christians began following the 2003 war in Iraq, and now since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, where many took refuge. They come as exhausted strangers and refugees.
I was very touched by the gentle manner of the two sisters there and a cadre of doctors, 16 in total, who work mostly pro bono. Their priority is to determine those in greatest need and assist those with chronic mental or physical needs. There are also social workers, who specialize in mental health concerns. They help sort out the types of psychological trauma that typically affects many displaced people. There is also special care given to pregnant women and newborns and young children, as they are so vulnerable.
There is also a new wave of refugees coming from Syria. Technically, they are in Lebanon illegally. They have no rights and are even afraid to register. They pay outrageously high rents to live in extremely poor conditions and are not on anyone’s radar. So the church offers them a warm welcome and the compassion of Jesus. CNEWA’s national office in Canada has recently offered some financial assistance to this clinic, for which the poor are so humbly thankful.
In the early afternoon, Issam and I had a delightful visit and did an interview with some of the Catholic press corps based in Rome. One of the writers is doing some pieces for Our Sunday Visitor and they were both very interested in learning from Issam some of the background leading up to the pope’s pastoral visit. They were delighted with his knowledge and insight and were very interested in hearing all about how CNEWA partners with the churches in Lebanon and Syria.
We explained to them how our “extended family” offers us the most reliable conduit for assistance — that is, through the local eparchies (dioceses) and then through local parishes. Issam shared with them how parish priests in Syria, for example, are in the best position to know who are those most in need and how to reach out to help them.
I have just returned from a family visit with the head of the Maronite Catholic Church, Patriarch Bechara. He had invited us to join him and a few archbishops for a delightful dinner. But what a surprise greeted us as we arrived at the patriarchate: hundreds of young people working into the night on construction, sound systems, lighting and rehearsals for the big youth event with the Holy Father on Saturday.
Before visiting with some of these wonderful young people, we enjoyed a meal with His Beatitude. He was in rare form. I told him I was surprised by the scale of the setting for this youth event in his front yard. He said it was like New York, and then let out a hearty laugh.
After dinner, we went outside to get the flavor of excitement from the hundreds of young people working hard in preparation for the pope’s visit. I took some photos, and they were honored and were so happy to greet me, especially when they heard I was from New York. Always, the patriarch proudly introduced me as the president of CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission. He holds all of you — members of this family — in highest esteem and is so grateful for your solidarity and generosity.
Before saying goodnight, I gave him a big hug and thanked him for such a warm welcome. I assured him, too, of the prayers of our entire CNEWA family that all will go well over the next three days. As president of the episcopal conference in Lebanon and head of the largest Catholic Eastern church in the Middle East, he is the chair of the organizing committee. It is through the kindness of his invitation that I am here, representing all of you.
I will close for now on the eve of this historic visit by Pope Benedict XVI. Please keep him in your prayers and pray for all in the Middle East. May our Holy Father inspire us to be effective peacemakers and may the Holy Spirit guide us always.
God bless all of you for your generosity to those in need in this part of the world.
26 April 2012
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Msgr. John E. Kozar
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In this photo, taken in 2003, Sister Margaret Abraha comforts an AIDS orphan. The Daughters of Charity bring health awareness to poor families. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
We departed early yesterday morning for the Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology, located just at the edge of the growing metropolis of Addis Ababa. We left early to beat the traffic, but we did not do too well in this regard. There is always traffic in this capital of nearly four million people, as the city is growing at an amazing rate. There is construction everywhere as old buildings are leveled and quickly replaced with modern structures of glass and steel and concrete. The road system is not equipped to handle the congestion, let alone the many disruptions due to closed roadways and construction equipment. But we made our way, despite some closed roads and with the kindness of some construction workers and roadway workers along the way.
Greeting us at the institute was Abba Daniel Assefa, O.F.M. Cap., the rector. Abba Daniel is known throughout the country for his leadership and his scholarship. His credentials, especially in Scripture, are most impressive, as is his humility.
This seminary serves most of Ethiopia and also enrolls students from five religious congregations; in recent times, this includes religious sisters. The institute does not house its students; seminarians and religious return to their respective residences after class, where they study and meet regularly with their spiritual directors. There are five seminary residences in all, and most of them are in the city proper and have seminarians from multiple jurisdictions in each one.
Abba Daniel strives very hard to elevate the quality of education and scholarship at this seminary. Not only is he a respected Scripture scholar, but he is also an authority on early Christian history and tradition in Ethiopia. He works closely with Ethiopian Orthodox scholars and other Catholic scholars, in Ethiopia and outside the country, to discover and preserve this great heritage.
We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the facility, which is owned by the Capuchin Fathers. The buildings are beautifully laid out and the grounds are spacious, quiet and peaceful. You can feel the presence of St. Francis.
One of Abba Daniel’s many outreach initiatives is a program for the laity to study Scripture and theology. During night classes and through correspondence-style courses, the friar inspires, engages and encourages lay leaders to become more familiar with their Christian heritage and faith.
The seminary educates about 130 seminarians and some ten religious sisters. One of the sister graduates has recently completed her doctoral degree in patristics and is now on the faculty at the seminary. It was at the urging of Abba Daniel that her religious superiors allowed her to pursue further studies and a place on the faculty.
A pleasant part of our visit introduced us to a New York archdiocesan priest who is on loan teaching moral theology here. Father Donald Haggerty has been on the faculty since last October. He formally taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, the heart of the Archdiocese of New York. It was a delight for both of us to engage in a friendly visit, bringing together two New Yorkers.
After leaving the seminary, and again through the kindness of some highway construction workers, we proceeded to drop in at the Asco School. This very new and brightly designed school facility educates about 900 children. Currently it runs from grades one to nine and plans to add another year of curriculum next year. The school is operated by the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools, who have an excellent reputation throughout the country. In fact, these Christian Brothers operate many of the finest schools in the country.
Unfortunately, because of serious delays in getting there, we did not have the opportunity to meet with the director or the community’s provincial. We left word for them about our difficulties in arriving and apologized for any disappointment that resulted. We did have an opportunity to look around the facility and were most impressed at the size and the design of this school.
The Asco School educates about 200 children who are H.I.V. positive and live with the Missionaries Sisters of Charity right next door on an adjoining piece of property. In fact, Blessed Mother Teresa’s sisters own the land on which the school is built. This partnership of the Missionary Sisters of Charity, who care for these children, and the Christian Brothers, who educate them, makes good sense and addresses both needs.
This visit marked the end of my pastoral visit to Ethiopia. Thomas Varghese and I hope to arrive in New York today in the early afternoon.
As always, it has been an honor for me to have your company on this journey of faith. The Ethiopian Catholic people, a very small minority, have been exceptionally warm and welcoming. And so have the many Orthodox believers and Muslims who have welcomed us as part of their family. And you have always been included in the good wishes, welcomes, expressions of gratitude and most importantly the promise of prayers from the poor.
The real jewel of Ethiopia is its people: they may lead simple and poor lives, but they are rich in honesty and faith. In many ways, this has been a retreat of sorts. I thank each and every one of you for your prayerful support and your generosity as members of this one CNEWA family. By sharing what God has given to us with the poor in Ethiopia, we ourselves have been richly blessed.
Next stop: New York. God bless Ethiopia and God bless you.
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Msgr. John E. Kozar Seminarians Ethiopian Catholic Church
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