Resolving conflicts in the Middle East: a Cristian and a Muslim girl playing chess…

I took this picture at CNEWA library in Amman, Jordan. A Muslim and a Christian girl were peacefully playing together. (Amman, Jordan 4/2010)


Father Guido Gockel and I recently accompanied a group of CNEWA’s benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and I blogged about it on ONE-TO-ONE. If you’ve never seen the Holy Land, take a look:

CNEWA Staff and Benefactors in Jericho

As if modern Magi, we are looking for the birthplace of Jesus, but unlike them we are not following complicated astronomical trajectories. Our comet and guiding star is a Palestinian named Tony and instead of slow camels we are using a much faster and reliable Hyundai minivan. Read more.

Bedouins in Jericho

The Magi Move On

When the Magi reached the grotto of the Nativity, I’m sure they left their camels just outside it. When our group arrived at Bethlehem’s Nativity Square, a Palestinian policeman asked us to move our car quickly. Our guiding star, Tony, could not hover above the grotto or even nearby. Read more.

Experiencing the Real Holy Land

One has to go through the same checkpoints Palestinians have to cross in order to understand why they feel imprisoned in their own land. And when you look in the eyes of Israeli soldiers, you find out that many of them are young men and women perhaps scared of the huge responsibilities given to them. They wear it like a suit many sizes too large, and it shows clearly.Read more.

Hope and Comfort in a Divided City

Early in the morning, after crossing the New Gate and entering the Christian Quarter, after only a few steps on the uneven cobble stones, we saw the emerald-green iron gates of CNEWA’s office in Jerusalem (known locally as the Pontifical Mission). Read more.

A Trip Cut Short

We waited for Father Guido at the Altar of the Crucifixion and at 7 a.m. sharp he arrived, escorted by a Franciscan priest. This altar is cared for by the Franciscans. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and other Eastern churches care for other sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Read more.

Happy to be in school…

Kids in a Catholic Kindergarten in Mekele (Ethiopia 3/2009)

Better to light one candle…

A man prays in a Coptic shrine behind the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I took this picture a few days ago while visiting the Holy Land with a group of benefactors of CNEWA. (Jerusalem, 02/2012)

A New Home

In October, I wrote to the friends and benefactors of CNEWA with a request: Can you help two Catholic leaders in India build new homes for the poorest Catholic families in their dioceses?

I’m truly stunned by the response my letter received. Hundreds of generous contributions flooded into CNEWA’s office here in New York City. My colleagues and I worked our tails off to rush the money to India. Thanks to the loving kindness of good folks like you, our partners can build 44 new homes!

Just now, I received the first update on the progress of this effort. Bishop Anikuzhakiattil from the Eparchy of Idukki writes that he has finished building 30 new homes in his diocese. Eleven extremely grateful families have already moved in.

I’m still waiting for word from Archbishop Cleemis, who is building 14 new homes for families in the Acrheparchy of Trivandrum. Kerala, a heavily Christian region in India where CNEWA works, is vast and mountainous. Most people are subsistence farmers who live in isolated areas. It can be hard to keep in touch with the parish priests who are overseeing this project.

But I’ve been to Kerala and have seen how families live. I can vouch for the difference your generous contributions are making. Most houses are made of mud and clay. Instead of windowpanes, plastic tarps keep out the weather. Of course, the tarps are next to useless when the rainy season comes.

As you can see, the new homes, built with the help of CNEWA supporters like you, are worlds apart from that. They’re not fancy, but they’re well built, safe and dignified. I’m so grateful to everyone who contributed. Be proud of what you accomplished!

This is the story of three people. They lived in different places. They never met one another before. Yet one day, the circle closed and these individuals connected in the strange way that only God allows.

Baghdad, Iraq
17 June 2010
8:00 p.m.

The darkness of night was slowly painting the buildings and streets of Baghdad. The lampposts on the sidewalks were off. There hadn’t been electricity for days.

Da’ad stood by the window and held the youngest of her three daughters. Her right hand played nervously with the cross on her necklace. Her husband, Sami, had asked her several times to remove it.

It’s not safe to show that we are Christians,” he warned.

Da’ad wouldn’t listen. She had always been proud of her faith, and she had no intention of denying it.

The dark ink of night had now taken over. Da’ad felt certain — something terrible had happened to her husband. The factory where he worked closed at 6:30 for security reasons. Sami was an hour and a half late.

Her phone rang at 10:20. As Da’ad listened, tears ran down her face. Then, she told her daughters — get ready to leave. Da’ad grabbed the small amount of cash she kept in a drawer and a photo of Sami.

The next bus for Syria was at 11:00.

Iraqi refugees in Damascus

Damascus, Syria
19 June 2010
8:00 a.m.

Sister Marie was called in a hurry. Four people had just arrived from Iraq. She opened the convent door and saw a woman and three girls with no luggage. The woman held a photo of a man with a beautiful smile. Sister Marie had seen this before.

“He was shot in the back after work,” explained Da’ad, trying not to sob.

“The man who did it was our neighbor. I know his family. They are Muslims, but we’ve had dinner together. The man shot my husband and then called me to say my daughters and I would be next.”

Da’ad looked straight into Sister Marie’s eyes.

Tell me why,” she demanded. “I can’t understand why.”

Sister Marie hugged Da’ad for the longest time. She could only offer the family accommodations for a few days. The convent was already full of refugees. Nor did Sister Maria have money to rent an apartment for them. Since Iraqi refugees began pouring into Damascus, rents have skyrocketed.

The only option was to call the office of CNEWA.

Wichita, Kansas
13 July 2010
3:00 p.m.

Pauline hadn’t opened her mail yet. She’d spent the morning volunteering at the soup kitchen at her parish, as she has done on many mornings since she retired and her husband passed away. When Pauline finally sat down at the kitchen table to sort through what the mailman had left, one envelope captured her attention. It had the familiar red papal seal.

Pauline opened it and read the story of Da’ad, Sister Marie and the apartment they couldn’t afford to rent. Immediately, Pauline opened her checkbook and wrote a generous check for Da’ad and her children. A sentence in the letter convinced her it was the right thing to do: “Whenever you do for the least of brothers, you do it for me.”

This is the work of CNEWA. Connecting people. Closing circles. In a way that only God allows.

*Based on a story of a family from Iraq and a religious sister in Syria. Names have been changed for privacy.

After decades of high emigration, Christians are staying in the Holy Land.  That’s according to CNEWA’s regional director for Israel and Palestine, in a recent interview:

“In recent years I think we have not witnessed any waves of emigration out of the Holy Land,” Sami El-Yousef told EWTN News while on a visit to Rome.


“The youth have a greater affinity to the land than older generations,” said El-Yousef, highlighting research carried out last year on Christian Palestinians’ attitudes on life and the future.

“Emigration is not something that is on their mind.  But they say to us: ‘Give us the tools of survival; help me to get a decent education, decent housing and a job.’ So it’s our job not to disappoint the Christian youth.”

Read the rest of the interview here.  And then give Holy Land Christians “the tools of survival” by clicking here and here.  You don’t need a tool belt to help!