Archive for the ‘CNEWA’ Category

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.


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The Circle Closes

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.

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Day Two

Today we drove from Debre Berhan to Dessie.  We left at 7:00 a.m., and it took five hours.  Because a tunnel on the road was under repair, we had to take a very narrow road up the side of a mountain.  Not fun!

Dessie is a city of 170,000 inhabitants.  It is in a woreda, or administrative district, of 400,000 inhabitants.  The number of school-aged children in the woreda is 50,000.

When I first visited the city three years ago, only one school offered the 11th and 12th grades.  This was a major problem.  There wasn’t enough room for all of the children who wanted to graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

That’s why Bill Doty, working through CNEWA, decided to expand a Catholic high school called Kidane Mehret.  We built three new buildings to house four 11th and 12th grade classrooms, a science lab, a computer room, a library and office for teachers.  Construction started in 2008.  Now the buildings are fully operational and the classrooms are full.

As I mentioned yesterday, Bill is in Ethiopia with me.  This is the first time he has seen the fruits of his charity.

We had an incredible ceremony with all the students, their parents, government officials and the Capuchin priests who run the school.  The Capuchin provincial gave a wonderful speech.  Bill asked the children to raise their hands and pledge to be good students and good citizens and to put their schools to good use.  It was very moving.  Then, he cut an inaugural ribbon and we toured the school.

The visit ended, as it always does when I got to Kidane Mehret, with a soccer game with the kids.  Bill played on one team and I played on the other.  The score was tied 1-1 when we went into overtime.  Bill’s team won.

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So today is my birthday…but I don’t want to say how old I am. I’m in Phoenix today, and I’ll be in California tomorrow. I’m hoping to make some good steps for CNEWA this week. I love having the chance to talk with our donors face-to-face. I wish I could visit everyone and thank them personally for their generosity and love, but I can’t!
Still, I’m excited to be meeting with the ones I can see. Today I have a special treat. I’m meeting with Cecilia, a 96-year-old donor whose parents were among our first donors when CNEWA was first founded. How exciting is that? Her family has been helping us care for those in need since 1926. What a great birthday present for me!
Generally, I’m not that into my birthday. Sometimes, I don’t even celebrate it. I can even be kind of grouchy. But I remember a few years ago, my wife decided to circumvent my potential bad birthday mood and threw me a surprise party! It was so funny, I really had no idea. That was definitely my birthday highlight.
I do wish I was home to celebrate with my family, but I know I’ll be back there soon–then I will have a few weeks at least without traveling!
A person message for my beautiful wife:
This is for you, the best birthday gift I have received. Without you I’d be like a king without a castle; I’d be like a second after many hours passed; I’d be like a candle without the darkness; I’d be like a book without the pages. Beatrice, this is for you who have been the best gift for the past 12 years.

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The story of you!

The third story is about you. Good people like you who give to CNEWA help enable these sisters in India to care for unwanted, helpless people. Without your generous support through CNEWA, they could not save lives. Without your compassion they could not bring the Christian message to life. You are the third hero of my first day’s blog. Thank you!

This is the end of my first day, but the beginning of our amazing experience in this mysterious country. As I feared, I’m having some connectivity issues, but I’ve been taking videos and photos—and they will soon be online for you to experience along with me!

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The second tale is the one of a little girl who does not have a name yet. The Sisters of Christina Center, where she lives, have not had time to give her one. They have been too busy saving her life.

When I got to Christina Center, part of the tour led me to the baby’s room. One of the Indian sisters approached the crib in which the baby was lying. She brought her finger to her mouth—inviting me to be very quiet. I nearly held my breath.  Slowly, as if she was going to reveal a precious treasure, she lowered a bright green mosquito net. And there was a treasure—a tiny baby girl.

The sisters guess the baby is about ten days old, but they can’t be certain. Someone found her when an abandoned blanket on the street started moving.  The baby was underneath.  I can’t imagine giving up this child. Her skin is a beautiful, rich color and her miniature fingers, even in sleep, play with the sheet around her tiny body. But the focus in this moment isn’t on the past or what troubled circumstances brought the child here. The focus is on the future. This unwanted child found a home.

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When I met Thomas, a patient at the Mar Kundukulam Center, he was lying on a very peculiar bed. Each of the four legs was submerged in a shiny, metallic bowl filled with water—on the surface of the water, I saw some brown particles floating, but I couldn’t tell what they were.

Thomas has been on that bed for many months since the spread of a debilitating infection on his right foot and leg—complicated by his HIV-weakened immune system. When he realized that he had visitors, he sat up with great effort and timidly gave us a smile. In his late thirties with a thick black beard, he seemed weak and depressed, but I think our presence brightened his day.

I greeted him, offering a smile, although I realized that it was hard for me to express any joy. My eyes jumped from his face to the right leg he was holding with both hands. It was incredibly swollen and the signs of the infection were making it through the bandages that covered everything but his toes. Only a few months before, he was headed towards death. But the sisters of the Mar Kundukulam Center, build by CNEWA, took him under their care. They have prolonged his life and alleviated some of his suffering. And protected him from different kind of threat, too.

Sister Cecily, one of his caretakers, pointed out the bowls under the legs of his bed. They were her idea—mini-moats to protect Thomas from ants who had been attracted by the smell of his wounds. The ants had been “eating him alive,” said Sister Cecily, until she came up with the solution.

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