Archive for the ‘India’ Category

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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Looking for the answers…

ROME, 1:30 AM, 18 JAN 2010 — It’s too early to call this day tomorrow, and too late to say that it is still yesterday. Outside, in the eternal city the sky is draped by a dark curtain decorated with bright stars. The darkness of the night, like dense pouring paint, has swallowed the colors—slowly turning everything into black. Except for an alarm, screaming for attention that no one wants to give, there is no other sound. In my room with only a dim light, I’m on my bed in front of a blank and bright white page trying to summarize my experiences in India. In the back of my mind, an incomplete equation looms—the answer out of reach.

Where to begin?

I dig into the jumble of memories from the week. At the moment, all I have is a stack of mental snapshots, so I decide to go though them once again. I close my eyes and pick randomly from this dusty album’s most recent pages.

The boy I remember is in this class. (Photo by J. Rattey of Catholic Digest)

This one is a close-up of the little boy abandoned by his father in front of the door of an orphanage with the promise that he would come back soon. He never returned. The boy is smiling, covering his white teeth with his fragile fingers. His eyes are bright and black like onyx. The background is blurred, but I can see he is surrounded by the sisters who care of him and have dedicated their lives to children like him.

In this one, a young girl wrapped in a light pink sari—a novice’s uniform—is bursting with enthusiasm while talking with Bill about her choice to leave her wealthy family and prosperous future for a life of service in the Congregation of the Holy Family. She will profess next August and can’t wait for that moment! Her hands are gesticulating with passion. Her mouth is where her heart is.

I turn the page and I see an old, cloistered nun who has dedicated her life to silent prayer since she professed 56 years ago. She is seated behind a white grate and looks at the camera through her glasses which slipped almost to the end of the nose. Her dark skin is wrinkled like a used cloth. Her aging body shows signs of weakness. Then I look deeper where no zoom lens can reach. Her faith is more solid than a rock. When she speaks, she speaks softly. It is her silence that is loud.

This next picture makes me smile. Bill, a friend and donor of CNEWA, so far the most serious of the group, unexpectedly shows up on the soccer field with a doti, the typical piece of cloth Indian men wear around their waist, similar to a kilt. He was caught on the camera while kicking the soccer ball, surrounded by ecstatic kids. His outfit is a combination of cultures. He coupled the doti with a bright blue silky soccer jersey. On the back of the shirt I can clearly see his name printed in white: DOTY. Yes, that is his last name!

Oh! I’m glad I found this one. Julie, the Catholic Digest managing editor, is looking intensely at a young girl while holding her notepad on one hand and a pen on the other. This little girl is dancing—a miracle earned by a prosthesis below her knee that a CNEWA donor provided for her. She’s happy, and Julie’s gaze softens to a sweet smile. Her brown, passionate eyes seem to go beyond what she is seeing. Her ears are not listening only to words. She is connecting to a creature of God and shuffling words in her mind, like an expert poker player does with a deck of cards he knows well. She is composing in her mind a story that will connect many to that child. You will be able to read these stories at CatholicDigest.com.

In this one, there is a man leaning on the door of his mud house. His white beard covers the creased bony face only partially. The details are stunning. Each wrinkle on his skin seems to tell a story of his life. He is looking up in the sky hoping that it stops raining soon. Every drop leaking from the gray sky of India washes away a piece of his house. Thomas, our regional director, beside him reassures him. CNEWA will build a new solid home soon.

From the voluminous deck of virtual pictures in the repository of my mind, I pick my last photograph. It’s a picture of you whom I don’t know. You are seated next to me looking at these photos. You are smiling with great satisfaction looking at what your generosity is accomplishing. You and all the other friends of CNEWA made all this possible.

By the time I close this album of memories, I realize that the night has turned into dawn and that tomorrow has arrived. My page is no longer blank. There is also the solution to my equation scribbled at the bottom of my note… the missing variable I need to solve the formula is… YOU.


Read Full Post »

“Malaylam, yes or no?”  The children I’ve met these last few days are constantly asking me that question.  They mean: “Do you speak Malayalam?” — the local language.

These kids live in terrible circumstance.  It’s poverty like I’ve never seen.  They lack for everything — even basics like food and clothing.  So right now, I’m asking the readers of this blog, and all of CNEWA’s friends and benefactors: “Help please, yes or no?”

To support CNEWA’s work in India, please click this link and pick a project that touches your heart:


May God bless and reward you.

Read Full Post »

“I have a confession to make,” I told the almost 400 seminarians at St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary.  They looked at me, curious.  Maybe I had sinned so gravely that I needed absolution from 400 future priests.

I confessed that when I was very young, I was a seminarian, too.  But I left after one day!  You see, my pastor talked me into entering the seminary with promises of a beautiful soccer field, cultivated daily.  I guess being a priest requires more than that.

Years later, I asked my son, who is now nine.  He said no, without hesitation. “Priests have to work on Sundays!” he said

But seriously, I don’t want to be a priest because of the all the challenges!  Once, my pastor told me about a man and his daughter at Mass.  The daughter wasn’t feeling well, so the man sent her to find the bathroom.  But when she returned after only a few minutes, he asked if she couldn’t find it. “It’s not necessary, Dad.  I found a box that said ‘For the Sick.’”

All joking aside, I told the seminarians how delighted I was to see so many young vocations before me.   I brought to them the heartfelt encouragement of CNEWA friends, and I ask the seminarians to write their sponsors.  For that fact is, sponsorship is more than material — it’s also spiritual.

If any sponsors are reading, these young men thank you for everything you do.  They’re passionate about their faith and their studies.  And I bet that when they become priests, they’ll be passionate servants of God and his people.

My time in India is over.  Thanks for coming along!  You can read more about the trip on Julie Ratty’s blog:

Catholic Digest Goes to India

Read Full Post »

Behind Closed Doors

Today, I entered a cloistered convent.  (If my wife is reading this, don’t worry.  I’m not leaving you and becoming a monk.)  Men usually can’t enter such a place.  But I was given the opportunity — because the building is still under construction, and CNEWA donors are building it.

Thomas, our regional director, led us to the carved wood door of the convent.  But when he tried to open the door, he couldn’t.  “There is no handle!” he said, surprised. “How can people get inside?’  The answer is, the door can only be opened by one of the sisters inside.  And once an aspiring sister crosses the threshold, she spends the rest of her life there.

Before we entered, we chatted briefly with the eight sisters who live at the convent. Standing behind a white grate, they told us their stories.  Most have been cloistered for many years, but two were novices.  The novice sisters wore white veils, as opposed to black ones of the sisters who have taken final vows.  Some of the women had worked with the poor and neglected, before dedicating their lives to prayer and worship.

To me, the sisters’ faces looked joyful.  They live a life of silence, but it’s a silence that is loud enough to penetrate the hard heat and thick indifference of the modern world.  The silent prayers of these nuns are surely heard by the God that filled them with so much grace.


Bill took out his cell phone and punched a few keys.  Why did he do that in front of the sisters?  He showed me a text message he had sent to a friend on Thursday.  It said: “Peace, love and joy.”  Only a few minutes earlier, Viji — a 20-year-old novice — had explained the core idea of the Holy Family Sisters using exactly those word.  Bill decided, “I was meant to be here.”

It was amazing to meet these 12 passionate religious women. Their love and sacrifice surpasses anything I have seen.  Bill was right when he told them, “I may be a wealthy person, but your are richer in spirit than I!”

Read Full Post »

“You made history today,” Thomas Varghese, CNEWA’s regional director in India, said to Bill, Julie and me.  Surrounding us were hundreds of children, shaking our hands and patting on our sweaty shoulders.

An hour before, around 3:30 p.m., two soccer teams had lined up on a field near the Sacred Heart Boys Home in Mookanoor.  Bill joined the “orange” team — kids who are orphans and live at the home.  Julie and I joined the “purple” team — kids who go to school at Sacred Heart, but live elsewhere.

Why did we do it?  There was never any question: two hundred youngsters were cheering us on from the sidelines.  When we showed up
at the home, they had greeted us with a marching band.  Now they wanted a game!  Both teams had fans, but the “orange” team was definitely the favorite.

Soccer was exhausting, but fun. Each team scored a goal, and then the referee declared the game over with three long whistle blasts.

Why did we make history? Because it was the first time a journalist, a benefactor of the home, and a CNEWA representative spent so much time with the kids and the staff of Sacred Heart Boys Home.  Maybe it was the warm welcome we received, but it felt like history for us too.

For more on the trip, check out Julie Rattey’s blog:

Catholic Digest Goes to India

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »