Posts Tagged ‘India’

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!


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Today, my post is titled the same way as my blog. Recently, one of my readers and dear friends asked me why I had chosen this title. So I told him a little story…

Do you remember when I was in India?  At one of the schools I visited, the little girls put on a performance of traditional dance. It was so beautiful and I could tell they’d worked so hard. Then I learned that a few months earlier, children at another school had tried to prepare a similar performance for CNEWA staff who were coming to see the school.

Weather delayed the tour, and our staff didn’t arrive until it was very late. The school was deep into a rolling blackout—common in these poor rural villages. They didn’t have power and probably wouldn’t for another three days. The children were so disappointed! How could they welcome their special guests with the dance if no one would be able to see them? But Thomas, my friend and the Regional Director of  CNEWA India, had an idea. He rolled his SUV up to an open space, and flipped on his headlights. It wasn’t as bright it might have been, but it was enough.

The children danced and sang, and in the end, everyone was so proud of each other. Thomas told me how special that night was for him and for the children.

It’s such a good example of what I hope to be doing at Catholic Near East Welfare Association. We’ve all heard the stories. Children are hungry, adults are unemployed, there isn’t enough medicine—and what can we do? None of us by ourselves can make a real difference. But still, I can light my candle. And you can light yours too. And together, you and me and everyone else holding our candles high can really show God’s light to the world.

Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.—Chinese Proverb

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Thanks again for the photos—I hope Supriya likes them!

I’ve just received word that in Supriya’s school, there are 60 children who don’t have sponsors. My heart goes out to these little ones.

I want to introduce you to Kavitha.

Kavitha is  Supriya’s classmate and is just six years old. She loves to paint and dance and sing–what an artist!

Her parents sent her to this school to get a better life than they could give her. Though they work hard as laborers, it’s not enough to meet the family needs.

Kavitha needs a sponsor in order to continue her education.

Now meet Sreekanth.

Sreekanth is a year older than Kavitha and Supriya, and he needs a sponsor too!

When he grows up, he wants to be a doctor and save lives. Will you help him reach his goals?

Like most of his schoolmates, his parents are laborers who work hard. But in this part of India, things are so tough, they can’t support Sreekanth or his brother and sister.

I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m making it my personal mission to ensure that all of these kiddos have a sponsor—and quick! First, I’ll start with Kavitha and Sreekanth.

Can you help me?  I know some of my blog readers already sponsor CNEWA children. That’s wonderful!  Can you sponsor one more?  Or can you tell a friend about them?

I know I’m being bold. But, please, dig deep. I know together we can do this.

Sponsoring through CNEWA is easy. All it takes is $28 a month to provide Kavitha or Sreekanth with food, education, medical care — and put smiles on their faces.

So if you or someone you know wants to put a smile on the face of Sreekanth or Kavitha, please e-mail me directly: smile@cnewa.org.  I’ll help you get started in the sponsorship process.

And in the coming weeks, I’ll introduce you to more boys and girls who need support!

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In the last week, I’ve received dozens of photos from friends all over the world to send to the child in India I sponsor who loves photography and collects pictures.

I can’t send every one, but here’s a highlight reel:

From my friend and fellow photo enthusiast, Greg:

Do you see the buildings nestled in the trees? Gorgeous. This is Mt. Agung with Besakih Hindhust Temple in Bali.

My colleague at CNEWA, Beth, sent me shots from her morning commute through Central Park– looks like a movie set!

Check out the size of this monument in Japan that Cody sent me–that’s a person on those steps!

And the tips of ancient mountains emerging from the Pacific Ocean in Rockaway Beach, Oregon from Michael…

Down the same coast, the sky brightens from grey to blue–this is Kevin’s photo of Half Moon Bay, California.

My friend Hunter sent along this rocky riverbed–a totally different part of the same country:

More forest, with beautiful, bright greens from Mahesh…

Although those evergreens look closer to black against the snow covered mountains in Big Sky, Utah…

And To go full cirlce back to a major US city… The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles comes from Machiko!

I love the symphony, it’s such a relaxing experience. The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays there.

Well, these pictures are ready to go, along with a card. I’ve never bought a birthday card for a little girl before, but I think I did a good job. Here it is:

Well, my letter, your photos, and the letters and photos from our other donors are off, in colorful envelopes, to the other side of the world where they will be received by excited youngsters. Thank you, thank you!

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Supriya is the new little girl I’m sponsoring. She just turned six two weeks ago. I didn’t know—so I’m sending her a late birthday card with the next package to India, which will leave next week.

Supriya has two brothers and a sister. Her parents are trying hard to support all of them, but like many hard-working Indian families, their wages aren’t enough to cover even the basics. My sponsorship program helps by providing Supriya with education, food, and medical care.

Supriya wants to be a doctor when she grows up—so ambitious! I also learned that she loves photography. I love it, too; my camera is one of the most important traveling essentials I have. Do you remember the pictures I took while I was in India?

I wish I had known about Supriya while I was there—maybe I would have been able to meet her. Next time, hopefully, I will.

So here’s what I’m thinking: since Supriya loves photography and collects pictures, why don’t we send her some for her birthday? I am sending her a few photos.

On my commute from Staten Island to Manhattan, I get to ride past the Statue of Liberty. I took this picture with my iPhone!

When I’m in Rome, I love the sight of St. Peters Basilica glowing in the skyline. I love going home to Italy.

But can some of you across the country send me pictures from your cities? You can send them right to me at smile@cnewa.org. Something beautiful, something interesting, something that will show a little girl in India what it’s like to be in the United States…

I’ll send print-outs to Supriya with a special message from all of us. Thank you so much in advance!

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I am excited. This week, my colleagues Sr. Christian and Sarah submitted a grant proposal for such a great program. I am confident their work will be rewarded. The grant would give dozens of poor women a chance at a better life by providing them with essential skills for their careers at the St. Joseph After Care Program in Kerala, India. Over the years, over 80 women have been helped through college this way, and I know that with this grant, we’ll be able to help even more! It’s such a worthy cause, and a wonderful answer to one of the most common questions I get at work.

So many of our sponsors ask us, “What happens to the child I sponsor after they leave the program?”

For many of the children, they grow up to enter seminaries and novitiates and devote their lives to God. For others, they apply the vocational skills they learned in high school to productive, important jobs in agriculture and infrastructure. But some children have career goals that require some extra training. Listen to the story of Simy.

Simy is the youngest of three girls. Her father is an alcoholic and she grew up in fear and neglect. Her oldest sister is now married and her middle sister is a nun. But Simy wanted to study and become a nurse. She is dedicated to helping people the best she can by healing their bodies and nurturing their spirits. Through this program, she has the chance to achieve her dream.

The little girls who go to the St. Joseph orphanage in Kerala are safe and well-taken care of until they are finished with high school. And after that, they have a great chance at a better life. But for the young ladies who end up at St. Joseph After Care, there’s an even greater choice.

Our primary and secondary schools give great building blocks—but some professions require more training. It’s wonderful that so many young women want to grow up to be nurses, teachers and engineers, but their ambition requires more money and training, plus support for a few more years. Please God, we’ll get the grant and enable a generation of women to help themselves, their families, and their countries. Grants, combined with donations from our special donors, help keep this program alive. (This project is number E7108) I know that CNEWA staff and our loving donors, like you, can make this happen!

Cicily, high school graduation, college plans

Cicily turns 18 this year, and she’s at the top of her game. Will she be able to go on to college to pursue a career in nursing?

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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!”

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