17 January 2018
Sister Nigisti Desta. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: Today we begin a periodic series, “Stories from the Field,” first-person accounts of the impact CNEWA’s work is having around the world. Today we hear from Sister Nigisti Desta, who grew up in a CNEWA-supported orphanage in Ethiopia. Our regional director in Addis Ababa, Argaw Fantu, spoke with her recently and she shared with him this moving account of her life.
I was born in Mekele town, in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, in 1984. My mother is Aregash Kahesay. I was the third child born in my family, with four brothers. My father died when I was an infant, so I didn’t know him. Raising five children with no father was the biggest burden for my mother. Thus my mother sent my oldest brother and me to boarding school. My brother went to the boys’ boarding school in Dessie run by the Capuchin Brothers, while I went to the Kobo Orphanage run by Ursuline Sisters.
From grades 1-4, I attended Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Mekele. From 1996 to 2002, being at the orphanage with the sisters, I attended grades 5-12 in Kobo. While at the orphanage, I took not only academic classes, but also religious classes from the sisters. These became the cornerstones of my life. I learned how to do household chores and how to live in a community. What the sisters were doing for us — motherly care, showing love, fulfilling our needs — was very touching. I remember all these things. Sometimes, donations would arrive, and the sisters would use the money to buy shoes and clothes for us. They told us that there are supporters behind the scenes, especially CNEWA.
Over time I had a lot of positive observations on the services delivered by the sisters and the generosity of their hearts. I started pondering in my mind, thinking that “if the sisters dedicate their life and time to serve us orphaned and semi-orphaned children like this, why not me!? Why couldn’t I serve others in the future and be one of the sisters?” This thought grew within me. After completing my secondary education, I discerned my vocation and joined the same congregation.
When I asked the sisters to join their congregation, they accepted me immediately. In 2003, they sent me to Addis Ababa to begin my postulancy studies. I did my postulancy for two years and then spent two years in the novitiate. In 2006, I made my first vows and then was sent to Wolisso St. Luke Hospital and Nursing College to pursue my studies in nursing. I did that for three years. Upon graduating from Nursing College, I was assigned to serve in the clinic of Ursuline Sisters in Addis Ababa at a place called Gurd Shola. I served in this clinic for three years, from 2009 to 2012. While serving at the clinic, I got the opportunity to attend Health Officer Courses at Rift Valley College for four years and I earned my degree. Going forward, currently I am doing my second year medical studies at Hayat Medical College in Addis Ababa. It is a six-year course and, God willing, I will graduate in 2022.
Sister Nigisti Desta is shown receiving her degree from Rift Valley College in 2016. (photo: CNEWA)
With God’s will and guidance, together with the support of generous donors like CNEWA and the maternal care and love of the Ursuline sisters, upon completing my medical studies I would like to serve my congregation — and, in particular, the people of Kobo in the neighborhood where I grew up.
I know there are some girls who didn’t get the kinds of opportunities I have now. They need moral support and, if possible, material assistance to make their dreams real.
I am so grateful to CNEWA and its donors. Without their support, my life today as a religious sister working in health care would not have been possible.
For all your good deeds, may the good Lord reward you! I confidently say that I am the product of CNEWA’s support. Thank you so much. May God bless all of you. I keep you in my prayers.
17 January 2018
A worker clears some ground outside St. Thomas Church, which serves about 150 families in Palakkad, India. To read about A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala, check out the
December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
17 January 2018
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is pictured in a 2016 photo at the Vatican. In an essay just published, the cardinal called on all Christian churches to undergo a conversion to a commitment to Christian unity. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Cardinal: Christians must convert to ecumenism (CNS) To be effective evangelizers, the Catholic Church and other Christian churches must constantly undergo their own conversion to a stronger commitment to Christian unity, said Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s chief ecumenist. “So that the evangelizing task can be carried out in a credible way, the church itself continually needs a self-evangelization that includes conversion to the ecumenical search for Christian unity,” the Swiss cardinal wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano...
Russian Orthodox official calls for return to Julian calendar (Radio Free Europe) A senior Russian Orthodox Church official is calling for Russia to return back to its traditional Julian calendar that was used until February 1918. In a televised interview with church-affliliated Spas TV on 16 January, Aleksandr Shchipkov said the shift to the Gregorian calendar by the Bolsheviks a century ago was a bad idea...
Mediterranean leaders seek help with refugees (AP) The leaders of Cyprus, Greece and Jordan pledged a new partnership Tuesday with tighter cooperation on fighting terrorism, and rallied international support for countries hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Syria...
India asked to establish universities for Christians (UCANews.com) India’s federal commission tasked with safeguarding religious minorities has called for the establishment of government-funded universities primarily for Christians. But not all Christians support the proposal. The National Commission for Minorities in its 13 January annual report said such an initiative would be in keeping with the already existing state-funded Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia University...
Ethiopia: where living treasures thrive among ancient attractions (Business Day) Legends and mythology are as important as hard facts in Ethiopia, and the story goes that these churches were carved in mere days because the angels carried on the work at night after tired mortals put down their axes and chisels. Also on the pilgrim and tourist circuit is Aksum, another world heritage site where historians agree a great civilization was trading as early as 400BC. This is where the Queen of Sheba lived in the 10th century BC and is the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses...
Orthodox charities prepare for ‘Souper Bowl Sunday’ (OCA.org) Sunday, 4 February 2018, has been designated “Souper Bowl of Caring Sunday” by International Orthodox Christian Charities [IOCC]. This year’s 20th annual Souper Bowl Sunday — it’s name reflects the anticipated Super Bowl on the same day — aims at rallying parish youth to champion feeding the poor and caring for those in need around the world...
16 January 2018
Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Georges Bacouni speaks with staff of a local Catholic school outside the Cathedral of Mar Elias in Haifa, Israel. Archbishop Georges recently wrote us a letter, reflecting on leading the church in the place where Christianity was born. This and more can be found in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Corinna Kern)
16 January 2018
Tags: Middle East Christians Holy Land Education Holy Land Christians Church
Iraqi boys from the Shabak community clear the rubble from around their home east of Mosul on 10 January. Read more about Shabaks here. (photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
Minorities in northern Iraq look to future (AINA) Now that victory has been declared against the jihadists, Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities — such as Christians, Yazidis and Shabaks — are taking the future into their own hands…
Caritas Lebanon: The refugee crisis is increasing, citizens increasingly poor (AsiaNews) The Syrian refugee emergency in Lebanon is “becoming increasingly serious” because it involves not only those who have fled the conflict, but “the same local population that is becoming increasingly impoverished,” the Rev. Paul Karam tells AsiaNews. The priest, who is also director of Caritas Lebanon, has been at the forefront of welcoming Syrian families fleeing the war for more than six years, and he is now warning of the danger of a “serious economic, political and social crisis” for the country. “The problem is increasingly widespread, and today we know that at least 28 percent of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line…”
Palestinian leaders reconsider recognition of Israel (Al Jazeera) The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, the second-highest Palestinian decision-making body, has recommended revoking recognition of Israel until the latter recognizes the State of Palestine in its 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital…
Islamists vow to ‘kill more Copts’ in Egypt (Christian Today) Islamist militants in Egypt have vowed to ‘kill more Copts’ after shooting dead a 27-year-old Christian because he had a cross on his wrist. Bassem Herz Attalhah, also known as Haythem Shehata, was on his way home from work in El Arish, capital of North Sinai governorate, on Saturday evening when he was attacked by three armed militants, according to World Watch Monitor…
U.N. condemns twin suicide attacks in Baghdad (U.N. News Center) Strongly condemning two terrorist attacks in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has underscored the organization’s support for the country in its fight against terrorism…
Meeting with the representative of Al Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei in Damascus (Syriac Patriarchate) His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II received His Excellency Sayyed Abu’l Fadl Tabtabaei, representative of Al Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei in Damascus, at the Patriarchate in Bab Touma, Damascus. His Excellency offered Christmas greetings to His Holiness, and the two discussed the historical role of Christians in Syria, Iran and throughout the Middle East…
Armenian parliament recognizes Yazidi genocide (Rudaw) The Armenian parliament voted to formally recognize and condemn the Yezidi genocide committed by ISIS…
12 January 2018
Tags: Syria Iraq Palestine Armenia United Nations
A Daughter of Charity embraces one of the children at St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria, Egypt. Learn more about the remarkable history of these remarkable women, and the work they are doing as Charity’s Daughters in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
The current edition of ONE features a profile of the Daughters of Charity, who have been working Egypt for 170 years:
In 1844, seven Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul sailed from France to Alexandria at the request of Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali. They were well received and given a house in Alexandria. From there, they opened a dispensary, where they started their service.
It was not common at this time in Egypt to see sisters outside of convents, serving the community. The locals called the dispensary Saba Banat (“Seven Daughters”). As the charity work grew, the street itself came to be known by that same name.
St. Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633 with the help of St. Louise de Marillac. Until that point, religious vocations among women often took the form of a contemplative life in relative seclusion; the founders of the Daughters of Charity, by contrast, encouraged the sisters to work outside their convent — to serve Christ in the persons of those poor or in need, through material and spiritual works of mercy. Today, the congregation has a presence in 93 countries around the world.
The first seven Daughters of Charity in Egypt in Alexandria were doctors and nurses, including specialists in ophthalmology.
When the French Suez Canal Company was digging the canal in the middle of the 19th century, the sisters went to work in nearby hospitals to care for workers. After the completion of the canal, they continued to work in governmental hospitals in Port Said, Ismailia and many other facilities in Egypt. Currently, three sisters still work in one of the governmental hospitals in Port Said, maintaining the old tradition.
Over time, the Alexandria sisters gradually expanded their services, even opening schools in the early 20th century. Their presence peaked in 1952, the same year that witnessed a revolution that overthrew the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.
In 1959, the government seized the Saba Banat dispensary as part of a wider campaign of nationalization. In 1963, the dispensary was reopened in a building attached to the school in the At Attarin neighborhood. It kept its old name, despite moving from the old street.
Nowadays, the Daughters of Charity have nine convents in Egypt, where some 50 sisters live and serve locals by running dispensaries, schools, food kitchens and programs teaching literacy and handicrafts to young girls in Upper Egypt.
Read more. And check out the video below.
12 January 2018
In this image from 2016, Pope Francis greets Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, at the Vatican. The pope has accepted an invitation from Archbishop Shevchuk to visit the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community in Rome
later this month. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope to signal concern for Ukraine in basilica visit (Crux) In a sign of his concern for one of the world’s most chronic, and often neglected, conflict zones, Pope Francis will travel cross-town in Rome on Sunday, 28 January, to visit the Basilica of Santa Sofia and meet the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community which worships there, in what served for decades as their “Mother Church” during the period of Soviet domination in Ukraine. The Vatican announced the pope’s visit on Friday, saying it comes in response to an invitation by Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, and an old friend of Francis’s from the time Shevchuk served as Apostolic Administrator of a Greek Catholic diocese in Buenos Aires, Argentina...
Islamist rebels fire on Christian church in Damascus (AMN) The Islamist rebels in the East Ghouta region of Damascus fired two missiles towards Bab Touma, Damascus Now News reported. According to the report released by Damascus Now, the missiles struck a historical church inside the predominately Christian district of Bab Touma, causing material damage to this religious site...
Indian priest, religious sister get jail term for defying court order (UCANews.com) A court in central India has sentenced a Catholic priest and a nun to two months each in jail for defying a court order to reinstate two students their school expelled two years ago...
Mideast leaders increase efforts to fight U.S. decision on Jerusalem (CNS) Church and political leaders in the Middle East are intensifying efforts to combat U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plans to move the U.S. embassy there. “The two-state solution is accepted by all the world, including the Vatican. It corresponds to the legitimate resolutions passed by the United Nations,” Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem, patriarchal vicar for Jordan, told Catholic News Service...
Iraqi Christians stalked by sorrow (UNHCR.org) As fighting continues in parts of northern Iraq after extremists were pushed from Mosul last year, many of those forced to flee have abandoned hope of returning home, fearing sectarian tension may endure, and are looking at a protracted exile, or moving on to other countries under UNHCR resettlement programs, though places are few and reserved for the most vulnerable...
11 January 2018
This version of a 19th engraving by an unknown artist shows a traveler putting his head under the edge of the firmament, depicting the gap between the earth and the heavens. The movement of the earth through the heavens continues to guide the Church’s seasons. (photo: Wikipedia Commons)
At the start of the new year, we all start following a new calendar, as Earth charts another course around the sun. It’s a good opportunity to look at how the Church marks the year — and that can get complicated.
For the Catholic Church and many other churches in the West, the liturgical year is divided into several sections or “seasons.” Two great seasons dominate the year. In order of chronological appearance, the first great season is the just-concluded Advent-Christmas Season, which runs from the First Sunday of Advent until the Feast of the Epiphany. The second — but more important — season is the Lenten-Easter Season, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the day after Pentecost Sunday. Although Sundays between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, and from the day after Pentecost until the First Sunday of Advent, once had different names, those Sundays are all now referred to as “Ordinary Time.”
As is the case with so many things we humans consider “ordinary” or “normal,” a closer look at world-wide Christianity reveals that “ordinary” and “normal” really mean “how we do it” and not “how everyone does it.” This is certainly the case with the Christian calendar. The difference in observances and traditions begins in the Christmas season. For example, while most Christians in the West celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December, Armenian Orthodox celebrate it on 6 January and many Orthodox Churches celebrate it on 7 January.
But the differences become more noticeable and important when it comes to the celebration of Easter.
After centuries of discussions and arguments on when to calculate the date for Easter, the Western Church opted to celebrate it on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the beginning of spring). The problem arose from the fact that the existing Julian calendar estimated the year to be 365 days and 6 hours long. The calculations, while good for the time, were off; the year is really 10 minutes and 48 seconds shorter than the Julian calendar reckoned.
Of course, that did not make a great difference at first. But over centuries it made a big difference. By the time of Pope Gregory XIII (1582), the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, was falling on 11 March and not 21 March. Pope Gregory moved to reform the way we calculate our days, and instituted what we now call the Gregorian calendar. On 24 February 1582, the new calendar was inaugurated and 10 days were just dropped.
Even though it was far more accurate than the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar was not immediately accepted around the world. That fact that it came from Christians made is suspect to some non-Christians; the fact that it came from the pope, made it suspect to non-Catholics, both Protestant and Orthodox who were not about to let the pope of Rome tell them what to do.
What this means is that in many, if not most, of the countries where CNEWA serves, Catholic and Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter (and to some extent Christmas) on different days.
Eventually the entire world took over the Gregorian calendar. Other cultural and religious calendars like the Muslim, Jewish, Iranian, Chinese, etc. remained. The Gregorian calendar. however, became standard for all “secular” transactions.
But then there’s Easter. The calculation of Easter is, however, most definitely not a secular transaction. As a result, the Orthodox churches, existing in countries which accept the Gregorian calendar, nevertheless continue to use the Julian calendar to calculate Easter. Since the vernal equinox is central to the calculation, the problem is that the two calendars have different times for it. The Gregorian calendar, as we noted, has the first day of spring on 20 or 21 of March. The Julian calendar has it 13 days earlier and it gets earlier ever year. By 2100 the Julian first day of spring will be 14 days earlier than the Gregorian.
So once again, what is “normal” is normal for us and not normal for others.
The problem of Christians celebrating Easter at different times — sometimes almost a month apart — is seen by some as a sign of disunity among Christians (it is) and a weakening of Christian witness to the Resurrection (it might be) to the non-Christian world. As a result, there have been several recent attempts to “normalize” Easter Sunday so that Christians all over the world might celebrate it on the same day. Still, despite support from popes and patriarchs, the attempt has met with mixed success at best. Consensus has been impossible to achieve. Easter still awaits a unified date.
For Catholics, “Ordinary Time” in 2018 began on 7 January. Recognizing that what is ordinary for us is not ordinary for all Christians provides us with an ecumenical challenge. Instead of “ordinary” here being ho-hum, run of the mill, it can provide us with a challenge — a challenge all the more important since the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from 18-25 January. Ordinary time — by the very fact that it is not “ordinary” — thus challenges us to work together so that once again Christians all over the world can celebrate the Resurrection of the one Lord on the same day.
11 January 2018
The simple wooden chapel in Tarashcha, Ukraine offers Greek Catholic parishioners a traditional space to worship. Often, others need to make do in small rented spaces. Discover how the church in Ukraine is growing, often against surprising odds, in Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
11 January 2018
In the video above, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien says changes to the situation in Jerusalem will have repercussions, including violence. A report released yesterday says terror attacks in Israel have tripled since President Trump announced the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
(video: Rome Reports)
Earthquakes jolt Iran-Iraq border (CBS News) A series of eight earthquakes hit the Iran-Iraq border area and rattled even Baghdad and parts of the Iraqi countryside on Thursday, apparently aftershocks of a temblor in November that killed over 530 people. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage...
Report: terror attacks tripled after Trump’s Jerusalem recognition (The Daily Beast) Terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank tripled after President Trump moved to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Shin Bet security service said in a new report...
Syrian refugee sets himself ablaze at UN office in Lebanon (The Times of Israel) A Syrian refugee in Lebanon set himself on fire Wednesday outside a UN office in desperation at aid getting cut off to his family, suffering serious burns. Refugee agency UNHCR and the World Food Program told AFP that the man — named by family as 43-year-old father of four Ryad Khalaf Zibou — “set himself alight” at a UN compound in the northern city of Tripoli. “This tragic incident underscores the pressures and difficulties facing many refugees, who are becoming increasingly vulnerable and who — in rare cases — resort to such desperate acts,” the agencies said in a joint statement...
Report: Twice as many Christians killed worldwide last year (The Tablet) More than 3,000 Christians were killed worldwide last year for their faith, twice as many as the previous year, a report by the charity Open Doors has found. Of the 11 worst countries for Christians to live in, all are now classed as places of extreme persecution — more than ever before in 26 years of the World Watch List, which is published annually by the charity...
Syrian army reports Israeli missile attacks on Damascus (Sputnik) According to Syria’s state media, the Syrian Army reported that Israel had attacked targets near the war-torn nation’s capital with jets and ground-to-ground missiles early on Tuesday, causing damage. Syria retaliated, according to the statement; its air defenses hit an Israeli aircraft and intercepted several missiles which had been launched from within Israel...
Church in Ukraine attacked, desecrated (TASS) Unknown attackers robbed and desecrated the St Panteleimon’s church in the city of Chernomorsk, Odessa region, the Odessa diocese of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate said at its homepage on Wednesday. “The malefactors penetrated the building though a door located at its rear side,” the report said. “In search for loot, they ripped up all the alms boxes. Upon seeing they boxes didn’t contain the desired amounts of money, the attackers began to smash the altar and everything around them...”