OTTAWA (CCN) — As CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) Canada marks its 10th anniversary this year, it has made an urgent appeal for continued help for imperiled families in Iraq and Syria.
“The best way we can celebrate the 10 years of success of CNEWA in Canada is to redouble our prayers and our financial support to aid those most in need,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast in a statement. “May we celebrate the Year of Mercy remembering our sisters and brothers in the East for whom we can be an agent of mercy with the help of CNEWA.”
CNEWA Canada also announced Canadians had donated $1 million in 2014 to help the Middle East. It raised a total of $3.8 million last year that included projects in other countries such as Ukraine, India, Ethiopia, Georgia, and Armenia.
Over the past 10 years, CNEWA has conveyed a message to Canadians about the importance of Christian minorities in the Middle East in promoting reconciliation and peace among all religions, said CNEWA Canada national director Carl Hétu. “The message of Christ is one of friendship and compassion and reconciliation and that’s what we convey when we do our programs with the church.”
The vision is “to build a lasting peace,” he said. “It’s becoming imperative people understand the role that Christians play in the Middle East.”
As the barbaric activities of ISIS kill and enslave Christians and other minorities, and destroy churches and entire villages in Iraq, and fighting in Syria continues to destroy cities and livelihoods, Hétu said Christians in Iraq and Syria “need to continue that mission more than ever.”
Prendergast, who hosts the CNEWA Canada offices in his diocese and chairs the CNEWA Canada board of directors, said he wished the agency a “happy anniversary” with mixed feelings. “When we see or listen to the daily news or check the web for the latest stories, we are exposed to the plight of people in dire circumstances who desperately need help to meet their most basic needs,” he said.
Pope Pius XI founded CNEWA in 1926 and entrusted it to the archbishop of New York, where the Holy See charity maintains its head office. In 2002 the Vatican’s Congregation of the Eastern Churches asked the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to open a CNEWA office in Canada, “because of the rising need of the Eastern Catholic Christians all over the world,” said Hétu.
The then Ottawa archbishop, now emeritus, Marcel Gervais agreed to host the national office and Hétu was hired in 2004 to make preparations for the office’s opening in 2005.
At the time, CNEWA was the only organization focused exclusively on the Eastern Catholic churches. CNEWA has the two offices in Ottawa and New York, and offices in Jerusalem, Amman and Beirut that implement, manage and report on its programs in the region, Hétu said. The two offices combined raised a total of $7 million last year.
“When CNEWA Canada was created it was connected with the signs of the times,” Hétu said. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in 2001, “we saw many were projecting the conflict of religion, and a confrontation of the Muslim world and the Christian world.” The world had just come out of the Cold War into an era of globalization, Hétu said, when the terrorists hit the Twin Towers in New York City.
Prendergast, who was then archbishop of Halifax, recalled how CNEWA Canada raised less than $400,000 in its first year of operations.
“I am proud to have been a founding member of CNEWA in Canada and to have seen the growth of its charitable works over the last decade, yet I am saddened too at the great needs that continue to make this organization necessary,” the archbishop said.
Hétu spent two weeks in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel in January meeting with many Syrian and Iraqi refugees. “During my last trip, I saw the suffering is a lot worse than I thought,” he said. “We need not to forget about our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“Many have been on the run for two or three years. Many children have missed school for two years,” he said, noting that many who have been living in tents for that time are becoming desperate. “They are calling for an end of all the wars.”
Both Hétu and Prendergast spoke from personal experience of the gratitude they saw in the region expressed toward Canadians.
“Thank you comes from each individual I met,” Hétu said. “Their lives have improved over the last few years because of the generosity of Canadians. All those people so grateful, and of course they mention, ‘Don’t forget about us.’ ”