Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, left, and Carl Hétu. Register file photos

CNEWA Canada marks 10th anniversary with urgent appeal for Iraq and Syria

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  • May 2, 2015

OTTAWA - As Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada marks its 10th anniversary this year, it is making an urgent appeal for continued help for imperilled families under Islamic State siege 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, who hosts the CNEWA Canada offices in his diocese and chairs the CNEWA Canada board of directors, 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.”

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. It works with Eastern Catholic Churches to build up the Church, affirm human dignity and alleviate poverty in the Mideast, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.

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 Carl Hétu, CNEWA Canada national director. Then Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais agreed to host the national office and Hétu was hired in 2004 to make preparations for the office’s opening in 2005.

Besides Ottawa and New York, CNEWA has offices in Jerusalem, Amman and Beirut that implement, manage and report on its programs in the region, Hétu said. The North American 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 of 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.

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.

Over the past decade, 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 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 Islamic State kill and enslave Christians and other minorities, destroying churches and entire villages in Iraq, and as 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 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.”

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.”

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