Bridgeport, Conn., Mar 19, 2013 (CNA) -
Hundreds of high school students attended the 2013 Convivio Youth Congress in Connecticut March 8-10 to talk about the Christian faith, grow spiritually and consider the meaning of friendship today.
Florencia Silva, youth ministry director for the Diocese of Bridgeport, said the event is intended “to help kids encounter Christ and grow in their friendship with him.”
Friendship, she noted, is “a very important topic” for teenagers since contemporary culture “doesn’t help people form real relationships.”
“Many times the young people feel very isolated and alone and it’s very hard for them to find relationships,” she added. Even social media “sometimes makes them feel more connected but also more isolated.”
The 2013 congress’ theme was taken from the words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of John: “I have called you friends.” The congress aimed to explore common misconceptions about friendship, the problem of loneliness, and the longing for genuine relationship. It intended to explore the qualities of true friendship with the goal of helping others reach eternal life.
Stephen Kawulicz, a two-time Convivio attendee from Brookfield, Conn., said he loved the congress’ talks.
“They’re all very thought-provoking and make me look at things in a new light,” he told CNA.
“I think that a friendship with Christ and a friendship with God should be both the center of our lives and the center of our friendships with other people. Because that’s what makes everything last,” he said.
“God’s love is eternal and perfect, while our love falls short.”
The Convivio gathering was held at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. with help from about 100 adult volunteers and 80 student leaders.
At the congress’ opening, dozens of teens waited at the doors to greet their friends and classmates, help with registration and make introductions. Besides talks, small group discussion and a concert, the congress featured chances for prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and Sunday Mass.
The three-day youth congress was introduced to the U.S. in 2010 by the Marian Community of Reconciliation, a community of lay consecrated women whose ministry focuses on youth outreach.
Silva, who is a member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, said Convivio is unique because it is youth-run. High school and college students help in the planning and organization of the congress.
They invite other young people to attend through giving speeches at their parishes at schools, putting up posters, and posting Facebook statuses. The students lead the groups and give the talks and witnesses. The event leads youth through a question-and-answer process.
“They’re not here to be told. We help them encounter the answers themselves,” Silva told CNA, noting that the small-group format also helps promote one-on-one engagement.
The event is open to youths who question their faith or are looking for answers along with those who are excited about their faith, Silva said.
Convivio delegations came from Massachusetts, Texas and Colorado. Maria Salazar, a high school freshman from Denver, said that she attended because she wanted to grow stronger in her faith.
“I honestly thought it was going to be one of those normal retreats and not a lot of fun but after the first day I had so much joy I couldn't contain it,” she said. “I wanted to stay there and grow closer in friendship with Christ and the people around me.”
Salazar said Eucharistic Adoration and singing together with other retreat attendees were her favorite parts of the congress.
Silva said her favorite part of Convivio is witnessing young people change from Friday to Sunday.
“On Friday they are insecure and they don’t want to step out of their comfort zone,” she said. Attendees become more self-giving and appear “completely transformed” by Sunday.
Past Convivio participants say they have formed long and lasting friendships over the weekend rooted in their common love for Jesus Christ.
Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2013 (CNA) - Christians gathered in front of the Libyan Embassy in Washington, D.C., on March 14 to peacefully protest the recent detainment and torture of Copts in Libya.
One protestor, a Middle Eastern Christian, told CNA that the Libyan government holds Coptic Christians and “accuses them of evangelizing against Islam” for possessing Christian Bibles and icons, even though such items are permissible under Libyan law.
“I'm sorry to say, but in the Middle East, it's all starting to be the same,” he continued, warning that similar persecution of Christians has also occurred in Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon.
The March 14 protest condemned the arrest and torture of dozens of Egyptian Copts in Libya, as well as the death of one of the Christians, Ezzat Hakim Atallah, on March 9 after ten days of torture at the hands of Libya's Preventive Security department in Tripoli.
The protestors gathered in hopes of persuading authorities to free the remaining prisoners who, according to a statement by the organizers, were detained simply for “possessing Christian books for personal use.”
The event was organized by the group Coptic Solidarity and joined by the Jubilee Campaign, an organization that seeks to pursue religious freedom for persecuted Christians.
In a press release announcing the protest, Coptic Solidarity called on Libyan authorities to release all Copts imprisoned in the country “under the despicable and idiotic charges of proselytizing.”
They also criticized Egyptian government officials for “their failure to defend their fellow citizens.”
“In contrast,” the group added, the Egyptian “presidency and the foreign ministry had enthusiastically rushed to defend a Muslim Brotherhood cell that was arrested in the United Arab Emirates on charges of threatening the country's national security.”
“The attitude of the Egyptian authorities in dealing with the Coptic citizens is shameful.”
The organization also called on international human rights groups to push for investigations and an end to “the flagrant attacks on innocent Copts in Libya.”
Kelly McLean of the Jubilee Campaign told CNA that one of the prisoners was the owner of a bookshop in Benghazi that contained some Christian books and humanitarian aid materials. Previously, police had confiscated a number of his books, but had allowed him to keep others, she said.
However, in early March, the shop owner was detained again on charges of proselytization because “he had fewer books than the original shipment,” leading the government to claim that he had been distributing the books.
But in reality, McLean explained, the shortage of books was due to the fact that police had already confiscated some of them.
“It doesn't make any sense,” she said. “Honestly, if he was giving out that many books, there would have been an issue before this latest detention.”
“Hopefully in the future, we want to put pressure on the government to not only abide by human rights standards, but to uphold their own constitution, which allows freedom of religion,” she added.
South Bend, Ind., Mar 19, 2013 (CNA) -
Because they help impart the Catholic faith to the world, Church buildings have a responsibility to reflect God's beauty, says architect and author Duncan Stroik.
“You learn your faith through the (church) building; they're sermons in stone, and that's why they're so important,” Stroik, a professor at the University of Notre Dame's School of Architecture, told CNA March 14.
“There's no question in my mind that the architecture we built in the last 40 years did not help us in retaining the faith of the young, and didn't do a great job in evangelizing,” added Stroik, who penned the recent book, “The Church Building as a Sacred Place.”
“Generations of people have grown up in these banal buildings, which have taught them either nothing, or the wrong things about the faith, and that's why architecture is so important.”
Stroik's new work, subtitled “Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal,” is meant to guide pastors, parishioners, patrons and architects as they set out to renovate existing churches or build new structures entirely. It was published in December 2012 by Liturgy Training Publications.
The book is composed of numerous essays outlining principles of church buildings, examining the history of both classical and modernist architecture, and looking to the future of sacred architecture.
“I'd like to put the book in context, in the sense that I see a huge renaissance of sacred architecture in this country that's taken place over the last 20 years...this book is coming at a time when we've had a great sea change in the way Catholics think about their churches,” he said.
“Most parishes want something that looks like a church...there's a desire for beauty. Now how do we do it? And I like to think this book can be part of that,” he said, to help those who want to build beautiful, traditional churches.
Stroik said that while there have been “great successes” in Catholic architecture in the past 20 years, still more remains to be done.
“We need to do a better job. We haven't built a new church in the last 50 years that is as good as the best things we built in 1920, or 1820.” We need to “hit that high standard” he said, of “the best things.”
“I'd like to raise the standards...we really need to raise our eyesight, to look on the great things of the past.”
Stroik noted that not all church buildings that are old are necessarily good, and that we should look to the best among them, pointing out the cathedrals of Chartres and Florence, and in the U.S., St. Patrick's in New York City and the cathedrals of Baltimore and Philadelphia.
“Our goal should be to be as good, or better, than Baltimore, or Chartres.”
Stroik, who designed the Thomas Aquinas College Chapel in Santa Paula and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, pointed out that contrary to the thought of modernist architects, working within the tradition leaves “a lot of room...for a variety of styles, of ways of designing a church” and that creativity is welcomed in classical architecture.
He compared working within the tradition of architecture to working within the tradition of theology.
“You have a whole lot of stuff that's out there that you can learn from, and that you want to learn from, but there is development in theology, and in architecture, and it's very creative.”
In his book, Stroik writes that he intends to move Catholics away from “merely the construction of 'worship spaces'” and towards the creation of sacred architecture.
“Walking into a church, our vision is meant to be of the heavenly city...there's a different kind of vision, it's a view to the world as it should be, to the heavenly realm,” he told CNA.
He mentioned that while he believes sacred architecture should have height, directionality, iconography, and a clear sanctuary, within those confines, “there's room for many solutions, for different architecture, and for people to do different things.”
Churches built in the past 40 years have not generally conveyed a vision of the heavenly city, Stroik reflected. This is largely because of the modernist elements of functionality and iconoclasm -- the rejection of sacred images and statues.
“Often we're not conscience of what we've learned from these buildings, but we've learned a lot.”
Architecture “teaches us the wrong things, or the right things; that's why it's so important. Our kids are growing up and worshiping in these churches, and that's what they're learning about the faith.”
To have a “healthy Church,” Stroik said, “we have to use all the tools we have...and architecture is one of them. It's not the most important or the only one, but it is an important one.”
Stroik hopes “The Church Building as a Sacred Place” will impact patrons of sacred architecture, without whom the creation of churches to rival the Baltimore and Philadelphia cathedrals will not be possible.
“You need a great patron, one who is informed and educated about art and architecture, and who cares about and wants the best, and a really great architect, who is supported, and challenged, by the patron.
“I like to think this book can help the architect and the the patron to prepare for their project,” he said, and to “help us all” rise the tide of Catholic architecture, lifting all boats.
“In my philosophy about church architecture, I try to be as broad, as inclusive as possible,” Stroik explained.
Looking at the 2000 year history of Catholic architecture, Stroik uses examples from diverse times and places, “so this is a book not just for Americans, or the 21st century.”
“I'm really interested in those things which transcend our period, and even our regions...there are things relevant across the world to Catholics, and if I've done any little bit of that, there's something for everyone in the book.”
Vatican City, Mar 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis called on all people to be “protectors,” like Saint Joseph, by watching over and caring for the poor, families, friendships, the environment and their own emotions and hearts.
“In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
“Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened,” Pope Francis said in his March 19 homily in St. Peter's Square.
The homily was delivered in Italian and focused on St. Joseph, whose feast is celebrated every March 19.
“How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church?” Pope Francis asked.
“By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own.
“Joseph is a ‘protector’ because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions,” the Pope explained.
Today’s ceremony and Mass are being attended by 132 delegations from around the world, including representatives from the Buddhist, Jain, Jewish and Muslim communities.
Pope Francis, aware of the audience and reach of his message, said that being a protector “is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone.”
“It means protecting all creation, … respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment … it means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.
And it also means “caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness,” the Pope said.
Thirty-three heads of state are present at Pope Francis’ inauguration, and he made an appeal to them and all men and women of goodwill to be “‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
“Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!” he exclaimed.
Moving to the individual level, Pope Francis stated, “we also have to keep watch over ourselves!”
“Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives!
“Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down!”
He also pointed out that maintaining personal vigilance “demands goodness” and “calls for a certain tenderness.”
“In the Gospels,” the Pope noted, “Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love.”
Pope Francis ended his homily by reflecting on how his ministry as Pope is one of service.
“To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly,” he said.
In contrast with his previous addresses, Pope Francis did not speak off the cuff during today’s homily, but he did continue to ask people to pray for him as he finished his reflection.
Vatican City, Mar 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Everyone felt a little Argentinian and extremely happy today, according to members of diverse religious orders who attended the Pope’s installation Mass this morning.
“Today everyone feels Argentinian, or at least us Latin Americans do,” said Peruvian priest Father Jose Tola at Saint Peter’s Square.
“I’m extremely happy and excited,” he told CNA during the March 19 inauguration Mass of Pope Francis, which officially began his pontificate.
American Cardinal William J. Levada described it as “a wonderful and exciting day.”
“It’s a beautiful day here – Saint Joseph’s feast day, installation of the new Holy Father – so I’m all excited and we pray for him, ” said the cardinal, who is prefect emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
Clergy and religious attended the Mass, along with around 200,000 others. The Italian national police and numerous other agencies were careful not to allow too many people in the square, and they also took security precautions by blocking the streets surrounding the Vatican.
Members of the religious order The Small Work of the Divine Providence from Mendoza, Argentina said they had already planned the trip before the Pope Francis was proclaimed the new pontiff.
“It’s such a huge emotion that words cannot describe it,” said a blonde middle-aged lady, who is a member of the order.
“God has rewarded us with this present to be next to Pope Francis,” she added.
Brazilian Brother Paolo said Pope Francis “is a blessing from God.”
“Brazil is waiting for him (for World Youth Day), and Brazil is going to love him, and he is going to love Brazil,” Br. Paolo said.
Another Brazilian, Brother Wagner Campopiano, said that the Pope “has won my heart” and that today’s inauguration brought him “heavenly happiness.”
Several clergy from other Christian denominations, who will meet the Pope tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., were also at the Mass.
“It gives the truly Catholic sense of the Church that it goes beyond, not just our own ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but also beyond the whole world,” said Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic eparchy based in Pittsburgh, Pa.
A religious from the Little Sisters of Jesus order noted that they came because they are part of the Church and they “want to live in communion with everyone that is here.”
“Being here is feeling the Church’s heart through the crowd, and we’ve come because of his very simple, gentle and human gestures,” said Sister Donata, who lives in Rome.
Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for the Catholic Association, described the Pope’s installation Mass as “a pilgrimage.”
“There’s just such excitement out in the square today with all the young people, heads of State from all over the world,” said Ferguson.
“People forget that this is important to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and it’s beautiful to see people from around the world,” she added.
“The Church is the largest charity in the planet, educates more children around the world and is the strongest defender of human rights and of the dignity of the human person,” Ferguson said.
Vatican City, Mar 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After asking Argentinians not to come to Rome and give to the poor instead, Pope Francis called a large gathering to tell them he loves them and needs their prayers.
“Do not forget this bishop who is far but loves you a lot” and “pray for me” were the last words of the message he delivered with a 3:30 a.m. telephone call.
Thousands of his countrymen gathered at the Plaza de Mayo in the country’s capital, Buenos Aires, to watch his installation Mass on huge television screens placed across the cathedral.
“I know you are in the square. I know you are praying, and I need your prayers a lot,” said Pope Francis on May 19, just two hours before the Mass in Rome was set to begin.
It is “so beautiful to pray,” he remarked, inviting his fellow Argentinians to “walk together” with him.
“Let us protect each other, do not hurt each other, and protect life,” said Pope Francis, reinforcing what he had said in Italian during his homily at the Vatican.
“Protect the family, nature, children, the elderly,” he said.
“Let there not be hate, no fighting, put envy aside and do not criticize.”
He asked his countrymen to “talk with each other” and to “keep alive the wish of wanting to protect each other.”
“May your hearts enlarge and may you get closer to God, who is good and always forgives and understands, so do not be afraid of him,” said Pope Francis.
Two hours later he presided over the March 19 Mass that officially started his ministry, although he became the Pope the moment he accepted the vote of the cardinals on March 13.
“Protect creation, protect everyone, especially the poor” was his main message during the homily that he preached to around 200,000 people in St. Peter’s Square.
He also underscored the importance of every person taking responsibility for protecting their hearts and emotions, “because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down!”
Pope Francis’ next meeting will be on March 20 with Christian delegations that came for his installation, and on March 22 he will meet with the diplomats accredited to the Vatican.
Rome, Italy, Mar 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, has confirmed that Pope Francis will travel to Brazil in July to participate in World Youth Day 2013.
The statements by the Archbishop of Aparecida concur with recent statements by the Archbishop of Rio, who said Benedict XVI told him that either he or his successor would be present for the event.
Cardinal Damasceno, who was still in Rome after the conclave, said, “I had the chance to speak with Bergoglio and he told me he is going to Brazil.”
“I know him well. And we worked together in Aparecida. It was a great lesson,” the cardinal said, recalling the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Bishops' Council, which took place in Aparecida in May of 2007.
During the meeting, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was president of the committee responsible for drafting the bishops' final document, which was later sent to the Vatican for approval.
Cardinal Damasceno said that during the conclave, Pope Francis gained votes a little at a time and was not a favorite at first. “Bergoglio started surging, and it was a wonderful surprise,” he said.
WYD Rio 2013 will take place July 23-28 in Rio de Janeiro. Some four million young people from around the world are expected to attend.
The theme for the gathering is Jesus’ command, “Go and make disciples of all peoples.”
Vatican City, Mar 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
When Pope Francis was installed as Bishop of Rome today, the two major symbols of the authority he received were connected to previous Popes.
The inauguration ceremony began with Pope Francis visiting the tomb of St. Peter. He then processed out to the square, with the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches carrying the Book of the Gospels, his pallium and the Fisherman’s ring.
As the procession made its way, a choir sang a special litany of the saints that included those Popes who have been recognized as saints.
But in addition to these echoes of previous Popes, the papal ring and the pallium – a circular stole of white wool that symbolizes Francis' role as the chief shepherd of the Church – are connected to Paul VI and Benedict XVI, respectively.
The ring, known as the Fisherman’s ring because Jesus made Peter a “fisher of men,” has a unique and circuitous history.
The late Archbishop Pasquale Macchi, former personal secretary of Pope Paul VI, kept the wax cast of a ring made for the Pope by the artist Henry Manfrini.
“The ring was never cast into metal, and Paul VI never wore it because he always wore the ring that was commissioned at the time of the Second Vatican Council,” Vatican press office director Father Federico Lombardi explained March 18.
Archbishop Macchi, who died in 2006, left the cast to Monsignor Ettore Malnati, and he had a silver ring with gold plating made from the wax cast. The ring depicts Saint Peter holding the keys of Heaven.
After he was elected Pope, Francis was offered several possibilities for his Fisherman’s ring and he chose the one that was created for Paul VI.
The other symbol of Pope Francis’ authority that has a papal connection is the pallium that was placed on his shoulders this morning.
The pallium is made from lamb’s wool and has five red crosses on it to recall the five wounds of Christ. Major archbishops also wear palliums signifying their roles as shepherds, but their crosses are black.
The pallium that Pope Francis received was the exact same one worn by Benedict XVI, according to Fr. Lombardi.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 19, 2013 (CNA) - Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, apostolic nuncio to Argentina, celebrated a special Mass of Thanksgiving to offer gratitude and prayers for Pope Francis as he begins his papacy.
The March 17 Mass at the Cathedral of Buenos Aires began a three-day period of prayer for Pope Francis that culminated on March 19 with the official inauguration of his Pontificate.
The hundreds of faithful gathered for the Mass broke out in applause numerous times to express their affection for Father Bergoglio, as he was often called, for his devotion to the Church in Argentina.
The initial applause lasted for more than a minute after Archbishop Tscherrig began his homily recalling those “moments of excitement and waiting” when the name Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio rang out from the loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square.
He offered thanks to God “for the great gift He made to the Church in the person of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of the Church,” adding that the year he has served as nuncio in Argentina has been sufficient time for him to “admire and appreciate the great human and spiritual charity of this intelligent and lucid archbishop, who is a simple and humble man of justice close to the people.”
Archbishop Tscherrig underscored that when Francis asked the people to pray for him before bestowing the apostolic blessing, it was “an unusual gesture of humility aimed at receiving the blessing of the Lord through the intercession of the faithful.”
“Who doesn't recall the incessant request he would make at each greeting and at the end each one of his letters? 'Pray for me, pray for me,'” the nuncio said.
“Today dear brothers and sisters, we wish to promise to continue praying for our Pope Francis and accompanying him in the difficult mission that the Lord has entrusted to him with our love and friendship,” he added.
“We also send him in Rome our profound gratitude for all the good he has done for the Church in Argentina, for his pastoral goodness and exemplary life,” he said.
Archbishop Tscherrig continued: “Each time the Lord gives us a new Pope, He also offers us as a Church a new beginning, and He reminds us that we are also a pilgrim people journeying towards the definitive goal of our lives, which is not in this world.”
“On this journey, the Pope is our guide and he has the role of confirming us in the faith,” he said. “In his first message to the cardinals Pope Francis pointed out the way. To always walk in the presence of the Lord.”
Archbishop Tscherrig also recalled the Holy Father's warning that if the Church does not confess Christ, she will be just another non-governmental organization, but not the Church.
“Let us walk together with the Pope with the light of Jesus Christ” and bear witness by seeing the face of Christ in the poor, the nuncio said.
In conclusion, he read a phrase Pope Francis wrote when he was a young student, shortly before his ordination to the priesthood.
“I believe in my own personal history that was pierced by the loving gaze of Jesus, and I await the surprises of each day that will manifest the love, strength, temptation and forgiveness and that will accompany me until the definitive encounter with this marvelous face.”
New York City, N.Y., Mar 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholic Near East Welfare Association is working with local Churches in and around Syria to help refugees and those who have been displaced by the country's civil war, now beginning its third year.
“Our concern is not just for the Christian community, but for all people who are caught in the middle; the vast majority of people in Syria, as in any part of the world, just want peace,” Michael La Civita, the association's communications director, told CNA March 18.
“They want to get back to normal, to rear their families, and cope as best they can, and of course this makes it quite difficult for them, because the violence is just getting worse and worse.”
The Syrian conflict marked its second anniversary last week. On March 15, 2011, demonstrations sprang up nationwide, protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath Party.
In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war.
United Nation's estimates show that 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict. More than 1 million refugees have flooded into Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, and inside Syria another estimated 2.5 million are internally displaced.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association works through local Churches to help the poor and partners with the Jesuits, Armenian Catholics, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and Melkite Greek Catholics.
“They come to us with needs, let us know what they need, and we provide them with the resources, whether its food, gear for children or schools,” La Civita said.
The group helps internally displaced people in Syria, those who have been forced out of their homes. These families are mostly from Homs and Aleppo, in the north and west of the country.
“They lived in the older quarters, and now they're either in the suburbs or they've fled to a place called the valley of Christians, which is still in the hands of the government and is reasonably secure,” he explained.
The Association has worked with a Jesuit priest to help some 1000 Christian families from Homs who lost all their belongings.
“We provided them with emergency relief supplies – food and water, emergency relief kits, cooking oil, rice, things of that nature, sanitary napkins, what people need when they're flushed out of their homes and they have nothing.”
“We've been providing a lot of displaced children with winter clothing, and school supplies and books. These are children mostly from Homs who have been displaced, and the Jesuits and Paulist Fathers have set up temporary schools so these kids would not lose, despite the war, a year in their education,” said La Civita.
The agency is also helping with refugees who have fled Syria altogether, notably at the town of Qaa in Lebanon, which is less than seven miles from Syria, and less than 35 from Homs.
Qaa's parish priest, Father Elian Nasrallah, serves the Greek Catholic community there. La Civita recounted that many Christian families have fled there, and are being joined now by Muslims as well.
“We've been assisting them with everything from classes for children to providing counselling for kids suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, providing wool blankets, mattresses, food, detergent – again, emergency relief.”
Fr. Nasrallah's family supports a medical clinic, where the papal agency has been providing help so that the wounded can be cared for.
La Civita explained that Catholic Near East Welfare Association does not work in the large refugee camps, but rather works for and through eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox.
Most Christians in Syria who have fled their homes turn to their family networks for help, or Christian institutions, who in turn receive assistance from the agency.
The group, founded in 1926 by Pius XI, is a registered charity in the US and Canada, and is an agency of the Holy See. Those who want to financially assist Catholic Near East Welfare Association can donate at cnewa.org.
La Civita said prayers for peace in Syria are needed as well.
“It's not black and white there; the rebels aren't necessarily all good guys or bad, and nor is the regime. There's a lot of grey,” he explained.
The Syrian rebels are divided among secularists who support a Western-style democracy, and Islamists who may impose sharia law on the nation.
“Any increase in ammunition” he said, will make things more difficult for the Christians in Syria, as well as the Alawites, Druze, and Shi'ites, all of whom are religious minorities there.
The European Union has levied an arms embargo against Syria, but some are calling for it to be lifted. Both Russia and Iran are believed to be arming the Syrian government, and recently both the UK and France have indicated a desire to arm the rebels.