Monday, June 27, 2011

It's a question of choice

To pastor a flock or to raise tomatoes?

Msgr. Robert Stern

"Not everyone who wears a sari and golden bangles is a Hindu," and not everyone who speaks Arabic is Muslim.

There is an agency of the Catholic Church centred in Rome that struggles to help North Americans realize these facts. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association has been headed by general secretary Msgr. Robert Stern, an American from New York, for the last 24 years. The tall, spritely, 78-year-old is handing over to Msgr. John Kozar, another American, and retiring.

He has an interesting take on the exodus of Christians from the Middle East. It's not true that there are no more Middle East Christians, he said. "They are alive and well" and contributing to society and the Church, "it's just that they're living in a different place," not the Middle East, said the monsignor.

CNEWA had a role in the November 2010 Synod of Bishops on the Middle East. Established in 1926 by Pope Pius XI, the association serves the churches and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe, areas where there are indigenous and ancient Eastern-rite churches and where Catholics are a minority.

Its programs focus on formation of clergy, religious and lay leaders, building religious and social service institutions, caring for children in need, and humanitarian aid and development.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, of Ottawa chairs CNEWA Canada.

The retiring Msgr. Stern said he hopes to continue to put to good use his knowledge and expertise about the Middle East and Eastern churches, or "I can run off and raise tomatoes. Whatever God wants."

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