9/5/12 | 348 views
Pope’s Lebanon Visit to Lift Eastern Churches, Msgr. Kozar Says
Msgr. John Kozar won’t have an official role to play when Pope Benedict XVI makes his historic visit to Lebanon Sept. 14-16, but he will be more than an interested observer. As president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), he knows that his organization will have a big role to play in carrying out the Holy Father’s desires for the troubled region after he leaves.
“We are an extension of the Holy Father’s concern for and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Eastern traditions,” he explained of CNEWA’s extensive humanitarian activities in the troubled region during an interview with CNY in his office at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan.
CNEWA is a papal agency that serves the churches and peoples of the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Cardinal Dolan, as Archbishop of New York, is CNEWA’s chairman and treasurer.
Msgr. Kozar will be traveling to Lebanon Sept. 11 in advance of the pope’s trip.
“We reach out in a myriad of ways, sometimes with humanitarian needs for the churches, in health care, in social development spheres. They (the Eastern Churches) are cherished and I think by the Holy Father going there, this is an opportunity for him to communicate that in a very personal way.”
In Lebanon, Pope Benedict will present a papal document addressing the Church’s concerns in the Middle East and meet with representatives of local Christian and Muslim communities. He will also speak with political and cultural leaders during the trip. The document, called an apostolic exhortation, is based on the deliberations of a special Synod of Bishops convened at the Vatican in 2010.
The synod drew 185 bishops, mostly from the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See, and focused on the precarious situation faced by 5.7 million Catholics in 16 Middle Eastern countries. At the end of the Synod, participants released a document calling for “religious freedom and freedom of conscience” in Muslim lands. The pope is likely to continue that theme during his trip.
The papal visit comes at a precarious time in the region, with unrest in neighboring Syria as the government of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad continues to battle forces seeking his ouster from office. Some 21,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict since March 2011.
In June Pope Benedict called on the international community to end the conflict and told Catholics in the Middle East that he prayed the Blessed Mother would “watch over the upcoming trip that—if it pleases God—I will make to Lebanon.”
Msgr. Kozar noted, “Well, of course, there is an overriding concern wherever the Holy Father goes that there are people with evil intentions. You always pray for the safety of the pope. But I think there is a little stronger sense, because geographically we’re talking of a situation that is very close and there is spillover already and then in Southern Lebanon there are realities that we certainly are aware of. I think we all need to offer a few extra prayers for the Holy Father’s safety.”
Still, Msgr. Kozar believes Lebanon might offer an example of how the various religious, cultural and ethnic groups in the region can co-exist more or less in peace. Lebanon has the highest percentage of Christians of all the Middle East nations at 40 percent.
“Sometimes it’s been tested but generally speaking, thanks be to God, there is an air of, it’s even more than tolerance, it’s an air of cooperation that each of the minorities need each other,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And the non-Christians traditions have a deference for their Christians brothers and sisters that makes (Lebanon) kind of unique in that part of the world.”
Catholic News Service contributed to this story.
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