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Jun 01
Encountering Christ in the Holy Land

Melodie Gabriel is a Development Officer for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), whose board of directors includes Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins. Below, she describes CNEWA's collaboration with The Catholic Women's League of Canada to support Holy Land Christians, an initiative called "Velma's Dream."

On May 31, we celebrated the Feast of the Visitation from the Gospel of Luke (1: 39-56). A pregnant Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, who was also with child. Mary's greeting prompts John the Baptist to leap for joy in his mother's womb and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Then Mary praises the Lord with her inspired Magnificat. All of them are filled with immense joy in Christ's presence. In short, I see the Visitation as a joyful encounter with Christ.

Velma Harasen, a former national president of The Catholic Women's League of Canada (CWL), made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2010. While there, she met the local Christians and learned of their struggles. Through their stories, she too encountered Christ and she longed to bring these struggling Christians hope and joy. She came back to Canada compelled to help and started a special CWL initiative called Velma's Dream

Velma Harasen

Velma Harasen of The Catholic Women’s League of Canada visits the Infant Welfare Centre, one of the CNEWA projects supported by the CWL.

As part of my job with Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), I work with the CWL to spread the word about Velma's Dream. I also help raise awareness to the plight of Holy Land Christians and all Christians of the Middle East.

The goal of Velma's Dream is to help Christians remain in the Holy Land and strengthen their presence. Over the years, many have had to flee for economic and political reasons such as unemployment, poverty and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Christians now make up less than 2% of the population and though they want to stay, they cannot survive without our support. Christianity began in the Holy Land and it is important that we help our brothers and sisters there, so as to not lose the roots of our faith.

CNEWA has organized Holy Land pilgrimages for CWL members to visit these Christians and to show them our support. During our pilgrimages, I've witnessed these women encounter Christ, not only by visiting and praying in the places where Jesus walked, but also in meeting the local Christians and hearing their struggles. We also take time to visit local CNEWA projects, including ones supported by the CWL, which aim to help the poor and the marginalized of the area.

On our trips we visit the Church of the Visitation, which commemorates the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. 

Fr Chris Cauchi celebrates Mass at Church of Visitation

Our chaplain, Fr. Chris Cauchi of the Archdiocese of Toronto presiding at Mass at the Church of the Visitation.

I’ve come to admire the work of the CWL, as they put forward a strong and united Catholic voice on important issues affecting our world today. Also, CWL members do many good works in their parishes, their local communities, and abroad.  

CNEWA 2016 pilgrimage group

From CNEWA’s 2016 Holy Land Pilgrimage with Catholic Women’s League members. Current CWL national president Margaret Ann Jacobs, from the Archdiocese of Toronto, is front centre.

It's been a blessing for CNEWA to partner with the CWL, and share a common goal to serve the Christians of the Holy Land. CNEWA is Pope Francis' special agency, supporting the Eastern churches in their service to people in need throughout the Middle East and in other regions overseas.

To learn more about CNEWA and Velma's Dream, please visit www.cnewa.ca. Our next CWL pilgrimage with CNEWA is set for July 2018 and you can visit our webpage for more information. The Catholic Women's League of Canada website is www.cwl.ca

CNEWA 2015 pilgrimage group

From CNEWA's 2015 Holy Land Pilgrimage with CWL members

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