CLEVELAND (CNS) – A recent note from India leaves Mgr. John E. Kozar knows he always brings a smile to people in faraway lands.
It all has to do with howling like a wolf.
The note said people were asking about the white-haired man “who made us smile and taught us to scream,” said Mgr. Kozar, president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association / Mission pontificale pour la Palestine.
It was over a decade ago when Mgr. Kozar screamed in front of 2,000 Nepalese children in a camp for internally displaced people in India. At the time, he was the national director of the pontifical missionary works in the United States. He screamed, he explained, to get the children’s attention so he could share a simple message about the cross and the love of Jesus.
The screaming was something camp residents remembered and the recent note from the director of the CNEWA / PMP office in India wanted Mgr. Kozar to know that he has not been forgotten.
Mgr. Kozar continued to howl during the nine years he was president of CNEWA / PMP when he shared his pastoral message in places such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
The 74-year-old priest will take these memories with him when he retires on June 30.
His plan is to return to his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he grew up in a Croatian American family and was ordained a priest in 1971. His exact landing place is not yet known, although he told Catholic News Service that he hopes to eventually settle in a parish.
Such a framework would suit the “pastor on loan to missions” for a long time.
“My bishop is there, my brother priests are there and I have some family members there,” he said of his return home.
Mgr. Kozar’s future ministerial role in Pittsburgh also remains uncertain. He is nine months after a kidney transplant and continues to recover. He said he had to be careful to avoid exposure to any disease, especially COVID-19, which is caused by the novel coronavirus that has swept the world.
What he does know is that he will miss seeing the people in the countries that CNEWA / PMP serves in the Middle East, North East Africa, Asia and the Caucasus region. As an agency of the Holy See, CNEWA / PMP works for, through and with the Eastern Churches in these regions to meet pastoral needs and provide humanitarian assistance.
“I will remember with great humility the wonderful example of faith of the poor, the oppressed, the oppressed that I went to visit in the name of the Holy Father, the universal church,” he said. “This is where I was humiliated. Their faith and even their sense of hope uplifted me. It was like evangelism in reverse.
Mgr. Kozar described many people, whom he said were often marginalized because they were poor, as hungry for the Christian faith, with the “fire of wanting to know Jesus more closely, more intimately”.
He recalled a visit to Iraqi villages that the Islamic State had invaded during the height of its insurgency, killing Christians because they had a cross on their house as a token of faith. When the Christians came back, so did the crosses.
“It hit me time and time again,” he said. “I made my theology a reality by visiting these people who have endured so much. And they always have a smile. They always feel that God has blessed them.
He also thanked the leaders of the Eastern Catholic Church for their desire to be with those who suffer and suffer loss while “sharing the celebration of the cross and the victory of Jesus at Easter”.
“At CNEWA, we seek to support local churches. We don’t impose. We don’t tell them how to be a church. They know it better than anyone, and people really help (the clergy), ”he said.
During his stay at CNEWA / PMP, Msgr. Kozar was able to visit 11 of the 13 countries in which the organization is present. He said he regretted not being able to travel to Armenia and Georgia, where the organization had supported pastoral services. But everywhere else, from India to Ukraine, he visited.
Mgr. Kozar joined CNEWA / PMP in 2011 after serving for a decade as National Director of the Pontifical Missionary Pontuviers, who is also responsible for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of the Apostle Saint Peter, the Missionary Union and the Association of the Holy Childhood. He was also a consultant for the World Mission Sunday Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and was a member of the Supreme Committee of Pontifical Missionary Works in Rome from 2007 to 2010.
Before assuming a national role, Mgr. Kozar held several positions related to missionary work with the Diocese of Pittsburgh starting in 1978.
He said the missions called him at a young age.
“The very first example of a connection in my heart and soul with the missions, I was maybe 10 or 12 years old in Catholic elementary school,” said Mgr. Kozar called back. “We would have a missionary visit once or twice a year. They were larger than life in my eyes.
Mgr. Kozar enrolled in the seminary with the goal of becoming a pastor, but the missions also called. At one point, he supported himself by working for four months in the Altiplano in Peru, one of the wildest and least developed regions on the planet.
However, the allure of missionary work had to be suspended as he cared for his parents as their health declined. While caring for them after ordination, he worked in the diocesan mission office in Pittsburgh and made annual visits to the diocesan mission in Peru.
Building more and more experience in his diocesan ministry, Mgr. Kozar has become recognized nationally and internationally. Among those who discovered his work was New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Chairman of the Board of CNEWA / PMP. When the organization needed a new leader in 2011, Cardinal Dolan knew the Pittsburgh priest was the right fit for the job.
“Mgr. Kozar has “the smell of sheep” because wherever there is trouble, persecution, hunger or disease in the world church, you can expect to see the smiling face of John Kozar ”, Cardinal Dolan said in an email to CNS.
Earlier still, Mgr. Kozar developed a keen eye for photography, having learned the trade from his father as a child. These skills have contributed over the years to the production of CNEWA’s ONE magazine, of which he was editor.
Mgr. Kozar has regularly provided contributions to articles and thoughts on using photographs to tell the stories of the lives and struggles of people in countries served by CNEWA / PMP.
His support for quality journalism earned him the Bishop England Award from the Catholic Press Association in 2019. The award is the CPA’s highest honor for publishers.
Mgr. Peter Vaccari, former rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, will officially succeed Mgr. Kozar on July 1.
Mgr. Kozar expects that during his continued recovery from the kidney transplant, he will live the missionary life “by proxy”.
“I like geography, culture and all that. I will remember and participate as much as possible. I can take advantage of it if I see something on the CNEWA website or on another religious organization or congregation (website).
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