18 November 2016
People inspect damage caused by an airstrike near Idlib, Syria, on 17 November.
(photo: CNS/Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)
U.N. says Aleppo faces ‘bleak moment’ (Reuters) The besieged population of eastern Aleppo faces a “very bleak moment” with no food or medical supplies, winter approaching, and an increasingly fierce attack by Syrian and allied forces, U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Friday. Although Russia and rebel groups both sounded positive about a U.N. humanitarian plan to get supplies in and the sick and wounded out of eastern Aleppo, neither has yet given final approval, he said...
Satellite images reveal damage to Mosul (BBC) Satellite images of Mosul have revealed extensive damage to the city’s buildings, infrastructure and archaeological sites following more than two years of occupation by so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The imagery, released by US geopolitical intelligence company Stratfor, shows how the jihadists have destroyed mosques, government buildings and historical areas. It also reveals damage caused by coalition airstrikes...
Turkey removes only Christian co-mayor (Fides) Among the victims of the “purges” wanted by the Turkish government apparatus is Februniye Akyol, the first Assyrian Christian to be elected co-mayor in Turkey, in the city of Merdin. Both she and the other co-mayor, the Kurdish Ahmet Turk, were removed and replaced with a “Qayyum” appointed by the central government...
Pope prays for peace with leader of Assyrian Church of the East (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke on Thursday of the suffering of innocent victims caught up in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, saying that nothing can justify such terrible violence. His words came as he met with the head of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Gewargis III, who was making his first visit to the Vatican since being elected as Catholicos-Patriarch in September last year...
U.N. joins efforts to help Ethiopian refugees (Andalou Agency) The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) signed an agreement in the capital Addis Ababa Friday to further strengthen their cooperation to meet the growing needs of refugees and their host communities in Ethiopia. UNHCR’s Clementine Nkweta-Salami and UNICEF’s Gillian Mellsop signed the agreement, which outlines key areas of collaboration in child protection, education, health and nutrition, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene. The agreement lasts until 2020...
17 November 2016
Kamil and Agnes Shehade created House of Grace in Haifa as a humble ministry to serve the poor, the disadvantaged and newly released prisoners. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
You would be hard-pressed to find a couple with a deeper commitment to the Gospel — and more zeal for caring for the less fortunate — than Kamil and Agnes Shehade, a heroic couple we profiled in 1998:
Where in the Israeli city of Haifa can the poor and disadvantaged go? To whom can newly released prisoners turn? How can drug addicts kick their habit? Many find help at the House of Grace, a unique community that gives hope and succor to those in despair.
Located on a busy road in central Haifa, the House of Grace is literally an oasis of calm in a sea of confusion. Building construction almost surrounds the compound. Trucks roll continually and workmen toil daily in the scorching sun.
The House of Grace was established by Kamil Shehade, an Israeli Arab and a member of the local Greek Melkite Catholic community. He and his Swiss-born wife, Agnes, are the pivot on which the House of Grace revolves, the core of stability that the large community of staff, residents and volunteers needs.
...Kamil firmly believes God prepared the ground for this apostolate. He had spent 10 years praying for guidance as to how to help his community. With the support of his bishop he had traveled to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, Canada, to learn more about the lay apostolate. He had already worked for many years as a volunteer social worker and was only too familiar with the severe social problems of Haifa’s impoverished Israeli Arab community. He was determined to do something and believed his own Greek Melkite Catholic community (which is the largest Christian community in Haifa) should be at the heart of it.
“Our idea was to help society to live the Gospel, through the church, from the church,” Kamil explains.
Kamil’s dream was to help local Arabs find solutions to their own problems.
“Why should the church abroad always do everything for us? Why not help ourselves?” he asked.
The House of Grace also reaches out to those beyond its little community:
In addition to its residents, the House of Grace helps literally thousands of poor families in the Haifa area, giving them food or Christmas parcels; perhaps helping them write letters, especially to government or municipal agencies.
“It is difficult for people in our community to ask for help,” says Elias. “We emphasize their dignity. We consider them part of a big family.”
...The House of Grace also helps finance the education of gifted pupils whose parents cannot afford the tuition fees of local church-run schools. In addition, about 230 college students both here and abroad receive some contribution, however small — on condition that they return to work in their home community.
Two years ago, Melodie Gabriel, from CNEWA’s Canadian office, wrote about a visit to the House of Grace:
Mr. and Mrs. Shehade had five children, who also lived with these former offenders. They grew up treating them as a part of their family — and, at times, even babysitters.
It is a difficult transition for those released from prison, as they are often ostracized by society and can easily fall back into negative behaviors. For many former prisoners at the House the Grace, it is the first time they are treated as human beings with dignity, rather than lowlifes or criminals. At the House of Grace, they are shown what a real “home” is like.
People of different faiths — Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze — live together at the House of Grace. They celebrate each other’s feasts and learn one another’s traditions. Eventually, they begin to understand and respect each other, even if they don’t always agree — which is rare in a society where there exist many deeply held prejudices.
We heard from one House of Grace resident who says their ministry has given him a new lease on life. He is very thankful to the people who gave him support and helped him to look positively toward the future. He has since obtained employment in construction, and is now focused on building a better life for his family.
Kamil passed away from cancer in 2000, at the young age of 46. But his wife Agnes and his children have continued his work — as Melodie wrote, “living out the Gospel simply, with kindness and love, changing one life at a time.”
Kamil and Agnes Shehade remain heroes not only to us at CNEWA, but to so many others whose lives they have uplifted.
17 November 2016
A child plays with a balloon in Douma, Syria on 13 November. Pope Francis has called events unfolding in the war-torn country a veritable “workshop of cruelty.”
(photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)
Where there is no tenderness, there is cruelty and what is unfolding in Syria is a veritable “workshop of cruelty,” Pope Francis told governing members of Caritas Internationalis.
“I believe the greatest illness of today is cardiac sclerosis,” he said on 17 November, implying a kind of hardening of the heart that renders a person unable to feel compassion or be moved by another’s suffering.
An example of this, he said, is Syria and how so many parties are involved in the conflict, each bent on seeking its own interests and not the freedom and well-being of the people.
“Where there is no tenderness, there is always cruelty. And what is happening today in Syria is cruelty. There are intersecting interests, a workshop of cruelty,” he said.
At the meeting of the Caritas Internationalis’ representative council, Pope Francis also discussed the dangers of bureaucracies and his hope that Caritas would not be one.
“I would like Caritas not to be an institution that depends on the pope, the Holy See, Cor Unum, (the Pontifical Council for) Justice and Peace. No. It is a federation of diocesan Caritas (agencies) that are linked with the Holy See,” he said.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI issued new statutes for Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of 165 national Catholic charities, to place it under the supervision of Cor Unum. But Cor Unum will cease to exist 1 January 2017, when it is absorbed together with three other pontifical councils into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
The Caritas statutes will have to be rewritten to reflect the reorganization of the Roman Curia, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of Caritas Internationalis, told Catholic News Service after the papal audience.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, who will be prefect of the new dicastery, was scheduled to meet with Caritas representatives to discuss what kind of relationship the confederation would have with the new office.
The pope told the Caritas representatives, about 80 people gathered in the apostolic palace’s Sala Clementina, that he asked Cardinal Tagle whether he should read his written speech aloud or just sit and listen to what they had to say and have a “little dialogue.”
“We chose the second” proposal, the pope said to applause.
As is the usual practice, the audience was broadcast via closed-circuit audio feed so journalists could report on the proceedings as they unfolded. However, the last minute change in the nature of the meeting meant the Vatican cut off the audio feed after about 13 minutes. The Vatican later said the encounter was meant to be private.
An unidentified man from Aleppo, Syria, thanked the pope for his encouragement and underlined the importance of the church’s presence in the Arab-Islamic world.
An unidentified woman who covers Caritas efforts in the Middle East and North Africa said Pope Francis’ call to be a sign of tenderness to the people truly changed their hearts and minds and approach to their work, giving them greater courage in a sometimes “arid” world.
The pope told his audience that a “revolution of tenderness” was needed, especially in a world dominated by a “throwaway culture.”
Being tender and close to the people means holding them, embracing them and “to not be afraid of the flesh,” the pope said.
God chose to become flesh through his son so he could be even closer to humanity; the church, too, must be near the people and show this same love — this “tenderness of the Father,” he said.
The flesh of Christ today, he said, are people who are unwanted, exploited and victims of war.
“For this reason the proposals of spirituality (that are) too theoretical are new forms of gnosticism and gnosticism is a heresy,” he said. Gnosticism reflects an idea that a select elite can develop special powers and gifts through specialized knowledge that is hidden from most people.
17 November 2016
Iraqi civilians who fled Mosul wait for aid packages at the Khazir refugee camp on 16 November 2016. Bad weather has slowed the advance of troops battling to retake Mosul from ISIS.
(photo: Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Bad weather slowing advance inside Mosul (BBC) Iraqi forces have paused their advance into Mosul due to bad weather, a month after launching an offensive to retake the city from so-called Islamic State. A general said poor visibility was limiting the ability of aircraft to provide cover, adding that troops would secure eastern areas they had entered...
Meetings held between Lebanon’s new president and heads of churches (Fides) Yesterday, newly elected President Michel Aoun received the delegation of the Greek-Melkite Church, led by Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, and that of the Syrian Catholic Church, led by Patriarch Ignace Youssif III Younan...
President Barzani: Kurdistan to be multiethnic and multireligious (Fides) The Kurdish Peshmerga troops will not withdraw from lands they reclaimed from ISIS in the military campaign for the liberation of Mosul, explaining that this was agreed with the United States and Iraqi government. This is what Masud Barzani, President of the Autonomous Region of Iraqi Kurdistan said on Wednesday, 16 November, meeting the local media in Bashiqa, the city of Nineveh province liberated from the Peshmerga in the first week of November...
Bishops urged to bring more attention to Christian persecution in Middle East (CNS) Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour called on the bishops of the United States to bring wider attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East to their parishes and political leaders. Addressing the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on 15 November, the Maronite leader said he hoped that the new four-year strategic plan adopted by the conference earlier in the day would incorporate a robust advocacy for religious freedom in the rest of the world...
In Ukraine, mothers search for disappeared sons (Al Jazeera) Olena Dovhopola’s son, 31-year-old Serhiy, went missing in September 2014, just months into the war in Ukraine. Serving in the Ukrainian army, Serhiy went missing after fierce clashes with separatist rebels in the east of the county. He is one of an estimated 1,000 people, both soldiers and civilians, who have been declared missing — presumed dead or captured — since the beginning of the conflict in March 2014...
New research project looks refugee artisans (Phys.org) The impact of forced displacement on Syria’s traditional crafts and cultural heritage, and the people directly involved in it, is to be analysed in a new research project. Academics from the University of Plymouth will study the industries that have survived among refugee communities forcibly displaced to the neighboring state of Jordan since 2011...
16 November 2016
Children greet a visitor during lunchtime at the Bethlehem Day Care Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. For more on Catholic education in Ethiopia, check out Breaking Barriers from the March 2007 edition of ONE and ‘It’s Not Just Talk and Chalk’ from the Summer 2013 edition.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
16 November 2016
Wreckage of ancient artifacts, destroyed by ISIS, is seen in Nimrud in Mosul’s southeast, which was taken back by the Iraqi army three days ago. The ancient city, which contained the tombs of many Assyrian kings, is now ruined after the occupation of ISIS. It is no longer even possible to see a single remaining statue in the city, whose history has been erased.
(photo: Idris Okuducu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Troops in Iraq find traps, kids hurt, heritage destroyed (AP) Iraqi special forces pushed deeper into the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes but under attack by rockets and suicide bombers from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Troops have established a foothold in the city’s east, and earlier in the day, drove northward into the Tahrir neighborhood, where families left their houses to flee the fighting. Mortars from ISIS-held territory wounded at least five children trying to flee the fighting, who were evacuated by the troops...
Russia deploys aircraft carrier in new Syria offensive (The Independent) Russia has begun a major military campaign on rebel-held parts of Syria after the country’s biggest surface deployment since the Cold War docked at a naval base on the Syrian coast...
Kerala church offers money to those in need during financial crisis (Indian Express) With the PM’s demonetization announcement that sent shock ripples throughout the country, people have been running amok wanting to exchange the older currency with the new in-circulation Rs 2,000, or better yet a whole bunch of Rs 100 notes. Others have been waiting in long queues, starting from the wee hours of the morning till late night. In Kerala, however, a church has come to help the lesser privileged people in an unusual way. St Martin De Porres church in Ernakulam district in Kerala announced that it would give money out of their offertory box to people who are in dire need of the money, and expect nothing in return...
Communist leader in India asks Church for support (India-Christian Activist Network) At a ceremony to mark the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the communist leader of the southern Indian state of Kerala asked the church to help support his government’s welfare programs. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made the appeal while speaking at the 12 November function in the largely Christian town of Kottyam. “I don’t have any problem in getting the church to support us in these areas,” he said...
Walking with pilgrims to Ethiopia’s ‘New Jerusalem’ (CNN) From all corners of a nation they come, often walking for hundreds of miles barefoot: Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Their destination is Lalibela in the north of Ethiopia. A town of approximately 20,000 people, Lalibela’s population swells five-fold in the first days of January, pilgrims converging to celebrate Genna (or Ledet) — Christmas according to the Ethiopian calendar...
Rare icon replica visiting Scranton (Scranton Times-Tribune) A rare replica of the Mary the Helper of Mothers icon is spending the month at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Scranton and the faithful are invited to see it. An icon in the Orthodox faith is a religious image or painting intended to give its viewer a spiritual experience. This image of the Blessed Mother, clothed and surrounded in gold and holding the infant Jesus, is meant to help women facing challenges conceiving, difficult pregnancies or hard childbirths, said St. Mary’s pastor, the Rev. Leonard A. Martin, S.J....
15 November 2016
Sister Mary James Clines, R.G.S., served some of the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia.
For many years, some of the most dedicated heroes in CNEWA’s world were the Good Shepherd Sisters caring for the poor and destitute in Ethiopia. One of those we came to know and admire was Sister Mary James Clines, R.G.S.
Writing for our magazine in 1999, she described the sisters’ mission:
It was not until 1971 that the first Good Shepherd Sisters arrived in Ethiopia. Three years later, the Province of Ireland assumed support for the sisters, generously providing personnel and funds.
The first task of the three sisters who began the mission was to become familiar with the most deprived areas of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
“Everywhere we saw sad, downtrodden women — carrying water and firewood, caring for malnourished children, lining up outside hospitals and clinics,” Sister Mary Teresa Ryan recalls. “Equally visible were the city beggars, street children, handicapped persons and prostitutes.”
Following their constitution, the sisters resolved “to help bring about change in whatever condemns others to live a marginalized life.”
In 2003, photojournalist Peter Lemieux reported on the sisters’ work and said they were providing a “flicker of candlelight amid the darkness” among those poorest of the poor in Ethiopia — through education, a day care center, and health care in the midst of a growing AIDS epidemic. All this was geared toward trying to provide families with a sense of hope:
Since 1976, sisters at the Good Shepherd Day Care Center have been trying to help families in the Gotera section of Addis Ababa. During her recent evaluation of the program, Sister Enatnesh realized that in more than 25 years, the sisters “started by helping the mothers in a cooperative, then continued to help the children, and now we are continuing to help their grandchildren. “That’s really depressing. You want to see improvement — you help somebody and then they can go on by themselves. To keep helping the same families over and over is depressing.”
But in the struggle there is joy. Joy that so many children have passed through the center. Joy in seeing the children clean, happy, in uniform and at play in the school compound. “At school, they have a day off from their situation,” Sister Enatnesh said.
Equally, Sister Mary James added, “The highlight of my day is when I can be at the day care center.
“The children hold and kiss your hand. And when I look in their eyes...I see hope.”
Dwindling vocations eventually compelled the Sisters of the Good Shepherd to leave Ethiopia. But Sister Mary James Clines, now retired and living on Long Island, has left behind a remarkable legacy. As she said in an interview in 2009:
“We have always emphasized the need for education and are gratified that many of the children who began in our day care program or who benefitted from our education fund or training programs are now employed,” she said. “Considering an overall unemployment rate of 50 percent in the country, our work has made a difference.”
It is work CNEWA has been privileged to support — and that continues in so many different ways today. To be a part of our ongoing work in Ethiopia, visit this link.
15 November 2016
Sister Jannetta Aldegheri from the Sisters of Saint Dorothy greets a young friend at the Pope Paul VI Ephpheta School for the Hearing Impaired in Bethlehem. To learn more about the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, check out this profile. And read The Miracle of Ephpheta in our magazine to learn more about this remarkable school. (photo: Steve Sabella)
15 November 2016
Italian Cardinal-designate Mario Zenari has been nuncio to Syria since 2008. He will be one of 17 new cardinals consecrated by Pope Francis at a Vatican consistory on Saturday 19 November. The Vatican’s Secretary of State says this is a sign of the Pope’s closeness to the people of Syria.
(photo: CNS/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)
Humanitarian agencies call to protect civilians in Mosul (Vatican Radio) Innocent civilians in the embattled city of Mosul are being caught in the crossfire and isolated from the outside world. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Iraq is calling for greater protection of civilians trapped inside of Mosul. Since the military offensive began on 17 October to recapture city from ISIS, more than 50,000 people have fled. The number of displaced civilians has increased drastically over the past week, totaling more than 20,000 compared to just 6,000 the previous week...
Syria’s new cardinal a sign of Pope’s closeness (CNA) Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said that Francis’ decision to give a red hat to the longtime papal envoy to Syria is a sign of the Pope’s closeness to the Church and people on the ground amid the country’s dire situation...
Muslim attacks on Christians in Egypt on the rise (The Independent) Attacks against Christians have intensified as mistrust between Christians and Muslims deepens. Today, community leaders and human rights activists say the smallest of matters are setting off violence, often pitting neighbor against neighbor. At a time when President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government is jailing its opponents and struggling to revive a sinking economy, the violence adds a new layer of populist frustration: Christians strongly supported Sissi’s rise, expecting him to protect them after the former army general led a coup that toppled the Islamists...
Jewish-Muslim alliance formed against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia (RNS) The day after president-elect Donald Trump appointed a man accused of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as his chief strategist, two of the nation’s largest Jewish and Muslim advocacy groups formed an unprecedented partnership to fight bigotry...
Turkey rebuilds mosques in Gaza (Andalou Agency) Turkey’s Religious Affairs Presidency Foundation has rebuilt nine mosques destroyed during Israel’s military onslaught on the blockaded Gaza Strip in 2014, an official statement said on Tuesday. The Religious Affairs Directorate announced in a statement the mosques in Gaza were now ready to be used by the Muslim community...
Icon reproduction enshrined in historic Chicago cathedral (OCA.org) His Grace, Bishop Paul and a number of clergy and faithful were present as a reproduction of the Wonderworking Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God was enshrined in Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago on Wednesday, 9 November 2016...
14 November 2016
At the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, different faiths work together in harmony. Here, a Muslim nurse administers a vaccination to a baby, as his mother and one of the Dominican sisters at the clinic look on. (photo: Peter Jesserer Smith)
Editor’s note. Journalist Peter Jesserer Smith of the National Catholic Register recently completed a visit to Jordan with other Christian writers and journalists, and saw first-hand some of the important work CNEWA’s donors are supporting. We recently featured his impressions of the Pontifical Mission Community Center in Amman. This week, he takes us to Jordan’s Mother of Mercy Clinic:
At CNEWA’s Mother of Mercy Clinic, Dominican sisters and Muslim medical professionals work side-by-side to bring health, healing and compassion to the poor and the refugee families seeking their out-patient services.
“People from far away come, because we respect everyone here,” said Sister Miriam, one of the three Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena who run the clinic. “They each feel treated like a person.”
Dr. Hanin Mohammed is one of two doctors working at the clinic, which provides general care, but specializes in pre-natal and post-natal care. She sees on average 75 to 100 patients a day in the space of six hours.
“We have a well-trained and experienced staff,” she said.
Zerqa is Jordan’s third largest city and has a population of more than one million people. Dr. Mohammed said she treats a number of respiratory infections and asthma from the industrial air pollution.
The Mother of Mercy Clinic is located near Zerqa’s Palestinian refugee camp, but it has also been serving the influx of Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Dr. Mohammed said she has had to treat diseases once deemed eradicated, such as tuberculosis, as well as disabilities from “relative marriages,” and child malnutrition. The clinic administers approximately 370 vaccinations per month.
The one area where Dr. Mohammed believes the clinic needs more resources is psychological support — not just for refugees who have suffered the trauma of war, but also poor families afflicted by domestic violence.
“The psychological damage is severe,” she said. Dr. Mohammed noted that many children from Syria have difficulty sleeping due to what they suffered. Some of these victims may need “pharmacological treatments” that the clinic cannot yet afford.
CNEWA’s support has helped provide the clinic with equipment it needs to offer medical ultrasounds, plus new blood testing equipment that has helped doctors speed up diagnoses for diseases such as diabetes.
Ayah, a social worker at the clinic, said she has been working for two years with children, helping parents with social and family issues. Some of the children she works with come from families with marriage problems. Other children are refugees from Iraq or Syria whom she says are “very scared” at the sound of the smallest noise.
“This boy was so attached to his parents,” she said of one child, “he would not let go.”
Ayah said she sees up to six people a day, and sessions can last up to 90 minutes, if needed. The hardest cases for the social worker involve children with autism. But she said the real need in Zerqa is for specialists trained in helping children with special needs.
“Such a thing doesn’t exist here,” she noted.
Ayah added she enjoys working with the Dominican sisters at the clinic. She has been coming to the clinic since her mother was pregnant with her. Her work at the clinic, in a certain way, allows her to pass on the care her family received to other mothers and children.
The clinic is trying to improve women’s health. According to Sister Miriam, the clinic diagnoses about five cases a month of breast cancer — a rising phenomenon in Jordan. Women come in for breast cancer screening every six months. Some of the cases were caught because the women came in for prenatal care. The clinic also provides information on natural family planning as a healthy, non-toxic way to space their children.
Because health insurance is not available for Palestinian and Syrian refugees, the clinic is subsidized by CNEWA, thanks to its generous benefactors.
The cost per visit to Mother of Mercy Clinic is three dinars ($4.20 US), but the fee is waived for the destitute who cannot pay. Sister Miriam added that it saves these families a fortune — regular clinics cost upwards of 20 dinars ($28 US).
Prescription drugs are expensive in Jordan, but the clinic is able to offer medicine to families at a discount. Again, the clinic makes sure that everyone receives medicine regardless of their ability to pay. For families who are very poor, the sisters go even further.
“We treat them for free,” Sister Miriam said. At the Mother of Mercy Clinic, the Dominican sisters and the Muslim medical professionals who work with them, have their hearts united in one aim: “We are here to serve the human being.”
To support the invaluable work of the Mother of Mercy Clinic, visit this page.
And read more about the clinic in Finding Sanctuary in Jordan and Overwhelming Mercy in ONE magazine.