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December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
11 February 2016
Greg Kandra

A pedicab with a Vatican flag passes in front of the Russian Orthodox church in Havana on 7 February. Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill will hold an historic meeting in Cuba on Friday 12 February. (photo: CNS/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters)

11 February 2016
Greg Kandra

Displaced Iraqis, who fled regions controlled by ISIS near Fallujah, carry their belongings on 8 February 2016 as they arrive in the Jwaibah area, on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi. Iraq now faces a growing economic crisis caused by war, plunging oil prices and an influx of refugees.
(photo: Moadh Al-Dulaimi/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope asks for prayers for meeting with patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has asked for prayers for his forthcoming meeting with his “dear brother,” the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Head of the Russian Orthodox Church. That meeting is scheduled to take place on 12 February 12 at Cuba’s international airport as the Pope travels to Mexico for an apostolic journey...

War, plunging oil prices create economic crisis in Iraq (AP) Plunging oil prices have pitched Iraq into a severe financial crisis as it struggles to combat ISIS, play host to millions of refugees and rebuild cities and towns ravaged by war...

Turkey keeps borders closed to Syrian refugees (The Washington Post) Turkey angrily rejected demands Wednesday that it open its border to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees driven from their homes by relentless Russian airstrikes, saying that to do so would amount to complicity in the Russian-backed offensive to drive rebels out of the province of Aleppo...

Russia: U.S. Planes bombed Aleppo Wednesday (Reuters) Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that two U.S. aircraft had bombed the Syrian city of Aleppo on 10 February and that Russian planes had not been operating in the area. A Pentagon spokesman had accused Russian and Syria government forces on Wednesday of destroying Aleppo’s two main hospitals with air strikes, though he did not specify when the strikes were alleged to have taken place...

Ukrainians: don’t throw us under the bus (The Catholic Register) Nobody wants the Pope to meet Moscow’s Orthodox patriarch more than the Ukrainian Catholics, but the Eastern-rite Catholics want to be sure their Church is treated as a full partner in the dialogue between Rome and Moscow. “We want this. It’s about time... If anything we would like for these meetings to happen more often,” said Father Peter Galadza, acting director of the Sheptytsky Institute at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. “We don’t want to return to the old ostpolitik where the Eastern Catholic churches, especially the Ukrainian Catholic Church, get thrown under the bus...”

Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Turkey Russian Orthodox

10 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

A student at the Shashemene School for the Blind sets his bed in the morning. To learn more about the school and its efforts to teach its students self-reliance, read The Future at Their Fingertips, from the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures)

Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Disabilities Catholic education

10 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian children, who fled bombing in Aleppo, wait in a tent city close to the Bab al Salam border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border on 10 February. (photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Damascus vows to recapture Aleppo from rebels (Business Insider) Damascus aims to secure Syria’s border with Turkey and recapture the city of Aleppo with its latest military offensive, a top adviser to President Bashar al Assad said on Tuesday. In an interview in her Damascus office, Bouthaina Shaaban held out little hope for diplomatic efforts to end the five-year civil war, telling Reuters proposals for a ceasefire were coming from states that “do not want an end to terrorism” and wanted to shore up insurgents who are losing ground. The Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, has launched a major advance in recent weeks near Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city, now divided between rebel- and government-held sectors…

Doctors Without Borders: 23,000 flee Aleppo (ABC News) Doctors Without Borders says some 23,000 new arrivals fleeing the fighting in Aleppo are in urgent need of emergency shelter and support near Syria’s border with Turkey. In a press release issued Tuesday, the group says it has increased the number of beds in its hospital in Azaz district and is preparing to extend capacity if necessary…

Vicar of Aleppo says Syrian people do not want foreigners’ war (AsiaNews) The Syrian army, with the help of the Russians, is making great strides in the Aleppo region, says the apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, O.F.M. “The goal is to free the area from militia extremists and allow people to return to their homes. In some areas, schools have reopened and the supply of electricity and water has returned,” he says. In a tense situation, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen sees positive glimmers: “Many of the local fighters, the Syrian guerrillas, are calling for an end to the war, and want reconciliation and dialogue with military and government. Where instead there is a prevalence of foreign jihadists and militants linked to foreign powers in the region and outside the region, war still rages on…”

Pope Francis meets with prime minister of Iraq (Vatican Radio) Before the general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with the prime minister of Iraq, Haydar al Abadi. The meeting took place in the studio of the Paul VI Audience Hall. The two discussed the role of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities to promote tolerance and peace…

Pope-patriarch meeting historic, observers say, but substance is key (CNS) The planned 12 February meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church will be a historic event, those involved in ecumenical relations agree, but they contend the proof of the pudding will lie in the content of the joint statement the two church leaders are expected to sign at the end of their meeting…

Last Byzantine church in Ankara fights for survival (Christian Today) The last remaining Byzantine church in Ankara, Turkey, is fighting to survive as the crowded city continues to spread. The Orthodox Church of St. Clement, built at least 1,000 years ago, is in ruins and is quickly disappearing amid office buildings in the Altindag district. Despite being of cultural and historical importance, the church can only be visited by walking down an office fire escape with express permission from the owners…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis War Turkey Patriarch Kirill

9 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

The Rev. Androwas Bahus teaches children in the smallest of his parishes at St. Andrew the Apostle Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in Akko, Israel. You can read about a day in the life of a priest in Galilee in the latest edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)

Tags: Israel Holy Land Holy Land Christians Priests Galilee

9 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian government soldiers celebrate after taking control of the village of Ratian, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, from rebel fighters on 6 February. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian government forces, with Russian support, turn a corner (Huffington Post) Late on 2 February, the news hit: “All communication and supply line[s]” between Turkey and Aleppo had been severed, according to a Elijah Magnier, a renowned Arab war correspondent with Alrai Media Group. It seems to be so; the Syrian army and allied militias, backed by Hezbollah and Russian air power, took control of a tendril of territory that cuts off Aleppo-based rebels from the Turkish border. Eastern supply lines for ISIS appear to have also been cut. Edward Dark, a pseudonym for a respected commentator on Syrian affairs living in Aleppo, said on 3 February: “This is the beginning of the end of jihadi presence in Aleppo. After four years of war and terror, people can finally see the end in sight…”

Turkey under pressure to open border to Syrian refugees (Al Jazeera) Turkey came under mounting pressure to open its border Saturday as tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a government onslaught sought entry and the European Union called on Ankara to grant them refuge. As many as 35,000 Syrians have amassed along the closed border, according to Suleyman Tapsiz, governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis. He said Turkey would provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an “extraordinary crisis…”

Rebels threaten to execute anyone caught smuggling humanitarian aid to Foah and Kefraya (Al Masdar News) The Sharia Courts of Idlib that are run by the Islamist rebels of Jaysh al Fateh have issued a decree that bans the delivery of humanitarian aid to the predominately Shiite towns of Kefraya and Foah in the Idlib Governorate. Under this decree, any person(s) caught smuggling humanitarian aid to the aforementioned towns will be executed by the Shari’ah Courts of Idlib. This hard-lined stance against the delivery of humanitarian aid to the beleaguered civilians of Kefraya and Foah comes just one week after another convoy of humanitarian aid was delivered to the town of Madaya in western Damascus…

In Syria, war crimes don’t take sides, U.N. report says (CNN) They were prisoners of war on different sides of a conflict that’s raged for nearly five years. But all of them faced a horrifying reality, according to a new report on Syria released by the United Nations. Torture, mass executions and other war crimes have been carried out against detainees held by groups on practically all sides of the fighting, according to the report released Monday by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria…

Christians boycott peace conference; Chaldean Patriarch frustrated with empty words (Fides) Christian representatives invited to participate in the “Conference on the protection of peaceful coexistence,” held on Sunday, 7 February at the Iraqi Parliament, decided to boycott the event, to mark their distance from occasions when the calls to coexistence and harmony between different ethnic and religious identities are transformed into mere rhetorical formulas. In addition to the Christian communities, also other religious minorities, such as the Yazidis and Mandaeans boycotted the conference…

On the Great Council of the Orthodox Church (First Things) Already there is much talk about the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. Between now and June 19, 2016, when the council officially opens on the island of Crete, there will be many rumors and much spin. Some will be justified; like other patriarchal institutions, Orthodox churches are not normally known for their transparency. However, other chatter will be less than helpful. What follow are some brief clarifications on basic questions surrounding the council…

Tags: Syria Refugees War Ecumenism

8 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian children who fled bombing in Aleppo wander among tents at the Oncupinar crossing, opposite the Turkish province of Kilis, on 6 February 2016. (photo: Kerem Kocalar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Syria refugee camps set up as Turkey limits entries (BBC) Turkish aid workers have been setting up tents and distributing supplies for thousands of new Syrian refugees kept from entering Turkey at the border. Some 35,000 people fled a Syrian government offensive in the Aleppo area last week, trying to enter Turkey’s Kilis border region. But Turkey has so far closed the border to most of them despite appeals by E.U. leaders to let them cross…

As Syrians flee anew, neighbors’ altruism hardens into resentment (New York Times) When the Syrian refugees first started streaming into this bedraggled border town, Gassim al Moghrebi was their tireless benefactor, distributing donations of food, money and clothes and sheltering as many as possible in two apartments he owned. “All of Ramtha was just like me,” Mr. Moghrebi said, describing a good will rooted in family ties that spanned the border, and sympathy for the victims of a pitiless war. “One man had ten apartments. He gave them to the Syrians for free.” But now, as Syria witnesses a new escalation of violence and flee again by the tens of thousands, neighboring countries are increasingly overwhelmed and reluctant to let them in. In many places, that early altruism has hardened into resentment — an ominous turn for those searching for safety from the war…

Maronite patriarch: Without a president, Lebanon is on brink of collapse (AsiaNews) Religious leaders, international diplomats and citizens have launched a fresh appeal to the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new president, a position now vacant for over 20 months. In his Sunday homily Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter lent his voice to this call…

Coptic eparchy to celebrate anniversary of the martyrdom of 21 Copts in Libya (Fides) The Coptic Orthodox Eparchy of Samalot is preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of the martyrdom of 21 Copts killed in Libya by ISIS militants. Celebrations will culminate in the solemn liturgy on Tuesday, 16 February. The 21 Coptic Egyptians were kidnapped in Libya in early January 2015…

A Catholic-Orthodox meeting is spectacular but not unprecedented (The Economist) The announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, due to take place in Cuba on 12 February, is certainly a spectacular moment in ecumenical dialogue. But contrary to many reports that have appeared in the press this weekend, it is certainly not the first top-level encounter between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches since the East-West schism of 1054. Before speculating about what will happen in Havana, it’s worth recalling, in barest outline, some landmarks in the history of this often tortured relationship…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Refugee Camps Patriarch Kirill

5 February 2016
Michael J.L. La Civita

A Syriac Christian venerates the Gospel at the Church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin, Turkey. Reports today highlight the return of refugees to the Middle East after finding a cold welcome in Europe. In the Winter 2015 edition of ONE magazine, contributor Don Duncan takes us to southeastern Turkey, where a small but steady number of Syriac Christians have returned from years in exile to rebuild their homeland. (photo: Don Duncan)

5 February 2016
Michael J.L. La Civita

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill reads a prayer during the Christmas service 7 January at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill 12 February in Cuba, en route to Mexico.
(photo: CNS/Sergei Chirikov, EPA)

Pope, Russian Orthodox patriarch to meet in Cuba, Vatican announces (CNS) After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow 12 February in Cuba on the pope’s way to Mexico. It will be the first-ever meeting of a pope and Moscow patriarch, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters 5 February...

Lebanese churches concerned about religious discrimination with regards to access to functions and public resources (Fides) Maronite bishops expressed their concern over the imbalance that is being produced regarding access to public offices and state financial resources, with silent discrimination that see Christians penalized. The concern emerged during the last monthly meeting of the Assembly of Maronite Bishops, who met on Wednesday, 3 February, at the patriarchal see in Bkerke, under the presidency of Patriarch Bechara Peter...

Syrian rebels are losing Aleppo and perhaps also the war (Washington Post) Syrian rebels battled for their survival in and around Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on Thursday after a blitz of Russian airstrikes helped government loyalists sever a vital supply route and sent a new surge of refugees fleeing toward the border with Turkey...

Economic effect of Syrian war at $35 bn: World Bank (Al-Monitor) The devastating economic impact of the war in Syria and its spillover into nearby countries stands at $35 billion and climbing, the World Bank said. The estimate, included in a quarterly World Bank report on the Middle East and North Africa, was released on the same day that world leaders in London pledged more than $10 billion through 2020 to help the Syrians...

A seminar on the environment in Jordan (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) The Catholic Center for Studies and Media (C.C.S.M.), in cooperation with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung held on Saturday, 30 January 2016 a seminar titled, “Environment: The Common Home of Humanity.” C.C.S.M. Director Father Rif’at Bader said that the preservation of the environment has become one of the greatest global challenges facing humanity. He added that Pope Francis’ historic message of the environment titled, “Laudato Si on Care for Our Common Home” stresses that most the people living on Earth state that they are faithful which entails orchestrating inter-religious dialogue in order to care for the environment, to defend the poor, and to ensure respect for the other brethren...

4 February 2016
James Jeffrey

Children at the Shashemene School clean their dishes after breakfast. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

In the Winter edition of ONE, James Jeffrey takes readers to a remarkable school in Ethiopia serving young people who are visually impaired. Here are some other details about students who have the “future at their fingertips”:

“Seulam neuw,” I say in my British-accented Amharic (which tends to confuse most Ethiopians) to three boys, arms around shoulders, coming toward me along the school walk way.

It’s a ubiquitous phrase in Ethiopia expressing a range of greetings from “Peace” to “What’s up?” to “How you doing?”

Out shoot three hands into the air in front of the three blind school boys. I make my way along, each squeeze of a hand resulting in a smile and further polite Amharic words of greeting back at me.

Once you’re beyond formalities at Shashemene Boarding School for the Blind, the boys are much more forthright than the girls in making new acquaintances. Before I know it, a crowd of energized youngsters are clustered around me.

“I’m a tall guy,” I offer, my choices of Amharic ice breakers being limited.

Standing on tip-toes and stretching arms high in the air, the boys still can’t quite scale my height.

Petterik, the photographer I’m working with, comes to their aid, lifting them in the air so they can place a hand on top of my head. They return to the ground satisfied.

During such moments among the school’s students, smiling becomes contagious, youth and energy working its usual uplifting tonic. But at other times during my visit I experienced a range of quite different emotions.

Sometimes, surrounded by so many with disabilities, especially when struck so young, I felt sadness, perhaps mingled with guilt. Ethiopia can be a frustrating place to live and work, and I’m not immune from complaining: the glacial bureaucracy, the unreliably slow Internet, the power cuts.

But when faced with children coping, and succeeding, in a sightless world, such complaints become more than churlish.

I also felt anger. Anger at the overarching situation of these children and the sisters looking after them. For there’s no local help, no assistance from the government — its only involvement comes from taking increasing taxes.

Ethiopia undoubtedly still contains soul-crushing poverty for too many. But at the same time, significant wealth is being generated for some. Not far away, at Lake Langano, is a hotel resort built by Haile Selassie, the famous Ethiopian marathon runner. Guests at the hotel include wealthy Ethiopians reaping rewards from the growing economy. None have ever visited the school.

During afternoon coffee and biscuits at the sisters’ residence, a short walk from the school, Sister Ana described to me an attempted day trip to a beach at Lake Langano.

Upon arriving they were informed the entrance fee for each student was 100 Ethiopian birr, a sizeable sum — many Ethiopians earn about 30 birr for a day’s wage.

The possibility of making an exception for a busload of blind students didn’t come into it. They had to turn back.

In Western countries such as my home, the UK, there’s an ongoing heated debate about overseas aid being too large.

Such money could certainly be better managed, but I’ll gladly see foreign donations continue to a small embattled group of sisters and teachers doing their best to help the needy, destitute and forgotten of society.

Read more in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE.

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