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Winter, 2014
Volume 40, Number 4
12 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Nabilah Abdul Bassih sits with her son Marvin in their tent in the Martha Schmouny camp of Erbil, Iraq, in September 2014. (photo: Don Duncan)

The Autumn edition of ONE features several profiles of people who have fled ISIS, including the Bassih family:

Nabilah Abdul Bassih’s mobile phone rings and she breaks away from her conversation to answer. Her brow creases and her voice drops.

Since Nabilah, her husband and her four sons arrived at the Martha Schmouny camp for internally displaced Christians, beside St. Joseph’s Church in Erbil, she has been getting many such calls. The calls are from other people who were displaced by ISIS from the Christian town of Bartalla in the plain of Nineveh in northern Iraq.

Unlike most, the Abdul Bassih family did not get out in time during the mass exodus of Christians. They remained trapped in Bartalla, under virtual house arrest for over a month. It wasn’t until 15 September that they finally made it to Erbil. Initially, they were mobbed with people who had left Bartalla in early August, and then the calls started coming in.

Starving for information on their hometown, or in search of missing loved ones, people contact the Abdul Bassihs because the family, due to its recent arrival in Erbil, is seen to have the latest. “Did you see my house, is it intact?” “Have you seen my son when you were there?” “What have they done to the church?” These and more are the questions Nabilah faces daily. She answers as best she can but her preoccupation now is finding a place for her own family to stay. As all the available space for the displaced in Erbil has been used up, the Abdul Bassihs have had to move into the tent of a neighbor from Bartalla while the bishop finds them a tent for themselves. Until then, 12 people crush into the tent at night to sleep, six from each family.

The phone call ends. Nabilah hangs up and returns to breastfeeding her youngest child, Marvin, 14 months old.

“I feel deep sadness,” she says. “It was our bad luck to get caught in Bartalla with ISIS. It was so difficult.”

Read more.

Visit this link to learn how you can help our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq during this difficult time. And please remember them in your prayers!

12 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Displaced Syrian children sit on a tarp after heavy rains in the Bab al Salam camp on the border with Turkey on 11 December. (photo: Baraa al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope urges Syriac Catholic bishops to coordinate efforts to meet needs (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with the patriarch, bishops and faithful of the Syriac Catholic Church on Friday, urging them to coordinate their efforts with the other churches in the Middle East and seek to meet the humanitarian needs of the people affected by the violence and unrest in the region…

Maronite priest suggests bombing Islamic State may prove counterproductive (ChristianToday) A senior priest and Arab Christian from the Middle East has called on the West not to attempt to defeat Islamic State by bombing. He predicts the organization will instead destroy itself from within. The Rev. Michel Jalakh from Beirut, secretary general of the Middle East Council of Churches and a Maronite Catholic, says it would be more productive to reach out to the region’s Christians who speak Arabic and have lived as neighbors and friends of Muslims for centuries. At grass-roots level, he said, the existence of Islamic State has not damaged Christian relations with Muslims, and most Muslims oppose it…

The silent deaths of refugees in Arsal (Al Akhbar) The security situation in Arsal made everyone forget that there are 80,000 refugees living there in a harsh climate and poor medical conditions. In a month and a half, 18 refugees have perished, including 12 children, but this has garnered little media attention. These same security conditions had led international organizations to abandon the town in August, leaving behind innocent people dying silently one by one…

In exile, Syrians build the country they never could under regime (Al Jazeera) For six years, Fadi Hallisso faithfully followed all the steps required to become a Jesuit priest. He gave up his career as a civil engineer in Syria. He spent two years of his novitiate in Cairo, reflecting deeply on his calling, including a month spent in silence. He took three vows, pledging poverty, celibacy and obedience. But last spring, he quit. His country was imploding. His native Aleppo had been destroyed. Though the 36-year-old feared that leaving his order would be his life’s regret, he decided to dedicate himself instead to the volunteer relief initiative he had started earlier with a few friends — another Syrian studying to become a Jesuit priest and a Syrian businesswoman — also living in Lebanon…

In tense West Bank city, she secretly meets Israelis to talk peace (Christian Science Monitor) Amid a sea of demure Palestinian young women in high heels, she wears jeans and Converse sneakers. In a city where many people support Hamas’s brand of armed resistance against Israel, she secretly meets with Israelis to talk about peace. “I think it’s better than doing nothing,” says Haya, a university student with fluent English. “And I might be president one day, and I will change everything. Because our president is not doing anything.” Haya was born in 1993, the year the Oslo Accords were signed. They laid out a framework for establishing a sovereign Palestinian state by the time she would be five years old. Now she is 21, and she has yet to know what it is to be a citizen. But she knows all too well what it is to live under Israeli occupation…

For some in New Delhi, no church for Christmas (The Times of India) Having lost their church temporarily to a mysterious fire 11 days ago, regulars to St. Sebastian’s are now looking for alternative venues to celebrate Christmas. The 13-year-old church, most of the parishioners of which are Syro-Malabar Catholics, was ravaged by fire on 1 December and sealed the following day…

Crimea leader makes a surprise visit to India (Al Jazeera) Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday, but the meeting between the two long-standing allies was overshadowed by an unannounced guest: Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov. The bizarre episode reveals the subtext of an otherwise anodyne visit: a Russian leader looking to provoke his adversaries at any opportunity and an Indian prime minister playing both sides of the standoff between Russia and the West…

Tags: Syria India Refugees West Bank Syriac Catholic Church

11 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Fireworks explode over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on 6 December, the Feast of St. Nicholas. Palestinian hopes for a tourism windfall following Pope Francis’ spring pilgrimage did not pan out because the Gaza war broke out shortly after his visit, Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ay’a told journalists. (photo: CNS/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)

Bethlehem is facing an unexpectedly bleak Christmas this year:

Palestinian hopes for a tourism windfall following Pope Francis’ spring pilgrimage did not pan out because the Gaza war broke out shortly after his visit, Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ay’a told journalists.

At the start of the year, the Bethlehem tourism sector had experienced a 19 percent increase in visitors and a 37 percent increase in overnight stays, the minister said in an early December briefing. During the outbreak of the war, there was a 60 percent cancellation rate, she said. It was the first decrease in the number of visitors in the past few years, which have, until now, seen a steady if slight increase, she added.

Overall, however, 2014 ended up with a 9.2 percent increase in visitors, and authorities are expecting 100,000 visitors for the month of December and 10,000-15,000 visitors on Christmas, she said.

“We were very optimistic the pope’s visit would attract many tourists from all over the whole world. We had hoped that when people saw the pope walking around Bethlehem and meeting Palestinians without a problem, it would give a good image of the people here and many would want to come visit,” said Ma’ay’a.

But soon after he left the war broke out, she said. By early December, that had caused a $30 million loss in revenue to the Palestinian economy, she estimated.

“We still hope more tourists will follow in his footsteps,” she said.

Read more.

11 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Indian sex workers attend a rally for their rights in Kolkata, India, on 8 November. Pope Francis addresses the plight of victims of sex trafficking and modern-day slavery in his message for World Peace Day. (photo: CNS/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Shi’ite pilgrims flock to holy city in Iraq (Reuters) From across Iraq and neighboring states, millions of Shi’ite pilgrims are heading this week to the city of Kerbala for a religious ceremony that authorities say radical Sunni fighters are targeting for attack...

Report: Pakistani terrorists doing charity work in Gaza (Jerusalem Post) The Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is now reportedly engaged in charity work in Gaza. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor has found evidence that the Pakistani group’s charity arms — Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) — are active in the Gaza Strip. Tufail Ahmad, director of the South Asia Studies Project at MEMRI, told The Jerusalem Poston Wednesday that “the move by Lashkar-e-Taiba to establish a footprint in Gaza seems to be part of a well-thought-out jihadist strategy from Pakistan”...

Vatican releases pope’s message for World Day of Peace (CNS) When shopping and when interacting with people on city streets, everyone can help fight the evil of modern-day slavery, Pope Francis said in his annual message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January. “Together with the social responsibility of businesses, there is also the social responsibility of consumers,” the pope said. “Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply an economic — act.” But with the Global Slavery Index estimating there are nearly 30 million people worldwide living in slave-like conditions, Pope Francis said, “We are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any one community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself”...

Nuns face off against sex traffickers (CNS) Leaving their habits behind and disguised along with police in regular clothes, a small group of three or four nuns raid brothels in Kolkata, India, at night, snatching young women and girls as young as 12 from the clutches of their captors. In four years, “we have put 30 traffickers in jail,” Sister Sharmi D’Souza, a member of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate, told journalists at a Vatican news conference 10 December. She and a number of other religious women attended the event that presented Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message, which urged everyone to fight modern forms of slavery...

Governor pays tribute to India’s Christians (The Free Press Journal) Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao paid glowing tributes to the Christian community in India saying that in spite of being numerically small the community has made significant contributions to the socio-economic progress of the nation. “We are proud of you (Christian community) for enriching India’s social, cultural, economic and political life. The idea of India is difficult to imagine without you,” said the Governor...

Tags: India Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Muslim

10 December 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2008, Bishop Christo Proykov blesses marriage crowns during a wedding liturgy in Sofia, Bulgaria. To learn more about the Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church, check out the profile from our July 2008 edition of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)

10 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this November photo, residents walk past tents for displaced Syrians at Bab al Salam camp in Azaz, Syria, near the Turkish border. (photo: CNS/Hosam Katan, Reuters)

U.N. resumes food aid for Syrian refugees after cash injection (Al Jazeera) The United Nations World Food Program is restarting its aid program for 1.7 million Syrian refugees scattered across the Middle East — days after shutting down the crucial service due to insufficient funds. On Tuesday, the agency said that a fundraising drive since 1 December had raised $80 million…

Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III: Let us help to grasp the ‘signs of the times’ (Fides) Syrian Christians have suffered persecution and martyrdom “since ancient times.” And today, faced with the situation in the Middle East, the first task of the pastor is to spiritually contextualize this, said Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III of Antioch…

Senior Palestinian official dies after clash with Israeli forces in West Bank (Washington Post) A Palestinian cabinet member in charge of opposing Jewish settlements died Wednesday after a confrontation with Israeli forces at a protest march in the West Bank, officials said, touching off outrage from the Palestinian leadership and an appeal by a U.N. envoy for a full Israeli probe. The death of Ziad Abu Ein sharpened tensions after a recent wave of terrorist attacks and clashes set in motion by showdowns over a contested holy site in Jerusalem. The full details of the incident were not immediately clear. Some witnesses said Abu Ein was hit by a tear gas canister. Other reports said he was struck by an Israeli soldier’s rifle butt…

Trapped Palestinian students demand Gaza crossings reopen (Al Monitor) Approximately 1,500 Palestinian students enrolled in foreign universities are stuck in Gaza, and are protesting for the reopening of the Rafah or Erez crossings…

Tags: Syria Refugees Palestinians Hunger Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan

9 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Children in Gaza paint and draw in workshops to help them cope with the aftermath of last summer’s war. To learn more about their lives, read Shell-Shocked: Growing Up in Gaza in the Autumn edition of ONE. (photo: Shareef Sarhan)

9 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Pope Francis sent a video message expressing his support for Iraqi Christians driven from their homes. The complete text of this message can be found here. (video: CTV)

Francis sends message of support to Iraqi Christians (Catholic Herald) Pope Francis has sent a message of support to Christians displaced by violence in the Middle East, praising them for bearing witness to the love of Christ. To those Christians driven out of Iraq by ISIS, Pope Francis expressed hope that they will be able to return home…

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri to meet patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox (Vatican Radio) Over the weekend, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches began a visit to Ethiopia until 11 December. The Congregation for the Oriental Churches is the dicastery of the Roman Curia responsible for contact with the Eastern Catholic churches. Toward the end of his visit in Ethiopia, the cardinal will meet with the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to confirm the love and the openness of Pope Francis towards the Orthodox Church…

Palestinians become observers at I.C.C. (Al Jazeera) The Palestinians on Monday officially became observers at the summit meeting of the 122 countries that are members of the International Criminal Court, a move they say is a step toward joining the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to seek membership in the ICC in order to press charges against Israel for alleged war crimes…

Ukraine launches new ceasefire but peace talks uncertain (Vatican Radio) A ceasefire called by President Petro Poroshenko has begun in eastern Ukraine as part of efforts to revive a violated truce with pro-Russian separatists, but it remained unclear whether a peace meeting would go ahead as planned on Tuesday…

Tags: Pope Francis Palestine Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Ethiopian Orthodox Church

5 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

This January 2013 photo shows Maysoon Esso and her daughter Rana living in their apartment in Amman, Jordan. Five members of the Esso family had taken refuge in Jordan from northern Iraq about a year before. The father was still waiting to leave Iraq and join them. To support to those who have been displaced by violence in Iraq, click here. (photo: Cory Eldridge)

Tags: Refugees Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees

5 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2013 photo, a Salesian sister in the Cremisan Valley indicates the projected path of the separation barrier through the convent's property. (photo: CNEWA)

Catholic bishops in the Holy Land urge action on Cremisan (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land calls on the international community to take immediate action to protect the Cremisan Valley’s integrity within the Palestinian side, hoping the Israeli High Court changes the route of the separation barrier…

Jordan’s prince on third Catholic-Muslim summit (Vatican Radio) Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal says he is one of the Muslim world’s leaders who has responded to Pope Francis’ call for universal condemnation of violent extremism in the name of religion. This, as Christians in the Middle East feel increasing pressure — if not persecution — from Islamic extremists determined to cleanse the region of its Christian presence…

Latin Church leader: Support Syrian/Iraqi refugees in Jordan (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Maroun Lahham, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s patriarchal vicar in Jordan, says Caritas Jordan and Christian parishes across the country are struggling to help tens of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, many outside the protective umbrella of the United Nations Refugee agency, UNHCR. The situation is becoming even more urgent with the arrival in Jordan of more than 100 Iraqi Christian refugees almost every day, he says…

ISIS, Al Nusra clash near Lebanon border (Daily Star Lebanon) Clashes erupted between ISIS and Al Nusra Front fighters near the border with Lebanon Friday, after gunmen rejected an attempt by the latter to unite the opposition in Syria’s Qalamoun region under a single leader. The clashes were concentrated on the outskirts of the Syrian village of Ras al Maara, a few miles from Lebanon’s northeastern town of Arsal…

Crimea is a ‘sacred’ land... but for whom? (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Moscow’s annexation of Crimea on 4 December by invoking Kievan Rus leader Vladimir the Great, who is said to have been baptized on the peninsula in the tenth century and converted the medieval Slavic state to Orthodox Christianity. Ukrainians, however, could deploy the same logic to justify Crimea’s inclusion in the modern Ukrainian state, historians and religious experts say…

Tags: Refugees Palestine Jordan Crimea Catholic-Muslim relations

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