13 July 2017
Dan Searby meets some of the students at Mar Doumit in Lebanon. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: CNEWA donor Dan Searby had a chance to visit Lebanon this spring and see some of CNEWA’s work in the region. He sent us his impressions from the trip, below.
After a spring 2011 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I found myself especially drawn to the faith keeping Christians in the region, the “living stones” who are often overlooked as one tours the holy sites and historical landmarks. Msgr. Peter Vaccari, now rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, subsequently introduced me to CNEWA and its work supporting the church and Christians in the Middle East.
Today CNEWA’s work is more vital than ever and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East has created what Pope Francis recently called “ecumenism of blood.” I wonder if there is a not a silver lining or even a divine design in what is taking place in the region, and that this can all become a force for Christian unity. I believe that CNEWA is uniquely positioned to play a leading role toward this great end.
The intervening years have deepened my relationship with CNEWA and last summer I returned to Israel and Palestine for a “Year of Mercy” pilgrimage led by Msgr. Vaccari. Beyond the rich spiritual experience, the journey included a fascinating briefing by CNEWA’s regional director in Jerusalem, Sami El-Yousef.
Before traveling to Israel, we had spent three days in Rome and on our first stop, at “St. Paul’s Outside the Walls,” we encountered a large group of Lebanese pilgrims. I was struck by their faith journey, and could not imagine the trials they had been through in their native land. I had always dreamed of visiting Lebanon, which is celebrated in the Bible for its beauty, snow-capped mountains, wine and especially Lebanon’s legendary cedars.
Largely through a CNEWA-facilitated correspondence with the Beirut regional director, Michel Constantin, this year I was able to plan out a trip to Lebanon in April, and a visit to Mar Doumit, a convent-run school on Mount Lebanon, outside of Beirut. With Michel out of town, I was met at the airport by his deputy, Kamal Abdel Nour. After navigating Beirut’s notoriously chaotic traffic, we snaked our way up Mount Lebanon and arrived at Mar Doumit.
I was familiar with the school. Last year, right around Christmas, a group of us had supported a call to raise funds for Mar Doumit, to help equip the school with special needs educational materials. When we arrived for our visit, we were met at the school by its headmistress, Sister Juliette. Sister Juliette gathered about half a dozen of her teachers and we sat down and enjoyed coffee, tea and a most generous spread of Lebanese sweets. A group of students took us to the school, which we toured as they demonstrated the new educational materials, including electronic tablets that had just arrived.
The dedication of the teachers and the youthful zeal of the students were most stirring. The visit also helped us see in a very personal way the impact of CNEWA’s work.
Finally, while we often hear the phrase “boots on the ground,” I saw the CNEWA equivalent of “sandals on the ground” in Sister Juliette — one of many heroic sisters in the region who teach, heal, comfort and serve as good shepherds and keepers of the faith.
Dan Searby and Sister Juliette pause for a picture with some of the students of Mar Doumit.
13 July 2017
Dr. Deepa Sasidharan parks his motorcycle outside the offices of Calicut Medical College. Learn how growing up in a Catholic-run institution shaped his life in The Secret of Their Success in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
13 July 2017
A member of the Iraqi federal police walks along destroyed buildings from clashes in Mosul 10 July.
(photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
Video shows Mosul civilians trapped in a fight that’s not over (The New York Times) The civilians crowd together in a narrow alleyway, stranded near house-to-house fighting and surrounded by the stark devastation of western Mosul, where the battle against the Islamic State was supposed to be over. Video taken from a drone on Monday quickly confirmed that the battle to seize Mosul from the Islamic State continues, and that at least 100 civilians were still trapped by the fighting...
In Ukraine, Cardinal Sandri says there is hope for the future (CNA) Shortly after Pope Francis donated money to help those suffering from Ukraine’s ongoing conflict, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri arrived in the country, saying that while pained, he sees hope for the future. In comments to local Catholic media after landing in Ukraine 11 July, Cardinal Sandri recalled that when he made his first trip to the country several years ago, it was because “in this land was born and is growing, a great hope, a great vision of the future for this Christian country...”
Sole Gaza power station turned off due to fuel crisis (Al Jazeera) The Gaza Strip’s only operating power plant was turned off late on Wednesday due to a severe shortage of fuel, leaving the coastal enclave in a complete blackout, local officials said. Officials at the Hamas-run power corporation said they had turned off the last operating turbine at the plant in southern Gaza city...
Yemen’s foreign minister says kidnapped Salesian still alive (CNS) Yemen’s foreign minister told Indian officials that Salesian Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen last year, is still alive, and efforts to trace him continue. Ucanews.com reported that, during a visit to New Delhi, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi gave his reassurances in a meeting with the Indian external affairs 10 July, said an Indian government statement. It said Father Uzhunnalil is “alive, and the Yemeni government has been making all efforts to secure his release.” It said al-Mekhlafi “assured all cooperation in this regard...”
Russian hostel reopens for Jerusalem pilgrims (BBC) The Russian government is reopening a hostel for Orthodox pilgrims in Jerusalem in a hospice originally built on the orders of a Romanov grand duke, more than 100 years after it closed...
12 July 2017
Tags: India Iraq Ukraine Jerusalem Russia
Aida Yassin, a Lebanese widow, sits with her son, Eli; her daughter-in-law, Lina from Syria; and her grandson, Michael. (photo: Raed Rafei)
Raed Rafei explores the challenges Syrian refugees are facing in Lebanon in the current edition of ONE. Below, he describes one couple he met:
When I arrived to Zahleh on my reporting trip, I expected to hear the same resentful discourse toward Syrian refugees that I hear all over Lebanon. With refugees constituting more than one fourth of the Lebanese population, the public outcry over this irregular situation — one that has been continuing for several years now — is palpable everywhere.
In this pretty Christian town, people I talked to speak mainly of a stagnant economy and say that with refugees willing to earn very little, competition over jobs has been fierce. You see the impact everywhere. As in the central streets of Beirut, Syrian children, sometimes as young as five, beg on the streets. When I stopped for coffee at a random café, the waiter was expectedly Syrian. His story was one I had heard many times over. In Syria, he was a university student but because of the war, he had to abandon his studies and his country.
So when I finally met Eli and Lina, my encounter with the couple was heartwarming. Eli is a struggling Lebanese technician who supports his aging mother, Aida. Lina is a Syrian refugee who fled with her family from the bombing of her hometown in Syria. A couple of years ago, they met at a clothing shop in Zahleh and swiftly fell in love with each other. Today, they are married and have a child, Michael.
It was delightful to see that, despite the surge in racism against the Syrians among the Lebanese, love between people from these two neighboring countries was still possible. Relations between Lebanon and Syria have traditionally been very complicated. During the Lebanese 1975-1990 civil war, Syria was heavily involved in the conflict. People in Zahleh in particular still harbor animus feelings towards Syria because their city was placed under siege for weeks by the Syrian army during that period. It is true that since then, the proximity of Zahleh to the Syrian border has turned Syria into a vital trade partner and calmed the minds. But the conflict in Syria has strangled the city’s economy. And with the influx of Syrian refugees, relations between the two cultures entered a complicated new phase.
When I asked Eli and Lina if they heard disapproving comments from friends or neighbors about their marriage, they simply shrugged their shoulders. To them, their love story came about naturally. On my second visit to their modest home, I saw on the wall an assemblage of their photos in a frame decorated with hearts and the word, love. They looked like a happy young couple in the photos. I asked Lina about the new frame. She smiled and said it was a gift from Eli for Valentine’s Day.
Like all parents, Lina and Eli worry mostly about the future of their child. The brunt of the devastating war in Syria is still present, But, as Lina explained, the only focus today is on how to provide the best education for Michael, who is set to enter school next year.
Life, she said, goes on.
Read more about Hardship and Hospitality in Lebanon in the June 2017 edition of ONE. And meet Eli and Lina in the video below.
12 July 2017
Children pray together before their meal at the Little Prince Center in Artashat, Armenia. Learn more about this remarkable center and the work it is doing among the neediest people in the country in ‘This Is the Only Light’ from the June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
12 July 2017
The powerful video above, shot from a drone after Mosul’s liberation from ISIS, shows the devastation of one of Iraq’s largest cities. (video: Radio Free Europe/YouTube)
Iraq celebrates victory over ISIS, but challenges remain (The New York Times) It is a moment for Iraqis to celebrate after nearly nine months of bloody warfare against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But despite the flaring of hope for a new national unity, the government’s costly victory in Mosul and the questions hanging over its aftermath feel more like the next chapter in the long story of Iraq’s unraveling...
Kurdish leader sponsors referendum on independence (Fides) The referendum convened by the government of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan to sanction their independence from Iraq is a decisive step for the future of that region...
Copts keep the faith (Financial Times) In their 20 centuries of history since Saint Mark brought Christianity to Egypt, Coptic Christians have endured intermittent waves of persecution at the hands of Roman and Muslim rulers. But in modern times, there has been nothing like the scale of the threat posed by Isis, which declared the community in February to be its “primary target and favorite prey...”
Tension and violence reported among radicals in India (Fides) In the past few days, clashes and violent protests of the local Muslim community occurred in the Western Bengal state, after the provocation of a young Hindu extremist who on the social network Facebook had insulted Islam. After days of tension and violence, police managed to restore calm in the towns of Baduria and Basirhat, in the “North 24 Parganas” district...
Catholics and Anglicans share education projects for Syrians (Fides) The episcopal Church of Jerusalem, belonging to the Anglican Communion, signed a partnership protocol with Caritas Jordan on Tuesday, 11 July, to jointly set up a project regarding school assistance for children belonging to Syrian refugee families...
11 July 2017
At St. Rachel Day Care Center, day care program director Claudio Graziano provides a caring and nurturing envionment to the children of migrant workers in Jerusalem. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
In the current edition of ONE, Michele Chabin reports on something Found in Translation: the promise of young Christian refugees learning Hebrew in Israel. But that’s just the beginning. Here, she adds some additional thoughts.
You can walk past a building a dozen times, but until you knock on the door and step inside you have no idea what you’ve been missing.
That’s exactly how I felt when CNEWA asked me to write a feature about the St. Rachel Day Care Center in Jerusalem, which is housed in a prefabricated building on the grounds of a monastery I hadn’t known existed.
The Rachel Center, which receives vital funding from CNEWA, cares for the children of some of Israel’s African and Asian migrant workers and asylum-seekers. Were it not for the center, the parents — including several single mothers — would be unable to work and feed their families.
Touring the center, from the babies’ nursery to the playrooms where the older children congregate after school, I was struck by three things: the cleanliness; the high ratio of adults to children; and the fact that everyone, from the sisters to the Catholic lay people, were speaking to the children in Hebrew, the predominant language of Israel.
Why Hebrew? Unless they learn Hebrew, these children — most of them born in Israel — will struggle in school and be unable to integrate into the country they call home.
The fact that — except for the ethnic makeup of the children and the Christian atmosphere — St. Rachel is indistinguishable from any other top-notch Israeli child care center is remarkable given the horrible conditions most migrant/asylum-seeker’s children are forced to endure in makeshift childcare centers that receive neither Israeli government funding nor inspections.
Several years ago, I visited one such center in south Tel Aviv, where most Israel-based migrants and asylum seekers live. It left such a sad impression on me that I remember every detail to this day.
There were dozens of infants and toddlers in the two-room preschool but only three caregivers for up to 80 children. They didn’t have the time to change all of the children’s dirty diapers or clean them if they were sick. Bottles were propped up on towels because there weren’t enough adults to hold all the babies while they ate.
The center had almost no toys, so the TV on the wall was the only thing that kept the children occupied — that, and an occasional group of volunteers who took the older children out to a nearby playground.
At St. Rachel the rooms are immaculate and there are so many wonderful toys and building blocks to play with. There is a library full of beautiful children’s books, plus dance classes and a safe playground with a soft floor to protect against injuries. There is healthy food, music and singing and laughter, all in a Christian setting.
A parent told me that “living in a foreign country, especially without any legal status, can be demoralizing.” But knowing that her baby was being so well cared for at St. Rachel “has given me peace of mind,” she said. “It’s given me the world.”
Read more in the June 2017 edition of ONE.
11 July 2017
Abba Berhanu Woemago chats with a student outside the Abba Pascal Catholic Girls’ School in Soddo, Ethiopia. Learn why Ethiopian Catholic schools are at the Head of the Class in the
June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
11 July 2017
In this image from January, residents of Mosul celebrate the partial liberation of their city from ISIS control by taking a selfie in front of Iraqi security forces. Six months later, the country’s prime minister has declared the city completely liberated, and expressed hope that Christians will return. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Iraq’s prime minister: we hope Christians return soon to Mosul (Fides) After the liberation of the city of Mosul, from the militia of the self-styled Islamic State that had conquered the city in June 2014, the hope is “that all displaced people and the sons of religions, nationalities and creeds come back, including Christians in particular, to their homes in Mosul.” This is what Iraqi Prime Minister Haider at Abadi said on Monday 10 July, to a delegation of Christians in Mosul...
Syrian truce survives first day (The New York Times) Representatives of Syria’s warring parties gathered in Geneva on Monday for the seventh round of peace talks, as a limited truce, negotiated by their big-power backers, appeared to be holding for a full day in southwest Syria, according to local residents and human rights monitors...
U.N. official: Gaza may already be ‘unlivable’ (The Times of Israel) e Gaza Strip may already be “unlivable,” a United Nations official warns, after a decade of Hamas rule and a crippling Israeli blockade. Robert Piper, the UN’s top humanitarian official in the West Bank and Gaza, tells AFP in an interview to mark a new report on living conditions in Gaza that all the “indicators are going in the wrong direction...”
Indian’s Supreme Court stays government ban on cow slaughter (AP) India’s top court on Tuesday stayed for three months a ban introduced by the Hindu nationalist government on the sale of cows and buffaloes for slaughter. The Supreme Court approved a lower court ruling that said people have a basic right to choose their food...
Eritrean capital, once known as ‘Little Rome,’ becomes a World Heritage site (The New York Times) The capital of Eritrea has been designated a World Heritage site by Unesco, the United Nations cultural organization. The capital, Asmara, is sometimes called “Africa’s Miami” because of its many Art Deco buildings. The city flourished when Eritrea was an Italian colony, from 1889 until World War II, and it became a paradise for Italian architects, who could try out their boldest ideas there, away from Europe’s conservative cultural norms. In the 1930’s, nearly half of Asmara’s residents were Italian, earning the capital another nickname, “Little Rome...”
10 July 2017
These Iraqis in a refugee camp in Erbil are among the many thousands who have been displaced in recent years. A new interactive report by CNEWA gives what amounts to a definitive snapshot of Christianity in the region. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The migration of Christians in the Middle East over the last several years — owing to the war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and ongoing political upheaval in the region — has had a profound impact on the region. The cultures and countries that are the very cradle of Christianity are seeing the faith disbursed and displaced. But hard and reliable statistics on this movement of peoples have been elusive — until now.
Drawing on diverse statistics and resources, CNEWA has compiled what amounts to a definitive snapshot of Christianity in the region today.
It is available as a multimedia presentation at this link.
We encourage you to visit the site and see for yourself how recent events have affected parts of CNEWA’s world — and, indeed, will continue to affect all of us who care about our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.