6 November 2014
A woman venerates Holy Myron — chrism oils consecrated by the catholicos once
every seven years. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 2008, we looked at the deep spiritual history of Armenia:
"Etchmiadzin is the spirit and soul of Armenians,” said Father Mkrtich Proshian, dean of the Vaskenian Theological Seminary, which overlooks the shore of Armenia’s Lake Sevan.
“It keeps the diaspora spiritually alive and is the heart of the nation.”
At once referring to the world’s oldest cathedral and a complex of structures — ancient, medieval and modern — Etchmiadzin echoes sanctity and stability. The complex houses the administrative offices of the Armenian Apostolic Church and functions as the repository of its cultural and spiritual heritage. Located west of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, Etchmiadzin enjoys renewed celebrity in post-Soviet Armenia. Yet, it faces daunting challenges as the church struggles to redefine itself in this resource poor and geopolitically fragile country.
“The fact that it was built with stone from Mount Ararat is very symbolic,” continued the priest. Armenians have revered the region’s highest peak for more than three millennia, once believing Ararat to be the home of their pantheon of gods. Here, Noah’s ark rested after the great flood and here God offered his covenant to Noah. Though Ararat remains a national symbol, the mountain lies across the country’s border, in what is now Turkey — a fact that inspires great sorrow among Armenians.
“It is at once a symbol of our covenant with God, a symbol of hope of our promised land and the most poignant reminder of our loss,” said Armenian journalist Levon Sevunts, who immigrated to Canada in 1992.“Being Armenian means being Christian. The national identity and Christian identity are inseparable,” said Father Gevork Saroyan, who serves as dean of Etchmiadzin’s Karekin I Theological-Armenilogical Center. “And thanks to the church we were able to survive”…
…The seamless integration of culture, faith and language, which had forged a unique Armenian identity, enabled the Armenian people to endure (and thrive) for centuries, despite periods of benign neglect or political oppression. But the collective trials of the past had not prepared them for the tragedies that would visit them in the 20th century.
Under Turkish rule since the 14th century, Armenians of the eastern Mediterranean had long moved freely within the Ottoman Empire. But during World War I, the Young Turks — a reform movement under the sultan — forcibly displaced the empire’s Armenians for their alleged ties to the Allies, who were at war with Turkey. This resulted in the deaths of some 1.5 million people. Survivors fled to Lebanon, Syria, Europe and America.
The Armenian clergy in Ottoman Turkey were particularly hard hit; only 47 of an estimated 5,000 priests survived, according to studies conducted by the Armenian Church Research and Analysis Group.
Still reeling from the devastation, eastern Armenia, which included Etchmiadzin and the Armenian heartland in the Caucasus, fell to the Red Army as the Bolsheviks consolidated their power in Russia and forced its weaker neighbors to surrender.
Read more about Where God Descended in the May 2008 issue of ONE.
6 November 2014
Abu and Um Sabah, who fled ISIS in August, stand outside their tent in a park in Ain Kawa, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Chaldean diocese of Erbil conducts census of refugees from Nineveh (Fides) There are more than 10,000 Christian families who fled Mosul and the cities of the Nineveh Plain who have found refuge in the suburbs of Erbil and in other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Chaldean Eparchy of Erbil has been collecting statistics on this segment of refugees to better identify needs…
Gaza doctors demand Egypt open Rafah crossing (Daily Star Lebanon) Dozens of Palestinian doctors and patients held a sit-in at the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Thursday, demanding Egypt reopen the frontier to allow people out for medical treatment. The crossing, Gaza’s only gateway to the world which is not controlled by Israel, has been closed since 25 October following a deadly suicide bombing in northern Sinai which killed 30 Egyptian soldiers…
Expulsion from Rafah threatens war with the tribes (Al Akhbar) Along the border with the Gaza Strip, the Engineer Corps of the Egyptian army is carrying out ground clearing operations following the demolition of hastily evacuated citizens’ homes, in preparation for creating a buffer zone with the Strip. Masad Abu Fajr, an expert on tribal affairs from Sinai, considers the expulsion of the residents to be tantamount to a declaration of war by the Egyptian state against the tribes of Sinai…
Memories of war haunt Gaza’s doctors (Al Monitor) “It’s pure madness.” This was how the head of the reception department at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, Ayman al-Sahbani, described the situation experienced by the doctors who dealt with the thousands of wounded during the 50-day Israeli war on the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the health sector has suffered and was still suffering from numerous crises, including shortages of medicine and fuel and delayed salaries for doctors…
5 November 2014
Tags: Egypt Iraq Iraqi Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Refugees
Parishioners celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Uc Horon Armenian Apostolic Church in Istanbul.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
A few years ago, we looked at some of the challenges facing Armenians in Turkey:
It’s not easy to be an Armenian in Turkey,” says Robert Koptas, a native of Istanbul, once the city of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Recently, the 30-something publisher cohosted a book release affair in the city’s posh Pangalti district.
“Among the Ruins” is a memoir written over 70 years ago by Zabel Yesayan, an Armenian-Turkish novelist who documented the massacre of up to 30,000 Armenians in the Turkish city of Adana. The party attracted about 100 Armenian-Turkish literati — who consider the novelist a protofeminist.
Mr. Koptas recalls a time in Turkey — only 20 years ago — when members of the Turkish Nationalist Party openly propagated anti-Armenian slogans, making it difficult to host events such as this one. Still, he is the first to admit he came of age in a tolerant Turkey. In college, he says his Armenian identity did not even faze his Turkish peers.
While still a concern, obvious discrimination preoccupies Turkey’s Armenian community less these days than does the disappearance of its cultural identity. A century ago, Turkey’s Armenian community numbered two million people. Today, only 50,000 remain. The tiny community now grapples with ever-stronger forces of assimilation and emigration, which many believe endanger its ancient culture.
The number of Armenian-Turks who speak Armenian, for instance, is steadily declining. It is believed only 20 percent of the community speaks Armenian on a daily basis. In addition, nearly 50 percent of young people marry non-Armenians.
“We are in danger of losing our culture and language, and it is a huge responsibility to keep it all alive,” says Mr. Koptas.
...Istanbul’s Armenian community is widely dispersed throughout the massive metropolis, which straddles two continents. Though some Armenian-Turks continue to live in Kumkapi, others prefer Pangalti and more cosmopolitan neighborhoods. Many more live across town, on the Asian banks of the Bosporus.
Despite its small size, diversity and sparse dispersal, the city’s Armenian community manages to maintain a cohesive identity remarkably well. As is the case in Armenian enclaves elsewhere in the world, the church and its institutions, such as schools and hospitals, are largely to thank for bringing together the community and preserving culture and language.
It helps that Istanbul’s Armenians in general make little fuss about religious differences, be they Apostolic, Catholic or Protestant. With Armenian churches few and far between, most attend whichever church is closest or more convenient — regardless of jurisdiction.
Annie Benlian explains that while she and her husband belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the preeminent faith community of the Armenian people, they prefer taking their young twins, Arax and Sandra, to an Armenian Catholic church near their apartment in Pangalti.
“The service is shorter than at the Apostolic church,” says the Jerusalem-born mother, “and thus more convenient for a busy family.”
“Most of our congregation was not born Catholic, but Jesus loves everybody and our gates are open to all,” explains Father Hagopas Copur, pastor of the parish frequented by the Benlians. “People go back and forth as they please. Our liturgies are similar, though the Apostolic Church is more traditional.”
Read more about Turkey’s Armenians Rising from the Ruins in the November 2010 issue of ONE.
5 November 2014
In this 11 October photo, a man waits in a tent for the opening of a center to help people displaced by fighting in eastern Ukraine. (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
In pictures: Ukraine’s exposed war-displaced (Al Jazeera) With freezing temperatures creeping over eastern Ukraine, thousands of people in Donetsk find themselves struggling to survive what is expected to be a harsh winter in a time of war…
Chaldean patriarch: Iraqi Christians due more government support (AINA) The Iraq government has given Christian leaders a commitment that it will do more to protect their dwindling followers in strife-torn areas terrorized by the group calling itself the Islamic State…
Life in Raqqa under Islamic State (Al Monitor) Behind the walls of the de facto Islamic State, life in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa goes on. The city, once the summer capital of the Abbasid dynasty, has become a fundamentalist metropolis, where thousands of Islamic State fighters, families, immigrants and locals live under the sort of tailored circumstances that could only fit the society created by its self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi…
Coptic pope links extremist groups to West (Fides) Extremist groups upsetting the geopolitics of the Middle East are a product of strategies pursued in the West, according to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II…
4 November 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Iraqi Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
Blankets line a fence where where Iraqi Christians are sheltered by Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena outside a youth sport center in Ainkawa, Iraq. An early wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently fled from the brutal Islamic State takeover of Iraq's Christian heartland. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
CNS today reports on Iraqi refugees who will be facing especially hard times in the months ahead:
Sister Habiba’s kindly face is etched with sadness as she surveyed the muddy field where dozens of tents sheltering displaced Iraqi Christians once stood.
Cold, punishing rains and blustery wind swept through the encampment 20 October, earlier than expected for winter, crashing down the tents in the dead of night. Shoes, slippers and toys were strewn about, stuck in the muddy mess, signaling the mad dash for safety.
The recent wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently ran for their lives from the brutal Islamic State militant takeover of Iraq’s historic Christian heartland.
“The tents quickly filled with water and collapsed. They were engulfed in mud. Some people had to be taken to the hospital. This happened at 3 a.m.,” said the nun, one of four Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena providing the displaced with shelter, food, hygiene and water.
They, along with a lone priest, serve about 1,500 displaced Catholics from Mosul, Qaraqosh and Bartella, Christian towns in northern Iraq overrun by the Islamist extremists in early August. All were forced to flee rather than convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed.
...The sport center itself is bursting at the seams with the displaced. Mattresses cover the floors of the two-story building like scattered dominoes; tall piles of colorful blankets fill corners. Families camp out helter-skelter within the facility’s rooms, but there is no privacy because space is at a premium. What is left of their worldly possessions is contained in some small suitcases and plastic bags.
Babies cry as people talk loudly; silence is a rarity. A badly traumatized woman wanders from room to room, muttering. But at least these people are living inside a building, rather than exposed to the elements outdoors.
“Our bishop has managed to get about 60 trailers, which are more stable to shelter against rain and the snow we later expect to get in January,” said Syriac Catholic Father Bashar. The trailers can each hold seven family members and now house those whose tents were swept away.
“But we need far more trailers to house the many people coming for aid,” he said. “They have run out of money and there is no safe place for them elsewhere.”
Other displaced Christians have camped out in churches, unfinished buildings and parks scattered throughout the town. But the early onset of winter here has signaled yet another danger to those bereft of safe shelter.
Please keep the people of Iraq in your prayers. The need remains great. To lend your support, visit this giving page.
4 November 2014
Syrian refugees rest while cooking a meal at an informal settlement in Bekaa, Lebanon,
on 16 October. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)
Setback: U.S.-led rebels in Syria routed by fighters linked to Al-Qaeda (Washington Post) The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State. Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected to the extremists as the Jabhat al-Nusra group, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, swept through the towns and villages the moderates controlled in the northern province of Idlib, in what appeared to be a concerted push to vanquish the moderate Free Syrian Army, according to rebel commanders, activists and analysts...
UN: lack of stability in Gaza risks return to war (Reuters) There is still not an effective or united Palestinian government in place in Gaza and unless stability is achieved rapidly, another conflict will engulf the territory, a senior United Nations official said on Tuesday. Robert Turner, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said the extent of damage and homelessness after the July-August war was worse than first thought. The latest estimates suggested reconstruction would take two to three years if all went well, he said...
Iraq plans counteroffensive against ISIS with U.S. help (TIME) Iraq is training 20,000 soldiers for a spring counter-offensive against the militant group that has taken over large swaths of the country, according to a new report, and working in close consultation with the United States to do it...
Clashes on Syrian border split Lebanese town (The New York Times) Waleed Fayyad coaxed his sport utility vehicle through a chilly rain, peering down dark streets in search of suspicious vehicles. Later that night, a few miles down the road, Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah fighters would rush to thwart insurgents trying to descend the mountains from the Syrian border, but on Mr. Fayyad’s patrol through this remote Christian village, nothing moved. Mr. Fayyad, a municipal employee, is among many local men joining new security patrols to protect the village amid growing tensions along the border. Ras Baalbek is determined to stay out of the Syrian conflict, even as it is pushed toward deeper reliance on one of the combatants, Hezbollah, which is battling insurgents in Syria. Like Christians across Lebanon, the volunteers in Ras Baalbek are divided on Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite Muslim militia, which grew from its roots here in the Bekaa Valley into the country’s strongest political and military force...
Ukraine’s president holds security meeting (BBC) Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko has held a meeting with his security chiefs, after a rebel-held vote that he said jeopardised “the entire peace process”. He again proposed scrapping a law, agreed under the 5 September truce deal, which gives special status to the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk areas. Under the truce, the regions were to hold Ukraine-run elections in December...
Dozens perish in shipwreck off Turkey (Vatican Radio) Mariners conducting rescue and recovery operations pulled 24 dead bodies from the sea at the mouth of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait on Monday and saved seven people after a boat carrying a group of migrants foundered...
Invoking Romero in Lebanon (CNS) The Good Shepherd Sisters have been working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for 11 years. They opened an after-school care program to help the children of Deir-Al-Ahmar, near Baalbek. The area was under the control of Hezbollah and was known for production, and consumption of, hashish...
Canadian bishops mark 50th anniversary of decree on ecumenism (Catholic Register) Canada’s Catholic bishops examine the church’s connection with other Christian churches in a document marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism. Titled “A Church in Dialogue: Towards the Restoration of Unity among Christians,” the document reviews the work of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops with various ecumenical partners including the Orthodox, the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada and others since the council...
3 November 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey
A child receives polio vaccination at an informal settlement of Syrian refugees in Bekaa, Lebanon, on 16 October. Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who just returned from a visit to Syria, said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought.”
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)
A Vatican official who just returned from a visit to Syria said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought”:
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, told U.S. journalists in Beirut on 1 November that he had seen “the concrete face of suffering” as a result of war.
He also said the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is tied to the crisis in Syria.
“We should begin to look at this crisis as one crisis,” he said. “We have people crossing borders,” so humanitarian agencies must look at the bigger picture, he said. His remarks echoed those of Christian aid officials who work in the region.
Msgr. Dal Toso, the second-highest official at Cor Unum, which coordinates Vatican charitable agencies, said Syria’s middle class has disappeared, but noted, “The whole population is a victim of this war.”
Syria, which had a population of 22 million people before violence began in 2011, has at least 10 million people who are refugees or who are displaced within their own country, according to U.N statistics. The effect of such a shift in demographics has driven up the cost of living, including rent, medicine and even school fees, Msgr. Dal Toso said.
Other countries also are feeling the strain of accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq. For instance Lebanon, a country about 70 percent of the size of Connecticut, has a population of 4 million people, with an additional 1.5 million refugees living within its borders. The refugees are considered guests in Lebanon; they pay rent and work for lower wages than Lebanese. Catholic aid officials working in Lebanon say the government is, in essence, subsidizing the refugees’ garbage collection and utilities, such as electricity, because in many cases the refugees tap into existing utilities.
Msgr. Dal Toso, said “the first priority is to stop the violence,” then negotiate a solution and deal with the humanitarian situation.
To help those now suffering in Syria, visit this link.
3 November 2014
Pope Francis leads the Angelus in St. Peter's Square Saturday and implores pilgrims to pray
for Jerusalem. (photo: CNS /Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Pope: pray for peace in Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) Marking the Feast of All Saints Saturday with the traditional recitation of the midday Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis’ thoughts turned to the Holy City of Jerusalem which has witnessed a spike in tensions in recent days...
Report: ISIS conducts mass execution of Iraqi tribe (AP) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremists lined up and shot dead at least 50 Iraqi men, women and children from the same tribe on Sunday, officials said, in the latest targeting of the group by militants. The killings, all committed in public, raise the death toll suffered by the Sunni Al Bu Nimr tribe in recent days to some 150, suggesting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters now view them as a threat. Some Sunnis in the volatile province had previously supported the local expansion of ISIS and other militants in December...
Al-Quaeda militants mass near Turkey border (AP) Al-Qaeda militants massed Monday near a Syrian border town in what appeared to be an attempt to seize a vital crossing from Western-backed rebels, activists said, underscoring the weakness of the fighters America hopes could be a moderate force in the chaotic civil war.
Blast targets troops near Egypt-Gaza border (AP) An explosive device went off on Monday near Egyptian troops demolishing houses in a town on the border with the Gaza Strip where Egypt is clearing a buffer zone to halt weapons smuggling, military officials said. The strong blast in the border town of Rafah caused no casualties, the officials say, but prompted authorities to raise the security alert level...
EU condemns “illegal” elections in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The European Union has condemned as “illegal” elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine where mining electrician-turned-rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quick to announce victory...
31 October 2014
Tags: Syria Egypt Iraq Jerusalem Turkey
Students perform a folklore dance at the Franciscan School in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2002, we took readers to northern Egypt, to a remarkable school run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross:
Abou Kir is a suburb of Alexandria, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. A fishing village that today numbers about 300,000 people, it has a mixed religious population — about 70 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, the latter mostly Coptic Orthodox. This proportion of Christians is relatively high for Egypt, where the average Christian presence is less than 10 percent. Abou Kir’s Catholic school welcomes children of all faiths; here peaceful coexistence is understood as being part of the curriculum — and also of life. Of the student population, 55 percent of the children are Muslim and 45 percent are Christian. Of the school’s 34 teachers, 10 are Muslim and 24 are Christian.
“The continuation of a Christian presence here is very important,” Sister Zeina says.
“We offer a service to the local community by teaching Christians and Muslims to love one another.”
In a land where sectarian violence and mutual suspicion between the two religions are, sadly, not unusual, Sister Zeina holds firm to the belief that Christian and Muslim children need to be educated and grow up in a climate that fosters mutual respect.
“It is my conviction that they must be raised together,” she says.
The hustle and bustle in the muddy streets outside, with their horse carts, piles of garbage and pollution-belching, thundering trucks, was in marked contrast to the cleanliness and order of the school. I stepped across its threshold into a bright sanctuary for learning.
A spotless playground was bounded on two sides by the gleaming new four-story building. A third side was occupied by the old building, which had recently received a fresh coat of paint. Apartments overlook the fourth side. On the day of my visit, some curious women sat on their balconies, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the all-school assembly in the courtyard.
Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.
Their school assembly and folklore class completed, the children then filed from the playground into their classrooms — all smiles, hand in hand.
Read more about how the Franciscans were bringing learning to life in the May-June 2002 issue of the magazine.
31 October 2014
Tags: Egypt Children Education Christian-Muslim relations Catholic education
Syrian Kurdish refugees stand at the back of a truck as they cross the Turkey-Syria border on 18 October. (photo: CNS/Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)
U.N.: Foreign militants ‘flocking’ to Iraq, Syria (The Guardian) The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants. A report by the United Nations Security Council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to Al Qaeda…”
The terrible danger facing Syria’s refugees (The Telegraph) Scores of refugees from the Syrian province of Hama were killed this week when barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime fell on their refugee camp in neighboring Idlib. Such a massacre would once have been front-page news, but now the images of the war across the Middle East between the jihadists of Isil and the US-led coalition ranged against them have overshadowed the three-year plight of the Syrian people…
Egypt flattens neighborhoods to create buffer with Gaza (The New York Times) With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian Army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses, displacing thousands of people, along the border with Gaza in a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier…
Pope seeks ‘unity in diversity’ (Vatican Radio) On Friday, Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship. The group is in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, which has for its theme “Praise and charismatic worship for a New Evangelization.” The bishop of Rome touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the pope said…
Europe’s Eastern Catholic bishops emphasize ecumenism (ByzCath.org) Following a four-day meeting in Lviv, 45 Eastern Catholic bishops in Europe issued a joint statement on ecumenism, mission and the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. “We reaffirm with greater awareness our right and duty to the pastoral care of our faithful wherever they are, including the right to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know it yet,” the prelates said…
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Eastern Catholics