12 January 2017
The canal running through Izbet Chokor, called Al Bahr by locals, acts as a lifeline to the village.
(photo: Don Duncan)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Don Duncan writes about the ways Christians and Muslims are Finding Common Ground in one Egyptian village. He offers some addition reflections on his visit below.
I was living in Lebanon when the series of national revolutions known as the “Arab Spring” broke out. At the time, I was covering the region as a freelance journalist. While I had been to Tunisia shortly after that inaugural revolution of the Arab Spring had kicked off, once the news started to hit that Egypt was following suit, everyone knew that this was big, big news.
Many in the region view Egypt as the “beating heart” of the Middle East. It is a large country — in terms of population and of historical significance — and it acts as a sort of fulcrum between various parts of the Arab world: between the Levantine countries; the Arabian Gulf area and Iraq on one side and the Maghreb and the other Arabic-speaking African states on the other, such as Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Mauritania, Somalia and Sudan.
Sitting in my living room in Beirut, with my flat mate Dia, we watched agog, as pictures of thousands of people streaming onto Tahrir Square in Cairo flickered across our TV screen. Within a few days, I myself was in Egypt covering the events as they unfolded. But it wasn’t until months later, when the dust started to settle, that the new dynamic and primary currents in post-revolution Egypt began to come into focus.
In early 2012, a year after the beginning of the Egyptian revolution stated, I returned to Cairo to make a video documentary for the website of The Wall Street Journal about these new currents in Egypt. Among the various changes apparent in post-revolution Egypt, some of the big changes we covered in this documentary included the sudden rise and expanding power of the previously repressed Muslim Brotherhood organization. In parallel, another current was the growth in persecution against Egypt’s Christians, who represent some 9 percent of the country’s population of 80 million. The vast majority of that number is Coptic Orthodox, but it also includes minorities within the Egyptian Christian arena: Coptic Catholics, as well as various Protestant churches.
Across the broader Middle East region — since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the other Arab Spring revolutions post-2011 — the same narrative has played out: dictatorial regimes have fallen, giving rise to the emergence of hitherto repressed Islamist movements, leading to increased persecution of Christians. Apart from the Egyptian example, this has occurred most notably in Iraq and Syria.
However, on arriving at Izbet Chokor, I found a completely different picture to the one that had been so often presented by the media. Izbet Chokor, the village on the outskirts of Al Fayoum city, some 60 miles southwest of Cairo, is the place I traveled to in order to report my most recent story for ONE magazine. There, I found a village with a mixed population of Christians and Muslims who live in peaceful co-existence and love. This was due, in large part, to the Service Center, run by the Coptic Catholic church there, which offers educational, healthcare and social services to all the residents, regardless of religion.
It was a big surprise to me to learn that the major center of religious tension in Izbet Chokor was not between Christians and Muslims but rather one that was intra-Christian in nature — between Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic.
According to many people I spoke with, some of them members of the church, the rivalry and tensions between the majority Coptic Orthodox and minority Coptic Catholics in Egypt are fierce, mostly manifesting itself in the form of verbal attacks, intimidation, and bullying.
This is a religious face-off I have never heard of in the current context in the Middle East. I wondered why. Is it because it is of less geopolitical value than the Muslim vs. Christian narrative? Is it because it is happening within a minority? Is it because Christians prefer not to air their “dirty laundry?”
Regardless of the reason(s), this discovery showed me that inter-religious fear and animosity can exist anywhere where ignorance is allowed to breed. It is not about some clash of civilizations or age-old incompatibilities, as the media subtext regarding Muslims and Christians seems to suggest. It is about ignorance and manipulation by politicians or the media, often both.
So, in this time of heightened tensions, misunderstanding and suspicion between the West and the Muslim world, I feel it is incumbent on us as Christians and human beings to do our utmost to re-inject humanity and nuance into the divisive, fear-inducing and dehumanizing media discourse we are subjected to by our politicians and media.
Read more in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. Meantime, get another glimpse of the Service Center in the video below.
12 January 2017
Tags: Egypt Muslim
Children greet visitors in the village of Garora, on the outskirts of Delhi, India. To see more images and read about Msgr. John E. Kozar’s visit to India, check out his essay in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
12 January 2017
In this image from December, Syrian pro-government forces walk in the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo. There are growing concerns that ancient antiquities such as this are in serious danger of being lost forever in the wake of the country’s civil war.
(photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
Aleppo’s heritage sites ‘in danger’ (Al Jazeera) Urgent action is needed to protect damaged buildings in the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to Syrian antiquities officials. “What happened in Aleppo is a disaster,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s Director General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview from Damascus this week...
Loss and fear linger in Mosul (Reuters) The trauma accumulated over 2-1/2 years of the jihadists’ repressive rule also often pours out unprompted — loved ones brutally murdered, homes looted and destroyed, livelihoods decimated, dreams extinguished. Some people are unafraid to air their grievances or finger their transgressors, but others are more cautious, fearful that Islamic State supporters remain at large and are watching...
Gazans living with four hours of power a day (Reuters) For weeks, Gazans have been making do with less than half their usual electricity supply — barely a few hours a day — with no sign of the shortages alleviating anytime soon, fuelling distress and frustration among the population. Normally, Gaza’s power alternates on eight-hour cycles, with generators providing electricity to those that can afford it in the down times. But since late last year, there have been only three or four hours of electricity a day in total...
Sex-selective abortions rising in Armenia (Fides) In Armenia, a country strongly characterized by the link with its cultural and spiritual traditions, there is the third highest global rate of selective abortions motivated by sex of the unborn, and data show a drastic increase of the phenomenon over time following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was also part of the Caucasian Republic...
Plans underway to revive ‘Way of the Holy Family’ in Egypt (Fides) The revival of the “Way of the Holy Family,” an itinerary to make pilgrimages to the places that, according to ancient local traditions, were crossed by the Holy Family during their exile in Egypt, continues to be the focus of initiatives, proposals and lively debate involving politicians and Egyptian tourism operators...
‘Tear down this wall’: Ecumenical week focuses on overcoming division (CNS) When a group of German Christians was asked in 2014 to prepare materials for the 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, their choice of a “wall” as a symbol of sin, evil and division explicitly referred to the Berlin Wall. The German reflections on the power of prayer to bring down walls and the Gospel call to reconciliation were adopted by the World Council of Church’s Faith and Order Commission and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and proposed to Christians worldwide for the 18-25 January octave of prayer...
11 January 2017
A priest in Ethiopia prepares a censer with the help of young parishioners. Ethiopia is finding new ways to spread the Gospel, using both religious and lay catechists to inspire young people. Read about this and more in Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: James Jeffrey)
11 January 2017
In this image from 8 January, a member of Free Syrian Army plays with a dog as the FSA members advance to al-Bab district of Aleppo during the ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ in Syria.
(photo: Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Lebanese president, a Maronite Christian, mends fences with Saudi Arabia (Fides) The President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, began his first trip in the Arabian Peninsula with the intent of mending relations with Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday 10 January, the meeting which took place in Ryiad between President Aoun and Saudi King Salman, according to many analysts, could open a new page in the relations between the two countries, contributing to the stabilization of the Middle Eastern area...
Report: Assad dropped 13,000 barrel bombs on Syria (The Independent) A UK-based Syrian war watchdog has published data tallying the number of violent incidents targeting civilians carried out by all parties in the bloody conflict for last year. The report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) found that Syrian regime helicopters dropped 12,958 barrel bombs in 2016 in total. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 653 civilians, SNHR found, including 166 children and 86 women. Most were dropped on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, followed by Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, Daraa and Homs...
Commander: Mosul could be liberated in three months (AP) A top Iraqi commander told The Associated Press that the operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group could be complete in three months or less. “It’s possible” that Mosul will be liberated in in that time frame, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday evening. However, he warned it is difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation will take because it is not a conventional fight...
Catholic-Muslim dialogue opens to support Islamic American communities (CNS) An emerging Catholic dialogue with Muslims aims to show public support for Islamic American communities. The dialogue stems from concerns expressed by U.S. bishops in the wake of “a serious uptick in violence against American Muslims ... to make sure that they are sensitive to what is going on in the (Muslim) communities,” said Anthony Cirelli, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops...
Study: Christians in India increasingly under attack (The Guardian) The persecution of Christians in India has risen over the past year, pushing it up a league table of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity, according to a monitoring organization. The world’s second most populous country has risen to No 15 on the 2017 World Watch List, up from 31 four years ago. The list, compiled by Open Doors, is headed by North Korea for the 16th year in a row...
Vatican migration office announces first media campaign (Vatican Radio) The Migration and Refugee Section of the new Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development has announced it is launching its first media campaign. Although the Dicastery is run by Cardinal Peter Turkson — who had been serving as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace — the Migration and Refugee Section is being led for the time being by Pope Francis himself, to show his particular concern during the ongoing refugee crisis...
10 January 2017
Tags: Syria India Iraq Muslim ISIS
Sister Souad Nohra, the director of the Santa Lucia Home in Egypt, teaches blind children “there is nothing they can’t do.” (photo: Holly Pickett)
One of the more inspiring projects CNEWA supports is the Santa Lucia Home, a boarding facility for blind children run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Alexandria, Egypt. The director is Sister Souad Nohra, who never tires of teaching the children the art of the possible:
In Egypt, children with special needs have many disadvantages. Yet at Santa Lucia, the nurturing environment and commitment to higher learning provides some balance. Named for the fourth-century saint and patron of the blind, St. Lucy — who, according to tradition, was blinded before her martyrdom — the home encourages children to rise above their limitations. They are taught that nothing is beyond their reach, and the children are expected to shine.
“We teach them independence,” says Sister Souad Nohra, the director of the home.
At the home, children who once might have spent their lives in the shadows — helpless or hopeless — are receiving an incalculable gift. Darkness is giving way to light.
The center cares for 5 girls and 11 boys between the ages of 4 and 18. Most students come from poor farming villages in Upper Egypt or the outskirts of Alexandria. The sisters provide for every need — from clothes and books to food and extracurricular activities, such as sports and music. They also organize field trips to the beach.
Upstairs in the center’s immaculately clean dormitory, the children have their own numbered cupboards. The children are expected to dress themselves. At meal times, students procure their own cups and silverware from dining room drawers, and then clean up after themselves.
“They have to know they can do these things by themselves. They are very proud; they don’t have to depend on anyone,” says Sister Souad.
And many of the children do indeed learn to live independently:
Sister Souad says they begin preparing children for the task from day one.
“We tell them, ‘One day, you will leave here and go to university with all kinds of people around.’ Since they are prepared, the transition is normal. We encourage them to take recorders to class, then listen again at home. They study normally.”
One of their students recently received a scholarship to study in the United States.
“I hope other blind children learn that going away from their family is not that difficult; it can be much better for their future,” Abanoub says.
“We teach them there is nothing they can’t do,” Sister Souad says proudly. “They are normal children. The only difference is they cannot see, but that doesn’t mean they can’t live a normal life.”
Sister Souad and the other sisters at the home are heroically making the impossible possible — giving hope to those who so often feel like outcasts, helping to bring light to those born in darkness.
10 January 2017
Tags: Egypt Sisters
The Apostleship of Prayer has released an inspiring new video to accompany Pope Francis’s prayer intention for the month of January.
As Vatican Radio describes it:
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for January is for Christians serving the challenges facing humanity, in which he asks that full ecclesial communion be restored in order to serve the challenges facing humanity.
Check out the video below.
10 January 2017
Tags: Pope Francis Christianity Christian Unity Interfaith
Christian Iraqi refugee children play together in the home of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Amman, Jordan. Read more about how these religious sisters are Welcoming the Stranger in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
10 January 2017
Tags: Iraq Refugees Jordan Sisters ISIS
A displaced Iraqi girl who fled the violence in the ISIS stronghold of Mosul holds a balloon at the Khazer refugee camp for displaced people near Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Iraqi forces have renewed their effort to seize Mosul.
(photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)
Civilian toll mounts in Mosul (Reuters) Iraqi forces pushed Islamic State fighters back further in Mosul on Tuesday in a renewed effort to seize the northern city and deal a decisive blow to the militant group, though progress was slower in some districts, the army said...
Health workers stretched thin in Syria (Al Jazeera) Health workers in a besieged rebel-held suburb of Damascus have said daily attacks by Syrian troops are stretching them to the limit, and many fear the fall of Aleppo has emboldened the government of President Bashar al-Assad to step up its offensive...
Lebanon’s new president visits Saudi Arabia (AP) Lebanon’s newly elected president met Tuesday with the Saudi king during his first visit to the kingdom, a meeting that could melt the ice between the two countries after relations became strained over divisions on Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah...
Israelis to build another wall along Gaza border (Middle East Monitor) Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has approved a budget of NIS3.34 billion ($870 million) to build a wall along the border with the Gaza Strip, Ynet News reported on Monday. The project is said to be one of the biggest and most expensive ever undertaken...
Indian archbishop denounces acquittal of nun’s alleged rapists (Vatican Radio) The acquittal of the alleged rapists of a Catholic nun in India’s Chhattisgarh state “is a grave injustice, not only for our consecrated, but also for all women who have suffered a similar trauma,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai...
9 January 2017
Tags: India Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank ISIS
Russians mark Christmas in Sochi, Russia. The Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas
on 7 January, according to the Julian calendar.
(photo: Alexander Ryumin/TASS via Getty Images)