28 May 2015
In this image from January, Iraqi refugees who fled their homes because of ISIS try to hold on to life in a refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. (photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)
Sunnis fleeing ISIS find few doors open elsewhere (The New York Times) With new waves of civilians fleeing violence in Anbar there are now more internally displaced Iraqis, nearly three million, than there were at the height of the bloody sectarian fighting that followed the American invasion, when millions of Iraqis were able to flee to Syria. That door is closed because of that country’s own civil war. And now doors in Iraq are closing, too, worsening sectarian tensions as the Shiite authorities restrict where fleeing Sunnis can seek safety...
ISIS spares some ruins in Palmyra — for now (Science Magazine) Archaeologists around the world feared for the spectacular ruins in Palmyra, Syria, after ISIS militants took over the city and brutalized its population last week. The group had already looted and bulldozed another World Heritage Site, the city of Hatra in Northern Iraq. However, after a preliminary examination of the latest satellite images from Palmyra, Michael Danti, the academic director of the Syrian Heritage Initiative at the American Schools of Oriental Research in Boston, reported that he saw no new damage to the stunning crossroads of Roman, Greek and Persian cultures, whose ruins include the Roman emperor Diocletian’s camp. ISIS has released a video showing that these ruins are still intact. And in an interview released yesterday Wednesday, the head of ISIS’s military forces in Palmyra, Abu Laith al-Saoudi, stated that they would preserve the ruins — perhaps because some buildings lack religious connotations or worship — but destroy the site’s statues, which the group believes are religious idols...
Israel calls on world to help rehabilitate Gaza (Business Standard) Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called upon the international community to establish a body to oversee rehabilitation in the Gaza Strip. “I call on all the nations of the world to come and see how we can formulate an international initiative which will improve the lives and conditions of the residents of Gaza,” the president said on Wednesday, according to a statement from his office, Xinhua reported...
Russia massing firepower on border with Ukraine (Ukraine Today) Russia’s army is massing troops and hundreds of pieces of weaponry including mobile rocket launchers, tanks and artillery at a makeshift base near the border with Ukraine, a Reuters reporter saw this week. Many of the vehicles have number plates and identifying marks removed while many of the servicemen had taken insignia off their fatigues. As such, they match the appearance of some of the forces spotted in eastern Ukraine, which Kiev and its Western allies allege are covert Russian detachments...
Patriarch calls for prayers, fasting for kidnapped priest, deacon (Catholic World News/Fides) Syrian Catholic Patriarch Igance Youssif III has called upon the faithful to fast and pray for the safe release of two clerics who were kidnapped last week by rebel forces. In a message read at all the Syrian Catholic parishes around the world, the Patriarch asked prayers for the safety of Father Jacques Murad and Deacon Boutros Hanna. There has been no news about their status since they were abducted...
Indian Christians say government concerned about attacks on minorities (Vatican Radio) In the backdrop of large scale celebrations and political rallies on completing one year in power at the Centre by the right-wing Hindu nationalist party, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) led government, prominent Christian leaders say they see an attitude change among political leadership which now appears to show genuine concern over attacks on the minority community in the past several months. “The indifference and total silence” regarding the attacks on churches and the Christian community “has now given way to a genuine concern,” said Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad...
27 May 2015
In this image from 2012, Israeli-Arab fourth-grade students attend the Aramaic language class at Jish Elementary School in Jish, Israel. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
For centuries Christians in the Middle East have been in the forefront of education and health care. They have made important contributions to Muslims societies throughout the Arab world. One need only think of places like the Universities of Beirut and Cairo, the Jesuit al-Hikmah University in Baghdad, closed by Saddam Hussein, Bethlehem University and many primary and secondary schools, to say nothing of the countless Christian sponsored and run hospitals to see the major benefits the societies in the Middle East have from Christian institutions.
Christian educational institutions in the State of Israel are now facing new challenges, including cuts in funding that threaten their mission and could impact tens of thousands of students. On 27 May 2015 Christian educators held an unprecedented demonstration in the front of the headquarters of the Israeli Ministry of Education.
According to the press release of the Office of Christian Schools in Israel, the schools serve more than 30,000 students both Christian and Muslim. The press release states “These schools belong to the ‘recognized but not public’ classification of schools...and receive partial funding from the Ministry (of Education). The rest of their funding comes from fees that are collected from the parents.”
The Ministry of Education has reduced the funds going to Christian schools by 45 percent over the last ten years, making the schools’ survival increasingly dependent on tuition paid by parents. Now, according to the news release, the Ministry has “issued new regulations that even limited the ability of Christian schools to collect feels from parents.”
As a minority in Israel, Christians see the latest moves as threats to the ongoing sustainability of Christian education in the Holy Land — a service Christians have been rendering for centuries.
To learn more about the challenges facing the Christian minority in Israel, check out “Caught in the Middle” in the March 2010 edition of ONE.
27 May 2015
Five-year-old Battoul al Hassan stands outside her family’s temporary home in Jounieh, Lebanon.
(photo: Tamara Hadi)
Two years ago, we focused on the plight of Syrians who had fled to Lebanon, and took note of the toll being a refugee was taking on children:
“The children weren’t aggressive or angry when they arrived,” says school administrator Amale al Hawa of the new Syrian students. “But they were quiet and unable to chitchat with the others. We noticed that, in most cases, they were closed in on themselves.”
Such is the case of 14-year-old Nour al Hassan. She has the body and gait of a girl but a depth and darkness in her face that suggests a young woman who has been through a lot — and she has been. With her father, Ammar, her mother, Shams, and her siblings Issa, 13, Moussa, 10, and Battoul, 5, they fled their home village of Al Houla north of the Syrian city of Homs early one morning last September. The shelling had become just too much to bear. Still, Nour misses home.
“The most difficult thing about being here is that I left everything behind,” she says. “My friends, my family, my grandparents, everyone I love. I left them there and we are alone here.”
After school, Nour and her siblings walk down the hill, pass through a chicken coop to a shack their parents have rented from a Lebanese landlord for the exorbitant price of $300 a month. When the temperature drops, they make do with blankets received from neighbors and an electric heater that barely works. Their landlord forbids them from using too much electricity.
Read more about “Crossing the Border” in the Spring 2013 edition of ONE.
And to learn how you can help Syrians under siege, visit this giving page.
27 May 2015
While ISIS continues to lay siege to parts of Syria, in the video above, a priest from Aleppo describes a side of the Syrian conflict often overlooked: Christians and Muslims living
together in peace. (video: Rome Reports)
ISIS releases two women hostages (Fides) Two elderly women in the group of more than 230 Assyrian Christians taken hostage in February by the State Islamic jihadists in the Syrian north-western region of Jazira, have been released and were admitted to a hospital in Hassaké to be treated for their health problems...
Video claims to show damaged buildings of Palmyra (The Daily Mail) Footage has emerged purportedly showing destroyed ancient buildings inside the Islamic State-held Syrian city of Palmyra following a series of air strikes by the country’s air force. The amateur video shows the area around the central Syrian city largely abandoned, with its millennia-old streets littered with rubble from collapsed and badly damaged buildings. The video emerged just hours after Syrian regime warplanes carried out intense strikes on ISIS targets within Palmyra in an attempt to force the terrorists out of the strategically important desert city in eastern Homs province following their capture of it in a lightning advance last week...
Nepal, India move to protect children from human traffickers (Vatican Radio) Nepal has banned children from travelling without parents or approved guardians to deter human traffickers who authorities fear are targeting vulnerable families after recent devastating earthquakes. Meanwhile, in India, child victims of the Nepal earthquake as young as eight are being rescued from people traffickers amid fears they will be sold into the sex trade...
The village of Pisky, where war still rages in Ukraine (BBC) The conflict in Ukraine is entering its second year and a ceasefire, nominally in place since February, has failed to stop the violence in areas around Donetsk airport. Among the hardest hit is the village of Pisky. It had a population of 3,000 before the war started, but now only a handful of civilians remain...
The plight of Ethiopian Jews in Israel (BBC) The story of the immigration and absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel epitomises the best and the worst of Israeli society. True to its Zionist dream of being a haven for Jews, the Jewish state embarked on risky and expensive rescue operations in the 1980’s and 1990s. These brought tens of thousands of Jews from remote parts of Ethiopia, who had suffered from religious persecution, famine and civil wars. Yet, when they arrived in Israel, these distinctive people faced appalling discrimination, racism and a lack of empathy for their hardships in Ethiopia and during their journey to Israel...
26 May 2015
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Ethiopia Israel
A picture taken on 14 March 2014 shows a sculpture found in the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, 130 miles northeast of Damascus, and now displayed at the city’s museum. From the first to the second century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
Now that ISIS has gained control of Palmyra — and, some fear, could destroy many of the priceless artifacts in the ancient Syrian city — an important Muslim voice has been raised, calling on the world to protect and defend these treasures.
Al Azhar, one of the oldest universities in the world and a center of Sunni Muslim learning, has declared that “protecting archaeological sites from destruction and plundering is the battle of all humanity.” The Cairo-based institution has called on the world community to prevent ISIS from “destroying the cultural and archaeological landmarks of the city.” As one of the most authoritative voices in Sunni Islam, Al Azhar stated that the destruction of world heritages sites and artifacts is haram — that is, forbidden by Sharia law.
Al Azhar has reason to be concerned for Palmyra.
In March 2001 the Taliban shelled and destroyed the giant statues of Buddha that had been erected in the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan. Scholars estimate that the statues were built between 507 and 554, before the birth of Muhammad and the arrival of Islam. It was the most widely publicized destruction of antiquities in recent times.
Unfortunately the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was not an isolated example of barbarism in the name of religion. Since 2001 — and with increasing frequency recently — religious extremists have been attacking artistic and ancient artifacts in the name of religion. The most notorious of these desecrators of what the U.N. calls objects of World Heritage has been the self-proclaimed Islamic State, known in the Middle East by its acronym Daesh.
The present rampage of wanton destruction of the art and history of the Middle East is unparalleled in magnitude since the Mongol invasions under Hulagu Khan in the 13th century. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258 and brought the Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate to an end. Ironically ISIS, which claims to have reestablished the caliphate, is behaving in the same way as those who brought the caliphate in that part of the world to an end.
With the fall of Mosul in July 2014 ISIS members sacked the Mosul Museum which had been home to many artifacts dating from the Old through the New Assyrian periods (2015-612 B.C.). While some of the plundered artifacts were sold on the black market, many of the irreplaceable objects were simply and wantonly destroyed.
The world can only hope that the voices of concern raised by Al Azhar will be heard — and heeded.
26 May 2015
Tags: Syria Art ISIS Historical site/city
Iraqi army tanks get into position on the outskirts of Tikrit in an effort to retake an oil refinery from ISIS on 24 May. (photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)
Iraqi forces launch major offensive against ISIS (CNN) Iraq forces have launched a major military operation to liberate Iraq’s Anbar and Salaheddin provinces from ISIS, Iraqi state media and a key Shia militia group said Tuesday, a little more than a week after the militant group overran Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi. The fighting in Salaheddin province is aimed at cutting a supply route south into Anbar and liberate Baiji city and oil refinery, according to the media office for the militia group, al-Hashd al-Shaabi...
Homs could be next temptation for ISIS in Syria (Haaretz) The Islamic State’s capture of the town of Palmyra is another irreparable blow to one of the world’s most important cultural sites. According to reports from Syria, Islamic State fighters are already damaging antiquities, spreading concerns that ISIS will demolish a heritage that has survived for 2,000 years. Over the past two days, more than 400 people have been killed in the town, and thousands more have been arrested by ISIS forces after Syrian army soldiers fled, even though they were better armed...
Pope Francis sends message for Day of Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a videomessage on the occasion of the Day for Christian Unity which took place in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States on 23 May...
Cardinal Turkson speaks on Africa Freedom Day (Vatican Radio) Speaking on the occasion of Africa Liberation Day or Africa Freedom Day being celebrated by many African countries on 25 May 2015, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson has spoken passionately about the need for African governments to work towards nation building. Cardinal Turkson, who originates from Ghana, was speaking in Rome during an interview with Fr. Paul Samasumo of Radio Vatican’s English Service for Africa...
Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church join in celebrating saints (AP) Thousands of Russians have filled Red Square to join the patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church in celebrating Slavic literature and the two ninth-century monks considered to be the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet. The religious and patriotic holiday celebrations were in keeping with Kremlin efforts to promote national pride and consolidate society as Russia is under pressure from the West and its economy is heading toward recession...
22 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Russian Orthodox
We were blessed to receive a letter and check in the mail earlier this month, from the Very Reverend Brian J. Welding, rector at Saint Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh. The seminarians wanted to collect alms during Lent to support displaced Iraqi Christians suffering persecution.
The letter reads in part:
I’m grateful to send you a check in the amount of $725.13, which was gathered from the 15 seminarians, our Bishop and 3 priests who reside at Saint Paul Seminary. Please use the funds for these Christians with whom we feel a spiritual and prayerful bond, acknowledging their suffering and beautiful witness to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Please also know of our gratitude for the charitable work of CNEWA, and give our greetings to our dear friend and fellow diocesan priest, Monsignor John Kozar.
Our hearts are full of prayers of thanksgiving for this generous and thoughtful gift — and the seminarians should know that those who will benefit from this act of charity will also be lifting them up in prayer. The Lord hears the cries of the poor!
If you’d like to learn how you can help, visit this link. And, when you can, please remember our brothers and sisters in Iraq in your prayers.
22 May 2015
The father of a man who was killed by ISIS militants in Libya earlier this year attends a service in the Virgin Mary Church near Cairo on 3 May. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
22 May 2015
The video above contains footage shot by a drone last fall as it flew over parts of Gaza, revealing dramatically the devastation to the region. A report out today says Gaza’s economy is on the “verge of collapse,” with the highest rate of unemployment in the world. (video: BBC)
ISIS seizes key Syria-Iraq border crossing (BBC) Islamic State militants have seized the last Syrian government-controlled border crossing between Syria and Iraq, a Syria monitoring group says. Government forces withdrew from al-Tanf — known as al-Waleed in Iraq — crossing as IS advanced, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. The loss of al-Tanf to IS follows the group’s takeover of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on Thursday. The US says that fighting the militants will be a “difficult challenge...”
Some Christian towns being recaptured from ISIS militants (CNS) Church bells are ringing once again in the Assyrian Christian villages dotting the Khabur River in northeastern Syria after ISIS militants were routed by a combination of forces. It’s a stark contrast to the mounting concerns for one of the most renowned archeological sites in the Middle East following the Islamic State militant sweep into the ancient Syrian city Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site. Despite the ISIS militant victories in Iraq and Palmyra, the extremists have suffered a setback in Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh. There, Kurdish and Assyrian Christian fighters have again wrested control over the Abdul-Aziz Mountain near the village of Tal Tamar, according to activists and Christian officials in Hassakeh...
Gaza economy “on verge of collapse” (The Guardian) The economy of Gaza — assailed by war, poor governance and a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade — has reached the “verge of collapse” with the coastal strip suffering the highest rate of unemployment in the world. The bleak picture is presented in a devastating report by the World Bank, released on Friday, which said that Gaza’s economy had been strangled by years of blockades, war and poor governance and faces a dangerous crisis over its ability to meet wages and other spending requirements. Calling for the “lifting of the blockade on the movement of goods and people to allow Gaza’s tradable sectors to recover” the report warned that about 43% of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents are unemployed, with youth unemployment reaching about 60% by the end of last year...
Amnesty International: all sides in Ukraine conflict are committing war crimes (AP) Both warring sides in eastern Ukraine are perpetrating war crimes almost daily, including torturing prisoners and summarily killing them, the Amnesty International rights group said in a report Friday. Amnesty said in a statement that it has heard from former captives of both Ukrainian government and separatist forces who say they faced savage beatings, torture with electric shocks, kicking and stabbings...
Coptic vicar: church will respect death sentence for Morsi (CNS) Egypt’s Catholic Church has pledged respect for the country’s justice authorities after a deposed Islamist president was sentenced to death for alleged complicity in a planned jail break. “After long deliberations, the Catholic Church has declared itself against the death penalty in general,” said Fr. Hani Bakhoum Kiroulos, patriarchal vicar of the Coptic Catholic Church. “But Egypt is an Islamic country which, like the United States, uses this sentence. Far from intervening in particular judgments, the Catholic Church must respect the country’s laws and judicial system.” The priest spoke as protests continued against the May 16 decision by a Cairo court that sentenced former President Mohammed Morsi and dozens of others...
Cardinal hopes for “trialogue” between Christians, Muslims, Jews (Vatican Radio) The three day conference ‘Nostra Aetate — Celebrating 50 years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims’ concluded yesterday at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. The President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity — and also responsible for the Church’s dialogue with the Jewish people — Cardinal Kurt Koch, was there. He says the Nostra Aetate declaration was a landmark in relations between the Catholic Church and other faiths. But, he notes that while the Church has ongoing bilateral talks with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, it may be too early to engage in a “trialogue” among the three monotheistic faiths. “We don’t have trialogue and for us it is too early to make this because sometimes we speak about an Abrahamitic ecumenism — this is very clear — it is a good issue. But on the other hand, we have a very, very different interpretation of Abraham and we cannot deny this issue. And in the interreligious discussion, it is very important to treat also this difference that we have in the interpretation of Abraham...”
21 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Muslim
Msgr. Kozar speaks at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
When CNEWA’s president Msgr. John Kozar looked at those gathered around the room Wednesday, he described it as a gathering of “family.” But if it was a family affair — and with about 60 people scattered around on sofas and easy chairs, it felt familiar — it was also one with a purpose.
The event, held in the faculty lounge at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York, brought together supporters, donors and interested Catholics from around the greater New York area to learn the latest on the situation in Iraq and Egypt from Msgr. Kozar. He traveled to the region for a pastoral visit earlier this month, along with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
The 45-minute talk, delivered without notes or a text, was impassioned, urgent and deeply personal. Msgr. Kozar detailed the harrowing conditions Iraqi Christians are enduring, even eight months after the ISIS offensive began last August: crowded tents, cramped halls, crude shipping containers serving as makeshift apartments for multiple families. He described the work CNEWA has undertaken in the country, helping to provide education, housing and health care to the tens of thousands who have been displaced. He saluted the courage and commitment of the ones he called the “footsoldiers” of the church, the sisters who are trying to meet the daily needs of so many in their charge. (Read more about the “Exodus” in Iraq.)
And, significantly, he spoke poignantly of the Iraqi people’s indomitable spirit.
Again and again, he said, he encountered resilience and hope. “They wanted us to know one thing,” he said quietly. “They wanted us to know they love the Holy Father. And they wanted to thank him for his prayers. They wanted us to know they were believers.” And he recounted meeting a little girl who told the visitors, “They have taken our homes. They will never take our faith.”
CNEWA president Msgr. Kozar speaks about his recent pastoral visit to the Middle East.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
It was the same story, he explained, in Egypt. Msgr. Kozar also told of visiting Cairo and meeting the “garbage pickers” — who have some of the most thankless jobs in the country. There are hundreds of thousands of them, yet their neighborhood isn’t even marked on any official map. But, he said, they have tremendous faith.
It is that faith, he said, that continues to uplift all the peoples of that troubled region — and faith which CNEWA is working to sustain and support through its many programs.
That support comes from the prayerful generosity of many people, known and unknown, as one of the hosts of the event, Msgr. Peter Vaccari, said.
In an interview after the talk, Msgr. Vaccari, the rector at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, described an effort the seminary undertook this year during Lent.
Msgr. Peter Vaccari, rector at St. Joseph’s Seminary, greets Msgr. Kozar. (photo: Greg Kandra)
“For the last two years, we’ve tried to raise consciousness about the dwindling population of Christians in the Middle East,” he explained. “The seminary is a place where a lot of people come for retreats, days of education, classes. We wanted to make the seminary a place where we can offer people a chance to be more conscious of the work we’re doing during Lent. So we put up offering boxes, asking people to contribute, knowing that this could be their Lenten work of mercy, joining their prayers with a contribution to CNEWA.”
That effort collected nearly $5,500 for the agency.
The event at the Huntington seminary, meantime, raised over $40,000 for CNEWA’s programs in the Middle East.
It is Msgr. Vaccari’s hope that these efforts will also help plant seeds in the hearts of the seminarians, who will remember the work of CNEWA after they are ordained and further help spread the word.
Those who attended heard Msgr. Kozar describe his recent pastoral visit to Iraq.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
“You are all missionaries,” Msgr. Kozar said at the end of the evening, pointing to all those gathered in the lounge. “You are the ones who can help us do what we do by telling others.”
Our brothers and sisters in Iraq continue to pray for all those who are praying for them — and their hearts are full of gratitude. “They will never take away our faith,” the little girl said. To help her and so many others, please visit our giving page.
And to find out how CNEWA can come visit your parish and share our story — so that YOU can help share it — please contact Norma Intriago at email@example.com
Msgr. Kozar was welcomed to Immaculate Conception Seminary by Msgr. Richard Henning, left, rector, and Msgr. Peter Vaccari, right, rector of St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York.
(photo: Greg Kandra)