22 April 2015
Agnon Adnidihad, 62, fled his home in Mosul last year. (photo: CNEWA)
Last Saturday morning, I met a man named Agnan Adnidihad. Now I’d like you to meet him, too.
A few months ago, he was a 62-year-old repairman working in Mosul, Iraq — a Syriac Orthodox Christian quietly tending his business and saying his prayers.
Then along came ISIS.
Today, Agnan is a refugee, living in a corner of Amman, Jordan, where all he can do is survey the remnants of a life that has been ransacked and left in ruins. I met him at the Italian Hospital in Amman, where he is being treated for heart ailments and stress. He agreed to a short interview; the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Khalid Shammas, served as our translator. You can watch the video below.
Dr. Shammas told us the needs of people like Agnan are great; many who pass through the hospital’s doors suffer from posttraumatic stress and depression. And their numbers are growing in Jordan. The country is being flooded with tens of thousands of people from Iraq and Syria who are literally running for their lives. In Jordan, they are finding their way to the Italian Hospital for treatment.
The Italian Hospital is Amman’s oldest medical facility, dating to 1926. (photo: Greg Kandra)
I was blessed to visit the hospital last weekend and receive a guided tour. In the Spring edition of ONE magazine, writer Dale Gavlak offers this snapshot of an institution that is having a profound and positive impact:
The Italian Hospital is Amman’s oldest medical facility, dating to 1926. The 100-bed hospital maintains a longstanding charitable tradition, providing some of the best care at low prices — in some cases, as with Nevine’s delivery, for free.
The hospital offers checkups, intensive care, pediatric and maternity care and a variety of other services, making referrals only in the case of the most serious procedures, such as cardiac surgery.
“For many years, refugees have been coming to our hospital, starting with the Palestinians,” says Nassim Samawi, administrative director. Now, as many as 130 Iraqi Christians daily seek medical assistance at the white limestone facility in Amman’s bustling downtown. Refugees driven from neighboring countries and continents alike come for help, including people from Syria, Sudan, Somalia and even Iraqis still displaced from the 2003 war.
“The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the facility.
“Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the soft-spoken sister.
“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says.
“Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries — heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.”
When our group of newswriters and bloggers visited, the waiting rooms were crowded with mothers with small children and the elderly in wheelchairs. Young nurses shuttled from room to room tracking patients, collecting samples and filing paperwork. The overwhelming majority of patients and staff were Muslim; the women’s heads were covered in the traditional cloth hijab. Many spoke little or no English.
Many of the staff at the Italian Hospital, as with most of the patients, are Muslim. This nurse cares for newborns. (photo: Greg Kandra)
But for all that, the hospital remains distinctly Catholic. Every room has a crucifix on the wall. In the neonatal unit, images of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus watch over slumbering newborns. Two sisters from India, Sister Elizabeth and Sister Vinitha, from the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, supervise the staff.
Sister Vinitha, left, and Sister Elizabeth, right, are the two sisters who serve at the Italian Hospital. (photo: CNEWA)
The work being done at the Italian Hospital is urgent — yet in our short time there, all we saw was calm. The hospital is spotless. The staff is efficient and gracious. You have the sense that all who come there are in the very best of hands.
For so many, these are the only hands reaching out to help them.
The Italian Hospital has a unit dedicated to caring for newborns, many born to refugees.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
It was a great privilege to see the work CNEWA is helping to make possible in this corner of the land we call Holy — and I was proud to be a part of it, even in some small way. There is so much good being done here. Grace is everywhere.
You, too, can share in this work, and make the lives of men like Agnon Adnidihad better. Take a moment to visit our giving page. You will be giving something beyond what you may realize — a sense of possibility and promise, of reassurance and hope. These people from Iraq and Syria need that. Now, more than ever.
Read more about the hospital in Finding Sanctuary in Jordan in the spring edition of ONE.
22 April 2015
Tags: Refugees Children Jordan Health Care
Students take a break from their studies at a school run by the Daughters of Charity in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Read the moving first person account of one of the Daughters of Charity in “A Letter from Ethiopia” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
22 April 2015
Armenians gather around a chasm in the mountain at a site called Dudan, near Diyarbakir, believed to be a mass grave of the Armenian Genocide, on 22 April. (photo: Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images)
After a century, Turks slowly take stock of Armenian Genocide (Der Spiegel) Officially, discussion of the Armenian genocide is taboo in Turkey, even 100 years after the crimes. But the issue is becoming harder for the country to suppress and many Turks are rediscovering their long-lost Armenian identities…
Maronite patriarch commemorates mass killings in Armenia (Daily Star Lebanon) “The centenary ceremony of the Armenian martyrs who were killed a hundred years ago is not just a liturgical ceremony, but a major event for the church and people of the East,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter said at a dinner held by Lebanon’s Ambassador to Armenia Jean Maakaroun…
At least 42 dead in rebel-ISIS clashes near Damascus (Daily Star Lebanon) At least 42 fighters were killed in 24 hours of fierce fighting between Islamist rebels and ISIS in Syria’s Damascus province, an activist group said Wednesday. “At least 30 Islamist rebels and 12 fighters from ISIS were killed in fighting since Tuesday” in the hilly region of Qalamun, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said…
Holy See concerned about Israel-Palestine negotiations (Vatican Radio) The Holy See on Tuesday expressed its deep concern at the “total lack of progress” of the negotiations between Palestine and Israel. “As was recognized on that occasion, Israel has genuine and legitimate concerns for its security; however, such security will come not in isolation from its neighbors, but in being a part of them through a negotiated peace with the Palestinians through the implementation of the ‘two-state solution,’ which has the support of the Holy See and of the international community in general,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations…
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue urges dialogue with Muslims (VIS) The following is the full text of a declaration published this morning by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: “The events of recent times cause many of us to ask: ‘Is there still space for dialogue with Muslims?’ The answer is: Yes, more than ever…”
A global surge in refugees leaves Europe struggling to cope (Washington Post) As Europe confronts a rapidly escalating migration crisis driven by war, persecution and poverty in an arc of strife from West Africa to Afghanistan, even high-level European officials are beginning to admit the obvious: The region’s refugee management system is broken. As a new crisis develops, the nations of Europe appear overwhelmed, belatedly scrambling to plug the gaping holes in their asylum system and contain what has become a full-blown humanitarian emergency…
21 April 2015
Tags: Refugees Middle East Turkey Armenia Dialogue
Mother Jeanette Abou Abdullah comforts one of the hundreds receiving care in the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross’ hospital in Deir el Kamar, Lebanon. To learn more about challenges facing Lebanon today, check out “Lebanon on the Brink” in the Spring edition of ONE,
now available online. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
21 April 2015
Patriarch Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church speaks during the 11 April Easter Vigil at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the patriarch for the execution of more than 20 Ethiopian Christians at the hands of ISIS militants in Libya. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)
Pope sends message of solidarity to Ethiopian Patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a “message of solidarity” to the orthodox patriarch of Ethiopia, Abune Mathias, on the occasion of the killing of Ethiopian Christians in Libya. A video, which allegedly shows the beheading of twenty Ethiopian Christians, was released last Sunday by the so-called “Islamic State” terror group...
Ethiopians shocked by killings (AP) Many in Ethiopia are reeling from the news that several Ethiopians were killed in Libya by the Islamic State group, which over the weekend released a video purporting to show the killings.The killings, which have shocked many in the predominantly Christian country, were condemned by Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The victims were planning to go to Europe by boat from Libya but were captured and then killed by the Islamic extremists, said grieving family members and government officials. Ethiopia’s government on Monday declared three days of mourning...
Pope offers condolences on death of former Chief Rabbi of Rome (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter of condolences to the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, after the death on Sunday of his predecessor, Rabbi Elio Toaff, at the age of 99...
U.S. begins training soldiers in Ukraine (The Wall Street Journal) U.S. troops kicked off a training program for their Ukrainian counterparts at a military base in western Ukraine Monday, far from the continuing fighting near Russia’s border. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko praised the troopsrsquo; arrival as a sign the West is ready to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty. But the training program comes as NATO members are cautiously limiting their aid to Kiev to avoid provoking Russia...
Kerala hailed as a model for religious cooperation (Manorama Online) Kerala is a model for religious cooperation and coexistence, President Pranab Mukherjee said. Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities have lived together and contributed to the social welfare of the state, he added, while releasing a stamp commemorating the bicentennial of the Old Seminary in Kottayam...
20 April 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Ethiopia Kerala Jews
Iraqis flee the ISIS onslaught, summer 2014. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
CNEWA’s recent disbursement of aid to the Middle East was spotlighted in a recent article by John L. Allen Jr. for The Boston Globe:
“Two-thirds of the world’s 2.3 billion Christians live in the developing world, where they’re often convenient targets for anti-Western rage — even though their churches have deeper roots in those places than most of their persecutors,” writes Allen, who has covered the Vatican beat for the National Catholic Reporter, CNN and now The Globe. “Christians are also disproportionately likely to belong to ethnic and linguistic minorities, putting them doubly or triply in jeopardy.
“All that has been true for some time, but the religious cleansing campaigns carried out by ISIS and its self-described ‘caliphate’ has made anti-Christian hatred an utterly inescapable fact of life.
“The question is no longer whether it’s real, but what to do about it.
“That’s where outfits such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) step in. ...
“CNEWA’s mandate is to support the Eastern churches in Catholicism, meaning the Catholic communities scattered across the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe that draw on Eastern Orthodox traditions. In recent years, that’s made CNEWA a prime mover in delivering aid to persecuted Christians in some of the world’s leading hot spots.
“Today, CNEWA is among the largest providers of aid to Middle Eastern Christians anywhere in the world.”
To read more, visit The Globe’s Catholic portal, Crux. And to join in CNEWA’s work to help the Christians of the Middle East, click here.
20 April 2015
Ethiopian Christianity dates to the earliest days of the church. On Sunday, Islamic militants released a video purportedly depicting the execution of Ethiopian Christians as part of their war on civilization. (photo: Sean Sprague)
ISIS Video Appears to Show Executions of Ethiopian Christians in Libya (New York Times) The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from its branches in southern and eastern Libya, executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting...
Coptic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina on Ethiopian Christians massacred (Agenzia Fides) The Patriarchs and Catholic Bishops of Egypt, have gathered in Cairo for their regular assembly that sees them together twice a year, and will dedicate part of their common pastoral reflection to new massacres of Ethiopian Christians committed by jihadists of the Islamic State and documented in video clips carried out with macabre professionalism to be distributed online as tools of their irrational propaganda...
Beyond powerlessness over anti-Christian persecution (Crux) Today, CNEWA is among the largest providers of aid to Middle Eastern Christians anywhere in the world. Though it’s a Catholic organization, it helps Christians of all sorts. This week, CNEWA announced the release of grants totaling $686,000 to aid the Christian community in the Middle East, targeted at places that have absorbed the heaviest blows...
Ukraine pro-Russian rebels warn of all-out war (Vatican Radio) The leadership of pro-Russian separatists has warned of all-out war unless Kiev recognizes rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. The warning came amid escalating fighting between government forces and rebels in some regions and while hundreds of American troops arrived to train Ukraine’s army...
EU meets on migrant crisis as shipwreck corpses brought ashore (Al Jazeera) The death toll from Sunday’s shipwreck off the coast of Libya was uncertain after officials said there had been at least 700 people on board, some reportedly locked in the hold.
This year more than 1,500 people fleeing war and poverty are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean, packed into rickety boats by human traffickers in a bid to reach a better life in Europe. The deaths are up 15-fold compared with the same period of 2014.
“The reputation of Europe is at stake,” said Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni. “I have been saying for weeks and months that Europe has to do more, now unfortunately the reality has hit us in the face...”
17 April 2015
Young residents sit down for a meal at the Mother Mary Home for Girls, an orphanage run by Syro-Malabar Catholic Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The Economic Times recently reported that fewer and fewer women in Kerala are choosing to become religious sisters:
Shrinking family sizes and expanding career opportunities for women are posing a problem for the church. In Kerala … fewer women are now taking vows to renounce worldly pursuits and devote themselves fully to religious life. … Social activists say greater empowerment and the fact that churches are still male bastions are also making women look away from the cloistered life of convents. One of the problems this could pose to the church is in the running of institutions such as hospitals, schools and charity organizations that are managed by priests and nuns. …
In Kerala, “there is a 70-75 percent drop in the number of women who were joining convents to be nuns,” says Sebastian Adayanthrath, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church’s auxiliary bishop for Ernakulum-Angamaly.
The peak was in the mid-1960’s, when there were as many as two dozen newly admitted nuns every year in each province. It lasted for about a decade, and then, started to decline to about 20 by 1985 and 10 in the past decade, he says. …
Interestingly, there is no decline in the number of men who come forward to become priests. Church spokesmen say this may be because the priest’s job is more visible. He has a social standing because of the functions that he has to do, they said.
Apart from Kerala, the states that have historically sent large number of women to become nuns are Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Though Kerala still sends more women than any other state to convents, the northern states are catching up.
In early 2010, we shined a spotlight on Kerala’s decline in vocations:
In this fast-changing southeastern Indian state, literacy is nearly universal; education reigns king. Not long ago, conversation among villagers centered on crop rotation and seasonal rains. Today, rural and urban Keralites are preoccupied by which colleges their children will attend and which professions offer lucrative careers. No longer confined to rearing children and managing the household, women set their sights on horizons filled with diverse possibilities. …
This shift in the social landscape has impacted the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches, especially their ability to recruit men and women to serve as priests and religious, respectively. Observers sense an imminent decline in the ranks of vocations among these churches, which are centered in the state.
They point out that today’s candidates no longer come from wealthy or upper middle-class backgrounds, nor do they represent the highest performing students. Many lack the emotional maturity of their predecessors. …
For the first time in centuries, Kerala’s Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches are thinking twice about the recruitment and formation processes of their priests and religious as the culture around them changes.
Read more about Keeping Up With the Times in India, in the January 2010 issue of ONE.
17 April 2015
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Catholic Vocations (religious)
A Syrian child eats a piece of bread at the Idlib’s Free Syrian Army-controlled Atmeh refugee camp. (photo: Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
U.N. calls on Western nations to shelter Syrian refugees (New York Times) With Syria’s neighbors increasingly shutting their borders to refugees and thousands trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety, the war in Syria is creating the worst global refugee crisis in decades, putting new pressure on the United States and other Western countries to open their doors — and in turn, prompting domestic political backlash…
U.N. agency seeks unhindered access to Yarmouk camp (U.N. News Center) While ramping up assistance to Palestinian refugees and Syrian civilians that have fled a besieged camp on the southern edge of Damascus, the United Nations agency tasked with aiding Palestinians throughout the region said today that it is still seeking unhindered access to Yarmouk camp itself, where thousands remain trapped by fighting among armed groups…
Aleppo’s rebels brace for ISIS assault (Al Monitor) Syria’s rebels are currently building up their troops in the northern countryside of Aleppo, as there have been talks about a possible imminent attack by ISIS. On 7 April, the group carried out two suicide attacks targeting two locations of the Sham Front — a unification of former forces including the Jaish al Mujahideen and the Islamic Front among others — in northern Aleppo…
Car bomb explodes outside U.S. consulate in Iraq (NBC News) A car bomb exploded on Friday outside the U.S. Consulate in the Iraqi city of Erbil, a State Department official told NBC News. There were no immediate reports of injuries to consulate personnel or local guards, the State Department official said. A Kurdish media outlet reported that three people were killed and five injured…
Migrants thrown overboard, Italy police say (Al Jazeera) A dozen African migrants have died after being thrown overboard by fellow passengers, Italian police say, and another 41 boat migrants are feared to have drowned in a separate incident…
Egypt strikes Islamic texts from schools, angering Salafists (Al Monitor) The decision of Egypt’s Ministry of Education to remove some content from primary and secondary school curricula has sparked wide controversy in the country. While the state views the decision — which will omit some religious texts and passages on historical Islamic figures — as a way to counter radical ideologies and fight extremism, the Salafist movements have deemed it a war on Islam…
Death toll of Ukraine fighting now above 6,100 (Daily Star Lebanon) The United Nations says the number of people killed in a year of fighting in Ukraine has now passed 6,100, and says it’s increasingly worried that breaches in a cease-fire will further worsen the human rights situation in parts of the country’s east…
16 April 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Refugees Migrants
Mayor Akel Biltaji of Amman speaks with the group of pilgrims. (photo: Greg Kandra)
If you were looking for a figure representing the diversity and religious harmony of Jordan, you couldn’t do much better than a man who was born in Gaza, was raised a Quaker, married a Muslim, and now serves as the mayor of the capital city of Amman.
Meet Mayor Akel Biltaji.
I did Monday night — along with the other religious bloggers and writers who are touring Jordan this week at the invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board. The mayor agreed to give us some time to talk about issues facing his city and his country. So a little after 6 p.m., we boarded our bus and made our way to Amman’s imposing city hall.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
We were ushered in through security and up a winding stairway to a large conference room.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
And there we suddenly saw the mayor: an elegant figure with a shock of white hair and a trim moustache, greeting each of us at the entrance to the room, shaking our hands, making chit-chat and asking us where we were from. We took our places around a large square conference table. The mayor’s communications staff also joined us.
Dapper, warm, talkative, effusive, the 64-year-old mayor is the very model of modern major politico. He’s also a born diplomat. When one of our bloggers asked him which cities in America he liked the most, he slyly worked his way around the room and extolled the virtues of every home town of every writer at the table.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
He has an instinct for people. And his background in management is impressive. From his official biography:
Raised and educated in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, he obtained his High School Diploma and the London General Certificate Examination at the American Friends Schools (Quaker) in 1959. Mr. Biltaji graduated in the summer of 1962 with a degree in education and joined the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) the same year. In the summer of 1969, Mr. Biltaji returned to Jordan to join the National Carrier ALIA, the Royal Jordanian Airlines as a senior management officer. In his 28-year distinguished airline career, Mr. Biltaji served in different capacities, the last of which was senior vice president.
His Majesty the Late King Hussein appointed him in March 1997 as the country’s minister of Tourism and Antiquities, where he continued to serve in this portfolio under His Majesty King Abdullah II until June, 2001, when he was appointed by King Abdullah II as chief commissioner to the newly declared Region of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority
In February, 2004, His Majesty King Abdullah II appointed Minister Biltaji as His Majesty’s advisor on Tourism Promotion, Foreign Direct Investment and Country Branding. In November 2005, he was also appointed as a member of the House of Senate, where he served as chairman of the Tourism and Heritage House Committee, and member of the Foreign Relations and Education Committees.
You would think the mayor of a major world capital would have better things to do than chat with writers after business hours on a Monday night. But for over an hour, Mayor Biltaji — in between extolling the virtues of his city and selling it to all those in the room — entertained questions on a number of topics.
On Jordan’s significance to the world: “This is the land of the sunrise of faith. … Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The mix is here. The heritage, the antiquities, it’s all around. This is the source of a spirit of compassion. When we count the apostles and the prophets that have touched this land, we are blessed. It means they left something and it stayed, and we hope to be the custodians to these relics and antiquities.”
On the importance of religious acceptance: “What is so unique about us here is acceptance. It’s not tolerance. Tolerance is a bit condescending, you know? That’s not coexistence. What matters is acceptance. Once you accept, you find yourself falling into taking the other in and being taken in, too, by the other. Once you surrender to that, that’s how things should be. “
On how Jordan is coping with refugees: “We’re managing. We are sharing with them whatever we can and making them feel at home. Just imagine if one-third of the U.S. just crossed the Mexican borders into the U.S. We have one-third the population, 30 percent of people living here have come from other places and are sharing very scarce resources. But this is part of our idea of acceptance. This is what is unique about Jordan. To have [been] born in Gaza, brought up in Jaffa, become a Jordanian — now I’m the mayor of four million people. Where else in the world can you do that? Lebanon? You can’t. They have kept the refugees in something like a ghetto. Here, certain refugees who came here years ago and made a life here have insisted on staying in camps as a symbol of the right to return. Some are members of parliament, members of city council, but they are Jordanians living in the camp. The identity is there. Refugees are included here in the political life of the country. Lebanon is different. It’s very sectarian. But here? We have 1.6 million Syrians — 20 percent of our schools in the north are full of Syrian refugees. But this, again is a sign of resilience, of compassion.”
At the conclusion, he wished us well and thanked us for coming to his country — and for helping to tell its story. He acknowledged that many people misunderstand Jordan and don’t realize that in a corner of the world rife with turmoil and terror, the Hashemite Kingdom remains stable, modern and secure. Again and again he attributed that to the leadership of the king, and what the mayor called a sense of “acceptance” of many cultures and faiths.
I think we all left the meeting wishing nothing but the best for the mayor and the land he so clearly loves. In comparison to the storms raging around it, Jordan is a sea of tranquility. Let’s pray it stays that way. The Middle East needs more Jordans — and more cheerleaders for the region like Akel Biltaji.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
Tags: Middle East Holy Land Jordan Amman