3 June 2015
In this image from late April, Syrian citizens clear streets after shelling in Aleppo. This week, ISIS claimed more territory in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey.
(photo: CNS/Syrian Arab News Agency handout via Reuters)
Violence flares in Ukraine (BBC) Fierce fighting is raging between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, officials on both sides say. The clashes — said to involve heavy artillery and tanks — are taking place in Maryinka and Krasnohorivka, outside the rebel-held city of Donetsk. There were reports of multiple injuries in the towns held by Ukraine’s army...
ISIS seizes territory from rebels in Aleppo (Al Jazeera) The Islamic State group has seized more territory from Syrian rebels in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey. The advance by the armed group on Tuesday threatens to cut off supply lines used by Syrian rebel factions fighting both ISIS and the Syrian government. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel groups have sent reinforcements to ward off the offensive, which has seen four villages and a town previously held by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front fall to ISIS fighters...
Iraq allies pledge support in bid to regain Ramadi (AFP) Iraq’s allies pledged support for Baghdad’s plan to retake the city of Ramadi from Islamic State jihadists, whose advance Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described as a “failure” for the global community. The US-led coalition, which has been carrying out air strikes against IS, also called for the “speedy launch” of efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, which it said was crucial to tackle the group rampaging through Syria and Iraq...
Coptic homes attacked following charges of blasphemy (Christian Today) Coptic homes have been attacked and Christian families forced to flee from a village in Egypt after reports that Islam was insulted on Facebook. Some Muslims in the Beni Suef governate in Egypt tried to protect Copts from villagers angered over alleged “insults to Islam.” Ayman Youssef Tawfiq, from Kafr Darwish in Al-Fashn, denies he posted cartoons on Facebook that were insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. Nevertheless, Coptic homes in his village have been stoned and attacked with Molotov cocktails. A car has been destroyed and several homes set on fire...
Archbishop Fitzgerald on Vatican II’s legacy of interfaith relations (Vatican Radio) This year, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, which radically changed the Catholic Church’s relationship with people of other faiths. Issued on 28 October 1965, the document for the first time urged Catholics to recognize the truth present in other religions and to work together for the benefit of all of humanity. Over the past half century, the message of that document has been taken up by interfaith groups across the globe, often promoted and coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The former president of that Council, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, was a key speaker at a recent conference at Georgetown University In Washington DC. The encounter was organised by the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network to discuss the ecumenical and interfaith legacy of the Second Vatican Council...
2 June 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ukraine
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Sister Diana Momeka to CNEWA’s New York office. (photo: CNEWA)
The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.
But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.
Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.
“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.
“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”
Sister Diana spoke of the great suffering the people are enduring — but also their great faith. She recalled a Mass last month celebrated by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, who made a pastoral visit to Erbil.
“At Mass,” she said, “at first, they weren’t smiling, but then Msgr. Kozar talked to them and spoke and gave a message of hope and said, ‘I’d like to see you smiling,’ and they smiled and he noticed there is faith there. They attended Mass because they are hungry for words of hope. They appreciate every movement, every step that is taken by the Western world to acknowledge their pain and persecution.”
Msgr. Kozar explained: “When you talk about the faith of these individuals, it is because of their faith that they continue to carry on. Their faith, their village, their church are all synonymous. It’s more than just going to a religious service. It’s everything you are.” He sighed. “And they’ve lost all of it.”
Sister Diana said they are working to rebuild the lives of the people, providing health care, education and a sense of hope. She told of opening a kindergarten to care for young children. “For the first two months,” she said, “we were just trying to get the children to smile, just to smile. They couldn’t smile.” They finally made some breakthroughs with painting and art therapy, but many challenges remain.
“We still feel it’s a nightmare,” she concluded.
She noted with gratitude that CNEWA had been a tremendous support to the sisters and their work — helping fund clinics, provide housing and give both material and spiritual comfort to the displaced Iraqis. “Through your help,” she said, “you have helped us give dignity to people. This is how you care for the Body of Christ that has been hurting.”
But she added, there is still much to do. Many Iraqi families still live in crowded storage containers that, in the heat of the summer, are “unbearable.” And then there are the storms. “We spend nights and nights not being able to sleep because you hear the rain hitting the containers,” Sister Diana said, “and the memory comes back of all the bombs we have heard before.”
And the small woman with the great message emphasized, once more, what she wanted the world to know:
“We need to get back our humanity, our human dignity.”
To support CNEWA’s work in Iraq and to help our suffering brothers and sisters, visit this link. And please keep Sister Diana and all the people of Iraq in your prayers.
1 June 2015
Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees
CNEWA is helping house the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraqi Kurdistan — who, like the refugees they serve, were displaced by ISIS. (photo: Don Duncan)
NEW YORK — CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, has released $849,200 to aid Christians in the Middle East. “The funds address a broad spectrum of needs across a broad area of the region,” he said, “and reflect the vast scale of the challenges facing Middle East Christians.”
CNEWA’s aid supports initiatives as diverse as post-trauma counseling, medical care, formation of sisters and priests, and renovation of church institutions. Always, programs are administered by CNEWA’s personnel in the region, who partner with the local churches and their priests, sisters and lay professionals. These funds represent the second portion of CNEWA’s allocation from the collection taken up last autumn in most U.S. dioceses. Support includes:
$161,000 to renovate or furnish church institutions — such as socio-pastoral centers, schools, vocational training centers, schools for children with special needs and orphanages — destroyed during anti-Christian riots in Egypt in August 2013.
$100,000 to house the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, many of whom now live in shipping containers in Iraqi Kurdistan. Since being displaced from their convents by ISIS, the sisters have faced great hardship and loss, including the deaths of 12 sisters.
$15,000 to assist Iraqi men and women study theology at Babal College in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. As the Iraqi Christian community is dispersed further, proper theological formation is necessary to help these communities maintain their rites and traditions.
$80,000 to assist parishes in Jordan hosting Iraqi refugee families. Living in parish multipurpose centers, families carve out whatever private space they can with temporary dividers, while parishioners distribute bedding, clothing and food.
$12,000 to support counseling services at Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. Administered and staffed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Mother of Mercy maternity clinic serves impoverished refugee expectant mothers. These funds will help the sisters employ a social worker, which is needed to help serve an increasing number of refugees.
$45,000 to support counseling assistance, tutorial services, catechesis and English classes for marginalized populations, especially Syrian and Iraqi refugee families, at the Pontifical Mission Community Center in Amman.
$20,000 to provide additional medical care to refugees at Amman’s Italian Hospital.
$45,000 to host summer Bible camps for impoverished children in Jordan. Run by parishes and congregations of sisters, summer Bible camps offer refugee children (Syrian and Iraqi) as well as impoverished Jordanian children a respite from the drudgery of poverty. Camps provide counseling, catechesis and recreation.
$48,000 to assist refugees in Jordan who need complicated medical tests and procedures identified by our health care partners, e.g., radiology, urology and ophthalmological procedures, endoscopies and cardio vascular tests.
$50,000 to provide schooling for Iraqi refugee children in Catholic schools in Jordan.
$133,200 to help the churches’ outreach to the poor in Lebanon, devastated by an influx of more than a million refugees.
Funds will assist a dispensary sponsored by various religious communities of women in Naba’a with hospital fees, medical tests and food and hygiene packages; the Little Sisters of Nazareth and their work with poor children living in Dbayeh; schooling and hospital expenses for nearly 300 people cared for by the Archeparchy of Zahle; and medical care offered by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross.
$80,000 to help the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic churches in Lebanon care for nearly 1,600 Iraqi families who have fled ISIS, providing food and hygiene packages.
$20,000 to cover medical care costs of Gaza’s seniors, whose needs are identified by Gaza’s parish priests. Ahli Arab Hospital, administered by the Anglican Church, provides care for those whose medical needs have been exacerbated by war.
$40,000 to rush essentials to Syrian Christians fleeing ISIS in the northeastern Syrian city of Al Hasakah. Monies will purchase milk and diapers, food packages, medicines and other essentials to families who have fled their villages south of the city.
Most of these funds supplement CNEWA’s 2015 budgeted commitment of more than $6.4 million for the peoples and churches of the Middle East. CNEWA’s Middle East program includes basic support for displaced Iraqi and Syrian families; formation programs for seminarians in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon; youth formation initiatives in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Syria; health care support across the region, especially pre- and post-natal care; and various social service efforts for the poor and the indigent.
An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches. CNEWA is a registered charity in Canada and in the United States by the State of New York. All contributions are tax deductible and tax receipts are issued. In the United States, donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org; by phone at 800.442.6392; or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195. In Canada, visit www.cnewa.ca; send your gift to 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K9; or call toll-free at 1-866-322-4441.
1 June 2015
A sister climbs the stairs at the Good Shepherd convent in Suez, which was burned during an attack in August 2013. CNEWA has just released funds to help rebuild this and other institutions. Read more about the relief effort to help Christians in the Middle East here. And to learn more about the struggles of Christians in Egypt, read “Out of the Ashes” in the Spring 2015
edition of ONE. (photo: David Degner)
1 June 2015
Residents of Nikishyne, Ukraine, sit in the remains of a building on 15 May. Residents returned to the village, which has been heavily damaged by artillery bombardment since February.
(photo: Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
U.N.: death toll in Ukraine tops 6,400 (AP) The United Nations’ human rights office says the number of people killed in more than a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine has risen to over 6,400. The office said Monday that at least 6,417 people have been killed and 15,962 wounded between April last year and Saturday. The latest numbers compare with figures of 6,116 dead and 15,474 wounded given in mid-April. Shelling diminished following a February cease-fire deal, but fighting has worsened in recent weeks...
UNICEF to launch appeal for Iraq (AFP) Humanitarian organisations are preparing to launch a fundraising appeal for $500 million (454 million euros) for the crisis created by the Islamic State group in Iraq, UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency said on Monday. The announcement came a day ahead of a meeting in Paris of the US-led coalition of countries working to defeat the jihadist group in Iraq and Syria. “The humanitarian situation in Iraq is close to disaster! We urgently need extra resources in order to continue assistance,” Philippe Heffinck, UNICEF’s representative in Iraq, said in a statement in French...
Muslim leaders in Syria seeking path for release of kidnapped priest (Fides) Father Jaques Murad, the priest kidnapped in the area of Homs on 21 May, known in the area of the village of Al-Qaryatayn, where he lived in the monastery of St. Elias, was much appreciated for his work proximity, dialogue, closeness and friendship towards the local community, in an area where a large majority are Sunni Muslims. This is why, says a source of Fides, “the Muslim leaders of the community, village chiefs, clan leaders denounced the kidnapping and are now trying to open a channel and find a path for the release.” However, “it seems that the people or groups who seized him are foreign to the social, ethnic and religious fabric of the area...”
ISIS drives back Syria insurgents near Turkey (Reuters) Islamic State fighters advanced against rival insurgents in northern Syria on Sunday, capturing areas close to a border crossing with Turkey and threatening their supply route to Aleppo city, fighters and a group monitoring the war said. Islamic State captured the town of Soran Azaz and two nearby villages after clashes with fighters from a northern rebel alliance, which includes both Western-backed rebels and Islamist fighters. Islamic State will now be able to move along a road leading north to the Bab al-Salam crossing between the Syrian province of Aleppo and the Turkish province of Kilis, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said...
India’s Christians concerned about growing attacks on minorities (RNS) In March, an elderly nun was raped in Calcutta and a Christian school in West Bengal received anonymous threats, according to a Times of India report. In April, St. Mary’s Church in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, was vandalized, setting off a wave of protests. Earlier this month, the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cited an “increase of harassment and violence” among India’s Christian community. The attacks have come against a background of fear that Christians are increasing their efforts to proselytize — especially in schools...
29 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq India Ukraine Turkey
In this image from 2011, altar servers assist in a liturgy at Our Lady of Paradise Cathedral
in São Paulo. (photo: Izan Petterle)
In 2011, we took readers to Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, Brazil, spiritual home to an estimated 400,000 people — the largest Melkite Greek community not only in the Americas but in the world. It’s located in the neighborhood of Paraíso (Portuguese for paradise):
Though Paraíso remains the center of Brazil’s Melkite cultural and spiritual life, its demographics have changed dramatically in recent years. Social success and economic prosperity among first– and second–generation Melkite Arab–Brazilians have prompted most to choose more affluent residential communities in São Paulo and its sprawling suburbs.
Fortunately, some longtime residents remain to preserve the neighborhood’s historic Arabic flavor. Strolling Paraíso’s streets, one finds no shortage of Arab–owned restaurants, serving up traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, such as falafel, kibbeh, tajine and hummus. Many of these establishments so far have withstood the test of time, having remained in their families for several generations.
After the liturgy, a small group of parishioners approaches the altar and passes through a door leading to a spacious community hall. There, they gather to socialize and enjoy refreshments. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sound of casual conversations in Arabic and Portuguese fill the air.
Read more about “Paradise in Brazil” in the July 2011 edition of ONE.
29 May 2015
A large statue of St. Vladimir overlooks Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. The Russian Orthodox Church plans to build a more imposing statue of the saint in Moscow. (photo: Wikipedia)
Proposed huge statue of Russian saint divides Moscow (The New York Times) What the city lacks is a spectacular monument to a religious figure, but the Russian Orthodox Church and the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, are determined to change that. They have championed a project that will alter the cityscape by erecting an 82-foot-tall statue of St. Vladimir, Russia’s patron saint, atop one of the few hills in Moscow. Muscovites have not embraced the idea. Tens of thousands have signed a petition against the statue, which is to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of St. Vladimir’s death. It is lost on no one that Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, already has a 162-year-old, 54-foot-tall monument to St. Vladimir and that Russia’s conflict with Ukraine helped inspire Moscow’s my-statue-is-bigger-than-yours version...
Nearly 500 bodies exhumed from graves in Iraq (CNN) An Iraqi forensic team has exhumed 499 bodies from a series of graves in the presidential complex in the city of Tikrit, a top official in the Baghdad morgue who is familiar with the operation told CNN on Thursday. The bodies are believed to be those of Iraqi military cadets, whom ISIS claimed to have killed in June 2014 in a massacre at Camp Speicher, a fortified Iraqi base near Tikrit...
Kurdish troops retake some Syrian cities from ISIS (AP) In contrast to the Iraqi army’s failures, Kurdish fighters in Syria are on the march against ISIS, capturing towns and villages in an oil-rich swath of the country’s northeast under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. As the Kurds close in on Tel Abyad, a major commercial centre on the Turkish border, their advance highlights the decisive importance of combining air power with the presence of a cohesive and motivated ally on the ground — so clearly absent in Iraq...
“Creating a Culture of Peace” conference held in Rome (L’Osservatore Romano) “Creating a Culture of Peace: What can Religions Do?” was the theme of the conference held recently in Rome at the Lay Centre of Foyer Unitas. Twenty-eight students from the the UK’s Cambridge Muslim College and the Centre for Islamic Theology at Germany’s Tubingen University participated in the conference at which Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, presented...
Visiting "Divine Ethiopia" (The Telegraph) There are moments when Ethiopia seems to belong to an atlas of the imagination — part legend, part fairy-tale, part Old Testament book, part pulling your leg. In this land of wonders there are medieval castles of a black Camelot, monasteries among Middle Earth peaks accessible only by rope and chains, the ruined palace of the Queen of Sheba and the original Ten Commandments in a sealed box guarded by mute monks with killer instincts...
28 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Russian Orthodox
Over 30 people, including the young man pictured here, recently took part in a special day for Iraqi refugees with special needs. (photo: CNEWA)
Recently, Jordan received a large number of Iraqi refugees, especially from Nineveh plain. Through our encounters with them, we have learned more about their difficulties and sufferings, because they have been forced to leave their homes and their country. Now, they are facing significant challenges at various levels: financially, physically and psychologically.
Their enormous needs are difficult to meet; therefore, this situation invites us to reflect on Christ’s attitude toward the vulnerable and marginalized, the sick and wounded; it also invites us to feel solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to what happened to them. It invites us to go towards them, to participate and support them in their dignity. The church in Jordan, along with several humanitarian organizations, seeks to support and aid everyone according to their needs and abilities.
CNEWA in Amman would like to share with you a day we spent recently with our brothers and sisters, Iraqis with special needs. CNEWA, with the coordination of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, worked and prepared for this event for more than a month. The attendees were 31 people of different ages and disabilities. They were accompanied by the same number of parents.
This event was a huge success.
Four buses traveled from Amman to Madaba to the Sermig monastery, named “Gathering House — Bait Al-Liqa’.”
On arrival, they watched a short movie about the facility; it daily receives more than 100 children with special needs. The facility offers education and rehabilitation, and provides physical and speech therapy. After the movie, participants were divided into three groups to visit with the volunteers, who explained the different activities carried out by the house according to their needs. We were all really astonished, and were deeply moved when we saw the children’s handiworks of paintings, sewing, rosaries, and mosaics.
Later on, the groups participated in activities such as gardening, coloring and making flowers; another group helped in the kitchen. Everyone was happy and enjoyed the activities. They experienced the joy of being useful, and saw that even doing something simple can have great importance and value.
Bishop Salim Sayegh, who happily responded to our invitation, concluded the morning with the celebration of the Holy Mass. In his talk, he sent a message to all attendees, a message of joy in Christ, by saying: the Easter message is to rejoice! The young and innocent children need the adults’ joy, they need to nourish on the joy of Christ. “Your innocent children,” he said, “are unaware of the problems and worries you face, so they should always have the happy image of Christ in their lives!”
We then shared lunch in a spirit of joy and love.
During the evaluation of this day, participants expressed their joy, and expressed that they are not a burden on society, but they have a lot to offer and wish that there be more attention to their situation and that such events and activities to be repeated.
This was a very emotional event for all participants; they learned from each other, they learned to trust more in God and to be more patient and persistent.
It also allowed us to meet Jesus Christ through them. We can only hope they also met him through us.
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.