26 May 2016
Muslims and Christians alike visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in the village of Harissa, near Beirut. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)
In Lebanon, Muslims and Christians visit Marian shrine at Harissa (CNS) High on a summit overlooking the Mediterranean, Our Lady of Lebanon stands majestically with her arms outstretched, welcoming her children. Muslims and Christians alike come to the shrine, 16 miles north of Beirut. To Muslims, Mary is known in Arabic as “Seidatna Maryam,” Our Lady Mary. Even though Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, in the Quran, a chapter is devoted to Maryam…
Egypt: Muslim crowd burns seven homes of Copts (ANSAmed) A crowd of some 300 Muslims attacked and set on fire seven homes of Coptic Christians in a village of central Egypt and forced a Christian woman to strip naked in public. The incident was reported in a statement by the Coptic church of the governorate of Minya, quoted by Egyptian media like Al Masry al Youm and occurred near Abu Qurqas on Friday night. The homes were “attacked, burned, ransacked and destroyed” at around 8 p.m., the statement said, reporting that police reached the location two hours later, arresting six people. The crowd of attackers was “chanting slogans” and the “deplorable incidents” followed “reports of a sentimental relationship between a Coptic Christian man and a Muslim woman…”
Lebanese leaders hope pope-imam meeting leads to new relationships (Catholic Philly) Lebanese leaders in Muslim-Christian dialogue said they hoped Pope Francis’ meeting with Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Al Azhar University, would lead to new relationships. Maronite Father Fadi Daou, chairman of Adyan, a foundation for interfaith studies and spiritual solidarity based in Lebanon, told Catholic News Service that he hopes the meeting will be the forerunner to a “new dimension of interreligious relations.” Mohammad Sammak, secretary-general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, said the meeting likely would “open a new page of cooperation on the basis of building real citizenship — equal citizenship — between Christians and Muslims all over the Middle East…”
Msgr. Sullivan describes his experiences in Iraq (Catholic Charities) Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan joined a small delegation in early April led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), to Iraqi Kurdistan. During this mission they visited families displaced after ISIS swept through Iraq in the summer of 2014. They spent time in displacement camps filled with Christians, Muslims and Yazidis who fled to these camps and looked at health clinics, schools and churches that sprung up to serve them. As part of the delegation, Msgr. Sullivan spoke one-on-one with those forced to flee their homes as well as with sisters, priests and bishops…
Dozens feared dead as migrant boat capsizes in Mediterranean (TheGuardian) Dozens of people are feared to have drowned in the second shipwreck in as many days in the southern Mediterranean, amid tentative signs that some Syrians may be trying once again to make for Europe from Libya…
Uproar over police brutality against Israeli Arab (Al Monitor) Israeli passersby documented border police officers beating an Israeli-Arab youth working in a Tel Aviv grocery store…
25 May 2016
Tags: Iraq Egypt Lebanon Israel Migrants
Campers from a Caritas Georgia center play at a resort in Nunisi, in central Georgia. Over the years, CNEWA has sponsored many summer recreation programs in the regions we serve — such as camps in the Caucasus that provide summer fun, and a whole lot more. Read about it in the November 2007 issue of ONE. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
25 May 2016
Tags: Children Georgia Caritas
Internally displaced Iraqis leave a Catholic church after celebrating the liturgy in a camp in Ain Kawa, Iraq, in April. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Tom Gallagher: The desperate plight of Iraqi Christians (Greenwich Time) In mid-April 2016, as an act of solidarity with the suffering Christians and other religious minorities, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as chairman of the Board of Directors of the 90-year old New York City-based papal agency, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), made a pastoral visit to Erbil and Dohuk, a town near the Turkish border. I went as a journalist for the National Catholic Reporter. Our small delegation visited multiple health clinics and displacement camps for Iraqi Christians and Yazidis. At each stop the displaced repeated the plea to be able to “just go home…”
Christian schools at risk as Israeli government reneges on promise (Fides) A few days before the end of a difficult school year, which started with a 27-day strike, 47 Christian schools operating in Israel are facing a financial emergency because the Ministry of education has not honored their commitment to transfer 50 million shekels to the Christian schools, a condition of the agreement that ended the strike in September. As of today, the government is more than 50 days past its deadline…
Iraqi priest: Violence, divisions have created a sense of brotherhood with Muslims (Herald Malaysia Online) The Rev. Samir Youssef, pastor in the Chaldean Eparchy of Amadiya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been taking care of 3,500 Christian, Muslim and Yazidi refugee families since 2014. Over this time, ISIS, violence, political divisions and partisan interests have created a new sense of brotherhood among them. In the past, people lived side by side, but today, refugees have a new desire of community, which is “expressed in what they do but also what they say,” not only among children and youths, but also among adults “who have overcome their initial distrust,” Father Youssef says. “When Muslim and Yazidi children call me ‘Abouna’ [“father” in Arabic], and come to visit me in church, this is God’s victory…”
Syrian bishop’s plea as blasts cause carnage (AINA) A bishop in Syria has described desperate efforts to tend to the injured and the dying following multiple ISIS attacks in Tartous and Jableh, which left more than 200 dead and nearly 650 injured. Bishop Antioine Chbeir stressed that Monday’s attacks in his diocese were the first of their kind in an area where displaced Syrians had gathered in their hundreds of thousands, believing it to be one of the last remaining safe areas of the country…
Christianity in India and the challenges of Hindu extremism (The Tablet) Christians and Muslims have been persecuted at the hands of Hindu nationalists associated with the ruling B.J.P. party, which espouses Hindutva, the ethno-religious political ideology that claims India as a “motherland” for Hindus and regards Islam and Christianity as alien elements in Indian society. The Syro-Malabar Church, with 4 million members, is the largest of southwest India’s churches, claiming descent from the mission efforts of the Apostle Thomas. It is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome. Whether Thomas actually arrived in India in the year 52 is disputable, but it is clear that Christianity was established on the Malabar coast at least as early as the sixth century, and thereafter lived in cultural symbiosis with both Hinduism and Buddhism. So far, the level of interreligious violence has been low in Kerala compared with other states, but, warns Cardinal George Alencherry, “there is an undercurrent of communal tension here too…”
24 May 2016
Tags: Syria India Iraq Iraqi Christians Israel
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets Sister Diana Momeka on a visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, in northern Iraq, last year. (photo: CNEWA)
Last year, a tiny powerhouse made headlines for her passionate witness on behalf of the suffering people of Iraq:
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.”
We chronicled the remarkable work she and her order have undertaken in the pages of our magazine:
“People came with fever, dehydration, diarrhea,” says Sister Diana. “They were sleeping on the ground with no tents in the beginning. After some days they got tents, but there was no clean water, and so no proper bathing. Diseases like scabies started to increase.” It became clear some sort of health service was essential, and thus was the Martha Schmouny Clinic born — first in tents donated by French charity SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, and later transformed into a cluster of three prefabricated containers donated by CNEWA.
As time has passed, and the reality of the Christians’ displacement has become more and more entrenched, the Martha Schmouny Clinic has continued to grow, its capacity and range of services expanding to provide a better safety net for the vulnerable community.
“We often talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in our work,” Sister Diana said as she made her way to the clinic early one recent morning. “We started the clinic like a small grain of yeast and now it has steadily increased like dough.”
Sister Diana remains a hero to those who fled their homes — and remains a great advocate for their cause. To learn how you can support suffering Christians in Iraq, visit this giving page.
24 May 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters
A student at Ashabhavan (“House of Hope”) enjoys breakfast, provided daily by the school. To learn more about how this institution changes the lives of children with special needs, read Kerala’s House of Hope, appearing in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
24 May 2016
Tags: India Children Education
Solidarity groups protest behind a line of riot police during the forced evacuation of a makeshift camp close to the Greece-Macedonia border near the village of Idomeni on 24 May. (photo: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP/Getty Images)
Greece begins to clear migrants from Idomeni camp (TIME) Greek authorities have started removing thousands of migrants and refugees from a makeshift camp near the Macedonian border, where they have been stranded since Macedonia closed its border in February…
Rabbis launch campaign against religious hatred, ‘price tag’ gangs (Fides) Israel-based Rabbis for Human Rights have announced that a new campaign will be launched in the Knesset this week. ‘Price tag’ attacks are hate crimes directed mainly at Palestinians and Christians by extremist right-wing Israeli Jews. These crimes often go unpunished…
Terra Santa middle school in Aleppo hit by a missile (Custodia Terrae Sanctae) On Saturday, 21 May, missiles fell on the Terra Santa Middle School in Aleppo, Syria. One person died and two were seriously injured, including elderly people who had sought refuge there. Until this event, the school, with its large park, was considered to be one of the city’s few safe places. A year ago, the friars opened up classrooms in order to accommodate about 20 elderly people after their homes were bombed. “The explosion was extremely violent, and it was strongly felt,” said Brother Firas Lutfi, O.F.M., the school principal, in a telephone interview. “There is a no longer one place in Aleppo that is 100 percent safe…”
Egypt Parliament to discuss easing restrictions on building churches (WorldWatch Monitor) The Egyptian Parliament is considering a proposal on the construction of churches that Christians hope will narrow the country’s religious inequality gap. The construction of each new church typically had to be authorized directly by the Egyptian president, although attempts have been made to grant church-building permits from governors and the security authorities…
Surge in eastern fighting kills seven Ukrainian soldiers (Reuters) Ukraine said on Tuesday seven of its servicemen had been killed in the past 24 hours as a result of increased attacks by pro-Russian rebels, the highest reported daily casualty figure since August…
Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East open talks (AINA) Official dialogue between the Church of the East and the Russian Orthodox Church opened in consideration of the full-scale persecution of Christians in the Middle East, suffered especially in Iraq and Syria, on 18 May. The Commission recognized the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church’s solidarity with the Church of the East and all persecuted peoples of the Middle East…
23 May 2016
Tags: Syria Ukraine Israel Migrants Greece
Pope Francis talks with Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican on 23 May. (photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)
Pope Francis met today with the grand imam of Al Azhar Mosque, one of the oldest and most revered Sunni institutions in the world. CNS reports:
After five years of tension and top-level silence, Pope Francis and the grand imam of one of the most important Sunni Muslim universities in the world embraced at the Vatican May 23.
“The meeting is the message,” the pope told Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University, as the religious scholar approached him just inside the door of the papal library.
El-Tayeb’s spring visit was the first meeting between a pontiff and a grand imam since the Muslim university in Cairo suspended talks in 2011.
Established in 1998, the formal dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican started to fray in 2006, after now-retired Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany. Al-Azhar officials and millions of Muslims around the world said the speech linked Islam to violence.
Al-Azhar halted the talks altogether in 2011 after the former pope had said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution. Al-Azhar claimed that Pope Benedict had offended Islam and Muslims once more by focusing only on the suffering of Christians when many Muslims were suffering as well.
In February, Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered a letter to el-Tayeb from Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, council president, inviting him to the Vatican to meet the pope.
Cardinal Tauran and Bishop Ayuso welcomed the imam to the Vatican May 23 and accompanied him to the papal meeting.
Pope Francis sat to the side of his desk facing the grand imam rather than behind his desk as he customarily does when meeting with a visiting head of state.
Read the rest at CNS.
23 May 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Islam Sunni
Iraqi pro-government forces advance towards the city of Fallujah on 23 May, as part of a major assault to retake the city from ISIS. (photo: Ahmad Al Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Army liberates strategic city in Anbar (Al Masdar News) The Iraqi Army has had a very successful day in the Anbar governorate, liberating several sites from ISIS terrorists around the city of Fallujah. However, the biggest surprise in Anbar came from Al Karma, where the Iraqi Armed Forces overwhelmed ISIS units to liberate this strategic city near the Iraqi capital…
Chaldean patriarch urges U.S. not to arm ‘Christian militias’ (AINA) Christian anti-ISIS forces in Iraq are set to benefit from a defense spending bill headed for authorization by the U.S. Congress. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I, however, urges against giving weapons to self-styled “Christian” militias. “There are no ‘Christian militias,’ but only politicized groups and simple people who are in desperate need of a salary…”
Israel allows building supplies to enter Gaza again (New York Times) The Israeli military authorities on Monday allowed building supplies to start flowing into Gaza again, lifting a suspension that had blocked work for more than a month on thousands of houses destroyed in the 2014 summer war. About 90 truckloads of cement were expected to cross into Gaza on Monday, according to the office of the special coordinator for the peace process…
Syria’s Catholic and Orthodox children to pray together for peace (AINA) Children from Syria’s different Christian denominations will be joining together to pray for peace in the country on International Children’s Day. The plan, which is being backed by Syrian church leaders, was described in a joint message from the country’s Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs. They wrote: “On this International Day of the Child, Christian children in many of the towns and cities of Syria are going to gather together and pray that peace may come at last…”
Wave of bombings kills scores in area of Syria loyal to Assad (Washington Post) A wave of coordinated bombings in Syria claimed by ISIS killed at least 78 people Monday in the usually calm coastal area where Russian troops are based, Syrian state media reported…
Egyptian press announces resumption of dialogue between Holy See and Al Azhar (Fides) ”In Egypt, great importance is given to the meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar; even the most popular newspapers dedicate large space to the event on the front page, and report that the decision to resume official dialogue between the Holy See and the largest Sunni theological institution has already been taken,” says Anba Kyrillos William Samaan, Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut…
20 May 2016
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank
Most of the parishioners of St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral near San Diego emigrated from Iraq in the last 20 years. To learn more about this vibrant faith community, read East Goes West from the January-February 2004 edition of our magazine. (photo: Lyon Liew)
20 May 2016
The video above explains how Syrian bishops, religious organizations are seeking to stop sanctions on Syria, as a new report reveals countries are not delivering on aid they pledged to the war-torn country. (video: Rome Reports)
Israeli defense minister resigns (The New York Times) The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, announced on Friday that he was resigning, an abrupt move that comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly conducts negotiations with a far-right party to join his government. As part of those negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu is believed to have offered the position of defense minister to Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party...
Air disaster adds to Egypt’s litany of woes (NPR) The cause isn’t yet known, but the loss of an Egyptian plane into the Mediterranean has already delivered a new round of trauma to a beleaguered country struggling on several fronts. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s hardline rule faces mounting criticism at home and abroad. An ISIS-linked group is waging an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. The tourist industry has been in the doldrums for years. And the EgyptAir plane that vanished early Thursday marked the country’s second aviation disaster in just over six months...
Report: Countries not fulfilling pledges to help refugees (The Guardian) Countries who attended a London summit to help Syrian refugees have so far only committed a sixth of the money they pledged for 2016, a report shows. The money is due to be allocated to help countries in the region surrounding Syria, primarily Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, with a focus on Syrian children’s education and improving the chances of refugees finding paid work...
Over 100 reported killed by floods, landslides in Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) About 100 people have been killed by floods and landslides across Ethiopia that started last month, government officials say. At least 20,000 families have been made homeless, according to the UN, while local officials say there are a number of people still missing. Meteorologists have blamed this year’s particularly powerful El Niño weather phenomenon for the country’s high rainfall...
Aid from UAE headed to Iraqi refugees (Fides) The eleven Iraqi Christian refugee families in Mosul who found hospitality in Naur, western urban area of the municipality in Amman, will also receive this year material aid reserved for them from the United Arab Emirates...
Commission says suicides on the rise in Gaza (Gulf News) Independent Commission for Human Right’s (ICHR) figures show six suicides in Gaza since the beginning of this year whereas five Gazans took their lives in the entire 2015. The commission urged the situation in Gaza be addressed by the entire society which must establish a national mental health committee to tackle the suicides. The ICHR said there is a sharp increase in the rate of suicide attempts, too...