3 November 2014
A child receives polio vaccination at an informal settlement of Syrian refugees in Bekaa, Lebanon, on 16 October. Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who just returned from a visit to Syria, said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought.”
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)
A Vatican official who just returned from a visit to Syria said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought”:
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, told U.S. journalists in Beirut on 1 November that he had seen “the concrete face of suffering” as a result of war.
He also said the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is tied to the crisis in Syria.
“We should begin to look at this crisis as one crisis,” he said. “We have people crossing borders,” so humanitarian agencies must look at the bigger picture, he said. His remarks echoed those of Christian aid officials who work in the region.
Msgr. Dal Toso, the second-highest official at Cor Unum, which coordinates Vatican charitable agencies, said Syria’s middle class has disappeared, but noted, “The whole population is a victim of this war.”
Syria, which had a population of 22 million people before violence began in 2011, has at least 10 million people who are refugees or who are displaced within their own country, according to U.N statistics. The effect of such a shift in demographics has driven up the cost of living, including rent, medicine and even school fees, Msgr. Dal Toso said.
Other countries also are feeling the strain of accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq. For instance Lebanon, a country about 70 percent of the size of Connecticut, has a population of 4 million people, with an additional 1.5 million refugees living within its borders. The refugees are considered guests in Lebanon; they pay rent and work for lower wages than Lebanese. Catholic aid officials working in Lebanon say the government is, in essence, subsidizing the refugees’ garbage collection and utilities, such as electricity, because in many cases the refugees tap into existing utilities.
Msgr. Dal Toso, said “the first priority is to stop the violence,” then negotiate a solution and deal with the humanitarian situation.
To help those now suffering in Syria, visit this link.
3 November 2014
Pope Francis leads the Angelus in St. Peter's Square Saturday and implores pilgrims to pray
for Jerusalem. (photo: CNS /Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Pope: pray for peace in Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) Marking the Feast of All Saints Saturday with the traditional recitation of the midday Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis’ thoughts turned to the Holy City of Jerusalem which has witnessed a spike in tensions in recent days...
Report: ISIS conducts mass execution of Iraqi tribe (AP) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremists lined up and shot dead at least 50 Iraqi men, women and children from the same tribe on Sunday, officials said, in the latest targeting of the group by militants. The killings, all committed in public, raise the death toll suffered by the Sunni Al Bu Nimr tribe in recent days to some 150, suggesting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters now view them as a threat. Some Sunnis in the volatile province had previously supported the local expansion of ISIS and other militants in December...
Al-Quaeda militants mass near Turkey border (AP) Al-Qaeda militants massed Monday near a Syrian border town in what appeared to be an attempt to seize a vital crossing from Western-backed rebels, activists said, underscoring the weakness of the fighters America hopes could be a moderate force in the chaotic civil war.
Blast targets troops near Egypt-Gaza border (AP) An explosive device went off on Monday near Egyptian troops demolishing houses in a town on the border with the Gaza Strip where Egypt is clearing a buffer zone to halt weapons smuggling, military officials said. The strong blast in the border town of Rafah caused no casualties, the officials say, but prompted authorities to raise the security alert level...
EU condemns “illegal” elections in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The European Union has condemned as “illegal” elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine where mining electrician-turned-rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quick to announce victory...
31 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Jerusalem Turkey
Students perform a folklore dance at the Franciscan School in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2002, we took readers to northern Egypt, to a remarkable school run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross:
Abou Kir is a suburb of Alexandria, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. A fishing village that today numbers about 300,000 people, it has a mixed religious population — about 70 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, the latter mostly Coptic Orthodox. This proportion of Christians is relatively high for Egypt, where the average Christian presence is less than 10 percent. Abou Kir’s Catholic school welcomes children of all faiths; here peaceful coexistence is understood as being part of the curriculum — and also of life. Of the student population, 55 percent of the children are Muslim and 45 percent are Christian. Of the school’s 34 teachers, 10 are Muslim and 24 are Christian.
“The continuation of a Christian presence here is very important,” Sister Zeina says.
“We offer a service to the local community by teaching Christians and Muslims to love one another.”
In a land where sectarian violence and mutual suspicion between the two religions are, sadly, not unusual, Sister Zeina holds firm to the belief that Christian and Muslim children need to be educated and grow up in a climate that fosters mutual respect.
“It is my conviction that they must be raised together,” she says.
The hustle and bustle in the muddy streets outside, with their horse carts, piles of garbage and pollution-belching, thundering trucks, was in marked contrast to the cleanliness and order of the school. I stepped across its threshold into a bright sanctuary for learning.
A spotless playground was bounded on two sides by the gleaming new four-story building. A third side was occupied by the old building, which had recently received a fresh coat of paint. Apartments overlook the fourth side. On the day of my visit, some curious women sat on their balconies, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the all-school assembly in the courtyard.
Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.
Their school assembly and folklore class completed, the children then filed from the playground into their classrooms — all smiles, hand in hand.
Read more about how the Franciscans were bringing learning to life in the May-June 2002 issue of the magazine.
31 October 2014
Tags: Egypt Children Education Christian-Muslim relations Catholic education
Syrian Kurdish refugees stand at the back of a truck as they cross the Turkey-Syria border on 18 October. (photo: CNS/Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)
U.N.: Foreign militants ‘flocking’ to Iraq, Syria (The Guardian) The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants. A report by the United Nations Security Council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to Al Qaeda…”
The terrible danger facing Syria’s refugees (The Telegraph) Scores of refugees from the Syrian province of Hama were killed this week when barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime fell on their refugee camp in neighboring Idlib. Such a massacre would once have been front-page news, but now the images of the war across the Middle East between the jihadists of Isil and the US-led coalition ranged against them have overshadowed the three-year plight of the Syrian people…
Egypt flattens neighborhoods to create buffer with Gaza (The New York Times) With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian Army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses, displacing thousands of people, along the border with Gaza in a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier…
Pope seeks ‘unity in diversity’ (Vatican Radio) On Friday, Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship. The group is in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, which has for its theme “Praise and charismatic worship for a New Evangelization.” The bishop of Rome touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the pope said…
Europe’s Eastern Catholic bishops emphasize ecumenism (ByzCath.org) Following a four-day meeting in Lviv, 45 Eastern Catholic bishops in Europe issued a joint statement on ecumenism, mission and the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. “We reaffirm with greater awareness our right and duty to the pastoral care of our faithful wherever they are, including the right to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know it yet,” the prelates said…
30 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Eastern Catholics
An Eritrean refugee and her daughter hold candles during a memorial gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 October, to mark the first anniversary of the Lampedusa migrant shipwreck that killed 366 migrants near the Italian coast. Catholic bishops and aid agencies have condemned a European Union plan to scale down the rescue of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)
30 October 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Migrants Eritrea Italy
Smoke rises over Syrian town of Kobane after an airstrike on 27 October near the Mursitpinar border crossing in Turkey. According to a Syrian activist group, the death toll has reached 815 during 40 days of fighting in and around the Syrian town. (photo: Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)
Syrian bishops: If the world wants to help us, stop sending us weapons! (Fides) At their autumn assembly, the Catholic bishops of Syria issued a statement to the international community, once again urging an end to the arms trade fueling the ongoing war. The meeting was held in Damascus on Tuesday and Wednesday, 28-29 October, and included Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch; 11 Catholic bishops from 6 different churches; Archbishop Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio; Msgr. Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum…
Syria: Neighbors straining under refugee crisis (Vatican Radio) The director of the United Nations humanitarian operations is warning that some of Syria’s neighbors are at their “breaking point” — caught between a sense of duty to keep their borders open to refugees and a responsibility to their own citizens. The director of the Operational Division at the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Ging, said Wednesday that Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan likely will have the refugees “for many years to come…”
Iraqi Kurdish forces enter besieged Kobane to battle Islamic State (Los Angeles Times) The first contingent of Iraqi Kurdish fighters crossed the Turkish border and arrived in the besieged Syrian city of Kobane on Thursday, aiming to help fellow Kurds fight off the militants of the Islamic State, Syrian activists said. Kobane, just yards from the Turkish frontier, has become an emblem of the West’s confrontation with the Islamic State, which has seized control of a large swath of Syria and Iraq…
Looters raid Jordanian crypts in search of gold, jewels and artifacts (Washington Post) In Jordan, there is a long tradition of “treasure hunting.” But the gold fever driving a surge in tomb-raiding in the Hashemite Kingdom is the worst in years. No one knows exactly how they started, but rumors have been flying from rough kebab shops to fancy dinner parties — of buried treasure, of Ottoman gold and Byzantine jewels, of jars heavy with Roman coins. It sounds nutty. But it is destroying Jordan’s rich cultural heritage, piece by piece, one looted Bronze-era funerary relic at a time…
Pope Tawadros II received by Patriarch Kirill (Coptic Orthodox Church UK) Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, accompanied by a papal delegation, was received by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Russian Patriarchate on 29 October 2014. The visit, that included a formal meeting of delegations, followed by lunch, marks 26 years since the most recent visit of the last patriarch of Alexandria, the late Pope Shenouda III…
29 October 2014
Tags: Syria Jordan Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Patriarch Kirill Syrian Catholic
Medical staff provide checkups for children brought by the Dominican Sisters to a
CNEWA-supported clinic in Ain Kawa, Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo: Don Duncan)
Over the weekend, Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, submitted a brief report on the needs of refugee children in Iraq:
CNEWA has been in continuous contact with the local church in Erbil and with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, showing solidarity and providing support to ease the suffering of the refugees and the displaced — including religious minorities such as Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims.
In partnership with the sisters, CNEWA is equipping a new dispensary and a new center for people with special needs, and providing children with clothing, milk and diapers.
Presently, there are 120,000 Christian refugees in Erbil and other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, living in schools, churches, monasteries and parks after being forced from their homes in Mosul and other cities of the Nineveh Plain by forces of the Islamic State.
As the needs continue to mount, the condition is continuing to deteriorate for these internally displaced people. Although food and other essential items are being provided through local and international charities, CNEWA is the only organization addressing the need for milk for infants and children and the provision of diapers for babies. Further, thousands of refugees will soon have to endure harsh winter conditions. The climate in Kurdistan is arid, with a temperature that reaches around 120 degrees in summer and falls below freezing in winter.
The 57 Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who were displaced from Qaraqosh, have been very active in providing support and relief work to the displaced. They have identified 1,794 displaced Christian families in Ain Kawa as those most in need among the displaced.
Among these families, around 1,922 babies urgently need milk, diapers and winter clothing.
CNEWA staff will revisit northern Iraq in mid-November to accompany suffering children and respond to some of their needs. Despite of the efforts of many charity organizations to provide emergency aid, massive efforts are still needed.
To help provide these critical resources to those most in need, click here. Please keep the children of Iraq in your prayers.
(photo: Don Duncan)
29 October 2014
Tags: Iraq Children Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
A priest kneels next to the grave of a soldier at a Ukrainian military camp near the eastern Ukrainian town Kramatorsk on 26 October. (photo: CNS/Roman Pilipey, EPA)
Russia backs plan by Ukraine separatists for early election (The New York Times) Setting the stage for renewed tensions with the West, the Russian government said on Tuesday that it would recognize the results of coming elections in the separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, where rebel leaders have scheduled a vote in defiance of the Ukrainian government and in violation of an agreement signed last month in Minsk, Belarus…
Pope prays for Ebola victims (Vatican Radio) At his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis once again spoke of his concern for those affected by Ebola. “In the face of the worsening Ebola epidemic, I wish to express my deep concern about this relentless disease that is spreading especially in the African continent, above all among the most disadvantaged population”…
Armenian church to be consecrated on bank of the Jordan (Fides) Later this week, the new St. Garabed Armenian Church will be consecrated in Jordan, on the bank of the Jordan River, according to Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The land on which the church stands — not far from the place traditionally referred to as the site of Jesus’ baptism — was donated by King Abdullah II of Jordan…
Kindness and laughter amid refugees in Jordan (CNS) After editing story after story from the Middle East, there is something very humbling about looking into a person’s eyes and seeing pain and despair. It is touching to see how families have tried to make a home, squeezed into small spaces separated by curtains and wood, sharing two toilets, a urinal and a church hall with 38 other people…
U.N.: Spike in Eritreans fleeing into Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) Over 200 Eritrean refugees are crossing the heavily fortified and dangerous border into neighboring Ethiopia daily, the United Nations said in a report noting a “spike” in those fleeing. Tens of thousands of people have fled the Horn of Africa country, escaping open-ended conscription and the iron-grip rule of President Isaias Afewerki, with many continuing northwards to brave the often-harrowing journey towards Europe. “The number of daily refugee arrivals spiked since the first week of September,” the October report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) read…
How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (Reuters) “Many antique collectors unwillingly support terrorists like Islamic State, ” Michel van Rijn, one of the most successful smugglers of antique artifacts in the past century, told German broadcaster Das Erste this month. And smuggling is booming in Iraq and Syria right now. In Iraq, 4,500 archaeological sites, some of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, are reportedly controlled by Islamic State and are exposed to looting. Iraqi intelligence claim that Islamic State alone has collected as much as $36 million from the sales of artifacts, some of them thousands of years old…
27 October 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Russia Eritrea
CNEWA’s Rev. Elias D. Mallon and Bishop David Motiuk, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop of Edmonton, Canada, attend the conference on Eastern Catholic churches at the University of Toronto.
Recently, CNEWA Canada’s Antin Sloboda and I attended a conference at the Unviersity of Toronto which examined one of the documents of Vatican II: the decree Orientalium ecclesiarum, which recognized and underlined the importance of the Eastern Catholic churches. It was published almost exactly 50 years ago, in November 1964.
As part of the conference — sponsored by The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute — I delivered a paper looking at what has transpired over the last five decades, with special attention to CNEWA’s involvement with the Eastern churches:
While CNEWA sees itself primarily as “accompanying” the Eastern Catholic churches as a partner, many Eastern Catholic churches see themselves as accompanying their Orthodox brothers and sisters and the long, dangerous journey to peace, justice and even survival. In the long and often complicated discussions on shared communion between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the sacramental body and blood of Christ, Eastern Catholics and Orthodox are now painfully experiencing communion in the suffering body of Christ, which is the churches in the Middle East. This communion is real and is experienced daily.
You can read that paper in full at this link.
27 October 2014
Tags: CNEWA Canada Ukrainian Catholic Church
Franciscan Father Benito Jose Choque of Argentina holds a bucket of olives harvested from trees in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. The trees' history extends to the time of Christ.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
An ancient tradition is continuing in Jerusalem these days, as CNS discovered:
For Salim Badawi, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian from the West Bank village of Beit Jalla, the opportunity to help a group of Franciscan priests harvest olives in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives offers a sense of hope amid the adversaries his family has faced in their own olive groves.
He said much of the olive grove of his extended family has long been unreachable as it was taken years ago to build an Israeli settlement, now considered a neighborhood of Jerusalem.
An uncle tries every year — unsuccessfully — to reach the land, Badawi said.
“Here I feel hope that maybe one day it will be different, maybe we will one day be allowed to go there and pick our olives,” Badawi told Catholic News Service while reaching into the branches of one of the trees that can be traced to the time of Christ. “The olive trees are still there, but we can’t reach them. I feel something special in this holy place where we are picking the oldest olives in the area, maybe in the whole world.”
At the bottom of the tree, Karina Henriquez, a volunteer from Chile, places olives that drop from the branches into a sack. For her, the trees that continue to bear fruit after thousands of years are a symbol of Jesus, who is still giving fruit to all who seek him.
Henriquez does not want to discuss politics, but she knows that Israelis and Palestinians are good people.
“Too bad they can’t solve their problems. We were hopeful with the pope’s visit, but then there was the war,” she said.
Still, Henriquez feels the need to share the pope’s message of speaking to the soul of people about love and peace. “We have to pray so God will place peace and love in the hearts of all people,” she said.
Since the Franciscans retook possession of the small olive grove adjacent to the Church of All Nations in 1681, the Franciscan fathers have tended to eight of what are believed to be the oldest olive trees in the Holy Land. Tradition, backed by modern genetic testing, holds that the gnarled trees were grafted at some point during the Crusader era from a single tree that was a witness to Jesus’ agony more than 2,000 years ago.
Today, the trees are part of the Garden of Gethsemane, fenced off and protected from the crowds of faithful who come on pilgrimage to the site. To accommodate pilgrims, the Franciscans keep a box of small branches pruned from the trees from which people can freely take a memento.