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Spring, 2017
Volume 43, Number 1
17 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Couples dance the tango in celebration of Pope Francis’ 78th birthday outside St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 17 December. Several hundred people gathered after the pope’s general audience to dance the tango in an informal event organized on social media.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis got an unusual birthday gift today. CNS has the scoop:

Pope Francis always asks for prayers, especially for his birthday, but this year he also got some tango.

Thousands of tango dancers, mostly from Italy, flocked to St. Peter’s Square to wave their white scarves “A Tango for Pope Francis” and cheer along with tens of thousands of other people at the Wednesday general audience.

...An Italian tango dancer had anidea, Cristina Camorani organized a “Street Tango Flashmob” over the Internet inviting people to what she hoped would become the “Biggest Milonga in the World.” Milonga, an older form of tango with a faster rhythm, is the pope’s favorite dance style. He has said he used to dance the tango when he was young, adding, “It’s something that comes from within.”

At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis greeted the tango dancers and said it seemed like the square was “for a 2 x 4,” which is mysterious tango-lingo referring to rhythm.

You can see more pictures at the CNS link. Meantime, check out the video below. Happy birthday, Pope Francis!

17 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

An armed supporter of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk smokes a cigarette while holding a position near an airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on 16 December. (photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

U.N. says death toll in eastern Ukraine up to 4,707 (Washington Post) Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed at least at least 4,707 people since the conflict began in mid-April and more than a quarter of the recorded deaths have come since a much-ignored cease-fire, U.N. rights investigators said Monday. A new report from the U.N. team in Ukraine says at least 1,357 of the fatalities have been recorded since the cease-fire began in early September, but the team noted that some of those deaths may have occurred before then…

Lebanese parish reaches out to Christian Iraqi refugees for Christmas (CNS) As an expression of solidarity and to share the hope of Christmas, the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection in Rabieh, an affluent suburb north of Beirut, hosted the group of Christian Iraqi refugees. Some of the refugees had arrived in Lebanon only days or weeks before, their hopes for a safe future overshadowed by memories of their expulsion from their homes in Mosul and the areas of the Nineveh Plain last summer, when Islamic State militants seized the areas and ordered minorities to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or face death…

Caritas Jordan: Child refugees need schools (Vatican Radio) “I think that people all over the world … need to be really aware of what is happening to the Iraqi and Syrian refugees and to listen to their stories,” says Dana Shahin, communications officer at Caritas headquarters in Amman, Jordan. She spoke with Vatican Radio about initiatives to aid the ever-growing number of refugees in Jordan who have fled the conflicts tearing their own countries apart. Education for the tens of thousands of refugee children, she says, is increasingly urgent and resources scarce…

When work doesn’t pay (Al Jazeera) Across Asia and the Middle East, millions of migrant workers are employed on guest worker programs in which they are sponsored by a specific employer to work on a short-term contract. Thousands are held in administrative detention each year when employers fail to obtain or renew their work permits. Given that their work visas are tied to their employers, many cannot leave a bad job for a better one and are reluctant to complain about abuse — not least because it could result in detention and jeopardize their right to stay in the country…

Tags: Ukraine Lebanon Jordan Iraqi Refugees Migrants

16 December 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2002, men relax at a café in Bourj Hammoud, an Armenian enclave in Lebanon. To learn more about this community and its people, read Little Armenia in the July-August 2002 issue of the magazine. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

16 December 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from June, Pope Francis greets Orthodox Metropolitan John of Pergamon after praying with him at the tomb of St. Peter at the conclusion of Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The metropolitan has expressed hope for progress toward full Christian unity. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq now in Jordan (Fides) There are now more than 7,000 Iraqi Christians who have fled from Mosul and Nineveh Plain and have found refuge in Jordan and the resources available for their assistance will end within two months...

U.N.: Hardships growing in Ukraine (The New York Times) Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian armed groups is claiming an average of 13 lives a day, and after nine months of conflict, the approach of winter has created life-threatening conditions for many civilians in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations reported on Monday...

Leading Orthodox theologian hopes for “quick progress” toward full unity ( One of the leading theologians of the Orthodox world has said that he sees prospects for “quick progress” toward full Christian unity under Pope Francis. Metropolitan John of Pergamon, the co-chairman of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, told the Vatican Insider that Pope Francis has brought new excitement to ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox world. “The way in which he is carrying out his ministry removes the many apprehensions and fears of the past” ...

Egypt’s Islamist Party to include women and Copts as candidates (AllAfrica) Egypt’s Salafi al-Nour Party announced on Saturday that its electoral list for the upcoming parliamentary elections will include Copts, youth, women, and other marginalised groups, as stipulated in the elections law...

Architects design unique bus terminal for a divided Jerusalem (Christian Science Monitor) In 2003, a decade after the initial Oslo Accord was signed, architecture students Karen Lee Bar-Sinai, Yehuda Greenfield-Gilat, and Aya Shapira designed a bus terminal that would sit on the seam of divided Jerusalem under an eventual peace deal...

Tags: Egypt Ukraine Jerusalem Jordan Copts

15 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Norma Intriago, Deacon Greg Kandra, Rev. Charles Magano and Christopher Kennedy are shown during CNEWA’s visit to Curé of Ars Catholic Church in Merrick, New York, on 14 December.
(photo: CNEWA)

Last weekend, a group from CNEWA visited Curé of Ars Catholic Church in Merrick, New York, at the kind invitation of the pastor, Father Charles Mangano. We were there to help spread the word about the work we do — specifically CNEWA’s efforts right now in Iraq and Syria.

My colleagues Norma Intriago and Chris Kennedy, supported by parishioners Deb Johnson and Joe Gioello, had a wonderful chance to meet the good people of the parish — answering questions, passing out copies of ONE magazine and providing brochures and prayer cards. We also set up a display and a couple tables in the vestibule to offer even more information.

Parishioner Deb Johnson, works with CNEWA staffers Norma Intriago and Christopher Kennedy to set up our display in the church vestibule. (photo: CNEWA)

On top of that, I served and preached at all the Masses for the weekend. It was Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of “rejoicing.”

As I mentioned in my homily:

This Sunday, we turn with greater expectation and joy toward the East and the place where Christ was born.

As you look East, look as well on the people of the East, in the land we call Holy. Tradition tells us that the wise men, the Magi, who first paid homage to the Christ child, were from Persia, the land we now know as Iraq. These people were among the first to hear that salvation had come into the world.

Twenty centuries later, their descendants — despite bloody and brutal persecution and against incredible odds — still hold fast to that bright promise of the first Christmas.

I concluded by asking people to help our brothers and sisters in the Middle East to remember the message of the angels at Christmas: “Do not be afraid” — and to offer them during this holy time of year the priceless gift of hope.

Deacon Greg Kandra, CNEWA’s multimedia editor, preaches the homily during Mass at Curé of Ars Catholic Church (photo: CNEWA)

We always find these parish trips uplifting and rewarding, and are grateful for the new friendships we make and the partnerships we develop with many of the people we meet. The commitment and faith of those we encounter are truly humbling. So many people want to do something, but don’t know where to turn. One parishioner clasped my hand after Mass. “I pray a rosary every day for those people in Iraq,” he said, adding “thank you for coming here and spreading the word and giving me another way to help.”

If you’d like us to visit your parish — to speak at Masses or to prayer groups — just drop us a line at the address below. Our development director, Norma Intriago, will be happy to coordinate a visit.

Meantime, thank you to Father Charles and all the staff at Curé of Ars for making us all feel so welcome!

15 December 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from 12 December, Iraqi Christian children look at a nativity scene that is displayed in a tent erected in the grounds of Mazar Mar Eillia (Mar Elia) Catholic Church, in Ain Kawa. The church has now become home to hundreds of Iraqi Christians who were forced to flee their homes as the Islamic State advanced earlier this year. Click here to learn how you can help Christians suffering in Iraq. (photo: Matt Cardy / Getty)

15 December 2014
Greg Kandra

The video above describes an exhibit in Jerusalem tracing the footsteps of Christians in the Middle East over the last millenium. (video: Rome Reports)

Moscow condemns US aid to Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Russia has condemned legislation passed by the United States Congress authorizing $350 million in military aid to Ukraine’s government, which has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east...

Leader of Ukrainian Greek Catholics says his Church could be banned (Vatican Radio) Twenty-five years after its legalization in the former Soviet Union, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church says his Church is faced once again with the possibility of being outlawed in parts of Ukraine...

Governor proclaims 25 December a public holiday in Kirkuk (Fides) The governor of the province of Kirkuk, Kurdish Necmettin Karim, proclaimed 25 December a public holiday, to express the solidarity of institutions and the whole society towards Christians, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. On that day all public institutions of the province, including schools will observe a day of rest...

Hamas marks its anniversary with a parade through Gaza (AFP) The Islamic militant group Hamas staged a show of strength to mark its 27th anniversary Sunday, with a military parade through Gaza including a flyover by a drone...

Exhibit charts history of Christians in Middle East (Rome Reports) The exhibition “Christians of the East,” hosted by the French Institute in Rome, is composed of 60 photographs, picked among over 20.000 from the French Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem. Some are over a century old, and they reflect the diversity of Christians that have proven over the years that coexistence is possible...

12 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Nabilah Abdul Bassih sits with her son Marvin in their tent in the Martha Schmouny camp of Erbil, Iraq, in September 2014. (photo: Don Duncan)

The Autumn edition of ONE features several profiles of people who have fled ISIS, including the Bassih family:

Nabilah Abdul Bassih’s mobile phone rings and she breaks away from her conversation to answer. Her brow creases and her voice drops.

Since Nabilah, her husband and her four sons arrived at the Martha Schmouny camp for internally displaced Christians, beside St. Joseph’s Church in Erbil, she has been getting many such calls. The calls are from other people who were displaced by ISIS from the Christian town of Bartalla in the plain of Nineveh in northern Iraq.

Unlike most, the Abdul Bassih family did not get out in time during the mass exodus of Christians. They remained trapped in Bartalla, under virtual house arrest for over a month. It wasn’t until 15 September that they finally made it to Erbil. Initially, they were mobbed with people who had left Bartalla in early August, and then the calls started coming in.

Starving for information on their hometown, or in search of missing loved ones, people contact the Abdul Bassihs because the family, due to its recent arrival in Erbil, is seen to have the latest. “Did you see my house, is it intact?” “Have you seen my son when you were there?” “What have they done to the church?” These and more are the questions Nabilah faces daily. She answers as best she can but her preoccupation now is finding a place for her own family to stay. As all the available space for the displaced in Erbil has been used up, the Abdul Bassihs have had to move into the tent of a neighbor from Bartalla while the bishop finds them a tent for themselves. Until then, 12 people crush into the tent at night to sleep, six from each family.

The phone call ends. Nabilah hangs up and returns to breastfeeding her youngest child, Marvin, 14 months old.

“I feel deep sadness,” she says. “It was our bad luck to get caught in Bartalla with ISIS. It was so difficult.”

Read more.

Visit this link to learn how you can help our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq during this difficult time. And please remember them in your prayers!

12 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Displaced Syrian children sit on a tarp after heavy rains in the Bab al Salam camp on the border with Turkey on 11 December. (photo: Baraa al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope urges Syriac Catholic bishops to coordinate efforts to meet needs (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with the patriarch, bishops and faithful of the Syriac Catholic Church on Friday, urging them to coordinate their efforts with the other churches in the Middle East and seek to meet the humanitarian needs of the people affected by the violence and unrest in the region…

Maronite priest suggests bombing Islamic State may prove counterproductive (ChristianToday) A senior priest and Arab Christian from the Middle East has called on the West not to attempt to defeat Islamic State by bombing. He predicts the organization will instead destroy itself from within. The Rev. Michel Jalakh from Beirut, secretary general of the Middle East Council of Churches and a Maronite Catholic, says it would be more productive to reach out to the region’s Christians who speak Arabic and have lived as neighbors and friends of Muslims for centuries. At grass-roots level, he said, the existence of Islamic State has not damaged Christian relations with Muslims, and most Muslims oppose it…

The silent deaths of refugees in Arsal (Al Akhbar) The security situation in Arsal made everyone forget that there are 80,000 refugees living there in a harsh climate and poor medical conditions. In a month and a half, 18 refugees have perished, including 12 children, but this has garnered little media attention. These same security conditions had led international organizations to abandon the town in August, leaving behind innocent people dying silently one by one…

In exile, Syrians build the country they never could under regime (Al Jazeera) For six years, Fadi Hallisso faithfully followed all the steps required to become a Jesuit priest. He gave up his career as a civil engineer in Syria. He spent two years of his novitiate in Cairo, reflecting deeply on his calling, including a month spent in silence. He took three vows, pledging poverty, celibacy and obedience. But last spring, he quit. His country was imploding. His native Aleppo had been destroyed. Though the 36-year-old feared that leaving his order would be his life’s regret, he decided to dedicate himself instead to the volunteer relief initiative he had started earlier with a few friends — another Syrian studying to become a Jesuit priest and a Syrian businesswoman — also living in Lebanon…

In tense West Bank city, she secretly meets Israelis to talk peace (Christian Science Monitor) Amid a sea of demure Palestinian young women in high heels, she wears jeans and Converse sneakers. In a city where many people support Hamas’s brand of armed resistance against Israel, she secretly meets with Israelis to talk about peace. “I think it’s better than doing nothing,” says Haya, a university student with fluent English. “And I might be president one day, and I will change everything. Because our president is not doing anything.” Haya was born in 1993, the year the Oslo Accords were signed. They laid out a framework for establishing a sovereign Palestinian state by the time she would be five years old. Now she is 21, and she has yet to know what it is to be a citizen. But she knows all too well what it is to live under Israeli occupation…

For some in New Delhi, no church for Christmas (The Times of India) Having lost their church temporarily to a mysterious fire 11 days ago, regulars to St. Sebastian’s are now looking for alternative venues to celebrate Christmas. The 13-year-old church, most of the parishioners of which are Syro-Malabar Catholics, was ravaged by fire on 1 December and sealed the following day…

Crimea leader makes a surprise visit to India (Al Jazeera) Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday, but the meeting between the two long-standing allies was overshadowed by an unannounced guest: Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov. The bizarre episode reveals the subtext of an otherwise anodyne visit: a Russian leader looking to provoke his adversaries at any opportunity and an Indian prime minister playing both sides of the standoff between Russia and the West…

Tags: Syria India Refugees West Bank Syriac Catholic Church

11 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Fireworks explode over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on 6 December, the Feast of St. Nicholas. Palestinian hopes for a tourism windfall following Pope Francis’ spring pilgrimage did not pan out because the Gaza war broke out shortly after his visit, Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ay’a told journalists. (photo: CNS/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)

Bethlehem is facing an unexpectedly bleak Christmas this year:

Palestinian hopes for a tourism windfall following Pope Francis’ spring pilgrimage did not pan out because the Gaza war broke out shortly after his visit, Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ay’a told journalists.

At the start of the year, the Bethlehem tourism sector had experienced a 19 percent increase in visitors and a 37 percent increase in overnight stays, the minister said in an early December briefing. During the outbreak of the war, there was a 60 percent cancellation rate, she said. It was the first decrease in the number of visitors in the past few years, which have, until now, seen a steady if slight increase, she added.

Overall, however, 2014 ended up with a 9.2 percent increase in visitors, and authorities are expecting 100,000 visitors for the month of December and 10,000-15,000 visitors on Christmas, she said.

“We were very optimistic the pope’s visit would attract many tourists from all over the whole world. We had hoped that when people saw the pope walking around Bethlehem and meeting Palestinians without a problem, it would give a good image of the people here and many would want to come visit,” said Ma’ay’a.

But soon after he left the war broke out, she said. By early December, that had caused a $30 million loss in revenue to the Palestinian economy, she estimated.

“We still hope more tourists will follow in his footsteps,” she said.

Read more.

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