14 February 2017
Members of Free Syrian Army encounter a flock of sheep in Aleppo during ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ on 10 February 2017. A study released Monday says Syrian helicopters dumped banned chemical weapons on residential areas of Aleppo last year.
(photo: Muhammed Nour/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Holy See calls to protect civilians from terrorist attacks (Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, on Monday said “it is the obligation of the international community, in accord with the U.N. Charter, to protect civilians and their critical infrastructure from the brutality and barbarity of terrorist groups...”
Report: Syria used chemical attacks in Aleppo (The New York Times) Syrian military helicopters systematically dumped canisters of chlorine gas, a banned weapon, on residential areas of Aleppo at least eight times late last year in the final weeks of the battle to retake the city from rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed study released Monday...
ISIS counterattacks as Iraqi forces prepare for Mosul push (AP) The Iraqi army has been moving troops around Mosul ahead of an expected push to retake its western half from the Islamic State group in the final decisive battle for the city, a commander said Tuesday. “We are preparing ... to launch a big operation in order to liberate the rest of Mosul,” said Brig. Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Division...
Hardliner elected new leader of Hamas in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement has chosen Yahya Sinwar, freed in a 2011 prisoner swap with Israel after more than 20 years in jail, as its new chief in the Palestinian enclave following an internal election, sources close to the group said. Sinwar will be a key decision-maker for Hamas and a member of the executive leadership that draws up policies, including towards Israel...
Violence flares in Ukraine (The Guardian) Since the war started in 2014 more than 300 shells have fallen on the grounds of the factory, the largest coking plant in Europe, which sits on Ukrainian-controlled territory just a few miles from the frontline with Russia-backed separatists. The big guns have been mercifully quiet for months, but the past fortnight has seen a new flurry of violence, linked in Kiev to a Russia apparently newly emboldened by the election of Donald Trump in the U.S...
Archeologists plan to excavate site linked to Ark of the Covenant (Times of Israel) One of the few remaining unstudied major biblical sites, where according to the Bible the Ark of the Covenant was kept for two decades, will be excavated by archaeologists this summer for the first time. Organizers hope the anticipated study of Kiryat Ye’arim (also transliterated as Kiriath Jearim) will shed light on the site’s significance during the Iron Age, the period associated with the biblical account of King David...
13 February 2017
Students walk around during recess breaks at the Shashemene School. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
This morning, we received an email our regional director in Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, with some welcome news about an institution CNEWA has long supported, the Shashemene School for the Blind.
He included a report from Sister Ashrita, one of three Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary of the Angels who run at the school. As she put it in the first paragraph of her report, “With the support of people of goodwill, we strive to share with the poor the love that God has for all giving our children a sense of hope and belonging.”
Among the highlights she mentioned:
During the past year, we had enrolled 96 students in the Residential School. (46 girls and 50 boys) from Grade 1 to Grade 6. In addition we had about 50 students in high school and college level who received support. The newcomers included some exceptional cases. Two girls whose mental capacity was very low had to be trained with all the basic day-to-day activities. Slowly they are trying to do things on their own. We have a new store keeper, and for the coming year we will have an academic director and other new staff.
After several trips to Addis Ababa, we managed to get some Braille text books in English and Civics. One can imagine how delighted the children were to run their fingers though the pages of their new books.
...Woletebihan Wolde, the boys’ child care taker, retired after 35 years of dedicated services. As a token of our appreciation for her services the administration and the staff gave her a loving farewell. Thank you and God bless you, Woletebirhan!
...We look with joy to those who completed their studies and are ready to take up a job. There are four with diplomas from teacher training colleges and six with degrees from Addis Ababa and Awassa University. Meanwhile there are new entries into institutions of higher learning, giving us fresh hope. These will take four or five years before they can take up a career. The Government is accepting and employing the blind, when they are qualified, respecting their rights and giving them equal opportunities. It is amazing to see how the blind make their way through life. “I can do all things in Him, who strengthens me.” These words of St. Paul can very well be applied to them.
To learn more about the school and its wonderful work, visit this link. And to discover how you can support the school’s mission, visit this giving page.
13 February 2017
In this image from December, Jordanian mourners carry the coffin of Ibrahim Bashbsha during his funeral in Karak. He was one of 14 people, including a Canadian tourist, killed in an attack by terrorists linked to ISIS. (photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
CNEWA’s national director in Canada, Carl Hétu, last week published a reflection in the Canadian edition of Huffington Post. The topic: violence and the quest for peace in the Middle East.
On a daily basis, the news is saturated with reports of violence around the world.
Although it wasn’t covered widely in Canadian media, in recent months, a
Canadian tourist, along with 13 Jordanians, was killed by terrorists in Karak, Jordan. According to reports, the terrorists’ real plan was to attack the local Catholic Church on Christmas Day.
As Canadian National Director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, I visited Jordan in January. There, I joined a small group of Catholics and Muslims deeply shaken by this event to pray where the Canadian tourist was killed. The question on everyone's mind was: Why? Why did six young men from the Karak region decide to join the Islamic State and attack their own families, friends and neighbours? This is a first in Jordan, the most peaceful country in the Middle East.
On other trips I took this past year to the region, I also met Muslims and Christians from Gaza, Syria and Iraq who have experienced the worst atrocities imaginable. They, too, ask: why?
Back in Canada, the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City was a rude awakening, as the violence we see unfolding far away is now too close for comfort. Ironically, these victims came to Canada to escape violence and to live in security and freedom.
On January 30, I joined 300 Muslims and Christians who gathered at the Gatineau mosque. At the invitation of Archbishop Paul-André Durocher Catholics and Muslims started talking to each other — embracing, shaking hands and some even hugging — to find human beings that needed one another in this time of crisis. Once again, people asked why.
The reasons are multiple and complex, but at the root of it all, our world has changed in the last 30 years and we face many unresolved issues.
Read the rest.
13 February 2017
German Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne celebrates Mass on 12 February at the Church of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, Israel. Twenty months after having suffered serious damage from an arson attack, the atrium of the Benedictine church was reopened.
(photo: CNS/Atef Safadi, EPA)
Twenty months after having suffered serious damage from an arson attack, the atrium of the Benedictine Church of the Loaves and Fishes was reopened on 12 February. German Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, president of the German Association of the Holy Land, celebrating a Mass to mark the event.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who visited the church in Tabgha immediately following the attack in June 2015, was also among the official guests after the Mass.
“We are bound together. We are all equal before God, and equal before the law,” Rivlin said. “The state of Israel is ... deeply committed to the freedom of religion and of worship for all religions and believers. We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution. And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state.
“The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burned walls and the terrible graffiti,” the president said. “Today, I visit here again, and see the renewal of this historic, special, and holy place. I want to thank all the people who worked hard to restore this place, and to say clearly; that hate cannot win.”
“Today is a time of great joy and friendship,” said Cardinal Woelki. “It was very warming to hear from the local people how, after the arson attack, so many people across many religions in the Holy Land came to show their solidarity.”
Noting the importance of preventing such attacks in the future, the guests spoke of the need to create connections among people of different faiths and to learn about one another.
A clergyman stands inside the Church of Loaves and Fishes following a 2015 fire
in Tabgha, Israel. (photo:CNS/Atef Safadi, EPA)
Two suspects have been held under administrative detention since July 2015 for involvement in the arson, which police are treating as a hate crime.
Also known as the Church of the Multiplication, the church located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee is traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus’ miracle of the fish and loaves, where he was able to feed a multitude of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
Although the Israeli government had made promises of funding to help restore the structure, the actual amount received for the restoration following yearlong negotiations was less than had been initially stated, according to Heinz Thiel, secretary-general of the German Association of the Holy Land. Israel contributed $394,000 toward the reconstruction of the church.
Ultimately the work was completed through the help of private donations from both institutions and individuals, Thiel said.
The total cost of the reconstruction, including loss of earnings and goods from their gift shop and the new security measures that had to be installed, was $1.38 million, said Benedictine Father Basilius Schiel, prior of the Tabgha monastery.
13 February 2017
Opposition fighters backing Turkish troops drive past stones blocking a road on the outskirts of the Syrian town of al-Bab on 12 February 2017. Turkish troops backed by Syrian rebel fighters have entered the center of the ISIS bastion of al-Bab and will soon capture it, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday. (photo: Rafat Ahmad/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish troops enter ISIS stronghold in northern Syria (AP) Turkey’s president said Sunday that his troops and allied Syrian fighters have reached the heart of the Islamic State stronghold of al-Bab in northern Syria and will eventually join the effort to recapture Raqqa, the extremists’ de-facto capital in Syria. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ISIS fighters have begun deserting al-Bab, which has been under attack for weeks...
Hezbollah urges Lebanon plan for return of Syrian refugees (AFP) The head of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement on Sunday urged the government to coordinate with Damascus to help refugees to return now that “large areas” of Syria are “safe”...
Ukraine turns a blind eye to ultra rightist militias (The Washington Post) Despite Kiev’s pledge to rein them in, rogue militias continue to fight against Moscow-backed separatists. When war erupted in 2014, Ukraine’s army was on its knees after decades of corruption and neglect. So the top brass joined forces with volunteer battalions to counter the pro-Russian insurgency. But these informal groups proved difficult to control, with some committing heinous abuses. Almost all have been incorporated into Ukrainian state forces...
Canada’s churches consider court action over refugees (Catholic Register) As the storm over the fate of refugees intensifies in the United States, Canada’s churches are deliberating whether or not to take the federal government to court to pull Canada out of its Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S...
Using art to heal: battling cancer in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Aya Abdulrahman was informed by her doctors that she would be dead by the end of 2014. At 21, she had seven malignant tumors. “Your daughter has two months left to live. You cannot do anything. Go home,” the doctor told Abdulrahman’s mother. The painful news, however, did not stop her from pursuing her dreams. Since childhood, all Abdulrahman wanted to do was become an artist and leave her mark on the world through art...
10 February 2017
Tags: Syria Ukraine Refugees Turkey ISIS
Sisters Hanne, Gina and Brygida prepare lunch. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In the current edition of ONE, Journalist Diane Handal writes about how the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary are Welcoming the Stranger in Jordan. Here, she adds some additional impressions of the country and its people.
The pink light was rising on the horizon above the hill filled with beige buildings crowded together with a street light sparkling here and there. This is the city of Amman.
Two minarets stood guard in the distance to a huge mosque, named after King Abdullah, capped with a blue roof that looks like a children’s toy that spins. It is a memorial by the late King Hussein to his grandfather and the only mosque in Amman that openly welcomes non-Muslims.
The city of Amman was waking up and the big blizzard they were bracing for never happened, but the plows were out there in the street. The Jordan Times was blaming the weather reporting for lost revenues.
I arrived yesterday from the Allenby Bridge off the bus and into passport control, greeted by photographs of King Hussein, King Abdullah, and his son HRH Crown Prince Al-Hussein.
My taxi had a big decal on the right side of the windshield of King Hussein. The driver was young and began pressing his foot to the pedal trying to pass the cars in oncoming traffic. I yelled, “LA, LA, LA!” He drove normally from then on.
We passed little villages with stalls of red and white kaffiyehs, clear plastic life preservers for the beach, roasting chickens, the Jordanian flag of black, red, and green. Sheep were grazing on the hills and several makeshift tents appeared with children playing in the muddy street. I thought:poor Jordanians — or perhaps, refugees. A man was selling tomatoes in crates and garbage was strewn on the nearby land.
Pouring rain beat against the windshield outside and the sky went black.
The next day, I met with Sister Antoinette and the Franciscan sisters at the convent. It was evident how much they love their missionary work — these are giving, warm, smart, and selfless women.
I met the Executive Chef from the hotel this morning at breakfast, Thomas Brosnan, who is Irish and I told him my son-in-law was from Galway.
I was telling him how one of his staff almost electrocuted himself poking a knife in the toaster and I told him to stop and went behind the counter to pull the plug out.
I wrote Thomas and asked if it would be possible to give the sisters some breakfast sweets tomorrow and explained the reason I was there.
He said yes immediately, and was putting the pastry chef in charge.
The next morning there were four huge boxes filled with breakfast sweets. The sisters loved them. I sent Thomas a photograph of the sisters at the table.
Tamara, the photographer, and I had lunch in dining room with all the sisters. They take turns each day cooking. It was Sister Hanne’s turn today and we had fresh tabouli with romaine lettuce leaves, tunafish, French fries, pickled eggplant and cake for desert. Delicious!
A young woman came to the convent with a white bag from a pharmacy. It had several pairs of eyeglasses in it. Sister Antoinette said it was for a little girl who is losing her sight and could not afford any.
The sisters told me another little Iraqi boy had lost his hair due to trauma of the war. They said that the illnesses they see are mounting in both children and their parents. It makes sense considering what these families have been through and continue to go through.
I walked with Sister Hanne to meet with an Iraqi family. She not only was jay walking, but walking in the street despite the lawless driving, using her cell while talking to me all the way.
At the Iraqi family’s home, their youngest son had symptoms similar to autism and Sister Hanne hugged him and stroked his head, truly loving this child. It brought tears to my eyes.
I left Amman and flew on Royal Jordanian to Istanbul. The flight was packed with elderly people who had just come from the Haj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and I don’t think they had taken a shower for days. The coughing was also widespread.
Near me was a lovely Jordanian family with two small daughters. We all covered our faces with Kleenex and prayed that we would not get sick.
10 February 2017
Tags: Refugees Jordan
Aaron M. Butts, assistant professor of Semitic languages and literature at The Catholic University of America in Washington holds an Ethiopic manuscript containing the Gospel of John at Mullen Library. The university is the holder of the fifth largest collection of Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in the United States and the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside Ethiopia. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
A massive donation of Ethiopian religious manuscripts to The Catholic University of America in Washington makes the school one of the largest holders of such texts outside Ethiopia.
The value of the donation, by Gerald and Barbara Weiner of Chicago, is estimated to be more than $1 million. The collection includes more than 215 Islamic manuscripts, 125 Christian manuscripts, and 350 so-called “magic” scrolls with prayers to protect the owner or reader from particular illnesses.
What makes the manuscripts valuable is that they’re handmade, according to Aaron Butts, an assistant professor of Semitic languages and literature at Catholic University. What makes them rare, he added, is that such texts are rarely seen outside Ethiopia, and that the East African nation's rainy season often renders the books and scrolls unusable or illegible after repeated use. That so many texts — most of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, with a few even older — still survive, and in a usable condition, he told Catholic News Service, is “amazing.”
“Every one of them is a treasure,” Butts said.
The donation makes Catholic University the holder of the fifth largest collection of Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in the United States, and the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside of Ethiopia.
Butts said Gerald Weiner had hoped to collect holy books from Ethiopian Judaism, but “when he realized how few were available, he started collecting books from Ethiopian Christianity and Islam.”
Although modern bookbinding techniques exist in Ethiopia, the nation’s religious leaders still greatly prefer to use handmade books. Their makers use the skins of sheep, goats and cattle to make the books; even the “parchment” pages come from these animal hides.
Each book’s contents also must be written by hand with ink. Frequently, there are illustrations in the books — and definitely on the scrolls — making the production of even one book a prolonged and relatively costly venture.
Butts explained that the scrolls are not regarded as official prayer texts by Ethiopian Christian leaders, “but the people who use them use them as prayers.” The prayers ask for divine help for any number of maladies, headaches among them, he said, but some focus on pains only experienced by women, such as they experience with menstruation and childbirth. “This may be why religious leaders have not thought of them as official,” he added.
The edges of some pages of the books are so dark they look like they had been burned. Rather, Butts said, “it’s dirt from the hands” of the user. Some books have “illuminated” illustrations that display their brilliance despite the passage of time, and contain writing underneath the illustration legible to a sharp reader.
Included in the donation were a trio of Ethiopian Christian liturgical texts featuring Gospel passages on one page, and homilies from saints on the next. The tomes are massive in size, each likely containing 200 or so pages with generous margins bordering each page “as a symbol of the wealth” of the religious figure who commissioned the three-volume set, Butts said, adding “Imagine how many animals, how much ink was used” to complete the set, with the writing of each book taking at least several months to complete.
Butts told CNS that the Weiners wanted to make sure the recipient of the gift would be able to provide access to the collection. Catholic University will be able to provide not only scholars and students with access, but also Washington’s Ethiopian-American community.
The Washington area is rivaled only by the much larger Los Angeles metropolitan area for the size of its Ethiopian community. There is a particular concentration of Ethiopian restaurants and shops — including an Ethiopian evangelical church — along the border of Washington with the suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, and many Ethiopian-American men make their living as taxi drivers.
The donated books and scrolls are still being assessed for their relative durability after two or three centuries. When the assessment is complete, which Butts hopes will be sometime in the spring, Catholic University will invite the Weiners to attend a reception marking the donation.
Check out a video on this manuscripts from CNS below:
10 February 2017
In this image from last month, Syrian children transport their salvaged belongings from their damaged house in Doudyan, a village in northern Aleppo. A Caritas official who has just returned from Aleppo describes parts of the city as “post-apocalyptic” and “beyond human imagination.”
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Parts of Aleppo described as ‘post-apocalyptic’ (Vatican Radio) A senior Caritas official who’s just returned from the Syrian city of Aleppo says the devastation and humanitarian crisis there are “beyond human imagination” with many areas in the east looking as though they had been hit by a nuclear bomb. Patrick Nicholson is the head of Communications for Caritas Internationalis and has just returned from a visit to the war-ravaged city. In an interview with Susy Hodges he described the scenes, especially in eastern Aleppo, as “post-apocalyptic” because of the extent of the destruction and shared with her a shocking story of how he discovered 6 young children, including a baby, living on their own amidst the rubble of their bombed-out house...
Retaken parts of Mosul return to life (The New York Times) The last time I was in Iraq, two months ago, I stood next to the highway out of the city of Mosul and watched ambulances screaming by, carrying dead and wounded soldiers. During my reporting in Mosul this week, the picture couldn’t have looked more different in the eastern half of the city, which was recently taken back by government forces. Even in places where soldiers were still partly on edge — like above, patrolling along the banks of the Tigris River near the front line with the Islamic State — I still was able to walk alongside them...
Assad: U.S. troops welcome in Syria to fight terrorism (AP) Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview released on Friday that the United States is welcome to join the battle against “terrorists” in Syria — as long as it is in cooperation with his government and respects the country’s sovereignty...
Syrian women arrive in Canada to continue their education (CBC) Five young women who were unable to finish their education in war-torn Syria landed at Pearson International Airport Thursday to start their journey as students in Canada. The women will be studying English at the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC), after winning scholarships from the organization...
Melkites bring fresh signs of life to Catholic cathedral in Canada (Catholic Register) After being closed for more than a decade, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration north of Toronto has quietly re-opened its doors. The cathedral has welcomed parishioners of nearby Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church to use its yet unfinished space for Sunday services. The Melkite Catholics had been homeless after their Thornhill, Ont., church was engulfed in flames last October...
8 February 2017
Tags: Syria ISIS Melkite
Late last month, we received an email and some video clips from Ethiopia that showed, in a wonderful and uplifting way, how donors are making a difference in the lives of those we serve.
The email explained that a generous family of donors had made it possible for the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home to host a Christmas party for dozens of the children and some former residents.
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri, the head of the home, wrote to the donors:
The celebration was led by Father and Mother Christmas...the program started by a blessing by the parish priest and a welcome speech. The children started with their program, of Christmas drama, cultural dancing and songs. They also enjoyed all the delicious goodies. Afterwards, gifts were given and everyone went to rest, thanking God for the day.
We have no words to thank you for your generosity. Every small donation counts. With the money you donated to our organization, we bought different items, which helped to buy all sorts of presents for the children, which made them happy.
Wow! It was so nice to see the children full of happiness and joy and their love and enjoyment. This is an unforgettable day.
Check out the video below, from the Christmas party — a joyful testament to the generosity of our donors, who make what we do possible. Thank you!
8 February 2017
Sister Seraphina of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary visits with a refugee family from Iraq now living in Jordan. To learn more about how the sisters are Welcoming the Stranger in Jordan, check out the current edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)