6 May 2015
Syrian refugees walk the street at Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan, on 14 March. Jordan officials report international aid continues to fall short of what the country needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees. (photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)
Situation in Ukraine “deteriorating” (Reuters) Five Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and 12 injured over the past 24 hours despite a ceasefire deal, Ukraine’s military said on Wednesday, describing a worsening situation in separatist eastern territories. The deaths came ahead of a meeting later on Wednesday of envoys from Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE rights watchdog and pro-Russian separatists. They are expected to discuss how to shore up the peace accord they agreed in Minsk, Belarus, in February. “In the past 24 hours the situation in the conflict zone deteriorated. The intensity of attacks is not falling,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said, accusing the separatists of using weapons outlawed under the ceasefire deal...
Jordan faces shortfall in funds to help refugees (Catholic Herald) International aid continues to fall short of what Jordan needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees, Jordanian officials reported, saying the number represents the equivalent of the United States hosting 60 million refugees.
With no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, officials are calling the situation critical. So far this year, Jordan has received only 7.2 percent of $2.9 billion needed for services to Syrian refugees and host communities...
Massacre site in Iraq becomes a monument to suffering (The New York Times) The concrete platform at the river’s edge is festooned with flowers and streaked with blood. Along a back wall are photographs taken from a video of the horror that unfolded here last year: a procession of Shiite men, shot in the head one by one by Islamic State fighters and shoved into the waters of the Tigris. The riverbank has become a memorial of the massacre and a site of Shiite pilgrimage, already taking a prominent place in Iraq’s ledger of sectarian atrocities. In all, roughly 1,700 Shiite military personnel from the Camp Speicher base are believed to have been methodically gunned down by the Sunni extremists at Saddam Hussein’s old palace complex in Tikrit in June...
UN begins talks with Syrians to find “common ground” (BBC) The UN has begun consultations with Syrian government and opposition officials as it seeks to find enough common ground to restart peace talks. Special envoy Staffan de Mistura said more than 40 groups had been invited to attend one-on-one meetings over the next five to six weeks. Iran and Turkey have also been invited, but jihadist militant groups have not. Mr. de Mistura described it as a stock-taking process, saying there would be no big roundtable discussions. The last round of peace talks in Geneva collapsed in early 2014 with the government refusing to discuss opposition demands...
Syrian artist shows pain of war (CNS) The sad realities of Syria’s civil war permeate the paintings of Essa Neima, a 34-year-old Syrian national. At a recent exhibit, his oil on acrylic works ranged from depictions of damaged church and mosque mosaics, to a broken icon of Mary and a refugee woman forced into servitude by the need to survive. Most of the paintings were strewn with the deep red color of blood. “It is like treasure ... covered by blood because (of) what’s happening now, the sad events happening in Syria,” Neima told Catholic News Service in Washington, thousands of miles from his country, where conflict has killed nearly 200,000 people and dispersed about 10 million others, according to U.N. Estimates...
If borders were opened, “100,000 people would leave Gaza” (Al Jazeera) Electricity runs only six to eight hours a day in the Gaza Strip. More than 160,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel, and 100,000 people are still homeless. International donors pledged to give $3.5 billion in reconstruction funds in October, but barely a quarter of that has materialized so far. Israel’s economic blockade continues, Palestinian leaders are divided, houses lie in ruin, and youths feel unable to escape from or change the situation...
5 May 2015
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri visits with Iraqi refugees in Erbil. (photo: John E. Kozar)
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar is on a pastoral visit to Iraq, along with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
Details of the trip, from VIS:
The cardinal, in his second trip to Iraq, brought Pope Francis’ blessing to Iraqi Christians and transmitted the acknowledgement and encouragement of the Authorities for their work in the difficult current context of Iraq in favour of Christians, other minorities and those who suffer as a result of the violence. From 1 to 3 May Cardinal Sandri visited Baghdad where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph and lunched with refugees assisted by various ecclesial institutions. In Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, he met with the Roaco delegation which is planning aid projects in various areas of pastoral life and in the assistance of refugees.
In his final address to the bishops in Erbil, the cardinal referred to the “signs of light” he had seen in the Churches of Iraq during his visit: “The liturgy, the hymns, the trust in Mary, but above all the splendour of charity, through ordinary works and those linked to the various forms of welcome and pastoral assistance to displaced and persecuted people. I have encountered first hand the heroic dedication of the many priests who are truly good pastors, who do not flee and who stay beside their flock; I have been moved by the profound communion that precedes any theological discussion — although the latter is necessary — and any other form of ecumenical agreement, when priests of different Christian churches wish well to each other and, along with the laypeople, organise aid activities for displaced persons, or guide educational paths in schools and parishes. It is also good to see the collaboration that the various agencies of the Roaco have offered in the planning and implementation phases for the good of all of you.”...
...Cardinal Sandri concluded his address by invoking the protection of Our Lady and of St. Peter for Pope Francis, “always so close to the Christians of the Middle East and to all those who are persecuted,” and for their Beatitudes the Patriarchs Louis Raphael I Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Ignatius Joseph III Younan of the Syro-Catholic Church.
To help those seeking to rebuild their lives in Iraq, and support CNEWA’s mission there, please visit this giving page — and keep our brothers and sisters in Iraq in your prayers!
5 May 2015
In this image from April, a man walks past the rubble of a building following reported shelling by Syrian government forces in the Bab al-Hadid neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo. Aleppo has been devastated by fighting since rebel fighters seized its eastern half in 2012, setting up a front line that carves through its historic heart. (photo: ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
“Crimes against humanity” reported in Aleppo (AFP) Syrian government forces are committing “crimes against humanity” by indiscriminately bombing Aleppo, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, as it also criticized rebels for abuses including “war crimes.” In a new report, the rights watchdog said “relentless” government aerial bombardment of Syria’s former economic powerhouse had forced many residents to “eke out an existence underground.” It slammed the “horrendous war crimes and other abuses in the city by government forces and armed opposition groups on a daily basis.” “Some of the government’s actions in Aleppo amount to crimes against humanity,” Amnesty said...
Hundreds of Yazidis reportedly killed near Mosul (BBC) Several hundred Yazidi captives have been killed in Iraq by Islamic State (IS) militants west of Mosul, Yazidi and Iraqi officials say. A statement from the Yazidi Progress Party said 300 captives were killed on Friday in the Tal Afar district near the city. Iraqi Vice-President Osama al-Nujaifi described the reported deaths as “horrific and barbaric...”
Catholics join efforts to save Yazidi (Catholic Register) For Ghina Al-Sewaidi — lawyer, Muslim and Iraqi-Canadian — the correct word to describe Islamic State attacks on Yazidi and Mandaean people is genocide. The correct response is to sponsor the survivors through Canada’s refugee system. Toronto Catholics have joined with Al-Sewaidi to help bring Yazidi and Mandaean refugees to Canada. Al-Sewaidi has teamed up with Toronto Police Inspector Chuck Konkel, the Office of Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto and the 18 volunteer police chaplains in Toronto. Catholic parishes, such as Konkel’s St. Anselm’s, have stepped up to support the sponsorship efforts. “We can’t bring everybody here, but if we bring one or two families to start with, that would really be a start for us,” said Al-Sewaidi. “The Iraqi people, putting the government aside, they help each other from whichever ethnic minority they are, from whatever religion you are...”
Patriarch praises pope, criticizes Greek Catholics (Interfax) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has praised Vatican’s position on the Ukrainian crisis but condemned the activities in Ukraine of the followers of the Greek Catholic Church (Uniates). “Pope Francis and the Holy See’s State secretary have taken a considered position on the situation in Ukraine, avoiding unilateral assessments and calling for an end to the fratricidal war,” the patriarch said at a ceremony on Thursday which saw him receiving honorary doctorate from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy...
Vatican releases details for Jubilee of Mercy (VIS) This morning in the Holy See Press Office, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, and Msgr. Graham Bell presented the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (8 December 2015 to 20 November 2016). The archbishop began, “The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which continues be the programmatic outline for the pontificate of Pope Francis, offers a meaningful expression of the very essence of the Extraordinary Jubilee announced on 11 April...
4 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Russian Orthodox
The Good Shepherd Sisters’ convent in Suez still displays heavy damage from the
August 2013 fire. (photo: David Degner)
Jahd Khalil writes about efforts to rebuild religious institutions in Suez in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. Below, he offers personal impressions from his trip there last winter.
Last Christmas season there were plenty of images in press coverage of Egypt of congregations praying in burned-out churches, but I only experienced the atmosphere and feelings of it on this recent trip to Suez. It was a few days before Epiphany, and it brought to light the gravity of the situation for this congregation and the implications of all the little things that were lost.
Franciscan Father Gabrail Bakheet was dressed in his white liturgical robes. While giving us a tour of the vestry, he pointed out that the diversity in vestments meant that so many had to be replaced. The congregation also had to sing hymns without hymnals. Christmas is one of those times when you reflect on family, friends and community, but there were so few people in the church that the hymns only highlighted that the scarcity of people. The many who once might have been signing these hymns just weren’t there. The US invasion of Iraq, the civil war in Syria, and general unrest across the Middle East have made religious life more difficult for Christians and other minorities. It felt quite lonely in that burned-out, cold church.
One thing that struck me while reporting this story is the amount of faith Christians have put in their government’s support for their communities. The Maspiro massacre — in which 28 people, mostly Christians, died while protesting for religious freedom — is not a distant memory. But there has been a willingness to overlook it in order to try and preserve what is left of the long Christian tradition in Egypt.
As they sat alone in their makeshift chapel, with seemingly nothing but their faith, Sister Amany quoted Psalm 127 to Sister Mariam. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain,” she said. “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”
I really admired the sisters’ perseverance and good spirits in the face of adversity and isolation. Here they were in one of the most densely populated countries on earth, but still alone in many ways.
Read more about life in Suez in “Out of the Ashes.”
4 May 2015
A Caritas volunteer interviews Anastasiya Stulova in the city of Sviatogorsk. The impact of the conflict in Ukraine has been devastating, leaving many families displaced. To learn more, read “Casualties of War” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
4 May 2015
In this image from October, Argentinian Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, leaves the Synod Hall at the end of a session of the Synod on the themes of family in Vatican City. He’s now making a pastoral visit to Iraq.
(photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Cardinal Sandri calls for support for Iraq’s Christians (Vatican Radio) The Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, was the homilist at Divine Liturgy in the Chaldean cathedral of Baghdad on Friday afternoon. The Liturgy and Cardinal Sandri’s participation in it were part of the Prefect’s three-day visit to the country, which began on Friday morning. He renewed his call — and the Holy Father’s — for assistance from the international community in favor of all those facing persecution in Iraq, and especially for the country’s suffering and sorely tried Christian community, thanking the UN’s High Representative for Iraq for his presence at the Liturgy...
Israeli group accuses military of “indiscriminate fire” during Gaza war (BBC) An Israeli activist group has accused the military of employing a “policy of indiscriminate fire” that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during last year’s Gaza war. Breaking the Silence said the rules of engagement during the 50-day conflict were “the most permissive” it had seen...
Ethiopian Israelis: “A community crying out” (CNN) The clashes between Ethiopian-Israeli protesters and police over the weekend have drawn international attention to one of the most disadvantaged groups in Israel. Though the demonstrations were set off by the police beating of a uniformed Israeli soldier, captured on video, experts say the issues between the Ethiopian-Israeli community and the government are not new ones...
Minorities see Russian meddling in Ukraine (Al Jazeera) As the conflict between Moscow-backed separatists and Kiev’s forces rages on in eastern Ukraine, minority groups say Russia’s state-owned media have been trying to provoke dissent in the multicultural region of Transcarpathia, on the edge of the European Union...
CNEWA Canada marks 10th anniversary with appeal for Iraq, Syria (Catholic Register) As Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada marks its 10th anniversary this year, it is making an urgent appeal for continued help for imperilled families under Islamic State siege in Iraq and Syria. “The best way we can celebrate the 10 years of success of CNEWA in Canada is to redouble our prayers and our financial support to aid those most in need,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, who hosts the CNEWA Canada offices in his diocese and chairs the CNEWA Canada board of directors, in a statement. “May we celebrate the Year of Mercy remembering our sisters and brothers in the East for whom we can be an agent of mercy with the help of CNEWA...”
1 May 2015
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Ethiopia Middle East Gaza Strip/West Bank
Two nurses from the neonatal intensive care unit of the Italian Hospital care for newborns in Amman, Jordan. (photo: CNS/Mark Pattison)
In the Spring edition of ONE, writer Dale Gavlak reports on the plight of Iraqi Christian refugees who are seeking sanctuary in Jordan. One place they are receiving help: the Italian Hospital in Amman, which has long been supported by CNEWA.
CNS reporter Mark Pattison visited the hospital recently:
Dr. Khalid Shammas, medical director, said the refugees “come with different diseases. Some of them we are not familiar with.”
They also arrive with physical wounds or with psychological scars that come with being torn from their homeland.
“Most of the refugees are coming from the north of Iraq, from Mosul,” Shammas said. “They were in the middle, upper class. ... It is a big psychological trauma to them. They need psychological treatment. In Jordan, we don’t have many (who can provide it.)”
Sister Elizabeth said that at Christmas, the hospital took up a collection to give their patients a little bit of money.
“You know what they said? ‘We don’t need your money. Give us a future,’” she recalled.
Money is hard to come by, the hospital staff acknowledged. The charges to the private patients help pay for some of the charity care the Italian Hospital provides. But “we have to squeeze,” Sister Elizabeth said. “Sometimes we don’t know how we are going to pay the staff,” which numbers 130.
Read more about the challenges refugees are facing and how the Italian Hospital is trying to help.
The video below takes us inside this important facility and offers a glimpse at some of those being helped.
To learn how you can support Iraqi refugees, please visit our giving page. And remember to keep all our suffering brothers and sisters from Iraq in your prayers.
1 May 2015
Children socialize outside the Good Shepherd Sisters’ school in Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon. Read more about caring for children and refugees in Lebanon in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE.
(photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
1 May 2015
In this image from February, U.S. European Commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove conducts a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Gen. Breedlove said yesterday Russian-backed forces appear to be preparing for a new offensive in Ukraine.
(photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
NATO commander sees threat of offensive in Ukraine (The Wall Street Journal) NATO’s military chief said that Russia-backed forces appear to be “preparing, training and equipping” for a potential new offensive in eastern Ukraine, even as European leaders said the conflict there was entering a “political phase.” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s top commander, said Thursday that the separatist forces have been using the relative lull in fighting since a cease-fire was signed in February to regroup. “These preparations are consistent with the possibility of an offensive,” Gen. Breedlove said at a Pentagon news conference. “And that is what we have seen through several of the previous pauses in eastern Ukraine...”
Cardinal: world community must not resign itself to the tragedy of the Middle East (VIS) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, spoke at the opening of the Symposium “Christians in the Middle East: what future?,” organised by the Sant’Egidio Community and the archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto, Italy. In his address, the cardinal remarked that many Christians in the East, hearing just a few days ago the story of Pilate’s famous gesture of washing his hands, “may have thought of the indifference and inaction to which the international community appears to have resigned itself before the tragedies that have for some years now been wearing away at Syria and Iraq.” He added, “it is also saddening to see the incapacity of leaders in Lebanon, even those who are Christians, to arrive at consensus on the new president on the basis of a line of conduct due less to conscience than to the weighty influences of the forces that compete for supremacy in the area...”
“Freedom Flotilla” reportedly set to sail for Gaza (The Jerusalem Post) Three ships are expected to set sail for Gaza this summer as part of a humanitarian mission to Gaza, Ma’an News Agency reported Friday. Details of the mission, coined “Freedom Flotilla III,” remain under the radar. Berawi Zaher, coordinator of the international mission, told Ma’an that its details, including the ships’ departure time and fleet location, will not be released in an effort to hamper Israeli authorities from intervening and exerting international pressure to halt the execution of the mission...
Religious leaders call for calm during elections in Ethiopia (The Turkish Weekly) Leaders of seven Ethiopian religious institutions on Wednesday issued joint calls for peace and calm during parliamentary polls slated for 24 May. “The age-old culture of understanding, tolerance and peaceful co-existence in the face of diversity should be maintained in the political competition,” Zerihun Degu, secretary-general of the Ethiopian Interfaith Council, said at a meeting in Addis Ababa...
30 April 2015
Tags: Ukraine Ethiopia Middle East Gaza Strip/West Bank
Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a leading Catholic authority on Islam, is now teaching a course on the Quran in Ohio. (photo: CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press)
One of the leading Catholic authorities on Islam — someone, in fact, who may be familiar to readers of ONE — is now teaching a course about the religion. NPR has the story:
As a 12-year-old Catholic boy growing up in England, Michael Fitzgerald decided he wanted to be a missionary in Africa. Eight years later, he was studying theology and learning Arabic in Tunisia.
He went on to devote his priestly ministry to the promotion of interfaith understanding between Muslims and Christians, and became one of the top Roman Catholic experts on Islam. He has served as the archbishop of Tunisia, the papal nuncio — effectively a Vatican ambassador — in Cairo, and the Vatican’s delegate to the Arab League.
For years, Fitzgerald has been urging his fellow Christians to acquaint themselves with Islam and its holy book, the Quran. It has been a challenging mission at a time when many non-Muslims associate Islam with violence and when many Muslims think the West has declared war on their faith.
As a priest serving in Africa, Fitzgerald often was responsible for representing the interests of Christians in majority-Muslim states, but at the same time he demonstrated enough knowledge and appreciation of Islam that Muslims occasionally turned to him for insights into their own faith. “The more you understand a religion, the better it is,” Fitzgerald says, “whether it’s Christians studying Islam or Christians studying Christianity or Muslims studying Christianity. I think this helps in your relations.”
As a university professor in Uganda, his classes on Islam included some Muslim students.
“I said to the students ‘I’m not here to teach you anything — I’m here to help you to learn, and to understand your own religion better,’” Fitzgerald says. “‘I said ‘You don’t have to agree with me, but if you contest what I’m saying to you, then you have to have good arguments, not just, “Oh, our parents have always said this” — that’s not enough.’”
Now retired, the archbishop has turned his attention to writing and lecturing; this spring, he is a guest instructor at John Carroll University, a Jesuit institution in Cleveland, where he is teaching a course on the Quran to a small group of undergraduate and graduate students.
In his class he often highlights differences between Christianity and Islam, though in such a way as to encourage respect for distinctive Muslim approaches.
“In our ceremonies we read the scripture — the Gospel is read,” he said in a recent classroom session. “In Islamic prayer, it is not read, it is recited. The imam has to know the Quran. So it’s very good to become a ...,” and then Fitzgerald wrote the word hafiz on the blackboard, explaining that it means someone who has memorized the Quran from start to finish.
Read more about his class at NPR.