11 January 2016
In October 2015, four schools opened in northern Iraq, serving more than 2,400 displaced refugee children in Erbil, Dohuk and Zakho. One of the schools, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is fully supported by CNEWA, which provided funding to furnish, equip and operate the school for one year. (photo: CNEWA)
In the past, we’ve reported on the inspiring work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, and the courageous ministry being carried out under the leadership of their superior, Sister Maria Hanna. The sisters were among those driven from their homes by ISIS in August of 2014, joining more than a hundred thousand other Iraqis fleeing for their lives. The sisters settled in Iraqi Kurdistan. In our Spring 2015 edition of ONE, we chronicled their remarkable story of tenacity and grace.
In addition to her work rallying her sisters and the people they lovingly serve, Sister Maria Hanna has been updating her friends and supporters around the world. She sent the following letter a few days ago, spotlighting the many challenges they continue to face, but also expressing gratitude for the generous support they have received-including, most prominently, from CNEWA and its operating agency in the region, the Pontifical Mission.
The letter serves as a reminder of the hardships so many innocent families are enduring. But it also offers hope, revealing in a very personal way how CNEWA’s donors and partners are making a profound difference in the lives of countless men, women and children.
Dear Sisters, Brethren and Friends...
With the New Year greetings, I extend my gratitude for your continuous support and prayers. Also, I would like to share with you our highlights from 2015.
Thanks to the blessed efforts of people who are accompanying us, we have had an eventful year. In addition to accompanying the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the camps, sisters were able to prepare 400 children for First Communion in ten groups in different cities and towns in the region of Kurdistan.
We are grateful to the Lord that our efforts to open a primary school were fruitful. Eventually, we managed to get all the licenses needed from the Iraqi and Kurdish governments. Bishop Warda (the Chaldaean Bishop of Erbil) offered us a building that Catholic organizations built on property belonging to the Archdiocese of Erbil, and the Pontifical Mission [CNEWA], thankfully, furnished it. There are about 460 pupils — girls and boys and all are IDPs. Seven of our Dominican sisters are working at the school, with other teachers and administrators, also IDPs. Studying at our school is free. The salaries of teachers and staff (about $18,000 a month) have been granted by the Pontifical Mission [CNEWA] for this year.
People are thankful and happy for this project, as the condition of other schools is really miserable. Because of the large number of the IDPs, some schools have three shifts a day, each shift for different groups, and the number of pupils in a class could number more than 80.
Also, we managed to open another kindergarten for the IDPs as there is more demand this year. The families prefer to send their children to be educated by the Dominican
Sisters. Now there are 440 children attending our kindergartens in Ain Kawa. Additionally, in a town called Aqra with 250 IDP families, we opened a kindergarten for 50 children. The kindergarten in Kaznazanalso has 130 children in attendance. These kindergartens are free of charge for the IDPs.
In both projects, school and kindergarten, sisters have been noticing much improvement in children’s behavior. They are more willing to listen to their teachers and it is easier for teachers to discipline the children. The schools are equipped with playground and a sport field, which gave the children a suitable environment to play and direct their energy.
However, people are still facing many challenges. As for the present condition in Iraq, it is still traumatic. We were shocked last month when seven individuals (parents with their 7-year-old son, and 3-year-old daughter and a lady with her 7-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter) drowned in the sea as they were trying to flee to Greece.
Everybody is physically and psychologically exhausted. It does not seem that there is any solution. People risk their lives. Immigration is increasing in all directions. Just before the end of the year, families of 167 persons were placed in Slovakia (at once) as part of immigration program, and there are more to go in the coming month. That, of course, shook the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine Of Siena [and also shook] the confidence of people about the future of Christianity in Iraq. Add to that, there are other families who are leaving the country [to go to] Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. In a matter of three months the number of children in our school fell from 520 to 460; also about 15 children from the kindergarten left with their families and more are planning to leave.
Although we are sad to see people leave, people who are living in prefabricated houses are facing a tremendously hard time, especially now in winter as these houses are not healthy at all; they are not made to contain large families, neither are they equipped for such harsh weather. They are extremely cold in winter, extremely hot in summer.
The recent news about the policy in the Middle East is not encouraging at all; nether is there anything promising. Everything is unknown and uncertain. Therefore, it is not surprising to see people leave. We pray that the doors of divine mercy may open for our brothers and sisters, that they may find people who could welcome them. As for us, we remain with the remnant here, to support the people intellectually and spiritually through educational projects and liturgical meetings.
Within the community, we are thankful for all those who helped us purchase a house which provided a better environment for our young sisters in formation program.We have started preparing for our general chapter that is planned to be held in July 2016.
We ask your prayers that God may enlighten us and grant us His wisdom to discern in our reality despite all the difficulties and pressures we are living.
Sister Maria Hanna, O.P.
Prioress of Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena — Iraq
To help support Sister Maria Hanna and her sisters, and the vitally important work they are undertaking on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, please visit this giving page. And please: keep them all in your prayers. Thank you!
11 January 2016
An Israeli soldier stops a group of bishops from visiting land owned by Palestinian farmers in the Cremisan Valley, not far from Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
Note: Last summer, we reported on the controversy surrounding the building of a separation wall in the Cremisan Valley. Yesterday, a group of bishops visiting the region attempted to visit the area. Carl Hétu, National Director CNEWA Canada, is accompanying Bishop Lionel Gendron of St-Jean Longoueil, Québec, vice president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops — and he describes below what happened.
On our way to visit the Christian community of Beit Jala on Sunday, property owners invited the Holy Land Coordination bishops delegation to visit their land. As the bishops were about to enter the first property, an Israeli jeep came to block access. The delegation was told that they couldn’t go further.
“This isn’t Israel property,” the bishops replied. “These farmers are inviting us to visit their land.”
The response from the soldier in the jeep was short: “You can’t go further.”
The bishops prayed and then left to join the parishioners for Mass nearby.
The bishops had come to show their solidarity with the 55 local Christians families who are about to lose their land and their livelihoods. The farmers harvest olives, apricots, nuts, figs and much more. This will be a substantial loss of revenue for them and another loss of high quality land for agriculture.
Last April, the farmers were rejoicing over an Israel court ruling which had rejected the building of the wall. But in a surprising and unusual decision, the court reversed its judgment in July and ruled in favor of starting the wall. Since August, the Israel Army has been uprooting ancient olive trees, some hundreds of years old, and preparing the land for construction.
As the bishops left the area to celebrate Mass with the Beit Jala local parish, they could hear the echoes of earth-moving machinery echoing through the valley.
You can read more about the troubled history of the Cremisan Valley here. And there’s more about the bishops’ visit to the region here.
11 January 2016
Pope Francis addresses the diplomatic corps at the Vatican on 11 January. During his speech, the pope dedicated key parts to the “grave crisis of migration.”
(photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
Pope Francis addresses “grave crisis” of migration in speech (L’Osservatore Romano) In his speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis dedicated the most significant passages to “the grave crisis of migration which we are facing.” The diplomats had gathered in the Regia Hall on Monday morning, 11 January, for the traditional audience at the beginning of the year. The choice was motivated by the Pope’s wish to help discern the causes of the crisis and “consider possible solutions,” in order to defeat “the inevitable fears associated with this massive and formidable phenomenon”...
Vatican promotes message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Vatican Radio) The World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be celebrated on Sunday 17 January 2016. Pope Francis’ message to mark the day was released in October 2015. Based on the theme, “Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy,” the Holy Father recalls what he said in the Bull of indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus; that is, “at times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives”...
In Gaza, visiting bishops see signs of hope amid continued destruction (CNS) From a new playground at the Catholic parish in Gaza to transitional housing provided by a U.S. agency, visiting bishops from three continents said they saw signs of hope and resilience amid the continuing poverty and destruction in the Gaza Strip. “There is still a lot of suffering, but I’ve seen more signs of hope. This year one of the main things (that impressed me) was this sort of hope,” said Bishop Lionel Gendron of St. Jean-Longueuil, Quebec. “There are a few signs that it is possible to rebuild in a very simple way. Last year, I thought it was truly awful; this year, hope is there”...
Christians and Muslims visit Christian cemetery desecrated in Iraq (Fides) On Sunday 10 January, a delegation of Christian and Muslim representatives visited the Christian cemetery in Kirkuk, desecrated on 23 December, with damage to several tombs and gravestones...
Kerala bishops slam state government over farmers’ issues (Vatican Radio) The Catholic bishops of southern India’s Kerala state have slammed the state government for not addressing the issues of farmers. In a circular, which was read out in Catholic churches in the state on Sunday, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) urged farmer cutting across religious lines to unite to strengthen the Indian Farmers’ Movement (Infarm), based in Kottayam district...
New book traces the ancient Christian civilization of Ethiopia (Irish Catholic) Here is a really remarkable book on which to begin the New Year, a book that will open up for many a new horizon of Christian culture and faith. This long book is a 17th-century biography of a very holy woman. But its distinction is that she is African, and the book contains elements of autobiography in a biographical framework. It is the work of an African author and has long been regarded as an important book by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahado Church as the Ethiopians now prefer to call it. As the earliest known biography of an African woman it is unique and it should be much better known...
8 January 2016
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Refugees Ethiopia Muslim
In the video above, the situation in three besieged villages in Syria is described as “extremely dire.” Activists say civilians have died because of a lack of food and medicine in rebel-controlled Madaya, near Damascus, or have died trying to escape. The Syrian government is finally allowing aid convoys into the area. (video: BBC/YouTube)
CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, Michel Constantin, this morning sent us this report about the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Madaya, Syria:
The village of Madaya is a part of the east Ghouta region, along with Zabadani and Serghaya. This cluster of villages has witnessed fierce combat between the different fragments of the opposition on one hand, and the Syrian regular army supported by the Iranian guards and Hezbollah fighters on the other.
This area is strategically important for its location. It is very close to the Lebanese border, and also to the Syrian capital of Damascus. Located near the Beirut-Damascus highway, who controls the area controls the smuggling of arms and other items.
Two years ago, the Syrian government made a strategic decision to besiege all villages and towns bordering Lebanon in the hands of the opposition. They were successful in recapturing all villages of the so-called Qalamoun area. As a result, the fighters of the opposition were pushed either to Lebanon or to the Ghouta villages, mainly Zabadani and Madaya. Supporters of the opposition also sought refuge in there.
Syrian government and Hezbollah sources have stated that scores of trucks containing humanitarian aid are scheduled to be sent to Zabadani in January. The first wave of trucks carrying medical and food stuffs were sent to Madaya. But, militant groups allegedly confiscated them and sold them to the inhabitants at a very high price.
Yesterday, the United Nations said it had received “credible reports” of people dying of starvation and said that the Syrian government had agreed to allow aid convoys into the besieged cities of Madaya, Foah and Kefraya.
There are conflicting reports of how many people have died. The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres puts the number at 23 since 1 December. One activist says it could be as high as 41. The UN statement Thursday provided only one confirmed death, that of a 53-year-old man on Tuesday whose “family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition.”
Sources add that this is a partnership between the WFP, the International Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and that aid would be enough to sustain 40,000 people for one month.
Finally, the situation is extremely difficult. The inhabitants are suffering, especially now in winter. The cold is another killing agent to be added to the mines besieging the town and thwarting aid efforts.
We contacted some leaders from the local church and they all stated that the only intervention right now is exclusively by the Red Cross and the United Nations. A church initiative is not possible at present because the political and military situation is very delicate.
8 January 2016
Syrian refugees arrive in December at a hotel in Mississauga, Ontario. They were greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. But the refugees are arriving with no sign of peace in the region, which could mean many more of them will need help in 2016. (photo: CNS/Mark Blinch, Reuters)
Editor’s note: the following appeared this week in a column in Canada’s Catholic Register.
During recent travels in Beirut I met Kamal and his family, Syrian-Armenian Christian refugees. They told a harrowing tale.
“In March 2014, a rebel group came to our town of Kassab and told all of us to convert to Islam or leave,” he said. “We all left in the middle of the night in a panic.”
There are more than 12,000 Syrian-Armenian Christians currently living in Lebanon who share a similar story, forced to flee in fear under dark skies. These are urban refugees who share a common experience: as minority Christians, they have suffered persecution for their faith. As such, families such as Kamal’s should be given priority under government-sponsored programs that are bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the coming months.
For his children’s sake, Kamal desperately hopes to be able to take his young family to Canada or Europe, but anywhere that is safe will do.
As Canada begins to receive 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees and as many as 10,000 who are privately sponsored, there is no peace in sight in the Middle East. The self-described Islamic State appears to be as strong as it was a year ago despite heavy bombing by several Western states, including Canada. But the reality is that defeating ISIS will only matter if there is a genuine political will to build lasting peace in Iraq and Syria.
It is good policy as well as a wonderful humanitarian gesture for Canada to welcome Syrian refugees, but the lack of peace and increasing political unrest means there will be even more refugees and more Christians knocking on the doors of the international community in 2016 and beyond.
Read the complete column here.
8 January 2016
P.S. Limsana, a primary-school student at Ashabhavan, takes in the scenic vistas surrounding her school in India, which serves children with special needs. To discover why things are looking up for the students there, read Kerala’s House of Hope in the Winter edition of ONE.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
8 January 2016
In this image from 6 January, Syrian civil defense team members in Aleppo hold banners as they gather to protest for civilians who starved to death in Madaya, Syria. The Syrian government has agreed to allow aid into the rebel-held village.
(photo: Beha el-Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian government to allow aid into besieged town (BBC) The Syrian government has agreed to allow aid into the besieged rebel-held village of Madaya, the UN says, amid reports of residents starving to death. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said that if access were secured, trucks could begin to arrive by Monday. Aid agencies say conditions in Madaya, near Damascus, are “extremely dire”...
Call for homes taken from Christians in Iraq to be returned (Fides) The Chaldean Christian politician Pascale Warda, former immigration minister in the first government of transition following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, has publicly expressed her satisfaction regarding Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s stand on the need to return to their rightful owners homes and property illegally stolen in recent months from Christian families in Baghdad, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities. As reported by Iraqi media, including the website ankawa.com, Pascale Warda has asked all Iraqi citizens to support the reinstatement of the rights of the Christians owners supported by Muqtada al-Sadr...
Coptic Patriarch Tawadros: terrorism does not distinguish between Christians and Muslims (Fides) Terrorism “does not make any distinction between Christians and Muslims,” and even when it is fueled by religious ideology, it indiscriminately affects all believers in God, fomenting sectarian strife where people kill each other for “human stupidity” for “money” or to assert “their interests.” This is what Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said during some interviews released on 7 January by different Egyptian media...
Photographer captures Gaza’s efforts to rebuild (TIME) Italian photographer Federico Scoppa headed to Gaza for the first time in 2013, eager to make a contribution to the wide documentation of the enclave’s dire reality. “The initial idea was just to go [there] and see what the results of the bombing were,” Scoppa tells TIME, “but while walking the devastated streets and crossing neighborhoods completely knocked down, I started noticing spots of color that little by little appeared,” he recalls. “Then I saw that there were people who were coming back and settling back in their ravaged houses”...
Orthodox faithful mark Christmas (AP) As Christmas approached across the sprawling country’s nine time zones, Russians flocked to churches for long and solemn liturgies. At Moscow’s enormous Christ The Savior Cathedral, the service began at 11 p.m. on Wednesday and stretched two and a half hours, led by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, with the devout standing shoulder-to-shoulder. President Vladimir Putin attended a midnight service at a church in the village of Turginovo, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Moscow, where his parents were baptized...
7 January 2016
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Gaza Strip/West Bank Orthodox
The Orthodox community in the Alaskan village of Tatitlik was greatly affected by the ecological disaster that resulted from the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
(photo: David McNew/Getty Images)
North America is a mosaic of ethnic groups and religions. Orthodox Christians are a tiny minority — about 0.65 percent — and include no more than three million of an estimated 460 million people living in Canada, Mexico and the United States. What they may lack in volume, however, North American Orthodox Christians make up in variety. They comprise immigrants and their descendants from Asia Minor, the Balkans, Europe and the Middle East, as well as Alaska Natives and recent converts, especially from the reformed churches.
The ancient rites of the church of Byzantium unite these Orthodox Christians. Rooted in the New World for more than a century, these North American churches retain strong bonds with the Old World, are divided into a number of ethnic jurisdictions — Albanian, Arab, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Rusyn, Serbian and Ukrainian — and typically celebrate the divine mysteries in their respective liturgical languages.
One body has attempted to transcend these cultural differences. Originally a jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of Russia, the Orthodox Church in America was established in 1970 and is led by a primate with the title of archbishop of Washington, metropolitan of all America and Canada.
Supreme canonical authority in the Orthodox Church in America rests with a synod of bishops from the 14 jurisdictions that compose this autocephalous, or independent, church. In addition, the Orthodox Church in America includes ethnic Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian eparchies and jurisdictions in Canada and Mexico.
In English-speaking Canada and the United States, English is the norm in most liturgical services. Yet other languages may be used depending on the pastoral needs of the parish.
Click here to read more.
7 January 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Orthodox
Today marks the date when Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. In the image above, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians attend the Orthodox Christmas liturgy at Medhane Alem Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
7 January 2016
Syriac Catholics, most of them Iraqi refugees, receive communion at a Divine Liturgy in a makeshift church in Amman, Jordan. The pope today erected a new exarchate for the church
in Canada. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
Pope Francis erects new Syro-Catholic Apostolic Exarchate in Canada (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday (7 Jan) erected the Syro-Catholic Apostolic Exarchate in Canada with the Eparchal seat in Montréal (Québec), nominating as its first Apostolic Exarch Rev. Antoine Nassif. The new Apostolic Exarchate consists of the Canadian territory taken from the Syro-Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark...
Lebanon strains under the weight of refugees (CNS) While the flow of migrants into Europe and the West has sparked controversy, Lebanon continues to bear the brunt of absorbing massive numbers of refugees. A commonly cited figure is that one in four people in Lebanon is displaced from Syria. “The impact of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees on the Lebanese society is huge and multidimensional,” [Michel] Constantin [of CNEWA] told CNS, stressing that the Syrian crisis will soon enter its fifth year, “with no end in sight...”
In Epiphany message, pope says “Seek out signs of God” (CNS) Go out and seek the signs God is offering everyone today that will lead to Christ, Pope Francis said. The thirst for God is present in everyone, and it’s the church’s task to help those with “a restless heart” by pointing them to the true light of Christ, the pope said 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the manifestation of Jesus as savior to the world...
Christians face violence in Odisha, India Christian leaders ask government to provide protection against Hindu hardliners who continue to threaten the community in eastern Indian Odisha state that has witnessed major anti-Christian violence...
Teachers in Nineveh rebel against school programs imposed by ISIS (Fides) More than 30 teachers working in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, currently under the control of ISIS, were stopped and arrested for refusing to follow the new education programs imposed by jihadists in the schools of the region. The news of the arrests of “rebel” teachers was reported by local sources to the Kurdish media that monitor the north of Iraq, such as News Agency Ara. The teachers arrested will be judged by the Islamic court established by the jihadist regime, that in Iraq has its stronghold in Mosul...
Ukraine set to rename over 900 towns with Soviet names (Reuters) More than 900 Ukrainian towns and villages will be renamed over the course of the year, in accordance with Ukraine’s push to remove commemorations of Soviet and Communist-era figures, the head of Ukraine’s state Institute for National Memory told Channel 5 on Wednesday. Since Ukraine’s pro-European Maidan protests toppled the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych administration, the Ukrainian government has adopted a series of laws on “decommunization” — a process of removing displays, venerating anything Soviet...
Catholic agencies plead for help as Ethiopian drought worsens (Catholic Register) As the worst Ethiopian drought in 60 years threatens as many as 20 million people living in more than half of Africa’s second largest country, Catholic aid agencies in the desperate nation are asking for help as the crisis continues into 2016...
Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas (Vatican Radio) Orthodox Christians from around the world celebrate Christmas on Thursday (7 January), in line with the Julian calendar. Traditions vary from country to country but involve liturgies, jumping into frigid water, dancing, log-burning ceremonies, street processions and fireworks displays...