16 September 2014
In this image from June, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, speaks at a conference in Washington, DC. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Cardinal on Middle East: “Greatest crisis since World War II” (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga opened a high level Caritas meeting for the crises in the Middle East with an impassioned call for peace. Speaking on Monday at the start of the Rome meeting scheduled to run from 15 to 17 September, Cardinal Rodriguez, President of Caritas Internationalis, spoke of the tragedy of millions in Syria who are forced to flee their homes because of conflilct, of the violence of fundamentalist extremism in Iraq and eastern Syria, and of the predicament of Gaza inhabitants who have lost all in recent Israeli bombing. “As part of the humanitarian community” he said “we are confronted with the greatest crisis the world has faced since the Second World War...”
Pope’s envoy to Iraq: “Iraqi people must be defended” (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the special envoy of Pope Francis to Iraq, has called the actions of the so-called Islamic State “Devil things.” Cardinal Filoni, who is Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour “no one can use the name, or in the name of God, to do things like this...”
Gaza’s housing crisis is described as “much worse than the war” (The Washington Post) Official numbers are few in Gaza City, a densely populated seaside enclave of 600,000. But businessmen, rights groups and economists agree that apartment rents here have more than doubled since the war ended, as thousands of displaced residents elbow into an already saturated housing market. Before the war, experts said, an average two-bedroom apartment went for $200 per month; now it can rent for as much as $500...
In Ukraine, rebels granted self-rule and amnesty (BBC) Ukraine’s parliament has granted self-rule to parts of eastern regions held by pro-Russian rebels, as well as an amnesty for the fighters themselves. The measures are in line with the 5 September ceasefire agreement signed by President Petro Poroshenko. The European and Ukrainian parliaments also voted to ratify a major EU-Ukraine association agreement...
15 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Middle East Gaza Strip/West Bank
A cross is carried to the altar during an ecumenical prayer service at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington on 9 September. The service was part of the In Defense of Christians three-day summit about the persecution of Middle Eastern minorities. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
Note: The essay below originally appeared at Patheos.com.
The dust has yet to settle from the Ted Cruz debacle at the “summit” of the nascent political action group, In Defense of Christians (IDC). Stones have been hurled from all sides — often with no clear target other than self-defense. “Lord have mercy,” said one clergyman who attended the summit, “everyone seems to use [this] sad event to support their own preconceived conclusions.”
In Sunday’s The New York Times, it was columnist Ross Douthat’s turn. He claims the senator’s performance demonstrates that the “American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share in the fate” of the Middle East’s “increasingly beleaguered Christian communities” that “have suffered from a fatal invisibility in the Western world.” Their plight, “has been particularly invisible in the United States, which as a majority-Christian superpower might have been expected to provide particular support.”
The columnist considers three reasons for this supposed invisibility: the political left; the strategic class; and the right, especially its conservative Christians, whom he identifies as American Catholics and evangelicals.
Long before political strategists forged an alliance among so-called Christian “value voters” — when Catholics were just Catholics, not pawns divided by political lobbyists and strategists to engage in the culture wars — American Catholics provided significant support to their Christian sisters and brothers in the Middle East. Whether as donors to Catholic charities such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), founded in 1926, or as members of chivalric orders such as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem or the Order of Malta, American Catholics helped to build and sustain the many social service institutions of the churches in the Middle East. These church-run colleges and clinics, schools and child care programs, nursing homes and special needs facilities, halfway houses and substance abuse programs have served not just Christians, but generations of Alawis, Druze, Jews and Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
“Not only have American Catholics helped to build these social service institutions,” said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, “they have helped sustain the infrastructures of the churches that remain beacons of peace and stability in the Middle East.”
American Catholic generosity and concern for the other is not rooted in or sustained by a political cause or political ideology. Rather, it has been their Christian faith, which compels them to love their neighbor as themselves. And while that American Catholic generosity is exceptional, it is not isolated. Organizations in Europe and Canada have, since the middle of the 19th century, provided financial resources as well as priests, sisters and brothers at the service of all people in the Middle East.
Despite the enormous challenges affecting the churches of the West — many self-imposed — Catholics of the West have not lost sight of their sisters and brothers in the Middle East, nor have they abandoned the needs of the region’s non-Christians. They have rushed emergency aid to displaced families fleeing the civil war in Syria, the violent implosion of Iraq and the violence in Gaza even as they continue to support the formation of priests and religious sisters and brothers in Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan and Lebanon.
Now, however, fresh from the political and legal battles waged over issues of religious liberty in the United States, the American “strategic class” has stepped in with its clients — elected politicians. Suddenly, claiming indifference on the part of the West, these Beltway policy wonks, lobbyists and talking heads have rushed to save the Middle East’s Christians from genocidal persecution at the hands of suicidal Muslim extremists. Employing the language framing U.S.-style religious liberty battles to describe the plight of Middle East Christians, they risk politicizing an issue that concerns all people of good will, thus excluding the vast majority of Americans weary of the divisive and bitter partisan battles marking American culture today.
There’s much more. Read the complete essay at Patheos.com.
15 September 2014
A Christian man from Qaraqosh, Iraq, who was forced to flee from advancing Islamic State militants in Mosul, cuts another man’s hair in front of tents near Erbil on 10 September.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
15 September 2014
Retired Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, stands in front of the Israeli separation wall near Jerusalem on 12 September. Bishop Higgins was one of 18 bishops on a nine-day prayer pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Pope laments the “madness of war” (Vatican Radio) “We have yet to learn the lesson from the madness of war,” lamented Pope Francis Sunday as he launched two appeals following the midday Angelus prayer with faithful and tourists in St Peter’s Square...
Heavy fighting reported in Ukraine over the weekend (Washington Post) The heaviest fighting in a series of truce violations in Ukraine’s restive east strained the tenuous 10-day-old cease-fire between the Kiev government and pro-Russian separatists, with both sides blaming the other Monday for attacks that included the shelling of residential buildings. Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko on Monday accused the rebels of attacking checkpoints and other positions in the east in intensified fighting over the weekend. The Ukrainian military, he said, was forced to respond...
Bishop criticizes senator for politicizing summit on Mideast Christians (CNS) A Catholic bishop criticized Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for politicizing a conference of diverse political and church leaders working on behalf of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. “When you come to a hard political stance on anything, it’s going to cause a flare-up, and that’s what happened last night,” Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of Brooklyn, New York, told Catholic News Service...
Holy Land tour heightens U.S. Bishops’ awareness of complexities of region (CNS) U.S. bishops visiting the Holy Land said an on-the-ground tour and briefing about the situation in East Jerusalem heightened their awareness of the settlement issue in the divided city. “The expansion of settlements is quickly driving (the possibility of a two-state solution) off the drawing board,” said Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. “The continuing expansion of the Jewish communities and its implication for a two-state solution has been a concern of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East...”
Gaza children return to school (Al Jazeera) At least half a million children returned to their schools in the Gaza strip on Sunday, where many will be given special attention and pyschological counselling before their regular classes begin. This initiative aims to help children deal with the traumas the war has inflicted on them. There has been several weeks of delay due to the damage of more than 250 schools and the use of about 90 UN educational facilities as shelters for tens of thousands of internally displaced Palestinians, the United Nations and local authorities said...
Law would permit Christian women to inherit property of deceased children (The Times of India) The Narendra Modi government is readying an amendment in the Indian Succession Act of 1925 that will allow Christian women to get rights in the property of their deceased children. As per Sections 41 to 48 of Indian Succession Act, 1925, governing Christians, it gives mothers no right to inherit property of deceased children who have not left behind any will. All such properties are to be inherited by the father. If the father is not alive, the properties go to the siblings...
Catholics and Orthodox to meet in Amman (VIS) The eighth plenary session of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will take place in Amman, Jordan from 15 to 23 September, following the invitation from the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III...
12 September 2014
Two Christian women from Qaraqosh, Iraq, who were forced to flee advancing Islamic State militants in Mosul, wait in front of tents outside St. Joseph Shrine near Erbil, Iraq, 10 September. Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, provincial leader of Lebanon and Syria f or the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, is still shaken by what she witnessed visiting Irbil. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
A sister who took part in our staff’s recent visit to Iraq offers her powerful, first-hand account of what she saw, in an interview with CNS:
Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, provincial leader of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for Lebanon and Syria, is still shaken by what she witnessed visiting Erbil, Iraq.
Representing the Union of the Superior Generals of women religious in Lebanon, Sister Marie Claude accompanied Catholic Near East Welfare Association on its 2-5 September mission to the capital of the Kurdish region in Iraq.
More than 100,000 Christians and other minorities sought refuge in the region following attacks by Islamic State militants. Many were given less than half an hour to flee their houses.
“I saw with my eyes, listened with my ears, met them (refugees) and received them in my heart,” Sister Marie Claude told Catholic News Service. “I was not at all expecting to see that much misery, poverty and sadness in the eyes of the refugees.”
“For me, it’s very difficult to find the words to describe this tragedy, people who were uprooted from their civilization, their culture, their land. They were pulled out like weeds — expulsed, exiled and taken away. Will the world even try to understand and feel what these people are feeling?”
Sister Marie Claude lived through Lebanon’s 1975-90 war, the current war in Syria, and has served Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
“But never before have I witnessed anything like this, people living on the streets, when before they were living comfortably with dignity in their homes,” she said. “It pierced my heart like a knife.”
Most of the displaced adults are educated professionals — doctors, engineers, architects, government workers, teachers and university professors — who were providing services to the Iraqi people.
Now their future is uncertain.
Sister Marie Claude likened their plight to that of the first Christians living in the catacombs, exposed to the elements and all kinds of dangers.
A recipient of the “International Woman of Courage” award from the U.S State Department in 2010 for her work with abused, neglected and trafficked women, Sister Marie Claude has continued to be one of the Middle East region’s most effective champions for at-risk women.
“There are all these political strategies and policies concerning women’s rights and violence against women, yet women are left exposed on roads and sidewalks of Irbil, exposed to all kinds of violence and dangers, and nobody is doing anything to raise a voice for them,” Sister Marie Claude said. “The world is able to see, but it seems it doesn’t want to look at them.”
During her visit, she heard about a pregnant woman who was living in a tent with about 20 other people when she went into labor. The woman delivered her baby without any medical assistance.
“There was not even anything to cover the newborn baby with, except a shirt off of somebody’s back.”
The next day the baby was very sick, so the mother walked with her baby to the dispensary tent. Because there was a team of about 15 doctors, all exiles from Qaraqosh volunteering their time, the baby’s life was saved. But the baby’s face was severely burned from exposure to the sun during the walk.
“I want to send a plea to the world. This is enough. It cannot continue,” Sister Marie Claude said.
She questioned a policy of ordering airstrikes against the Islamic State.
“The U.S. minister of defense is saying that each airstrike would cost $8 million,” she said.
Instead, she said, the international community should work toward liberating the villages that were taken over by Islamic State militants and, through the United Nations, create a protected zone.
The objective of such raids, Sister Marie Claude said, is “just to protect their own interests, especially the areas rich in oil.”
Yet the church, she said, is a shining witness amid the misery.
Among the displaced are two bishops, priests and more than 100 sisters who are living among the people, helping them and sharing in their sorrows, she said.
To help all who are suffering in Iraq, please visit our giving page. And remember to keep them — and all those caring for them — in your prayers.
12 September 2014
In this image from 2013, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, arrives for a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, addressed the Permanent Council of the United States Episcopal Conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday 9 September. He described the many challenges facing the Church — and expressed his appreciation for all the pastoral and charitable work being undertaken in the region:
The prelate declared that after his trips to Syria in January 2011 and Iraq in December 2012, he “never would have imagined that we would find ourselves in the present situation.” He added: “Still in the 21st century, as if history has taught nothing, we must witness barbarities and atrocities which strike above all the weakest: the elderly, women and children. Along with my preoccupations for the thousands of refugees...I have ever in mind the bishops and priests still in the hands of kidnappers in Syria, and I cannot forget the journalists so brutally killed.”
Cardinal Sandri remarked that, “On the one hand, the action of the Holy Spirit continues to make the Church fertile in every part of the world, manifesting its characteristic maternity. Yet, on the other hand, it must be recognised that the Churches, which gave rise in great part to the diffusion of the Gospel in the Apostolic era, are now shaken at their foundations and threatened in their very existence.” He also referred to the difficulties experienced by the Church in Jerusalem, reiterating his conviction that “a durable peace in the Holy Land would contribute significantly to the stability of the whole Middle East,” also highlighting “the drama of the Church in Antioch.” He emphasised, “If these Churches, the historic mothers of the evangelising mission, are struck at their foundations, we, as their children, cannot be silent. ... God chose that part of the world as ‘the cradle of a universal plan of salvation in love,’,” adding that “for nearly 2,000 years these Christians have kept alive the flame of the first Pentecost in those lands.”
Cardinal Sandri repeated the words of Pope Francis to the members of the Oriental Congregation at the end of their Plenary Session last November: “Every Catholic owes a debt of thanks to the Churches that live in that region. From these Churches we may learn, among other things, the effort of the daily exercise of the spirit of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue. The geographical, historical and cultural context in which they have lived for centuries has indeed made them natural interlocutors with numerous other Christian confessions and with other religions.”
He thanked the American Episcopal Conference for the “constant and generous attention” shown to the Oriental Churches, especially in relation to efforts to raise the awareness of the political authorities. He also thanked the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) for the work of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, as well as Aid to the Church in Need and Catholic Relief Services, and highlighted the “great hospitality the United States has given over the decades to all of the Eastern Churches in the diaspora.”
Read the full report.
12 September 2014
President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting with Middle East Christian leaders at the
White House on 11 September. (photo: CNS/White House)
Middle East Christian leaders gathered in Washington this week and several had a meeting at the White House with President Obama:
Eight Eastern Christian leaders spent 40 minutes talking to President Barack Obama about the situation of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
“We felt how deeply moved he was by what was happening to the Christians there,” Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Peter Rai, Maronite patriarch, said at a Mass later the same day at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church. The 11 September Mass closed the three-day inaugural In Defense of Christians summit. A conference organizer told Catholic News Service an American businessman from the Middle East sent his private jet to transport the Christian leaders to the summit.
The cardinal said each of the leaders from Eastern Catholic and Orthodox rites had a chance to speak individually to Obama, who the White House said “dropped by National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s meeting at the White House.”
Although the White House did not release details of the discussion, throughout the summit the Christian leaders spoke of the threat to Christians and other minorities posed by Islamic State militants, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Several said they were advocating religious freedom, an inherent right. They spoke of the need for local leaders and the international community to become involved in a solution because, as one Orthodox bishop said, “no one can possibly agree to a beheading.”
A White House statement, read out near the end of the In Defense of Christians summit, said Obama reinforced the U.S. commitment to fight Islamic State militants and other groups that threaten the Middle East, as well as American personnel and interests in the region.
“He underscored that the United States will continue to support partners in the region, like the Lebanese Armed Forces, that are working to counter (Islamic State fighters) and promote regional stability. The delegations agreed on the need for all leaders in the region to reject violence and prejudice and call for moderation, tolerance of other views and religions, and an end to sectarian divisions.
“The president emphasized that the United States recognizes the importance of the historic role of Christian communities in the region and of protecting Christians and other religious minorities throughout the Middle East,” the statement said.
12 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon
A woman walks at her destroyed house in the village of Kominternovo, Ukraine, near the southern coastal town of Mariupol on 6 September. Ukraine’s Catholic bishops have warned that their country is “flowing in blood” because of fighting between Ukrainian and se paratist forces, and urged Western governments not to become “accomplices in the sin of murder” by failing to
support the country. (photo: CNS/Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters)
Pope to visit Turkey to mark feast of St. Andrew (Vatican Radio) Turkish President Recep Tayyp Erdogan has issued an official invitation to Pope Francis to visit his country. Speaking to journalists on Friday, the head of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi said the Holy See had received the invitation and was preparing for a papal visit to Turkey at the end of November. He added that the duration of the trip and the program for the visit were still to be confirmed. The Pope is expected to visit Istanbul on 30 November to celebrate the feast day of St Andrew, founder of the Eastern Church and patron saint of the Orthodox world...
Chaldean bishop requests more visas for Iraqis (Catholic World News) Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, the head of a Chaldean Catholic eparchy based in San Diego, will travel to the White House with a list of 25,000 Iraqi Catholics who seek entry into the United States. “Requests have been made to White House for an increase in the number of visas issued, to be granted to those who wish and desire to leave Iraq,” reported a California-based Chaldean news site. “In response to a request from the White House, St. Peter’s Diocese has been compiling a list of names for our brothers and sisters in Iraq that want to escape persecution...”
Ukrainian bishops: “Ukraine is bleeding!” (RISU) Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and Ukrainian settlements from South and North America, Australia and Europe who gathered at the Holy Synod in Lviv, 10 September, appealed to the world community with the words: “Ukraine is bleeding!” Please read the full text of the appeal of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod translated by Father Athanasius McVay...
Deal reached on Gaza reconstruction (The New York Times) President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said Thursday night that he had reached an agreement with Israel and the United Nations to allow imports of reconstruction materials into the Gaza Strip, apparently bypassing Hamas to fulfill a key tenet of the cease-fire agreement that halted hostilities on 26 August...
Arab countries ready to join alliance against ISIS (AP) Key Arab allies of the U.S. agreed Thursday to “do their share” to fight against the Islamic State group, promising to take action to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the militants and possibly to join military action. The announcement came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with regional counterparts in the Saudi Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah in an effort to pin down Middle Eastern allies on what support they are willing to give to the U.S. plan to beat back the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria...
Ukraine president expects his country to join the European Union (The Guardian) Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, has said he expects Ukraine to join the European Union eventually, and said Europe would be safer, richer and younger with his war-torn country as a member. Speaking at a summit in Kiev attended by senior EU leaders, Poroshenko said it would be “impolite” for Brussels to refuse Ukraine what he called a “membership perspective.” “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” he said. He thanked EU states for imposing the latest round of sanctions against Russia, which were published on Friday, despite a tentative ceasefire in the east of Ukraine agreed last week...
Court stops Kerala’s new liquor law (The Hindu) The Supreme Court on Thursday stopped the Kerala government from implementing its new liquor policy under which 730 bar owners were asked to shut shop while sparing five-star hotels. The policy was to be implemented from 12 September. Ordering status quo till 30 September, a Bench of Justices Anil R. Dave and U.U. Lalit left it to the Kerala High Court, which is scheduled to hear the plea of affected bar owners on 18 September, to decide the future course...
11 September 2014
Tags: Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala Turkey Chaldeans
A statue of Mary stands outside of tents that are now home to Iraqi Christian refugees near Erbil, Iraq. To help provide a home — and so much more — for these needy Iraqis,
please visit our giving page. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
11 September 2014
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, leads a prayer during an ecumenical prayer service at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington on 9 September. Christian patriarchs from the Middle East, along with lawmakers and international human rights activists, are attending In Defense of Christians’ three-day summit about the persecution of
Middle Eastern minorities. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
President Obama outlines plan to battle ISIS (The Boston Globe) President Obama on Wednesday outlined a broad battle plan to defeat the Islamic State, including US airstrikes in war-torn Syria and an expanded American military advisory role in Iraq. But he vowed no US ground troops would be engaged in combat. In a prime-time address on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and nearly three years after the withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq, Obama said that the nation faces a grave new threat from the group variously known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL...
Church leaders, laity meet in Washington on behalf of Christians in the Middle East (CNS) Emphasizing that diversity does not preclude unity, nearly a thousand Christian leaders, politicians and laypeople gathered in Washington to launch a massive effort on behalf of the minority communities of the Middle East. High-ranking church leaders representing Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, patriarchs of Eastern churches, members of Congress and Christians in the diaspora came together in Washington for the inaugural In Defense of Christians summit...
Kiev says most Russian forces now out of Ukraine (The New York Times) President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said on Wednesday that the bulk of Russian forces had withdrawn from Ukrainian territory, a move that he said heightened the chances for a lasting cease-fire in the southeast. Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting that was broadcast nationally, the president also announced plans to move ahead with a law intended to cement the wobbly truce reached last Friday...
Israel launches investigations into Gaza war conduct (The New York Times) Israel on Wednesday announced it had begun criminal investigations into five instances of possible military misconduct in the 50-day Gaza war, an implicit acknowledgment of sensitivity to the widespread criticism, even among allies like the United States, that Israeli forces had used excessive firepower in a number of highly publicized assaults in the Palestinian territory...
Imams decry ISIS “barbarism” at Canada rally (Catholic Register) Religious leaders, including two Imams, denounced the barbarism of the Islamic State and urged the protection of Iraqi Christians and other minorities during a Parliament Hill rally on on 6 September. Imam Mohamad Jebara of the Cordova Mosque condemned the persecution in a statement read by a representative to about 1,000 people. “Persecution, oppression and tyranny are deplorable and repulsive regardless of who perpetrates them and against whom they are perpetrated,” said Jebara. “I stand in solidarity with my Christian brethren and other minorities who are suffering in the Middle East and condemn acts of intolerance against them as satanic deeds, contrary to the mercy which the scripture calls us to embody...”
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Copts