9 January 2015
Men in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip along the border with Egypt, gaze at the Egyptian side on 3 January. (photo: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)
Gaza blockade extending southward and northward (Al Akhbar) Egyptian authorities have decided to completely demolish the city of Rafah on the borders with the Gaza Strip, North Sinai district Governor Abdul Fattah Harhour said, in a bid to create a buffer zone between Egypt and the besieged enclave. The authorities officially began the second stage of evacuation of Rafah homes on Thursday. According to Governor Harhour, “it would be necessary to completely remove the city of Rafah in order to create a buffer zone on the borders with Gaza,” adding that the authorities began evacuating 1,220 homes, housing over 2,044 families, in the area demarcated for the establishment of the zone. The displaced families will receive compensation for the values of their lost homes, but not for the lands upon which the homes were built…
Elderly Christians expelled from Mosul for refusing to convert (Fides) The militiamen of the Islamic State have expelled ten elderly Chaldean and Syriac Catholics from Mosul after refusing to renounce the Christian faith and to convert to Islam. On Wednesday, 7 January, the group of elders — some with serious health problems — was welcomed in Kirkuk, after spending two days in the cold in “no man’s land” between the villages occupied by the Islamic State and the area under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga…
The pope receives a delegation of Yazidi (VIS) This morning, Pope Francis received in audience a delegation from the world community of Yazidi, according to the director of the Holy See Press Office, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, S.J. The delegation was led by the head of all the Yazidi, Mir Tahsin Said Ali Beg, and their supreme spiritual head, the “baba sheikh,” Sheikh Khato, both resident in Iraqi Kurdistan. The group also comprised three representatives of the Yazidi of north Iraq, Georgia and the diaspora in Germany…
Syrian refugees now largest group receiving UNHCR assistance (Euronews) According to the official 2014 registry by the United Nations agency the UNHCR, refugees from Syria now outnumber refugees from Afghanistan. In June, the Syrians had already surpassed three million, now it’s estimated there are some four million Syrian war refugees. “We are facing what I really consider the most dangerous crisis for global peace and security since the Second World War,” says U.N. refugee chief António Gutierres…
Greek Orthodox Church to Be Built in U.A.E. (Greek World Reporter) A Greek Orthodox Church will be built in Mussafah, Abu Dhabi, over the next year in order to accommodate all the worshipers who reside in the area. Abu Dhabi currently hosts 700 registered Greek Orthodox families, but according to the Rev. Stephanos Neaimeh, there are at least 300 more families in the emirate who have not been registered…
Number of persecuted Christians tops 100 million worldwide, study says (Vatican Radio) The number of persecuted Christians in the world has topped 100 million, according to a new report that says even non-violent persecution of Christians has increased, amid continuing violence. The list ranks the 50 countries where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian…
8 January 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Refugees Gaza Strip/West Bank
Pope Francis greets Tahsin Said Ali Beg, a leader of the Yazidi people, and other members of the delegation during a private audience at the Vatican on 8 January. The delegation spoke about the good relations between Christians and Yazidis and their efforts to help one another.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In his appeals for an end to the persecution of minorities in Syria and Iraq, Pope Francis often has mentioned both the Christians and the Yazidis attacked by Islamic State fighters. Today he met with representatives of the Yazidis.
For more than half an hour on 8 January, Pope Francis met with global leaders of the Yazidi ethnic and religious group, including their secular leader Tahsin Said Ali Beg and Sheikh Kato, who is their spiritual leader or “Baba Sheikh.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that in addition to the two leaders who live in Iraqi Kurdistan, other representatives of the community came from northern Iraq, Georgia and Germany, where many have fled.
Thanking Pope Francis for his support, one of the delegates referred to the Pope as “father of the poor,” Father Lombardi said.
The Yazidi are a Kurdish community with a monotheistic religion with Zoroastrian and other influences. When militants of the Islamic State proclaimed a caliphate in June 2014 and began their rampage through Syria and northeastern Iraq, they particularly targeted Christians and Yezidis. They tried to covert many to Islam, killed thousands and drove tens of thousands from their homes with almost no warning.
Thanking the Pope for his support “during this time of persecution and suffering,” the delegation informed the Pope about “the situation of about 5,000 Yezidi women reduced to slavery” by the Islamic State, Father Lombardi said.
Read more at the CNS link.
8 January 2015
Syrian refugees live in makeshift dwellings in the Ketrmaya neighborhood of Beirut, Lebanon. (photo: Ratib al Safadi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Canada opens its doors to 10,000 Syrian refugees (Christian Science Monitor) Canada announced Wednesday that it will be opening its borders to a total of 10,000 refugees from Syria and 3,000 from Iraq over the next three years, The Globe and Mail reports. That figure is only a fraction of the people who have been displaced by conflicts in the Middle East: There are about 6.5 million internally displaced people or IDPs out of Syria and about 400,000 out of Iraq, according to the latest data from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Still, the announcement is a welcome relief for other countries in the region, most of whom been hosting a near-constant flow of refugees since the Syrian civil war broke out four years ago…
Lebanon minister: Syrian visa rules don’t apply to refugees (Daily Star Lebanon) Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas reiterated Thursday that the controversial new measures requiring Syrians to obtain visas to enter Lebanon do not apply to those holding refugee status in the country…
Syrian refugees suffer in storm-hit Lebanon (Al Jazeera) At least four Syrian refugees have died as a result of the huge storm that is currently sweeping across Lebanon, as more than a million refugees try and survive against the onslaught of snow and rain. “We are slowly dying here, no one is coming to help us and we have nothing,” said Um Abdo, a Syrian refugee based in Arsal, adding that she is worried about the children living with her, who may face hypothermia…
WHO: Medical aid unable to enter Syrian rebel-held Aleppo (Daily Star Lebanon) The World Health Organization (WHO) has been unable to get a desperately needed medical aid convoy through to civilians in the rebel-held part of Aleppo despite a government promise last month to give it access. “Delays often happen due to operational and/or security reasons but details are not to be shared,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jaarevi said in an email Tuesday…
Bitter harvest: Israeli bombs sowed grief for Gaza farmers (Al Jazeera) “Ours is a life of no guarantees,” said Khalil Zaanin. His farm, near the only Gaza Strip border crossing with Israel, was destroyed this summer when Israeli tanks and military bulldozers rolled into the community of Beit Hanoun during the invasion of Gaza. That prompted cameraman-turned-farmer Khalil to leave with his wife, son and two teenage daughters for Gaza City, where they took shelter with friends. When he returned to his land during a second cease-fire, he was greeted by a grim sight. “I didn’t find anything,” he said, pointing at the remains of a stone well. “The land, the fruit trees, the water well — everything was gone, even under the ground…”
7 January 2015
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Gaza Strip/West Bank Canada
Sister Sophie Boueri spends time with Palestinian children at the Creche facility for abandoned children in Bethlehem, one of several facilities CNEWA has supported over the years to be visited by the bishops. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
CNEWA’s national director in Canada, Carl Hétu, arrives in the Holy Land tomorrow to take part in the 15th annual meeting of the Episcopal Conferences of Coordination in solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land. He’ll be accompanying Bishop Lionel Gendronof Saint-Jean-Loungueuil and co-treasurer of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This year, this international gathering of bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land will focus on “the suffering and vulnerable people in the Holy Land,” and brings together bishops from episcopal conferences in Europe and North America.
The bishops travel there every year, and by their presence, says Mr. Hétu, “they hope to remind the ‘living stones’ — the Christian communities of the Holy Land — that they are not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.”
The meeting will be taking place in, literally, the cradle of Christianity, Bethlehem. From there, those taking part will make trips to Gaza, Hebron, the Cremisan Valley, among other places; they will also visit institutions with close ties to CNEWA, including The Ephpheta Institute for the Deaf and the Holy Family Creche.
There’s more at the Canadian Catholic Bishops website. Check back here at ONE-TO-ONE for updates as the journey unfolds.
7 January 2015
In this image from 2012, Father John Cox of Dormition of the Theotokos Church in Norfolk, Virginia, throws a cross into the Chesapeake Bay on the Feast of the Epiphany. To learn more about the Orthodox Church in America read this profile from ONE magazine.
(photo: Stephen Katz)
To mark Epiphany, many members of the Orthodox Church take part in the blessing of water. The Orthodox Church of America website explains:
The main feature of the feast of the Epiphany is the Great Blessing of Water. It is prescribed to follow both the Divine Liturgy of the eve of the feast and the Divine Liturgy of the day itself. Usually it is done just once in parish churches at the time when most people can be present. It begins with the singing of special hymns and the censing of the water which has been placed in the center of the church building. Surrounded by candles and flowers, this water stands for the beautiful world of God’s original creation and ultimate glorification by Christ in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this service of blessing is done out of doors at a place where the water is flowing naturally.
...After the epistle (1 Cor 1:10-14) and the gospel reading (Mk 1:9-11) the special great litany is chanted invoking the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the water and upon those who will partake of it. It ends with the great prayer of the cosmic glorification of God in which Christ is called upon to sanctify the water, and all men and all creation, by the manifestation of his saving and sanctifying divine presence by the indwelling of the Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit.
As the troparion of the feast is sung, the celebrant immerses the Cross into the water three times and then proceeds to sprinkle the water in the four directions of the world. He then blesses the people and their homes with the sanctified water which stands for the salvation of all men and all creation which Christ has effected by his “epiphany” in the flesh for the life of the world.
Sometimes people think that the blessing of water and the practice of drinking it and sprinkling it over everyone and everything is a “paganism” which has falsely entered the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People of God in the Old Testament, and that in the Christian Church it has a very special and important significance.
It is the faith of Christians that since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has been immersed in the streams of the Jordan, all matter is sanctified and made pure in him, purged of its death-dealing qualities inherited from the devil and the wickedness of men. In the Lord’s epiphany all creation becomes good again, indeed “very good,” the way that God himself made it and proclaimed it to be in the beginning when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) and when the “Breath of Life” was breathing in man and in everything that God made (Gen 1:30; 2:7).
7 January 2015
Snow blankets the tents of Syrian refugees on the road between Riyaq and Baalbek in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, near the border with Syria, on 7 January. (photo: -/AFP/Getty Images)
Three Syrian refugees freeze to death as brutal storm hits Lebanon (Al Akhbar) Three Syrian refugees, including a 5-year-old child, have reportedly frozen to death in Lebanon as a major storm dumped snow and rain on the country, sources told Al Akhbar on Wednesday. Three refugees, 5-year-old Majd Kheir al Badawi, 33-year-old Ammar Ahmed Kammal and Mohammed Ibrahim Abou Daher, were found stuck in the snow and frozen on early Wednesday in Ain al Joz in the mountains by Shebaa…
5.5 million displaced by war in first half of 2014, signaling record (U.N. News Center) War across large swathes of the Middle East and Africa in the first six months of 2014 forcibly displaced some 5.5 million people, signaling yet another record, the United Nations reported today. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in its new Mid-Year Trends 2014 Report showcases that of the 5.5 million who were newly displaced, 1.4 million fled across international borders becoming refugees, while the rest were displaced within their own countries…
President Sisi attends Coptic Christmas liturgy in Cairo (Fides) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi attended Christmas mass at Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where he greeted Coptic Christians in a speech on Tuesday, 6 January. “The Egyptian President’s attendance at the religious service is a new event in the history of Egypt: in the past, the presidents sent their representatives…”
Palestinians escalate campaign for sovereign statehood (Los Angeles Times) After a disastrous 2014, Palestinians are embarking on a risky new gambit for 2015: seeking to internationalize the Middle East peace process. After decades of American-led mediation efforts, the Palestinian leadership is moving aggressively to court world support for sovereign statehood, despite warnings from within and without that such a strategy could backfire and strengthen Israel’s hand…
6 January 2015
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Palestine United Nations
Jordanian clerics walk in a procession to the site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.
(photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)
My friend and colleague at The Priest magazine, Msgr. Owen Campion, recently invited me to write about the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
“Besieged! Why save the Middle East’s Christians?” is now available online.
The traumatic events of last summer finally have earned Middle Eastern Christians some attention, if not quite the respect, of the strategic classes inside the Beltway: politicians, candidates, policy wonks and journalists. The headlines are dramatic, betraying a sense of hopelessness: “Beleaguered Christians Make Final Stand,” “The Middle East’s Friendless Christians,” “Christianity in Iraq is Finished.”
“Western countries ought to come together and offer refuge to the tens of thousands [of Christians] who want to leave Iraq,” one observer wrote in The Washington Post in September 2014.
“Yes, this would mean the end of Christianity in this part of the world, where its presence has often served as a bulwark against fanaticism. But it’s over anyway, whatever happens to the Islamic State. It’s time to face that fact and save the Christians themselves.”
But defending — indeed, saving — Christians in the Middle East is not just about saving Christians. It is about saving pluralism, or what remains of it, in the Middle East. It is about building prosperous civil societies. It is about saving the Middle East and civilization, where it first took root.
Read the rest over at “The Priest.”
6 January 2015
A frankincense farmer cuts the bark of a tree to release resin. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Today marks the Solemnity of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bringing him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In 2003, we took a closer look at the history behind these legendary gifts, particularly frankincense:
The Egyptians embalmed their kings with frankincense and considered the fruit of the Boswellia or frankincense tree the perfume of the gods that, when collected and preserved correctly, ensured immortality. Pliny noted in the first century A.D. how control of the frankincense trade had made the southern Arabians the richest people in the world. It was said the trees were so valuable that snakes guarded them.
Today, in Oman’s southernmost region of Dhofar, which borders Saudi Arabia’s vast and empty Rub al-Khali desert to the north and west and the upper curve of southern Yemen to the south, the stubby, thorny trees live where little else will. The trees can only grow when a complex set of conditions has been met: limestone soil and a climate with high humidity in a desert that receives little rain.
In Oman, frankincense accounted for three-quarters of the country’s gross national product until the bottom fell out of what was once a thriving trade. The finest grades of frankincense are still used for high-end perfume manufacturing. But gums of all grades can be found in the local souqs, especially “frankincense alley” in the country’s southern port of Salalah and the perfume market at Mutrah Souq in Oman’s capital, Muscat. The people who buy are local, burning it for its antiseptic purposes, perfuming hair with the smoke, chewing it for digestion.
The frankincense trees release their aromatic amber for only a few weeks in late summer. Gathering the resin has been a family-run business for centuries. Then, as now, the harvesting skill has been passed from father to son.
Read the rest in Scents of Time and Place.
6 January 2015
Syrian children stand in the back of a truck as they flee the contested Bab al Hadid neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo following an overnight rocket attack on 2 January. (photo: Zein al Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)
New year offers little chance for children’s education in Syria, warns UNICEF (U.N. News Center) Recent school closures in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor governorates and parts of rural Aleppo in Syria have disrupted the education of some 670,000 children of primary and lower-high school age, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today. Briefing the press in Geneva today, UNICEF’s Christophe Boulierac warned that as the conflict enters its fifth year, 2015 will offer little chance for children’s education. Between January and December 2014 alone there were at least 68 attacks on schools across Syria, reported Mr. Boulierac. Those attacks reportedly killed at least 160 children and injured 343. But the real numbers are likely to be higher…
Armenian church head decries Christian persecution in the Middle East (Daily Star Lebanon) On Tuesday, Armenian Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia deplored the targeting of Christians by the region’s extremist groups and called for Lebanon to elect a new a president to safeguard the country from rampant violence…
Patriarch Abune Mathias of Ethiopia to visit Egypt for the first time (OCP News Service) A delegation of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church led by Patriarch Abune Mathias will visit Egypt on Saturday on the invitation of Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. This is the first apostolic visit of Patriarch Abune Mathias to the Coptic Patriarchate. These two ancient churches of the Oriental Orthodox family have a historic relation between them. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was ruled by the Coptic patriarch until the 20th century, when autocephalous status was granted in 1959…
Jordan to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq, Syria (Al Monitor) Jordan has adopted a new strategy in the fight against the Islamic State aimed at defending the kingdom against possible incursions by the militant group from western Iraq and eastern and southern Syria. On two separate occasions, King Abdullah declared that Jordan will do its best to support tribes in Syria and Iraq “that are engaging terrorist groups in both countries.” The king told the heads of southern Jordanian tribes on 18 December that Jordan is implementing “a security strategy to confront challenges [on fronts with Syria and Iraq] in accordance with programs that are being followed by the armed forces and the security bodies.” He added that the Jordanian armed forces will not hesitate to carry out their duty toward “Arab neighbors and brethren…”
5 January 2015
Tags: Syria Children United Nations Ethiopian Orthodox Church Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
In this image from October, Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa arrives for the opening session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Souraphiel, 66, was one of 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis on 4 January. You can read more about the Ethiopian Catholic Church here. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)