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Summer, 2015
Volume 41, Number 2
  
21 April 2015
Greg Kandra




Mother Jeanette Abou Abdullah comforts one of the hundreds receiving care in the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross’ hospital in Deir el Kamar, Lebanon. To learn more about challenges facing Lebanon today, check out “Lebanon on the Brink” in the Spring edition of ONE,
now available online. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)




21 April 2015
Greg Kandra




Patriarch Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church speaks during the 11 April Easter Vigil at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the patriarch for the execution of more than 20 Ethiopian Christians at the hands of ISIS militants in Libya. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)

Pope sends message of solidarity to Ethiopian Patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a “message of solidarity” to the orthodox patriarch of Ethiopia, Abune Mathias, on the occasion of the killing of Ethiopian Christians in Libya. A video, which allegedly shows the beheading of twenty Ethiopian Christians, was released last Sunday by the so-called “Islamic State” terror group...

Ethiopians shocked by killings (AP) Many in Ethiopia are reeling from the news that several Ethiopians were killed in Libya by the Islamic State group, which over the weekend released a video purporting to show the killings.The killings, which have shocked many in the predominantly Christian country, were condemned by Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The victims were planning to go to Europe by boat from Libya but were captured and then killed by the Islamic extremists, said grieving family members and government officials. Ethiopia’s government on Monday declared three days of mourning...

Pope offers condolences on death of former Chief Rabbi of Rome (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter of condolences to the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, after the death on Sunday of his predecessor, Rabbi Elio Toaff, at the age of 99...

U.S. begins training soldiers in Ukraine (The Wall Street Journal) U.S. troops kicked off a training program for their Ukrainian counterparts at a military base in western Ukraine Monday, far from the continuing fighting near Russia’s border. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko praised the troopsrsquo; arrival as a sign the West is ready to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty. But the training program comes as NATO members are cautiously limiting their aid to Kiev to avoid provoking Russia...

Kerala hailed as a model for religious cooperation (Manorama Online) Kerala is a model for religious cooperation and coexistence, President Pranab Mukherjee said. Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities have lived together and contributed to the social welfare of the state, he added, while releasing a stamp commemorating the bicentennial of the Old Seminary in Kottayam...



Tags: Ukraine Pope Francis Ethiopia Kerala Jews

20 April 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita




Iraqis flee the ISIS onslaught, summer 2014. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)

CNEWA’s recent disbursement of aid to the Middle East was spotlighted in a recent article by John L. Allen Jr. for The Boston Globe:

“Two-thirds of the world’s 2.3 billion Christians live in the developing world, where they’re often convenient targets for anti-Western rage — even though their churches have deeper roots in those places than most of their persecutors,” writes Allen, who has covered the Vatican beat for the National Catholic Reporter, CNN and now The Globe. “Christians are also disproportionately likely to belong to ethnic and linguistic minorities, putting them doubly or triply in jeopardy.

“All that has been true for some time, but the religious cleansing campaigns carried out by ISIS and its self-described ‘caliphate’ has made anti-Christian hatred an utterly inescapable fact of life.

“The question is no longer whether it’s real, but what to do about it.

“That’s where outfits such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) step in. ...

“CNEWA’s mandate is to support the Eastern churches in Catholicism, meaning the Catholic communities scattered across the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe that draw on Eastern Orthodox traditions. In recent years, that’s made CNEWA a prime mover in delivering aid to persecuted Christians in some of the world’s leading hot spots.

“Today, CNEWA is among the largest providers of aid to Middle Eastern Christians anywhere in the world.”

To read more, visit The Globe’s Catholic portal, Crux. And to join in CNEWA’s work to help the Christians of the Middle East, click here.



20 April 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita




Ethiopian Christianity dates to the earliest days of the church. On Sunday, Islamic militants released a video purportedly depicting the execution of Ethiopian Christians as part of their war on civilization. (photo: Sean Sprague)

ISIS Video Appears to Show Executions of Ethiopian Christians in Libya (New York Times) The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from its branches in southern and eastern Libya, executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting...

Coptic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina on Ethiopian Christians massacred (Agenzia Fides) The Patriarchs and Catholic Bishops of Egypt, have gathered in Cairo for their regular assembly that sees them together twice a year, and will dedicate part of their common pastoral reflection to new massacres of Ethiopian Christians committed by jihadists of the Islamic State and documented in video clips carried out with macabre professionalism to be distributed online as tools of their irrational propaganda...

Beyond powerlessness over anti-Christian persecution (Crux) Today, CNEWA is among the largest providers of aid to Middle Eastern Christians anywhere in the world. Though it’s a Catholic organization, it helps Christians of all sorts. This week, CNEWA announced the release of grants totaling $686,000 to aid the Christian community in the Middle East, targeted at places that have absorbed the heaviest blows...

Ukraine pro-Russian rebels warn of all-out war (Vatican Radio) The leadership of pro-Russian separatists has warned of all-out war unless Kiev recognizes rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. The warning came amid escalating fighting between government forces and rebels in some regions and while hundreds of American troops arrived to train Ukraine’s army...

EU meets on migrant crisis as shipwreck corpses brought ashore (Al Jazeera) The death toll from Sunday’s shipwreck off the coast of Libya was uncertain after officials said there had been at least 700 people on board, some reportedly locked in the hold.

This year more than 1,500 people fleeing war and poverty are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean, packed into rickety boats by human traffickers in a bid to reach a better life in Europe. The deaths are up 15-fold compared with the same period of 2014.

“The reputation of Europe is at stake,” said Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni. “I have been saying for weeks and months that Europe has to do more, now unfortunately the reality has hit us in the face...”



17 April 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Young residents sit down for a meal at the Mother Mary Home for Girls, an orphanage run by Syro-Malabar Catholic Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)

The Economic Times recently reported that fewer and fewer women in Kerala are choosing to become religious sisters:

Shrinking family sizes and expanding career opportunities for women are posing a problem for the church. In Kerala … fewer women are now taking vows to renounce worldly pursuits and devote themselves fully to religious life. … Social activists say greater empowerment and the fact that churches are still male bastions are also making women look away from the cloistered life of convents. One of the problems this could pose to the church is in the running of institutions such as hospitals, schools and charity organizations that are managed by priests and nuns. …

In Kerala, “there is a 70-75 percent drop in the number of women who were joining convents to be nuns,” says Sebastian Adayanthrath, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church’s auxiliary bishop for Ernakulum-Angamaly.

The peak was in the mid-1960’s, when there were as many as two dozen newly admitted nuns every year in each province. It lasted for about a decade, and then, started to decline to about 20 by 1985 and 10 in the past decade, he says. …

Interestingly, there is no decline in the number of men who come forward to become priests. Church spokesmen say this may be because the priest’s job is more visible. He has a social standing because of the functions that he has to do, they said.

Apart from Kerala, the states that have historically sent large number of women to become nuns are Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Though Kerala still sends more women than any other state to convents, the northern states are catching up.

In early 2010, we shined a spotlight on Kerala’s decline in vocations:

In this fast-changing southeastern Indian state, literacy is nearly universal; education reigns king. Not long ago, conversation among villagers centered on crop rotation and seasonal rains. Today, rural and urban Keralites are preoccupied by which colleges their children will attend and which professions offer lucrative careers. No longer confined to rearing children and managing the household, women set their sights on horizons filled with diverse possibilities. …

This shift in the social landscape has impacted the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches, especially their ability to recruit men and women to serve as priests and religious, respectively. Observers sense an imminent decline in the ranks of vocations among these churches, which are centered in the state.

They point out that today’s candidates no longer come from wealthy or upper middle-class backgrounds, nor do they represent the highest performing students. Many lack the emotional maturity of their predecessors. …

For the first time in centuries, Kerala’s Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches are thinking twice about the recruitment and formation processes of their priests and religious as the culture around them changes.

Read more about Keeping Up With the Times in India, in the January 2010 issue of ONE.



Tags: India Sisters Kerala Catholic Vocations (religious)

17 April 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




A Syrian child eats a piece of bread at the Idlib’s Free Syrian Army-controlled Atmeh refugee camp. (photo: Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

U.N. calls on Western nations to shelter Syrian refugees (New York Times) With Syria’s neighbors increasingly shutting their borders to refugees and thousands trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety, the war in Syria is creating the worst global refugee crisis in decades, putting new pressure on the United States and other Western countries to open their doors — and in turn, prompting domestic political backlash…

U.N. agency seeks unhindered access to Yarmouk camp (U.N. News Center) While ramping up assistance to Palestinian refugees and Syrian civilians that have fled a besieged camp on the southern edge of Damascus, the United Nations agency tasked with aiding Palestinians throughout the region said today that it is still seeking unhindered access to Yarmouk camp itself, where thousands remain trapped by fighting among armed groups…

Aleppo’s rebels brace for ISIS assault (Al Monitor) Syria’s rebels are currently building up their troops in the northern countryside of Aleppo, as there have been talks about a possible imminent attack by ISIS. On 7 April, the group carried out two suicide attacks targeting two locations of the Sham Front — a unification of former forces including the Jaish al Mujahideen and the Islamic Front among others — in northern Aleppo…

Car bomb explodes outside U.S. consulate in Iraq (NBC News) A car bomb exploded on Friday outside the U.S. Consulate in the Iraqi city of Erbil, a State Department official told NBC News. There were no immediate reports of injuries to consulate personnel or local guards, the State Department official said. A Kurdish media outlet reported that three people were killed and five injured…

Migrants thrown overboard, Italy police say (Al Jazeera) A dozen African migrants have died after being thrown overboard by fellow passengers, Italian police say, and another 41 boat migrants are feared to have drowned in a separate incident…

Egypt strikes Islamic texts from schools, angering Salafists (Al Monitor) The decision of Egypt’s Ministry of Education to remove some content from primary and secondary school curricula has sparked wide controversy in the country. While the state views the decision — which will omit some religious texts and passages on historical Islamic figures — as a way to counter radical ideologies and fight extremism, the Salafist movements have deemed it a war on Islam…

Death toll of Ukraine fighting now above 6,100 (Daily Star Lebanon) The United Nations says the number of people killed in a year of fighting in Ukraine has now passed 6,100, and says it’s increasingly worried that breaches in a cease-fire will further worsen the human rights situation in parts of the country’s east…



Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Refugees Migrants

16 April 2015
Greg Kandra




Mayor Akel Biltaji of Amman speaks with the group of pilgrims. (photo: Greg Kandra)

If you were looking for a figure representing the diversity and religious harmony of Jordan, you couldn’t do much better than a man who was born in Gaza, was raised a Quaker, married a Muslim, and now serves as the mayor of the capital city of Amman.

Meet Mayor Akel Biltaji.

I did Monday night — along with the other religious bloggers and writers who are touring Jordan this week at the invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board. The mayor agreed to give us some time to talk about issues facing his city and his country. So a little after 6 p.m., we boarded our bus and made our way to Amman’s imposing city hall.

(photo: Greg Kandra)

We were ushered in through security and up a winding stairway to a large conference room.

(photo: Greg Kandra)

And there we suddenly saw the mayor: an elegant figure with a shock of white hair and a trim moustache, greeting each of us at the entrance to the room, shaking our hands, making chit-chat and asking us where we were from. We took our places around a large square conference table. The mayor’s communications staff also joined us.

Dapper, warm, talkative, effusive, the 64-year-old mayor is the very model of modern major politico. He’s also a born diplomat. When one of our bloggers asked him which cities in America he liked the most, he slyly worked his way around the room and extolled the virtues of every home town of every writer at the table.

(photo: Greg Kandra)

He has an instinct for people. And his background in management is impressive. From his official biography:

Raised and educated in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, he obtained his High School Diploma and the London General Certificate Examination at the American Friends Schools (Quaker) in 1959. Mr. Biltaji graduated in the summer of 1962 with a degree in education and joined the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) the same year. In the summer of 1969, Mr. Biltaji returned to Jordan to join the National Carrier ALIA, the Royal Jordanian Airlines as a senior management officer. In his 28-year distinguished airline career, Mr. Biltaji served in different capacities, the last of which was senior vice president.

His Majesty the Late King Hussein appointed him in March 1997 as the country’s minister of Tourism and Antiquities, where he continued to serve in this portfolio under His Majesty King Abdullah II until June, 2001, when he was appointed by King Abdullah II as chief commissioner to the newly declared Region of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority

In February, 2004, His Majesty King Abdullah II appointed Minister Biltaji as His Majesty’s advisor on Tourism Promotion, Foreign Direct Investment and Country Branding. In November 2005, he was also appointed as a member of the House of Senate, where he served as chairman of the Tourism and Heritage House Committee, and member of the Foreign Relations and Education Committees.

You would think the mayor of a major world capital would have better things to do than chat with writers after business hours on a Monday night. But for over an hour, Mayor Biltaji — in between extolling the virtues of his city and selling it to all those in the room — entertained questions on a number of topics.

Some highlights:

On Jordan’s significance to the world: “This is the land of the sunrise of faith. … Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The mix is here. The heritage, the antiquities, it’s all around. This is the source of a spirit of compassion. When we count the apostles and the prophets that have touched this land, we are blessed. It means they left something and it stayed, and we hope to be the custodians to these relics and antiquities.”

On the importance of religious acceptance: “What is so unique about us here is acceptance. It’s not tolerance. Tolerance is a bit condescending, you know? That’s not coexistence. What matters is acceptance. Once you accept, you find yourself falling into taking the other in and being taken in, too, by the other. Once you surrender to that, that’s how things should be. “

On how Jordan is coping with refugees: “We’re managing. We are sharing with them whatever we can and making them feel at home. Just imagine if one-third of the U.S. just crossed the Mexican borders into the U.S. We have one-third the population, 30 percent of people living here have come from other places and are sharing very scarce resources. But this is part of our idea of acceptance. This is what is unique about Jordan. To have [been] born in Gaza, brought up in Jaffa, become a Jordanian — now I’m the mayor of four million people. Where else in the world can you do that? Lebanon? You can’t. They have kept the refugees in something like a ghetto. Here, certain refugees who came here years ago and made a life here have insisted on staying in camps as a symbol of the right to return. Some are members of parliament, members of city council, but they are Jordanians living in the camp. The identity is there. Refugees are included here in the political life of the country. Lebanon is different. It’s very sectarian. But here? We have 1.6 million Syrians — 20 percent of our schools in the north are full of Syrian refugees. But this, again is a sign of resilience, of compassion.”

At the conclusion, he wished us well and thanked us for coming to his country — and for helping to tell its story. He acknowledged that many people misunderstand Jordan and don’t realize that in a corner of the world rife with turmoil and terror, the Hashemite Kingdom remains stable, modern and secure. Again and again he attributed that to the leadership of the king, and what the mayor called a sense of “acceptance” of many cultures and faiths.

I think we all left the meeting wishing nothing but the best for the mayor and the land he so clearly loves. In comparison to the storms raging around it, Jordan is a sea of tranquility. Let’s pray it stays that way. The Middle East needs more Jordans — and more cheerleaders for the region like Akel Biltaji.

(photo: Greg Kandra)



Tags: Middle East Holy Land Jordan Amman

16 April 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




At the Mar Shemmon Bar Sabbae Chaldean Catholic Church in Tbilisi, 18-year-old Keti works to master the ancient art of cloisonné enamel (or minankari in Georgian). To learn about the revival of this age-old technique, and how it is improving the lives of Georgian youth, read Crafting a Future from the Winter 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)



Tags: Education Cultural Identity Georgia Art Youth

16 April 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




In Antelias, Lebanon, on 7 April, workers set up a flame burner outside a chapel honoring the memory of Armenian victims of the Ottoman government. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey’s Century of Denial About an Armenian Genocide (New York Times) A hundred years ago, amid the upheaval of World War I, countless villages across eastern Anatolia became killing fields as the desperate leadership of the Ottoman Empire, having lost the Balkans and facing the prospect of losing its Arab territories as well, saw a threat closer to home. Worried that the Christian Armenian population was planning to align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials embarked on what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century: Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, others in forced marches to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death. The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War. It also remains that conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met by the Turkish authorities with 100 years of silence and denial. For surviving Armenians and their descendants, the genocide became a central marker of their identity, the psychic wounds passed through generations…

Coptic pope to commemorate centenary of the Armenian Genocide (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II will travel to Yerevan on 20 April to take part in the most significant events planned to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide…

ISIS’s ‘war crimes’ against Yazidi women documented (Washington Post) Yazidi women, released by ISIS group militants, hug as they arrive in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad on 8 April. ISIS released more than 200 Yazidis on Wednesday after holding them for eight months, an Iraqi Kurdish security official said, the latest mass release of captives by the extremists…

‘Lost generation’ of 15 million children out of school in Middle East (Al Jazeera) Nearly 1 in 4 children in the Middle East and North Africa is either out of school or at risk of dropping out, the United Nations said Wednesday in a report highlighting the disruptive impact of war on a region where education rates had been steadily improving for years…

St. Petersburg Smolny Cathedral restored to Russian Orthodox Church (AsiaNews) Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg, one of the symbols of the city of the Tsars and now owned by the state, will be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. This was announced on 14 April by Nikolai Burov, director of the museum of the four cathedrals which also includes that of Smolny…

As ISIS pushes on Iraq’s Ramadi, 2000 families flee (Daily Star Lebanon) Clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS militants pressing their offensive for Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province, has forced more than 2,000 families to flee from their homes in the area, an Iraqi official said Thursday…



Tags: Lebanon Middle East Children Armenia Russia

15 April 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Girls tend to plants at San Joe Puram in the Faridabad district of the northern Indian state of Haryana. To learn more about the important work of this Syro-Malabar Catholic Church institution, read A Place of Promise — and Providence in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)



Tags: India Children Education Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Disabilities





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