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Volume 43, Number 1
  
8 April 2014
Michel Constantin




Frans Van Der Lugt, S.J. (photo: courtesy Ziad Hilal, S.J.)

The world is shocked by the news of the ruthless murder of Rev. Frans Van Der Lugt, a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit who was killed early yesterday morning in Homs, Syria. A masked gunman entered the Jesuit residence where Father Frans lived and shot him twice in the head.

This horrific event has hit us hard in the Beirut office of CNEWA. We have known and worked with Father Frans for nearly a decade.

Father Frans was a psychotherapist involved in interreligious dialogue in Syria since 1967. He also built a center in Homs that housed 40 children with mental disabilities.

He was a well-known figure in the old city of Homs, respected by many for his refusal to leave the old city’s remaining residents despite constant shelling and dwindling supplies, insisting that Syria was his home and he wanted to be with the country’s citizens in their time of need. The old city has been held by the rebels and under a government siege for nearly two years. Father Frans’ appeals for help, posted on YouTube, described dramatically the dire circumstances facing the people of Homs, where food was scarce and even milk for newborns was hard to come by.

CNEWA has worked with the Middle East province of the Jesuit Fathers for decades, especially its communities in Lebanon and Syria. In 2006, CNEWA supported Father Frans and his work with children near Homs, rehabilitating the Al Ard Center for the mentally challenged. Located some 18 miles from Homs in the village of Al Qusayr near the Lebanese-Syrian border, the center is owned and operated by the Jesuit Fathers under the jurisdiction of the Latin archbishop in Syria. Directed by Father Frans, the center provided physical therapy, teaching and skill-building five days a week, five hours a day — and all that for free. Before Syria’s civil war, the center also received people seeking spiritual meditation, formation and retreats. The center also established an agro-industrial center for the production of olive oil and wine.

Even during the siege of Homs, when we couldn’t contact Father Frans directly, CNEWA continued to support the needy, marginalized and suffering people of Homs through his brother Jesuit, Rev. Ziad Hilal, who also remained in Syria. Since 2012, CNEWA has been able to provide 5,310 Syrian families in Homs with food and 4,100 Syrian students with school kits through Father Ziad.

Our efforts to support the struggling and suffering people of Syria go on. You can learn more about how to help at this page.

Meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with our Jesuit colleagues in Syria. We grieve with them, and for all the people of Homs who knew and loved this remarkable and courageous priest.

As the Vatican noted yesterday, the world has lost “a man of peace.”



8 April 2014
Greg Kandra




In this image from 2004, pilgrims pray the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for Christians, begins next Sunday. (photo: Peter Lemieux)



8 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Pro-Russia protesters scuffle with the police at the regional government building in Donetsk, Ukraine, on 6 April. A Ukrainian Catholic bishop has warned his church could lose its legal status under Russian rule, and pledged to use “all possible means in the international arena” to defend it. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Ukraine cracks down on demonstrators; Russia issues warning (Los Angeles Times) Ukrainian riot police on Tuesday cleared a regional administration building and public square in the eastern city of Kharkiv of hundreds of pro-Russia protesters, detaining scores in the process, officials said. In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning against the use of force on pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine and alleged the direct involvement of private U.S. military experts…

Georgia’s ancient capital Mtskheta becomes holy city (Interfax) Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II has conferred the title of “holy city” on Georgia’s ancient capital Mtskheta, a place revered by Georgians…

Egypt’s media blackout on Sinai (Al Monitor) Ever since the beginning of the military operation that began in the Sinai Peninsula after the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi, there has been a media blackout regarding the events going on in this vital part of Egypt and the crises that its citizens are enduring. According to Mustafa Senger, a political activist from the Sinai, one of the most important problems is that mobile phone and Internet networks have stopped working…

Syria’s latest battle: The PR fight over sanctuary for Christians (Christian Science Monitor) When the Syrian opposition took over the Armenian Christian town of Kessab in coastal Syria last month, its 2,000 residents fled. Given the presence of Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra and other Islamist groups, they feared the worst for their town. So far, these fears have not been realized. Instead, rebels appear to be using Kessab as an opportunity to try to undo their reputation for extreme brutality towards Syria’s Christians and Shiites. But the Assad regime, which considers itself the protector of minorities, has launched a media campaign to demonstrate how Islamists are terrorizing Christians in Kessab, turning the town into a public relations battlefield in Syria’s civil war…

Fears rise about impact of drought on Syrians (U.N. World Food Program) The United Nations World Food Program (W.F.P.) provided assistance to a record 4 million people in Syria last month but a special report published today highlights how a potential drought would strain the country’s already fragile food security situation. W.F.P. food security analysts say rainfall since September has been less than half the long-term average, and will have a major impact on the next cereal harvest…

Syrians mourn slain Jesuit priest (Al Jazeera) After three years of civil war, during which brutal killing has become commonplace, many Syrians were left stunned Monday by the murder of a Dutch Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, the besieged city that he refused to abandon. Francis Van Der Lugt — or Abouna (“Father”) Frans, as he was known to Syrians — touched the lives of many, not only Christians. As word of his death spread through Syria, Syrians grieved publically. On Facebook, young and old replaced their profile pictures with one of Frans: in a T-shirt, on a bicycle, among the olive trees, or smiling under the unmistakable black basalt arches of Homs’s Old City…



Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine United Nations Georgian Orthodox Church

7 April 2014
Greg Kandra




Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, who had worked in Syria since 1966, was abducted from his home in Homs, beaten by armed men and killed with two bullets to the head, the Jesuits said on 7 April. He is pictured in a late January photo. (CNS photo/Yaz an Homsy, Reuters)

The news today about Rev. Francis van der Lugt, a Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, sent shockwaves around the world. We were struck, in particular, by a connection to CNEWA. A story in the Associated Press quoted one of our contributors, a colleague and friend of Father van der Lugt, Rev. Ziad Hilal:

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the 75-year-old van der Lugt, was “a man of peace, who with great courage, had wanted to remain faithful, in an extremely risky and difficult situation, to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated, for a long time, his life and spiritual service.”

It appeared that van der Lugt was directly targeted. A single gunman walked into the monastery, entered the garden and shot him in the head, said Rev. Ziad Hillal, a priest, who was in the convent when the attacked occurred.

“I am truly shocked. A man of peace has been murdered,” Hillal said in a phone interview from Homs with the Vatican Radio.

Van der Lugt’s death was first reported by Homs-based priest Assad Nayyef, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the state-run news agency, SANA.

An activist based in a blockaded rebel-area said rebel fighters were shocked by the priest’s death.

“The man was living with us, eating with us, sleeping with us. He didn’t leave, even when the blockade was eased,” said Beibars Tilawi said via Skype. Regardless of the rebels’ views toward Christians, the priest was well-liked for his efforts to get the blockade lifted and alleviate widespread suffering and hunger among civilians, Tilawi said.

We join our prayers with all those in Syria, and indeed around the world, who are grieving this tragedy.

For more on the crisis in Syria, read Fr. Ziad Hilal’s “Letter from Syria” in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.



7 April 2014
Greg Kandra




A volunteer jokes with a patient during a holiday party at St. Louis Hospital in Jerusalem. To learn more about this hospital’s mission and its diverse residents, read An Oasis of Compassion from the September 2012 issue of ONE. (photo: Debbie Hill)



Tags: Sisters Jerusalem Health Care

7 April 2014
Greg Kandra




Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt chats with civilians in early January, urging them to be patient, in the besieged area of Homs, Syria. The Jesuits said on 7 April that the Dutch priest, who had worked in Syria since 1966, was beaten by armed men and killed with two bullets to the head.
(photo: CNS/Thaer Al Khalidiya, Reuters)


Jesuit priest killed in Homs (Vatican Radio) Dutch Jesuit Rev. Frans van der Lugt, a priest who lived in the war-torn Syrian city of Homs, was killed this morning. Fr. Alex Basili, Provincial of the Jesuits in the Middle East and the Maghreb confirmed the news to the Catholic news agency Fides. Fides reports that on 7 April, at around 8 am, Father Frans van der Lugt was abducted by armed men who beat him and then killed him with two bullets to the head in front of the Jeusuit residence in Homs...

“Serious” meeting held in bid to revive peace process (Reuters) The top negotiators from Israel and the Palestinian Authority held a “serious and beneficial” meeting Sunday night in an effort to rescue the stalled peace process, an American official was quoted as telling Israel Radio on Monday. Both sides are expected to meet again later on Monday, with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni representing the Israeli side and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, representing the Ramallah government headed by Mahmoud Abbas...

Pope reaffirms evangelization in Africa (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reaffirmed the importance of the Church’s work of evangelization in Africa, saying that lay and religious must “foster this missionary imperative” that has roots in the past but continues “every day in the Church’s pastoral work...”

Jesuit: Ukraine revolution “spiritual,” pitting good against evil (Catholic Register) The Canadian-born superior of the Jesuits in Ukraine is in Brussels to make the case for Ukraine’s revolution — a revolution rooted in Christian, European and democratic ideals, he argues. Church interest in Ukraine’s future runs high at the moment, Nazar told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “There is a lot of interest in the Ukraine issue, not only with respect to Ukraine itself,” wrote Nazar. “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s nervous aggression, which he has never justified publicly, upsets a major European agreement following World War II that borders would be left as they are...”

Fire destroys Ukrainian Catholic Church outside Toronto (CBC) A two-alarm blaze has totally destroyed a Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brampton, Ont., outside Toronto. The fire at St. Elias the Prophet Church, located on Heritage Road north of Bovaird Drive West, started around 7 a.m. and by 8:10 a.m., according one witness, the entire building was fully engulfed by flames. “There is practically nothing left,” wrote Twitter user Tash Reed in a tweet less than 20 minutes later...



4 April 2014
Greg Kandra




Since the Syrian civil war began, the Sahel al Alma School in Jounieh, north of Beirut, has adapted to an influx of Syrian children, who now comprise the majority of students. To learn more about them, read Crossing the Border from our Spring 2013 issue of ONE. And to find out how you can help children like these, visit our Syria giving page. (photo: Tamara Hadi)



4 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 2007 file photo, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Russian Orthodox Department of External Church Relations, sits in his study. (photo: Russian Orthodox Church/Wikimedia Commons)

The pan-Orthodox council, Ukraine crisis and Christian unity (National Catholic Register) Edward Pentin interviews Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. The metropolitan discussed the crisis in Ukraine, the pan-Orthodox council planned for 2016 — the first of its kind in 12 centuries — and the current status of Catholic-Orthodox relations…

Pope Francis congratulates new Syriac Orthodox patriarch (VIS) The Holy Father has sent a message to Ignatius Aphrem II, the new Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, congratulating him on his election. Pope Francis expresses his joy at receiving this news and prays that His Holiness “may be a spiritual father for your people and an untiring builder of peace and justice, serving the common good and the good of the entire Middle East in today’s difficult circumstances…”

Israeli diplomat strike ends, clearing the way for papal visit (Vatican Insider) After a year of financial disputes and union battles and strikes that culminated in the complete suspension of all diplomatic activities in the past 11 days, Israel’s government and unions have reached an agreement, leading to the reopening, as of today, of all Israeli embassies and consulates across the world. This unprecedented Israeli union strike has caused serious harm to the country’s foreign policy, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel a rare trip to Latin America. There had also been fears that the strike would affect Pope Francis’ late-May visit to the Holy Land, but the Vatican had assured it would be going ahead as scheduled…

Crimea’s schism splits Orthodox hierarchy (Al Jazeera) On the day of the Crimean referendum, a Russian-speaking Orthodox priest, flanked by two soldiers in unmarked uniforms, walked into a Ukrainian Orthodox church in the military town of Perevalnoye, Crimea. The Russian priest had made a 60-mile trip from Sevastopol to ask for proof that the Ukrainian church was properly registered. An hour-long theological debate ensued before soldiers and their accompanying priest left, according to the Ukrainian priest, Father Ivan Protoirey, 58. Father Ivan said the priest from Sevastopol’s message was clear: The Ukrainian church that aligns with the Kiev Patriarch, Filaret, rather than the Moscow Patriarch, Kiril, would have no place in the new, Russian-controlled Crimea…

Rebel assault in Kessab, Syria, revives dark memories for Armenians (Los Angeles Times) A rebel assault on the northern Syrian town of Kasab near the Turkish border has sparked a furor among Armenians worldwide and revived dark memories of the Ottoman-era genocide. It’s unclear how many civilian casualties occurred in the previously tranquil home to about 2,500 Armenian Christians. But the incident, which has also heightened tension between Turkey and Syria, provides a sharp new focus for the propaganda wars between the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and the disparate rebel forces that have been trying to topple him for three years…

Gaza theaters battle censorship, conservatism (Al Monitor) The joy of stage performance and creativity made actress Wala Mutir, 27, smile as she greeted the crowd in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. She played the leading role in “Scenes From Christine’s Heart,” a play adapted from the play “Mourning Becomes Electra” by Eugene O’Neill. But as an actress in the conservative Gaza region, Ms. Mutir faces challenges. A young man in the audience stood up and objected by saying: “We are in a society that doesn’t accept plays that incite women to reveal their feelings.” The theater is having difficulty finding talented female performers, according to actor-director Jamal Abu al Qumsan. “The situation here is difficult on the actresses because society judges them. Two of the best, Samah al Sheikh and Enas al Saqqa, had to leave Gaza and settle in Cairo,” he told Al Monitor…



Tags: Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Gaza Strip/West Bank Ecumenism Orthodox

3 April 2014
Greg Kandra




In this image from 2013, mlitary police stand outside the burned Rabaa Adawiya mosque on 15 August, the morning after the clearing of a protest which was held around the mosque in Cairo. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

The bishops in the Holy Land, addressing that question, have posted a statement today on the website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. CNS has details:

Repeated references to persecution of Christians, “usually referring only to what Christians suffer at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslims, plays into the hands of extremists,” said Catholic leaders in the Holy Land.

“In the name of truth, we must point out that Christians are not the only victims of this violence and savagery. Secular Muslims, all those defined as ‘heretic,’ ‘schismatic’ or simply ‘nonconformist,’ are being attacked and murdered in the prevailing chaos,” said a statement from the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land, posted on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on 3 April.

“In areas where Sunni extremists dominate, Shiites are being slaughtered. In areas where Shiite extremists dominate, Sunnis are being killed,” the bishops said. “Yes, the Christians are at times targeted precisely because they are Christians, having a different set of beliefs and unprotected. However, they fall victim alongside many others who are suffering and dying in these times of death and destruction. They are driven from their homes alongside many others and together they become refugees, in total destitution.”

The bishops said the extremists, “at home and abroad,” hope to “sow prejudice and hatred, setting peoples and religions against one another.”

They acknowledged that Christians had lived in relative security under some of the dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, so Christian leaders defended these regimes that were overthrown as part of the Arab Spring.

“Instead, loyalty to their faith and concern for the good of their country should perhaps have led them to speak out much earlier, telling the truth and calling for necessary reforms, in view of more justice and respect of human rights, standing alongside both many courageous Christians and Muslims who did speak out,” the bishops said.

They said they understood people’s fear and suffering when family members are killed or are driven from their homes.

“In certain circumstances their only consolation and hope is to be found in Jesus’ words: ‘Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven,‘” they said.

However, they added, “All Christians and many Muslims are threatened by these forces that seek to create a society devoid of Christians and where only very few Muslims will be at home. All those who seek dignity, democracy, freedom and prosperity are under attack. We must stand together and speak out in truth and freedom.”

There’s more at the CNS link.

And you can read the full statement from the bishops at the Latian Patriarchate of Jerusalem website.



Tags: Holy Land Muslim Arab Spring Christian

3 April 2014
Greg Kandra




Britain’s Queen Elizabeth talks with Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican on 3 April. The Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, were making a one-day visit to meet with the pope and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. (photo: CNS/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

Pope Francis met for the first time today with Queen Elizabeth:

The royal visit took place as the Vatican and the United Kingdom were marking the 100th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. Formal ties were broken in the 1570s after Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, who had reasserted the Church of England’s independence from papal authority.

The Vatican described the meeting as “official, but informal,” which explained why it was held in the studio of the Paul VI audience hall rather than in the library of the Apostolic Palace and why the queen was not wearing black. Instead, she arrived from a luncheon with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano wearing a light lavender skirt and jacket.

The queen and prince arrived about 20 minutes late. After Pope Francis said, “Welcome,” Queen Elizabeth said, “Sorry to keep you waiting; we were having a pleasant lunch with the president.”

After a 17-minute private meeting, the pope and the queen exchanged gifts. Pope Francis presented the couple with a facsimile of Pope Innocent XI’s order extending the cult of St. Edward the Confessor. St. Edward, king of England in the mid-11th century, is venerated by both Catholics and Anglicans. The pope also had a gift, which he explained in Spanish, was for 8-month-old Prince George of Cambridge, the queen’s great-grandson: a cross mounted on a lapis lazuli orb.

“He will be thrilled by that,” the queen said, adding, “when he’s a little older.”

Pope Francis gave Prince Philip a series of three medals of his pontificate; the prince thanked him, joking, “It’s the only gold medal I’ve ever won.”

Saying it was “a gift for you personally,” Queen Elizabeth gave the pope a large basket of food from the estates surrounding her homes; the items included an assortment of honey, a dozen eggs, a “haunch of venison,” shortbread, juice, preserves and “Balmoral whiskey.” The prince held up the whiskey, explaining what it was, then picked up another bottle and said, “It’s apple juice.”

And, fulfilling a long-standing tradition, Queen Elizabeth gave the pope two signed, silver framed photographs of her and the Duke of Edinburgh, telling him, “I’m afraid I have to give you a photograph; it is inevitable.”

The April 3 visit was the British royals’ fifth meeting with a pope at the Vatican. In 1951, the year before she was enthroned, she met Pope Pius XII. As queen, she met Pope John XXIII at the Vatican in 1961 and Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1980 and 2000.

Reigning since 1952, she was the first British sovereign to welcome a pope to England when she greeted Pope John Paul II in London in 1982. She also welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Britain in 2010.



Tags: Holy Land Muslim Arab Spring Christian





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