28 March 2017
The sun sets over Beirut. (photo: Philip Eubanks)
At dusk, the tired sun slips behind the Mediterranean seeking rest, and as she goes, she leaves her imprint on the beige buildings of Beirut due East. The orange hues she paints are a way of welcoming in the night: the coming darkness isn't so ominous if, at day’s end, it’s ushered in with such ease.
Flying in to this ‘Paris of the Middle East,’ you can make out from the air already what’s below: a world of achingly beautiful, painful contradiction. The way the sun-kissed buildings are etched into the high hills above sea level make you feel as though the concrete structures grew up from the ground like trees. Though planned, there’s a seeming randomness to their presence. Imagine San Francisco with streets too narrow for a trolley. And there is, of course, a sharp shift from the flat blue of the Mediterranean to the sudden, green incline leading to Mount Lebanon.
The faster we descend toward the tarmac, the more those square buildings look like steps for a giant to make his way up and over the mountains all the way to Syria.
Before landing, you already feel welcome to Lebanon. The country’s Special Olympics team is also on our flight and these students chatter in excited Arabic, their medals clanking. An elderly gentleman wearing a blue cardigan sits next to me and offers his blueberry cake. We don’t share a common language, but that doesn’t prevent us from breaking bread together with a nod and a smile. The pushing and shoving to get off the plane doesn’t carry with it any animosity: it’s just what you do to get off the plane here. And as soon as you step off, you are greeted by the warm Mediterranean breeze.
On the ground, we drive through the city center, which is a collection of quiet, pristine apartments and government buildings — a post-war ghost town of sorts. There is one, clear road in Lebanon; it runs south to north and back again, and we’re on it all the way to Jal El Dib, where we settle into our hotel with a busy week ahead.
St. Elie Church was built as a labor of love in the late 1800’s. (photo: Philip Eubanks)
The first day on the ground, in many ways, depicts the diversity of this land. We celebrate Mass in the morning at St. Elie Church. The stone structure was cut by monks who built this sanctuary out of a labor of love in the late 1800’s. The inside of this Maronite parish is inviting in a powerful way, and as the pews gradually fill with Filipinos, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and a few Lebanese, this is the making of an unexpected family. They are nearly all migrant workers.
I am struck even now that when we tend to talk about our work in Lebanon and talk about accompanying the poor of the Eastern churches, the nature of the trending news means we generally think first of those displaced by the violence of war-torn regions, of refugees fleeing harm’s way. With so many refugees having done so, however, there are many migrants who have been pushed even further to the margins of society: they are, perhaps, the forgotten family, and to be with them is a sacred experience for me.
As the parish family sings loudly a Taize song that echoes off the stone walls and reverberates through your skin, I am moved by their faithfulness, their resilience. “Sing glory, honor, and praise,” the chorus goes, and something about it feels genuine and warm. These are a people who know precisely what these words mean, what it is to cherish the fragility of life and be grateful for what you have.
At the end of Mass, crowds rush to greet CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar, to hug him with gratitude, and we are met with smiles. I can think of no better way to have been welcomed to this beautiful country.
In the coming week, I can only hope to show and share that same spirit, a spirit of prayerful gratitude for everyone I encounter.
28 March 2017
A young resident participates in Evening Prayer at Grace Home in Trichur, India. To learn about the saintly man who founded the home — and who left behind an enduring legacy of compassionate care — read Remembering India’s ‘Father of the Poor’ in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
28 March 2017
A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, inspects the Tabqa dam on 27 March 2017. A Russian general has accused the U.S. of targeting Syria’s infrastructure, including this dam.
(photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian general claims U.S. targeting dam in Syria (AP) A senior Russian general on Tuesday criticized the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants for allegedly targeting Syria’s infrastructure — including a key dam — in territory held by the Sunni extremist group. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff accused the coalition of trying to “completely destroy critical infrastructure in Syria and complicate post-war reconstruction as much as possible...”
Report: ‘alarming pattern’ in U.S.-led strikes in Mosul (AP) A recent spike in civilian casualties in Mosul suggests the U.S.-led coalition is not taking adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths as it battles Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants alongside Iraqi ground forces, Amnesty International said on Tuesday...
Syrian refugees selling sex to survive in Lebanon (BBC) Lebanon has long been known as a sex tourism capital in the Middle East, but it’s an industry which is exploiting Syrian refugees. Benjamin Zand meets those who say prostitution is their only way to survive, and finds out how Eastern European women in “super night clubs” are being locked up, by law, every day...
Christian graves vandalized in India (AsiaNews) Crosses taken down; tombstones smashed: at least ten Christian tombs were vandalized in the Rajapur Allahabad cemetery (Uttar Pradesh), as shown in a video published and provided by the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). Its president, Sajan K. George, told AsiaNews: “The violence against Christian tombs deeply hurt our religious feelings and show contempt for our ancestors. “This is done with the culture of impunity, and with intent to cause insecurity and fear in the minds of the minisucule Christian community. As can be seen, crosses have been broken, and epitaphs of nearly a dozen graves have been smashed...”
27 March 2017
Some of the young students — Iraqi Christians who have found refuge in Lebanon — greet visitors at the Angels of Peace School in Nabaa, Lebanon. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Today, we paid a visit to the Angels of Peace School in Nabaa, established in 2013 by the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate and run by the Rev. Youssef Yaacoub.
Nearly 500 children, Iraqi Christians, receive math, science, Arabic and English instruction, and thanks to CNEWA, computer instruction in a new lab. This is part of our outreach to the at least 1,500 Syriac Catholic families living in and around Nabaa, on the outskirts of Beirut, near the Armenian Quarter.
We had an exceptional visit, and were greeted very warmly in all the classrooms we visited. Some even sang songs for us!
A few things stood out: the joy and positivity of the students, who were all smiles despite the suffering their families have had to endure for their safety. They were so joyful to be able to learn. Grades and classrooms were of mixed ages — the highest having ages 16-20 — and many students had clearly been practicing their English. Father Youssef’s personal story, of course, was inspiring and deeply moving — especially considering that he had been ordained just a few months before being held under house arrest by ISIS.
Lynn Constantin, from CNEWA’s Beirut office, says that with CNEWA’s help, the school hired a psychologist to help the children. Initially, she told me, Father Youssef wasn’t sure of the value of this, but after seeing the results he’s certain of its importance. It’s this kind of guidance, I think, that makes CNEWA’s work so valuable in this troubled corner of the world.
We also met the staff of the Beirut office this morning, many of whom have been working there over 20 years. Their rich experience in a variety of fields, and their diverse backgrounds (including civil engineering, finance, and journalism) ensures that the right questions are being asked and good advice is being given.
CNEWA development associate Chris Kennedy, Father Youssef Yaacoub and CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar. (photo: CNEWA)
27 March 2017
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar poses with some new friends he made Sunday at St. Elie Church in Antelias, Lebanon. Many of those attending Mass were from the Filipino migrant worker community. After the liturgy, they greeted Msgr. Kozar and eagerly posed for pictures. Msgr. Kozar will be visiting Lebanon all week; check back here regularly for updates.
(photo: Chris Kennedy)
27 March 2017
The undated photo above shows the dam of Tabqa, also called ‘Dam of Thawra’ (‘Dam of the Revolution’). The lake created by the water reserve is called Lake al-Assad. U.S.-backed forces will pause military operations near the dam amid conflicting reports about its stability.
(photo: Claude Salhani/Sygma via Getty Images)
Fighters to pause fighting near Syria dam (AP) U.S.-backed forces in northern Syria said Monday they will pause military operations near a major dam held by the Islamic State group in order to allow engineers to fix any problems after conflicting reports about its stability...
Pope greets immigrant families in Milan (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday greeted the Rom, Islamic, and immigrant families of the ‘White Houses’ in the Forlanini quarter of Milan at the beginning of his one-day pastoral visit to the city. Upon his arrival, residents gave the Holy Father two gifts: a priestly stole and a picture of a statuette of the Madonna...
Egypt’s Copts ‘fulfilling a dream’ of traveling to Jerusalem (RNS) For decades, merchant Refaat El-Sayeh, a Coptic Christian, wanted to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, visit the Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem — but mostly, he wanted to feel closer to God. But for years, those pilgrimages for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, like El-Sayeh, were discouraged. “To visit Jerusalem and the holy places was always my wish,” El-Sayeh said. “You feel the hand of God. This is the lifelong dream of every Christian in Al-Kosheh.” Now, it is a dream increasingly being realized. Last year, El-Sayeh and 25 others from this town 300 miles south of Cairo made an Easter pilgrimage to Jerusalem, part of a growing number of Egypt’s Coptic Christians doing the same...
First Russian Orthodox church built on Cyprus (RussianConstruction.com) An opening ceremony of a Russian Church in the name of St. Andrew The Apostle And All Russian Saints took place in the city of Episkopi in Cyprus on Sunday. “The Church in the name of St. Andrew the Apostle and All Russian Saints will become home for the Russian community of Cyprus and the city of Episcopia,” Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, said after the ceremony...
Travel agents putting faith in religious tourism (Travel Market Report) Eitan Sasson, North America marketing and sales director for the Israeli Dan Hotels chain said a wide array of faiths tour Israel, from families like the Halpern Lanz’s, “to Ethiopian Christians who come for their Easter celebration, members of the Bahai faith who come to Israel for pilgrimage (their spiritual center is in the city of Haifa) and all U.S. Christian denominations who come to connect with the origins of their faith and walk in Jesus’ footsteps...”
24 March 2017
Syrian refugee children find hope at the community center founded by Sister Micheline Lattouff — and administered by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd — in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Greetings from Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. I’m about to depart for Lebanon, where I’ll be accompanying CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar on a pastoral visit, along with my colleague Philip Eubanks. We’ll be visiting a number of programs and projects that CNEWA supports, including a school in Beirut for Iraqi refugees, a Melkite seminary where a new generation of priests is being trained to minister to the poor and needy, and a school in the Bekaa Valley for Syrian students.
Philip and I will be posting updates daily here on the blog, as well as on CNEWA’s Facebook and Instagram pages. We invite you to join us digitally as we see firsthand how CNEWA and our donors, through the local church are bringing the gift of hope to children and families who might otherwise have none. It’s an opportunity we’re blessed to have, and blessed to share.
24 March 2017
Diplomats take part in a round of negotiations with the Syrian government delegation as UN-backed Syria peace talks resumed on 24 March 2017 at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. (photo: AFP/POOL/Debus Bakubiyse/Getty Images)
Geneva talks resume over Syria (Al Jazeera) A fresh round of UN-brokered talks between rival sides in the Syrian conflict resumed in Geneva on Friday but prospects for a breakthrough remain slim, amid ongoing violence across the country. In Syria, rebels were advancing in Hama Province, as part of their biggest offensive against government forces in months...
Mosul’s east begins to bustle but recovery a long way off (Reuters) Eastern Mosul is coming back to life. In the few weeks since Iraqi forces drove Islamic State from this side of the city, markets have opened and bulldozers have begun to clear the debris left by battle. Stalls spilling onto the street in between collapsed buildings display fruit and vegetables, and vendors play recordings advertising SIM cards and mobile phones — use of which was punishable by death under Islamic State. But everywhere are reminders of the pain the city has endured...
Indian cardinal: Dalit Christians facing more discrimination (Crux) A leading Indian Cardinal says the Catholic Church in country now accepts that Dalit Christians face more discrimination given their status of “untouchability.” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay (now called Mumbai), made his comments in discussions about their plight and possible solutions during the annual gathering of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC), which took place in Mumbai from 18-91 March 2017...
Churches that once shunned one another come together to sponsor Syrian refugees in Canada (RNS) To Yakielashek, that makes what’s happened in Dauphin — a rural community 200 miles northwest of Winnipeg — all the more remarkable. A year and a half ago, three churches put aside theological differences and came together to sponsor the resettlement of three Syrian refugee families to this town of 8,500...
Designer turns refugee tent into a fashion statement (Jordan Times) Once home to a family of Syrian refugees, a UN tent has found a new life as a dress still bearing the marks and stains of its past. “Dress for Our Time,” the brainchild of fashion designer Helen Storey, has turned a discarded tent from the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan into a hooded dress featured on stage at the Glastonbury Festival and in the conference halls of Dubai...
23 March 2017
In this image from 2005, Baltimore Cardinal William H. Keeler, left, places a zucchetto, the purple skull cap worn by bishops, on the head of a new auxiliary bishop named for the archdiocese, Bishop-designate Denis J. Madden, at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. Bishop-designate Madden was assistant general secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association prior to his episcopal appointment. (photo: CNS Owen Sweeney III, Catholic Review, Copyright Catholic Review Media, www.catholicreview.org. Used with permission.)
We received the news today that an old friend of CNEWA, retired Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, has entered eternal life. Among his many contributions to the Church, he served as a member of the board of CNEWA and was a prominent voice in Catholic-Jewish relations.
From Catholic Review:
Cardinal William H. Keeler, 14th archbishop of Baltimore, an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America’s first cathedral, died 23 March at his residence at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 86.
Cardinal Keeler served as the spiritual shepherd of the Baltimore archdiocese from 1989 until his retirement in 2007.
Archbishop William E. Lori, one of Cardinal Keeler’s two successors, said one of the great blessings of his life was coming to know Cardinal Keeler, whom he met when the cardinal was bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., and Archbishop Lori was priest-secretary to Washington Cardinal James Hickey.
When Cardinal Keeler became archbishop of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori said he learned of “his prowess as a church historian coupled with his deep love and respect for the history and heritage of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
Among Cardinal Keeler&ersquo;s many accomplishments in the Baltimore archdiocese, Archbishop Lori highlighted “the wonderful visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Baltimore in 1995, the restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption and the creation of Partners in Excellence which has helped thousands of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to receive a sound Catholic education.”
“When I would visit the cardinal at the Little Sisters of the Poor (in Cardinal Keeler’s retirement), I gave him a report on my stewardship and told him many times that we were striving to build upon his legacy — a legacy that greatly strengthened the Church and the wider community,” Archbishop Lori said in a written statement...
...Cardinal Keeler was himself a champion of interfaith and ecumenical understanding, regarded as one of the world’s leading figures in the field.
When Jewish conductor Maestro Gilbert Levine, the “pope’s conductor,” visited Baltimore in 2000 to conduct a special performance of Haydn’s “Creation” for an international interfaith musical pilgrimage, he asserted that Cardinal Keeler’s “very body is in the rhythm of interfaith.”
Cardinal Keeler was named a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1994. He also served as episcopal moderator of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs from 1984 to 1987. While leading that group, Cardinal Keeler arranged for St. John Paul II to meet with Jewish leaders and Protestant representatives in South Carolina, and attend an interfaith ceremony in Los Angeles during the pope’s 1987 visit to the United States.
After Catholics and Lutherans agreed to a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, Cardinal Keeler and Bishop George Paul Mocko, then bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, nailed a copy of the document to the doors of the Baltimore Basilica and also Christ Lutheran Church in Fells Point.
“He knew how to listen,” said Rabbi Joel Zaiman, rabbi emeritus of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Baltimore. “He heard. He understood, and he responded genuinely and generously. He was always available when I called — wherever he was — oftentimes, Rome.”
It was important to the Jewish community that the cardinal had the ear of the pope, Rabbi Zaiman said.
Rabbi Abie Ingber of Xavier University, Cincinnati, and Dr. William Madges, of Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, curators of a national exhibition highlighting St. John Paul II’s relationship with Jews, honored Cardinal Keeler in 2010 for his work promoting Catholic-Jewish understanding by presenting him with a bronze medallion. The cardinal had worked to promote the exhibit, which was featured at Baltimore’s Jewish Museum of Maryland.
Rabbi Ingber noted that one of the titles for the pope is “pontifex maximus,” which means “master bridge builder.” Recognizing Cardinal Keeler’s contributions as a bridge builder, the rabbi joked that if there was such a title as “pontifex almost maximus,” the cardinal should have it.
Our prayers today are with Cardinal Keeler and all those who love him. May his memory be eternal.
23 March 2017
This 2014 image shows the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Mosul before and after it was seized by ISIS. Reports today indicate the church has been liberated. (photo: Irish Catholic)
Iconic Chaldean church in Mosul liberated (Irish Catholic) A Chaldean Catholic church whose image announced the fall of Mosul in 2014 has been liberated. When so-called Islamic State (ISIS) swept through Iraq in June 2014, a ‘before-and-after’ picture of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual help in Mosul emerged showing the crucifix topping the building replaced by the black banner of the terror group. Reports at the time detailed how the Christian community desperately fled the city as ISIS rapidly imposed its rule there...
U.S. supports raid in Syria against ISIS (USA Today) The U.S.-led coalition flew a contingent of Syrian opposition forces behind enemy lines in a daring raid to cut off the Islamic State’s remaining supply line to the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa, U.S. officials said Wednesday. The operation to seize Tabqah dam was backed by some of the most extensive coalition support yet for the U.S.-backed local forces battling the Islamic State in Syria...
Archbishop urges Syrian Christians to return to Aleppo (SIR) “Aleppo awaits you”: this is the appeal that Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Greek Catholic Archbishop of the Syrian city, made to all the faithful, to encourage them to return to the homes they were forced to flee to escape the horrors of a war which had split the city in two in July 2012 — Western Aleppo, controlled by the government, and Eastern Aleppo, controlled by the rebels — before it was completely recaptured by President Assad’s forces in December 2016...
Baltimore’s Cardinal Keeler dies (CNS) Cardinal William H. Keeler, the retired archbishop of Baltimore who was known for his vital role in ecumenical and interreligious relations, died early 23 March at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in the Baltimore suburb of Catonsville. He was 86...
What I learned as a doctor in Ethiopia (TIME) I found myself in a packed labor and delivery ward. When a woman gave birth to an unexpected twin who was not breathing, we had no choice. With virtually no protective gear, two nurses I’d brought with me jumped in and saved the baby. We had no way to clean up, because this massive, overcrowded hospital in Ethiopia hadn’t had water in six weeks. We left covered with blood. The operating room, as well as the labor and delivery room, were cleaned with a single cup of water from one of the containers that had to be trucked in. We returned to our hotel and used the trickle coming from the shower to clean up, and we felt lucky to have it...
Palestinian women try to bring baseball to Gaza (AP) The young Palestinian women don baseball caps on top of their Islamic headscarves and field tennis balls with fabric gloves, giving a decidedly local feel to the great American pastime. They are trying to bring baseball to the Gaza Strip, an effort that is still in its early innings...