27 March 2014
Residents who fled Kessab, Syria when it came under attack seek shelter at an Armenian church in a neighboring village. (photo: CNEWA)
Michel Constantin is CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt
On Friday 21 March 2014, fighters from the Islamic Front and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front launched a surprise attack from the Turkish territories at the Syrian-Turkish borders in the north, seizing the Armenian Christian town of Kassab after taking the nearby border crossing.
The attack began at two in the morning. The inhabitants of Kassab, who are 95 percent Christian Armenians, were given only two hours to leave their houses or else risk getting killed.
Rebel fighters have also struck deeper into Lattakia province, attacking the town of Solas to the south and firing rockets overnight into Lattakia city, killing eight people. This has raised international concern, since the port of Lattakia is the main transportation hub shipping Syria’s chemical wepaons out of the country to be destroyed.
The attack also deepened the conflict between the two neighboring countries, especially since Syria accused Turkey of providing military cover for the rebel attack on Kassab, saying Turkish forces fired into Syrian territory. The Al Qaeda attack and takeover of the Kassab border crossing has caused up to 2,000 Armenian Syrians to flee the area. Mass looting and destruction of religious sites was reported by residents (similar to acts reportedly carried out in the city of Yabroud). Armenians are once again refugees like their ancestors who fled the Armenian genocide decades ago.
Some 680 Armenian families, the majority of the population of Kessab, were evacuated to safer areas in neighboring Basit and Lattakia; 300 Armenian families found shelter in their relatives’ and friends’ houses, while the remaining 380 have sought refuge in the Armenian Church’s hall. There is now concern about the fate of 10 to 15 families who couldn’t leave their village or chose to stay in their homes.
On Saturday 22 March, Syrian troops launched a counter-attack in an attempt to regain the border crossing point, according to eye-witnesses and state media. However, the following day the extremist groups once again entered the town of Kassab and took the remaining Armenian families hostage. They reportedly desecrated the town’s three Armenian churches, pillaged local homes and occupied the town and surrounding villages.
CNEWA immediately responded to the urgent need and provided the refugees with emergency items for 380 families in Lattakia, through its contact with the Armenian joint committee composed of an Armenian Catholic priest, an Armenian Apostolic priest, an Armenian Evangelical pastor and two social activists. CNEWA also supported 50 families who fled to Beirut through the Karagheuzian center in Bourj Hammoud.
To learn how you can support the refugees, visit our emergency giving page for Syria.
27 March 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama presents a gift to Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican on 27 March. The president gave the pope a blue box containing a selection of fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House Garden. (photo: CNS/Stefano Spaziani, pool)
President Barack Obama met Pope Francis today for the first time, and the visit included the customary exchange of gifts. The CNS blog has details:
U.S. President Barack Obama gave Pope Francis a small chest full of fruit and vegetable seeds that are used in the White House Gardens.
“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” the president said.
“Como no!” the pope replied in Spanish, “Why not?” or “Of course.”
The seeds were inside individual blue velvet pouches.
“These I think are carrots,” the president said as he opened one of the pouches.
The president said the idea for the seeds came after he heard that Pope Francis had decided to open to the public the gardens at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
The custom-made box the seeds came in is made from reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore &mash; the first cathedral in the United States and an international symbol of religious freedom. [Read this story by the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s The Catholic Review for more interesting background on the box!]
The basilica’s cornerstone was laid by Jesuit Father John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States.
Read more about the gifts. And CNS also has additional details about the meeting.
27 March 2014
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs amid destroyed buildings during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al Assad in the town of Morek on 11 March. Catholic bishops of Syria called for a cease-fire and for the pursuit of the Geneva peace talks to end the crisis in their country. (photo: CNS/Rasem Ghareeb, Reuters)
Syrian Ambassador says 98 churches, 1900 mosques destroyed in Syria (Interfax) Syrian Ambassador Riad Haddad said that 98 Christian churches were partly or entirely destroyed during the military conflict in the country. At the same time, 1900 mosques, 1600 schools and 60 percent of Syrian hospitals were partly or entirely destroyed, Haddad said at his meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow…
Violence against Copts in Egypt continues despite fall of Muslim Brotherhood (AINA) Violence in Egypt against Coptic Christians has continued despite the fall of President Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, with believers still facing abductions and the government seizing their property, the Board of Inquiry in Cairo reported. The report, according to Fides News Agency, shows that Copts, who make up close to 10 percent of the population, are continuing to face “endemic forms of violence and abuse” in many parts of Egypt, particularly in the governorates of Luxor, Sohag and Aswan…
Egypt’s Sisi to run for president, vows to tackle militancy (Reuters) Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the general who ousted Egypt’s first freely elected leader, declared his candidacy on Wednesday for a presidential election he is expected to easily win. Sisi toppled Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July after mass protests against his rule and has emerged as the most influential figure in an interim administration that has governed since then…
Ukrainian crisis may split Russian Orthodox Church (National Catholic Reporter) As Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border and a controversial secession vote in Crimea approached on 16 March, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church called for prayers “that brothers of one faith and one blood never bring destruction to one another.” Russia has prided itself on its revival of Orthodox Christianity after decades of Soviet persecution, but a war with the Ukraine could splinter the Russian Orthodox Church. That church has its roots in Kiev, where Prince Vladimir baptized his people as Christians in 988, an event viewed as a cornerstone of Russian and Ukrainian identity…
Israel to allow materials into Gaza for Turkish hospital (Daily Star Lebanon) Israel said on Thursday it will allow into the Gaza Strip construction materials and electric equipment to help build a Turkish-sponsored hospital, in a possible sign of improving ties with Ankara. Gaza, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, lacks much basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade meant to cut off arms flows but which also curbs imports of fuel and building supplies. Turkey began constructing the hospital in 2011 using materials smuggled into the territory through tunnels and this is first time Israel has let any in for the project…
Pope entrusts the people of Lebanon to the Virgin Mary (VIS) On 25 March, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sent a message on behalf of Pope Francis to the participants in the eighth Islamic-Christian Prayer Meeting, expressing joy at “Christians and Muslims united in their devotion to the Virgin Mary.” He also entrusts the participants in the meeting “and all the inhabitants of Lebanon to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace and Protectress of Lebanon…”
26 March 2014
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox Church
Father Ihor Hiletsky shows a picture of the grave of alcoholism in the village of Stankiv.
(photo: Yuriy Dyachyshyn)
While Ukraine has been very much in the news lately, something that isn’t reported much is the country’s serious problem with alcoholism and addiction. We looked at how the country was coping back in 2010:
According to a 2008 study on alcoholism conducted by the World Health Organization, Ukraine ranked at the top of the list of countries with the highest rates of alcohol consumption among children and young people. With a population of 2.5 million people, the Lviv Oblast (or province) falls within the mean of Ukraine’s 24 oblasts with respect to substance abuse, which includes alcoholism and drug use. Last year, between 1 January and 1 July, public health authorities registered 428 cases of alcoholism and drug addiction among people under the age of 18, and 35,248 cases among adults.
“That is only the official data,” says Dr. Myroslava Kabanchyk, the chief physician at the Lviv State Clinical Pharmacological Dispensary. “There are many more people like that, a great number of whom fear seeking medical treatment. If they did they would not be able to work or go abroad for five years. Many others have just not been officially registered, such as those over 60 or those who live deep in the Carpathian Mountains.” She estimates the real number of addicts and alcoholics far surpasses the official numbers...
...In 2003, Viktor Proskuriakov took part in “The Burial of Alcoholism,” a ritual in which parishioners from the Greek Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity in the village of Stankiv joined together and took an oath to give up drinking and end alcohol dependency. The crowd gathered around an open grave, which was filled with liquor bottles, to pray and symbolically bury the disease. Marked with a tombstone to remind villagers of their oaths, the grave can be seen from the road leading to the church and rectory.
Father Ihor Hiletsky, who serves as the church’s pastor as well as the coordinator of youth programs for the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Stryj, organized the burial.
“The idea to conduct a series of events exposing alcoholism as a sinister evil occurred in 2001 just after I had come to Stankiv,” says Father Hiletsky.
Read more about Burying Alcoholism in the January 2010 issue of ONE.
26 March 2014
A man passes a mural showing a map of Crimea in the Russian national colors on a street in Moscow on 25 March. A Ukrainian Catholic priest from Crimea says he fled to Ukraine because Russian authorities are pressuring ethnic Ukrainians. (photo: CNS/Artur Bainozarov, Reuters)
Ukrainian Orthodox churches face own crisis (Voice of America) The clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate blessed the anti-government protesters and rolled up their cassock sleeves to help build barricades themselves. The larger Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, an autonomous church that is a subordinate of the Russian Orthodox Church, positioned itself outside of the Maidan protests, praying for reconciliation and urging dialogue. But some senior figures were openly critical, with one bishop saying Maidan protesters had “evil in their hearts.” The Moscow Patriarch himself has adopted also a more neutral position on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, issuing generic pleas for peace. Now some of the Moscow Patriarch’s parishes are rebelling and threatening to defect to the rival Kyiv Patriarch…
The Crimean crisis from the Kremlin’s perspective (Der Spiegel) The E.U. and U.S. have come down hard on Russia for its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. But from the perspective of the Kremlin, it is the West that has painted Putin into a corner. And the Russian president will do what it takes to free himself…
In Israel, African immigrants find no refuge (Los Angeles Times) Immigrants from Africa started crossing into Israel from Egypt in large numbers about eight years ago. Mostly young men from Sudan and Eritrea, they say they’re refugees fleeing conflict and repressive governments. But Israel’s leaders, who have come under pressure to act amid escalating tension between the Africans and some of their Israeli neighbors, believe most are economic migrants who should leave…
Maronite bishop target of attempted abduction (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Bishop Semaan Atallah was the target of an attempted abduction over the weekend in the eastern town of Zahle by a known group, a security source told The Daily Star…
Coptic Catholic bishop: The church is always against the death penalty (Fides) The Coptic Catholic bishop of Assiut, Kyrillos William, has spoken out against the 529 death sentences issued against the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Court of Minya. “The church is against the death penalty. … The death penalty can never be the way to solve problems in the right way…”
Egyptian policeman’s wife casts doubt on death sentences handed out to 529 (The Guardian) The wife of the policeman whose murder led to death sentences for 529 Egyptians on Monday has suggested that only two of them may be responsible for his killing. Speaking to an Egyptian news presenter after the case ended, Al-Attar’s wife, Magda Abbas, inadvertently cast further doubt on the strength of the prosecution by saying that her joy at the sentences was tempered by the fact that the two men who killed him are not among those in prison, and are still in hiding…
25 March 2014
Tags: Egypt Coptic Catholic Church Maronite Crimea Ukrainian Orthodox Church
In this image from January, Pope Francis is pictured next to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, during an exchange of greetings with ambassadors to the Holy See at the Vatican. Cardinal Parolin today sent a message to participants at an Islamic-Christian Prayer Meeting in Lebanon, urging both Christians and Muslims to work together for peace and the common good and encourage dialogue. (photo: CNS /Paul Haring)
25 March 2014
Syrian Armenian Zvart Yeranossian, 28, sits in her home in Bourj Hammoud, a densely populated Armenian enclave in the eastern suburbs of Beirut, in August. Syrian Armenians are fleeing their homes en masse, with many seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Read more in A Refuge in Lebanon, from the Winter 2013 issue of ONE. (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
Reports cite 80 dead in Kessab; churches desecrated (Asbarez.com) The Armenian-populated villages of Kessab, Syria, were the target of three days of brutal cross-border attacks from Turkey by Islamist armed bands, which have cost 80 lives and forced the civilian population of the area to flee to neighboring hills, with many seeking safe haven in the nearby cities of Latakia and Basit…
Russian, Ukrainian Foreign Ministers meet amid crisis (Vatican Radio) Leaders of the group of industrialized nations have suspended Russia from the G8 group over its controversial annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The announcement came after a G7 meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, where Russian and Ukrainian Foreign Ministers held talks…
Church official: Schism in Ukraine will fade without political support (Interfax) A Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate official believes the main reason of existing church schism in Ukraine is its political support. “I’m convinced that if the schism is deprived of political support, it will stop existing in a very short time,” deputy head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Archpriest Nikolay Balashov said on air the Radonezh Orthodox radio station…
U.N. disturbed by imposition of mass death sentence in Egypt (U.N. News Center) The United Nations human rights office said today it is deeply alarmed by the imposition of the death penalty against 529 people in Egypt on Monday after a “cursory” mass trial in which the majority of defendants were not present in court. “The mass imposition of the death penalty after a trial that was rife with procedural irregularities is in breach of international human rights law,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news conference in Geneva…
The importance of contemporary Arab coffee culture (Al Monitor) Long ago, Arab cafes transformed into forums for political debate after politics in Arab countries became monopolized by the ruling regimes. Yet, with the outbreak of the Arab Spring, the cafes lost some of their political meaning for a while. Recently, they have begun to recover this status. Coffee is linked to nationalism in the Mediterranean basin. Anyone who has traveled to Greece, for example, knows that asking a waiter in a hotel or restaurant for “Turkish coffee” would result in a lengthy discussion clarifying that its proper name is “Greek coffee.” Similarly, if I dared, as an Egyptian, to ask for “Turkish coffee” in Lebanon, I would face stares of admonition for using the incorrect name for “Arabic coffee”…
24 March 2014
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians United Nations Ukrainian Orthodox Church
St. Piux X High School seniors Anna Johnson and Chris Cardillo meet with advisor Dennis Ruggiero. After a presentation by CNEWA at their Atlanta school, the students took part in a fundraiser for Syrian refugees. (photo: Michael Alexander)
Lindsay Wood contributes to The Georgia Bulletin, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Attacks on minorities in Syria are continuing at a feverish pace as more people are forced to flee their homes and, in some cases, are being killed for their faith. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been displaced since 2011, report Syrian church officials, when civil war broke out between Syrian rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Last fall, students at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, were stunned to hear about the plight of their brothers and sisters in the thick of the Arab Spring during a presentation given by Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
“I honestly had no idea what was going on,” St. Pius X senior Abby Barnett, 17, says. “Once we had the presentation, though, we started talking more about it in class. It was really eye-opening.”
News of church burnings, homeless children and abducted church officials concerned the school.
So they decided to do something about it.
St. Pius X’s student-led, anti-genocide group, STAND, enlisted the help of students at Marist School in Atlanta to host an ice skate-a-thon for Syrian students in need.
Nearly 50 students enjoyed the Marietta Ice Center last November, and raised about $400 to donate to CNEWA for Syrian children.
The money raised helped about 10 Syrian children receive backpacks, shoes, coats and other school supplies.
St. Pius X teacher and STAND advisor Dennis Ruggiero helped the group brainstorm on the best way to raise funds. Since Mr. Ruggiero and his family spend a lot of time playing hockey at the Marietta Ice Center, it seemed like a natural choice for the fundraiser. STAND co-presidents Anna Johnson, Darby Thomas and Kevin Quigley spread the word via Twitter, Facebook, school posters and announcements.
Senior and STAND member Chris Cardillo, 18, can’t ice skate, but says “it was still fun.”
Awareness was one of the main goals for the fundraiser, he adds. Before the CNEWA presentation, Chris didn’t know about the specifics of the conflict in Syria.
“It’s weird to think about because there’s so much [religious] tolerance in our country,” Chris says. “It made me appreciate it more because it’s something you take for granted when it’s the social norm. But when you hear about people who can’t practice their religion freely, it makes you appreciate that you can do that so easily here.”
Under the Syrian constitution, religious freedom was protected. As the civil war has intensified, so has pressure on ethnic and religious minorities, who are caught in the middle.
The conflict in Syria first began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against the Syrian president — inspired by similar calls in Tunisia and Egypt — that called for government and economic reform. The Syrian Army was called to disperse the protests, but caused an uproar among the people and a rebellion was formed. Opposing rebel forces are diverse and range from a Western-backed Free Syrian Army to a collection of individual Islamist and jihadist groups and the Kurds. But hundreds of smaller rebel groups occupy parts of Syria as well.
By July 2013, the United Nations announced the death toll to be at more than 100,000 people.
“I think the students were genuinely concerned about what’s going on,” Mr. Ruggiero says of the conflict in the Middle East. ”They were pretty shocked. I want my students to see that.”
The donations given by the students at St. Pius X High School will be sent to CNEWA’s centers in the northern region of Syria.
STAND co-president Anna Johnson, 18, said she hopes the money given to Syrian students will give them better tools to move forward with their lives and overcome adversity.
Anna says the presentation was also a “seed planting” for her classmates to take with them in college and beyond.
Msgr. Richard Lopez, professor of theology at St. Pius X High School, says he is proud of his students for representing the “essence of our religion — to help those in need.”
“Adolescents will embrace a cause,” Msgr. Lopez says. “Give them a reason to stand up against evil, they will.”
St. Pius X High School theology teacher Msgr. Richard Lopez helped raise awareness about the plight of Syrian Christians. (photo: Michael Alexander)
Interested in having CNEWA visit your school or parish? Contact Norma Intriago at email@example.com.
And to support our efforts to help suffering Christians in Syria, visit our Syria giving page.
24 March 2014
Holed up in their caves in Lalibela, an important center of pilgrimage in Ethiopia, hermits dedicate their lives to study and prayer. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we took readers on a journey to Ethiopia, and disocovered a country at a crossroads:
In Ethiopia, one can now discern tension developing between priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church — the historic church of the Ethiopian people — and the faithful. This tension reflects the evolution of Ethiopia from an agricultural society of subsistent farmers to an urbanized and industrial modern state.
In the past, the priest was the natural reference point and adviser. Today, however, Ethiopia’s young, urban Orthodox Christians no longer perceive the priest as the only source of wisdom; they turn increasingly to their own experiences to find answers to life’s complexities.Ethiopia is celebrated for its many monasteries, ancient foundations peopled with men who, in the footsteps of the early desert fathers, have fled the world to fast, pray and participate in the weekly celebration of the Qeddase, the eucharistic liturgy of the church.
Academics describe Ethiopian Orthodox spirituality, with its focus on interior prayer and the communal celebration of the Qeddase, as introspective and monastic. They contrast this with the more extroverted spirituality pervading Christian life in the West, where ministry exercises a more “apostolic” dimension.
Though Ethiopia’s monks have retreated from the world, they have not forsaken it. Historically, monasteries have played a significant role in the development of the Ethiopian nation, its culture and its identity, even participating in its often volatile political life.
Despite such power and influence, however, the laity understands that the role of a monk is contemplative. This traditional role is not reserved to those in monastic life alone, but extended to parish priests as well.
Read more about Ethiopian Orthodoxy at a Crossroads from the November 2007 issue of ONE.
24 March 2014
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church elected Bishop Naum of Stob, left, as the new metropolitan of Rousse. The post has been vacant since the election of Patriarch Neofit, right, in February 2013. (photo: Bulgarian Orthodox Church)
Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neofit’s first ‘year of change’ (Sofia Globe) It was an eventful and significant year in the history of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church — not only because of the election of a new patriarch, not only because of the sudden and mysterious death of the influential Varna Metropolitan Kiril, but also primarily because the period has seen the emergence of processes and phenomena that will have a lasting impact in the future…
Egypt sentences 529 to death (Washington Post) An Egyptian court has sentenced 529 people to death, in the largest capital punishment case on record in Egypt, judicial authorities said Monday. The alleged supporters of ousted Islamist President Muhammad Morsi were convicted on charges of killing a single police officer, the attempted murder of two others, and attacking a police station in the Nile Valley city of Minya last August. Sixteen others were acquitted. The mass sentencing underscored the severity of an ongoing campaign by Egypt’s military-backed leaders to silence opposition here, eight months after a military coup ousted President Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader…
Pope Tawadros II laments Arab Spring as ‘winter’ (Fides) According to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, the “Arab Spring,” in reality, “was not a spring or even an autumn, it was a winter.” Pope Tawadros rejects any globally positive interpretation regarding the results caused by rebellions and conflicts that have devastated most of the Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Egypt, since the end of 2010…
In show of strength, Hamas supporters flood downtown Gaza (Christian Science Monitor) Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters thronged the streets of downtown Gaza City on Sunday, a show of strength at a time when the Islamic militant group faces its deepest crisis since seizing power seven years ago. Hamas is dealing with a severe financial shortfall, caused by heavy pressure from both Israel and Egypt. But leaders stressed that the group remains opposed to Mideast peace efforts and is ready for battle against Israel at any time…
Russian troops capture Ukraine’s last land base in Crimea (Los Angeles Times) Russian troops stormed and captured the Ukrainian military’s last remaining land base in Crimea on Monday, a Ukrainian official said. “Russian military are in a hurry to claim that there are no longer any Ukraine army bases in the peninsula to prevent the U.N. General Assembly from declaring Crimea a demilitarized zone at its session on Thursday,” said Dmitry Tymchuk, a Ukraine defense expert. “The General Assembly may theoretically demand that both Russia and Ukraine withdraw their troops from the peninsula, but Russia can make an argument that there are no Ukraine troops in Crimea any longer and prevent the issue from being discussed…”
Simferopol Eparchy denies expropriating property of the Kiev Patriarchate (Pravoslavie.ru) The press service of the Eparchy of Simferopol and Crimea have officially denied allegations currently being spread in the press that members of the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, along with armed individuals, are claiming church property of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, in the village of Perevalnoye in Crimea…
Tags: Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Crimea Bulgarian Orthodox Church