25 February 2015
A Group of Syrian Kurds return from Turkey to their hometown of Kobane, guided by Turkish officials on 25 February. (photo: Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
For Syria, an infusion of hope for desperate Christian community (Aleteia) The apparent kidnapping of some 90 Christians in the northeast of Syria is another reminder — if any is needed — that Christians and other religious groups continue to be at grave risk as Islamic jihadi groups gather steam in the Middle East. And that merely serves to put greater pressure on people of means to pick up their belongings and seek greener pastures in the West. But that option is one that many Christian leaders in the Middle East are fighting hard to counter. Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, a couple hundred miles west of where the 90 Christians were captured Monday, knows that he must counter the temptation not only with material aid but with a real sense of hope that the current long lent Christians are suffering will indeed come to an end…
Islamic State selling looted Syrian art in London to fund its war (Washington Post) Almost 100 items of Syrian art and antiquities looted by the extremist Islamic State group have been smuggled into Britain and sold for money to fund the group’s activities, art crime experts and archeologists have warned. The items, allegedly being sold in London, range from looted gold and silver Byzantine coins to Roman pottery and glass together worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The London paper compared the phenomenon to Africa’s “blood diamond” industry, in which the money raised by the sale of precious African diamonds financed wars and conflicts across the continent…
Coptic Church forms committee to evacuate Egyptians from Libya (Fides) A “crisis unit” has been instituted at the request of the Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church to collect data and information regarding all Egyptians still present in Libya, in order to facilitate rapid evacuation and repatriation…
Strangers in their own land: Displaced Ukrainians face uncertain future (Al Jazeera) More than one million registered internally displaced people have been uprooted by the violent conflict in Ukraine’s east. In the ten months since refugees started flowing out of the rebel-held territories, the number of displaced in Ukraine has risen to the most in Europe since the Balkan wars…
The war in Ukraine: A failure to evangelize? (Catholic News Agency) Conflict in eastern Ukraine has pitted the country’s government against separatists widely believed to be backed by Russia, and some are attributing the chaos to a failed evangelization in the country. According to the Rev. Wojciech Surówka, a Dominican priest who directs the St. Thomas Aquinas Institute of Religious Sciences in Kiev, “a dialogue of reconciliation between Ukrainians and Russians should begin from the church. If we do not start it, politicians will never do it. It would be nice if the formula of ‘forgive and ask forgiveness’ were delivered simultaneously by the Ukrainian and Russian bishops…”
Mosque torched near Bethlehem in a suspected ‘price tag’ act (i24 News) Palestinians near the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem said a mosque in the village of Jab’awas was set on fire before dawn on Wednesday, arousing suspicions that the vandalism was carried out by right-wing extremists as part of the “price tag” campaign. Nationalist graffiti were sprayed on the mosque’s walls…
24 February 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine West Bank Libya
(image: Tele Lumiere)
More than 90 Syrian Christians, including women and children, have been captured by ISIS militants near the northeastern Syrian city of Hassake.
A number of accounts from Syria report heavy fighting that began over the weekend as ISIS attacked Christian villages along the Khabur River. The river flows into Hassake, a city of 188,000 people, many of whom are Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian Christians.
Hassake is now cut off.
A “mass exodus of people took place [to] Hassake” writes Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana in an email to aid partners, including CNEWA. Church of the East “Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel told me the church and community hall are overloaded with people.”
Syria Daily reports that “the jihadists struck along the Khabur River, moving southeast from Tal Shamiran all the way to Tal Hurmiz. Claims are circulating that churches were burned and villagers were kidnapped, with women and children separated from the men as the Islamic State seeks a prisoner exchange with local Kurdish groups.”
An ethnically diverse region, northeastern Syria is home to large numbers of ethnic Kurds, most of whom are Sunni Muslims, and Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian Christians. Many of the Christians are descendants of those who survived previous massacres. These include the genocidal murder of the Christian community in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and the Simele Massacre of 1933, in which the Iraqi army systematically targeted northern Iraq’s Assyro-Chaldean Christians, perhaps murdering as many as 3,000 people.
“Those villages,” writes Archimandrite Youkhana of the 35 Syrian communities now under siege by ISIS, “were started by Assyrians who fled the massacre of August 1933. So far, they never use the term ‘village’ or ‘town’ for their settlements … [but] insist to say ‘camps’ to reflect the fact that they were settled temporarily.”
The villagers, he notes, “hope to one day return to Iraq.”
At present, writes CNEWA’s Michel Constantin, “all roads leading to Hassake are blocked by so-called Islamic State militants, and the only way to respond to the needs of the refugees is through Turkey or northern Iraq.
“We are establishing communication now to explore any possibilities of providing emergency relief to these new refugees.”
(image: Tele Lumiere)
24 February 2015
Tags: Syria Violence against Christians Chaldean Church Assyrian Church Church of the East
A Syrian child refugee from Hassake plays near his temporary home in Bechouat, Lebanon. Sources now report that the Islamic State has kidnapped some 90 Christians in Hassake. To lend your support to children in Syria whose lives have been upended by violence, please click here. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
24 February 2015
Six months after the bombs stopped falling, Nick Schifrin reports, the process of rebuilding Gaza has been slow and painful. (video: Al Jazeera)
Islamic State kidnaps scores of Christians in new military assault in Syria (Aleteia) The Islamic State group has abducted dozens of Assyrian Christians from villages in northeastern Syria. Quoting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the BBC said that at least 90 men, women and children were seized in a series of dawn raids near the town of Tal Tamr…
Gaza farmers unable to export produce (Al Monitor) Gaza’s farmers have increasingly suffered since the Israeli siege was first imposed in 2006. Despite the Ministry of Agriculture’s announcement of self-sufficiency, the fluctuation of international support and Israel preventing the exportation of agricultural products have destroyed the only source of livelihood for farmers, especially after the recent war…
Coptic bishop: Great witness, exemplary faith of martyrs (Vatican Radio) The 21 Coptic Christians slaughtered by members of the so-called “Islamic State” in Libya, have been officially recognized as martyrs — a fact that ought to give Christians everywhere both hope and pause, says Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos, the general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom…
Ukrainian Catholic leader invites pope, says visit could bring peace (CNS) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church invited Pope Francis to visit the war-torn nation, saying it would help bring peace. “It would be a prophetic gesture that would show the power of prayer and Christian solidarity, give us courage and hope and build a better future for everyone,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych…
The Islamic State’s dangerous gains in Libya (Der Spiegel) Rival militias in Libya have thrown the country into civil war and made it easy prey for the Islamic State. The recent execution of 21 Copts is only one sign of the terrorist group’s growing footprint in North Africa. The Christian massacre has the potential give the country a final push into open civil war. But the dissolution of Libya started long before…
Chaldean patriarch: ‘Italy must not fall into the [Islamic State] trap’ (Zenit) Patriarch Louis Raphael I, who underwent minor surgery at Padre Pio’s Hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, spoke on topics ranging from veneration to Padre Pio in Baghdad to the difficulties faced by the church in Iraq — a “wall of suffering.” On the matter of the current Libyan crisis, the patriarch said, “It’s a trap. Italy must be careful not to engage in war…”
23 February 2015
Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
Armenian Apostolic sisters garden outside the seventh-century St. Gayane Church in Etchmiadzin. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
St. Gregory of Narek, born in the year 951, is an important figure in the traditions of both the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches — “priest and poet, theologian and philosopher, monk and mystic.”
Earlier today, Pope Francis declared St. Gregory a doctor of the church. (For an explanation of this honor, click here.)
In the Autumn 2013 issue of ONE, Michael La Civita wrote about this saint’s life and works:
Few details of Gregory’s life are known, but hints of the man’s years of pain and suffering suffuse his writings, particularly his Book of Lamentations. Written in the waning years of the first Christian millennium, Lamentations is considered by scholars a metaphor for the preparation and celebration of the Divine Liturgy — an “edifice of faith,” to use the poet’s words.
The 95 Lamentations are grouped together, mirroring the different stages of the liturgy, from the dismissal of the catechumens, the profession of faith and communion to the final prayers in preparation of death and judgment.
For the entire piece — complete with an excerpt from St. Gregory’s Book of Lamentations — click here, or read Staying Power, from the Autumn 2013 issue of ONE.
23 February 2015
Tags: Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church Prayers/Hymns/Saints Saints Monasticism
Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin celebrates the Christmas liturgy on 6 January 2011. (photo: Tigran Mehrabyan/AFP/Getty Images)
St. Gregory of Narek, doctor of the church (VIS) On Saturday, 21 February, Pope Francis received in audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. During the audience he confirmed the proposal by the cardinals and bishops, members of the plenary session of the congregation, to concede the title of doctor of the universal church to St. Gregory of Narek, priest and monk, who was born in Andzevatsij (then Armenia, present-day Turkey) in 1005 and died in Narek (then Armenia, present-day Turkey) around 1005.
Ukraine’s front-line fighters balk at peace (Al Jazeera) Today, the ceasefire is a truce in name only. With the capture of Debaltseve a few days ago, the Minsk II agreement has gone the way of its predecessor as fighting continues to rage along the front. “No one believes in this truce. No one believes [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will honor it,” one soldier said. The bigger problem for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is not that his soldiers do not trust Mr. Putin, but that they do not trust him, their leader…
Egypt’s grand mufti says Islamic State attack against Copts un-Islamic (Ahram Online) Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, the Egyptian state’s authority responsible for issuing religious edicts, said on Monday in a statement that the Islamic State executing 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya was an act empty of the “great tolerance of Islam.” He insisted that the militant group has no understanding of the meaning of the Holy Quran. He added that the group’s attribution of certain sayings to Prophet Mohamed was erroneous…
Coptic Catholics consecrate first-ever church in Sinai (Aid to the Church in Need) The same day the Islamic State released gruesome video of the execution of Copts in Libya, 15 February 2015, Egypt’s Coptic Catholic Church celebrated the consecration of its first-ever church in Sinai: Our Lady of Peace, in the community of Sharm al Sheikh. The name had been chosen by Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mrs. Mubarak, who was educated by Catholic sisters, ensured that construction of the church could proceed after years of delay and opposition by local political leadership. Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac, head of the 200,000-member Coptic Catholic Church, presided over the consecration ceremony…
Gazans forced to sell their belongings (Al Monitor) The harsh economic crisis that has been worsening in the Gaza Strip has forced Gazans to sell their belongings to avoid begging for money. Asked about these crises, economist Samir Hamattu explained that these result from various political and economic conditions, including the Israeli blockade, the war on Gaza, the closure of border tunnels with Egypt, the closing of the Rafah border crossing, Hamas-Fatah political differences and the financial crisis currently plaguing the Palestinian Authority’s institutions…
Syria insists on cooperation in fight against antiquities theft (New York Times) The world will have to cooperate with Syria to halt the trade in looted antiquities that helps fund jihadist groups, Syria’s culture minister said, putting the onus on Turkey to stop the smuggling across their shared frontier. Culture minister Issam Khalil said a U.N. Security Council resolution that aims to stop groups including Islamic State from benefiting from the illicit antiquities trade would not be effective without the help of Damascus, a pariah to many Arab and Western states since Syria’s war erupted in 2011…
20 February 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Armenia
Cloisonneé originated in the eastern Mediterranean region and developed in the Byzantine Empire — and, some scholars argue, Georgia, where it is known as minankari. (photo: Molly Corso)
In the Winter edition of ONE, photojournalist Molly Corso explores how an ancient art is getting a new life in Georgia. She explains her own experience with this art below.
When I first came to Georgia, everyone wore black.
In 2001, in Tbilisi, in the winter, when the skies were gray and the electricity was usually off, life was a monochrome of black figures moving in a mass of grayness.
But every once in a while, usually pinned to the jacket of a woman of a certain age, there would be a stab of red and a cool pool of blues and greens caught up in a delicate swirl of silver.
The deep, rich colors evoked a sense of distant, exotic places — like India or the Middle East — some place far from the drabness of post-Soviet anything, some place where the spices were more vibrant than any painter’s palate.
In short, someplace very different than Georgia in the waning days of the Shevardnadze government.
The small brushes of brilliant hues that broke through the black were actually quintessentially Georgian, however — a form of ornament-making the Georgian artisans perfected centuries ago.
But back then enamel jewelry — like so many of Georgia’s ancient arts — was not popular. The extreme poverty that blanketed the country at the time forced valuable metals to the forefront; a good gift was anything with a smidgen of gold, not some ornamental throwback to Georgia’s past.
Those who were actively working to rekindle, revive, restore Georgia’s great artistic traditions were a minority in a country where the majority were just focused on getting by.
So, as it was with so many things of that time, it fell to the Georgian Orthodox Church to task artists, like Davit Kakabadze, to relearn the art of enamel — and to restore it to its original purpose, which was to give an image to the haunting history and traditions of the Church.
And now slowly, over the past ten years or so, enamel jewelry and enamel icons have been making a measured comeback. Today, they are everywhere, for sale for as little as a few dollars in downtown shops or for thousands in galleries and gala charity auctions.
The intricate designs can be traditional swirls of color or modern takes; shops sell them in all shapes and styles, even pendants made up to look like sunflowers or popular cartoon characters.
They are still as breathtaking as when I first noticed them — rich, vibrant colors caught up in a pattern of swirls or a delicate mosaic. Women wear them in oversized rings, necklaces, brooches and beautiful little crosses.
The bright bits of enamel are now known to be a pleasing, unique gift for birthdays or baptisms, according to Yulia Abranova at the Chaldean Church.
They are also — at the Chaldean Church and at Caritas Georgia — known to be a deceptively powerful way to help troubled youth inch out of poverty.
Five days a week, teenage boys and girls hunch over tiny bits of silver, making beautiful jewelry using the method and skills their ancestors developed thousands of years ago.
They design icons, pendants and rings; select colors and patterns; and spend hours painstakingly honing their craft — developing a skill they can use to earn a living long after they leave.
The art form they are learning, not long ago dismissed as a simple ornament that was less valuable than Russian or Armenian gold, is now appreciated as a priceless part of Georgian culture and folk art. And, a valuable commodity in the growing souvenir trade.
I received my first piece of Georgian enamel jewelry several years ago — a beautiful blue, green and gold cross that was technically a gift for my infant daughter on her baptism day. An American friend gave it to her, and when my husband saw it, he was shocked — stunned, really — that a foreigner had actually paid money for something Georgians thought so little of.
My reaction to it must have struck a chord: he gave me a piece of enamel jewelry that year on my birthday. The tiny splashes of bright colors lying in my jewelry box, shining against the dark velvet, never cease to captivate my daughter.
She loves to take them out, feel the cool surface with her fingers, run a nail around the swirling patterns.
Read more and see more pictures in “Crafting a Future” in the Winter edition of ONE.
20 February 2015
In this photo from the Winter edition of ONE, students pray at the Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. To learn more about the school and the Armenian community, read “A Beacon of Hope in Jerusalem” in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)
20 February 2015
People living in war-torn eastern Ukraine struggle to feed themselves and their children as provisions become increasingly scarce. The World Food Program says it is scaling up its emergency operation in the region to help the nearly 190,000 people displaced by the conflict. (video: The Guardian)
Retreating soldiers bring echoes of war’s chaos to a Ukrainian town (New York Times) As violence continued to plague eastern Ukraine on Thursday, demoralized Ukrainian soldiers straggled into the town of Artemivsk, griping about incompetent leadership and recounting desperate conditions and gruesome killing as they beat a haphazard retreat from the strategic town of Debaltseve…
Pope Francis tells Ukrainian bishops to stay out of politics (National Catholic Reporter) Pope Francis has called on Catholic bishops in Ukraine to stay out of political debates and focus their energies on caring for their people and in reaffirming Christian values. Speaking Friday to various Catholic prelates of the country, Francis said he understood that “recent historical events that have marked your land are still present in the collective memory.” But, the pope said, those events are not for bishops to respond to. Instead, he said, “there are also sociocultural and human tragedies that await your direct and positive contribution…”
Church speaks out against Dalit discrimination (Fides) The Catholic Church in India is calling on the government to end legalized discrimination against Dalit Christians. Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi says it is time to re-introduce for Dalit Christians the same benefits enjoyed by Hindu Dalits, denied for six decades to Christians…
No information on fate of Christian leaders abducted in Syria in 2013 (Interfax) Two Christian leaders abducted in Syria nearly two years ago have still not been found, Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and All the East said at a meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Moscow…
Iraqi Christian men fight to keep Islamic State away from homes (The Daily Signal) Since the summer, some 30,000 Christians have fled the Nineveh Plains. Without official government support, and with minimal equipment primarily funded through donations, the young Christian men — most in their early to mid 20’s — feel a responsibility to defend their own…
19 February 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Iraqi Christians Dalits
In Trichur, India, the Congregation of Samaritan Sisters Generalate, led by Mother Rose Cornelia and the Mistress of Novices, Sister Sophia, greet visitors. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Pope Francis has proclaimed 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life. It’s a time for celebrating the work of the religious orders — sisters, brothers, priests — who’ve made their lives a consecration to God and his people.
No one embodies this devotion more than the sisters. They’re the driving force behind most of the initiatives CNEWA donors graciously support. Today, ONE-TO-ONE begins a series of profiles to introduce you to some of these remarkable women and their vital work.
In the countries where CNEWA works, sisters serve in schools, hospitals, orphanages and other works that help people in need. Many sisters work in places where family structures have disintegrated. So, for the children they help, the sisters create that environment — a structure for those who don’t have a family. They feed, house, clothe, educate and care for them so they’re not alone.
In crisis areas, sisters provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care and even psychological help to displaced people. They often have to improvise, and don’t always have the resources they need. But they never discriminate in terms of religious or cultural background. They don’t turn people away.
When you become a novice, you learn about the church’s and your religious order’s practices, which strengthen your relationship with God. Sisters also learn how to minister by working with those already doing it, through hands-on learning in the field as well as through formal education. You live with other sisters. You share your prayers. You share your meals and other aspects of the community’s daily life and ministry.
It’s about simplicity. You give your life to a religious community that professes belief in God and practices works of mercy. From that base, you go out and serve the wider world.
You also learn from the Gospel to treat others as you would be treated — which fits in with the total mission of the church, especially under Pope Francis. It’s not about ritual and bureaucracy. It’s about emphasizing the religious and humanitarian aspects of what we do as a church.
The sisters bring that into everyday life. During the days and weeks ahead, ONE-TO-ONE will show you how they do it. For the church to be alive, we need religious women to continue the faith. Through times of crisis and periods of calm, faith is what endures.
To support the work of sisters around the world, please visit this page.
And be sure to read our first profile, about a young sister in Ethiopia, who is teaching skills that are changing lives.
Brother Gerard Conforti, F.S.C., has a background in education and financial management in New York and Michigan. After working in the Middle East at Bethlehem University, he was invited to join Catholic Near East Welfare Association in New York, where he now serves as Chief Administrative Officer.