Current Issue
Spring, 2015
Volume 41, Number 1
5 March 2015
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Syrian and Iraqi church leaders discuss how the Islamic State has impacted their region. (video: Rome Reports)

Islamic State claims upper hand in fight for Iraq’s cities (CBS News) The front line in Iraq’s Kirkuk province was as close as CBS News correspondent Holly Williams and her team could get Thursday to the battle for Tikrit. The black flags of the Islamic State flew just 30 yards from Williams’ position with Kurdish peshmerga fighters, and beyond that, in Islamic State territory, was Iraq’s main north-south highway…

Dozens reported killed in mine blast in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Local officials say at least 24 people have been killed and 9 remain missing after a massive blast at a coal mine in war-torn eastern Ukraine. The announcement came while Kiev accused authorities in rebel-controlled Donetsk of not doing enough to save lives…

War threatens to fracture Russian Orthodox faithful (U.S. News & World Report) One year on, war is threatening to further fracture Orthodoxy in Ukraine. While Orthodoxy has played a role in Ukraine-Russia relations long before the 2013 to 2014 Euromaidan protests and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine, a decades-long divide has found renewed prominence in the past year. From churches being used to store weapons for the rebels to calls from pro-Ukrainian church leadership to send weapons to Kiev, it’s hard to deny that the war has come to the pews…

Israel moves to alleviate water shortage in Gaza (The Jerusalem Post) Israel plans to double the amount of water it sells to the Gaza Strip to help relieve the water crisis there and ease the burden on the overtaxed coastal aquifer. It is the latest in a series of gestures Israel has made recently to the Palestinians there and in the West Bank…

Rebels attack Syrian intelligence office (Associated Press) Rebels of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and other radical Islamic factions carried out an assault on Wednesday on a government intelligence building in the northern city of Aleppo, blowing up part of it, two activist groups said…

Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel

3 March 2015
Greg Kandra

A displaced Syrian girl finds temporary shelter at a school in Damascus, Syria, on 23 February. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)

Syrian families who have fled their homes after the Islamic State raided their villages are receiving aid from CNEWA.

Catholic News Service interviewed Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, who coordinates our regional emergency relief programs:

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, upon learning about the Islamic State attacks, contacted Bishop Aprim Nathniel of the Assyrian Church of the East in Hassake, with whom the agency had collaborated on previous projects, said Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon.

“What we learned from Bishop [Aprim] is that so far, there are around 900 families that have been displaced from around 18 villages out of 35,” Mr. Constantin told Catholic News Service on 27 February from Beirut. “Another 200 families are expected to come as soon as the fighting cools down a little bit.”

He said most of the 900 displaced families have been temporarily settled in homes in Hassake abandoned by fellow Christians — Assyrians, Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox — who had earlier fled out of fear because Islamic State groups were very close.

“There were many individual houses that were vacant, so the bishop took the initiative to open these houses, knowing that nobody would mind,” Mr. Constantin said. Although the homes are furnished, the displaced families were in urgent need of food, heating fuel, gas for cooking and medication.

“It’s very important to reach out to them with something very basic to sustain them at least for a couple of weeks,” he said. As a first step, CNEWA arranged to send 900 food packages, enough for each family for that initial period.

However, delivering aid or money to Syria is complicated.

“It’s a very long process to buy food from the outside and send it to Syria. It’s not feasible, it takes too much time,” Mr. Constantin explained. Furthermore, transporting goods is perilous because there are daily raids by Islamic State along the only road that links Hassake to Qamishli.

Under such circumstances, he says it is more efficient to send money to purchase whatever is available locally, but due to the conflict, there is no banking system working in Hassake to send funds via bank transfer.

He said CNEWA was working with an Iraqi aid agency able to get the funds into Syria.

“Without this contact in Iraq we could not be so efficient,” he said.

As a first step, CNEWA sent around $36,000 to buy 900 food packages for $40 each. The agency determined from its work in Syria that $40 can sustain a family of five with food for about two weeks.

“It’s a top priority for us to help these people at this moment and then we can coordinate with other partners to see how more grants, more funding can be conveyed to them,” he added.

CNS has more details.

Meantime, the need continues to be urgent. Please keep these refugees and all who are seeking to help them in your prayers. And to learn how you can help, visit this link.

Tags: Syria CNEWA Refugees Relief

3 March 2015
Greg Kandra

Women in India have benefited from numerous initiatives of the village of San Joe Puram, including efforts to improve literacy, sanitation and water access. To learn more, read A Place of Promise — and Providence in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)

Tags: India Village life Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Women Women in India

3 March 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from December, an Iraqi soldier prays along a dirt road en route to the front lines to battle the Islamic State. The Iraqi military has launched a massive offensive to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State militants. (photo: Scott Person/Getty Images)

Iraqi forces launch offensive to retake Tikrit (Vatican Radio) Iraqi troops and militia fighters have launched an offensive to recapture the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants. The military offensive is the largest since the militants took control of the city last year. The offensive is the first in a series of campaigns to try to reclaim large parts of northern Iraq from the Sunni extremists. Tikrit, the provincial capital of the Saladin province north of Baghdad, fell to the Islamic State last summer, along with Mosul and other areas in the country’s Sunni heartland…

Former general urges Lebanon to welcome refugees (Fides) Former general Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has launched an appeal to the Lebanese authorities to welcome the entry of new refugees in Lebanon of Christian Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syrians fleeing areas of the Syrian province of Jazira, under attack by the Islamic State…

Patriarch Tawadros to meet with families of slain Coptic Christians (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II will meet today, Tuesday, 3 March, with the families of 21 Coptic Christians killed in Libya by terrorists linked to the Islamic State, according to official sources of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. The meeting will be held in the village of Samalot, in the province where most of the victims came from. Yesterday, during a homily, the patriarch said that the martyrs of Libya “have enriched the church with their blood,” and with their martyrdom have confessed and testified faith in Christ before the world…

Famed graffiti artist Bansky leaves his mark in Gaza (Salon) Whenever a new piece by graffiti artist Banksy shows up in the world, people take notice. Now, thanks to Banksy, the world is once again looking squarely at Gaza after what feels like the first time since the Gaza war last summer…

Tags: Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank Art Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II

2 March 2015
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis meets Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, third from left, during a private audience at the Vatican on 2 March. During his Sunday Angelus, the pope offered special prayers for the people of Syria and Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis

2 March 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

A displaced Assyrian man, who had fled his hometown due to Islamic State attacks against Assyrian communities, takes part in a prayer at the Ibrahim al Khalil Melkite Greek Catholic church in the Jaramana district on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on 1 March. (photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Islamic State releases 19 Assyrian Christian hostages (Catholic Herald) Christians in the Middle East have welcomed the release of nearly 20 Assyrian Christians abducted by Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria, but expressed concern that more than 200 others remained in captivity. “I can confirm the release of 19 persons (17 men and 2 women) who were captured by the Islamic State in the Khabur region,” said the Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Program, Northern Iraq (CAPNI). “We pray and hope for the others to be released,” he added…

Syrian, Kurdish forces battle Islamic State in key border area (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian regime forces and Kurdish militia fought separate battles with Islamic State forces Monday in a strategic area near the Iraqi and Turkish borders, an activist group said. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, after three days of clashes, regime forces bolstered by fighters from Arab tribes had secured control over 23 villages in the center of the province from the Islamic State. Syrian state news agency SANA put the number at 31…

Despite threats, Iraqi Christians vow to remain in home country (Jerusalem Post) Praying for peace at a Baghdad church and the release of fellow Christians taken by Islamic State, Iraqi Christians said that despite their fear for future, they do not have the intention to leave their ancient home of Mesopotamia, Iraq. “We are staying here. A number of people and relatives have immigrated recently, but others are still holding on. This is our country and these are our churches and we are clinging to them, but there are people who left out of fear for the future,” said Hani, the deacon of Mar Georgis Chaldean Church in Baghdad…

Jordan’s illegal labor puzzle: Let Syrian refugees work or just survive? (Al Jazeera) As Syria slogs into its fifth year of war, 3.8 million external refugees are running out of ways to survive outside their war-torn homeland. UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Maha Homsi said that Syrian refugees in Jordan are being pushed toward “negative coping mechanisms,” a euphemism for drug trafficking, prostitution, child labor and crime. Under Jordanian law, Syrian refugees are in the same category as other foreigners: they can work, but only if a Jordanian employer applies and pays the fee for a work permit on their behalf. In practice, only about 6,000 out of more than 620,000 registered refugees and 1.4 million total Syrians in Jordan hold legal permits, according to the Ministry of Labor. The rest work illegally…

Fighting in Ukraine has killed over 840 since mid-January (New York Times) The United Nations said on Monday that a sharp escalation in the fighting in eastern Ukraine from mid-January to the middle of last month had left at least 842 people dead and over 3,400 wounded, with hundreds missing and many buried without their deaths being recorded. Ivan Simonovic, the United Nations assistant secretary general, told reporters here that more than 6,000 people had been killed since the fighting started in April…

Jews, Christians and Muslims unite to repair Mount Zion cemeteries (Christian Today) Christians and Muslims living on Mount Zion have been the target of numerous hate crimes in recent years, but representatives from all three religions are taking a stand against the intolerance by repairing the mount’s graveyards. Last week a Greek Orthodox Seminary on the mount was the site of an arson attack in which one of the church’s bathrooms was set on fire. A wall was also sprayed with anti-Jesus graffiti, but no one was injured in the attack. Other incidents have seen gravestones smashed and people spitting at priests, and there has been little police intervention…

Can music help to de-stigmatize disability in Gaza? (BBC) Despite the high prevalence of people with disabilities in Gaza, disabled children are still shrouded in social stigma, and many parents choose to hide their offspring from the prying public eye. But music therapy specialists at the National Center for Community Rehabilitation in Gaza City are using the unconventional, modern technique to treat the children who attend. Their aim is to help integrate them into a society where disabilities are still very much taboo…

Tags: Syria Ukraine Violence against Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Jordan

27 February 2015
CNEWA staff

A young girl celebrates the Divine Liturgy in the village of Al Qaa in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, currently home to many Syrian refugees. (photo: Tamara Hadi)

The Christians of Syria need us to take direct action. The families who have escaped need food to eat. A warm place to sleep. Medical care to ease their pain. Trauma counseling to soothe emotional wounds that may never heal.

We wish we could stop the violence, but we know we can help these suffering Christians heal. With their world destroyed, they’re desperate for any small patch of peace. A helping hand. So let’s reach out to them today, together.

Click here to take direct action. Thank you, and God bless you.

Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Refugees Relief

27 February 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

A symbol of prosperity, fertility and happiness, the pomegranate is one of the most important foods in Armenian culture, and a common theme across Armenian artwork of all kinds — such as these vases, pictured in a pottery and ceramics studio in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. To learn more about Armenians in Jerusalem, read ‘Living Here Is Complicated’ from the Winter 2014 issue of ONE. For more on cultural significance of pomegranates, click to read about A Fruitful Trade. (photo: Ilene Perlman)

Tags: Jerusalem Cultural Identity Armenia Farming/Agriculture

27 February 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Assyrian Christian women and their daughters pray for the hundreds of Assyrian Christians abducted by the Islamic State from villages in northeastern Syria, in a church in Jdeideh, Lebanon, on 26 February. (photo: Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)

U.N. report: Islamic State acts may be officially classifiable as ‘genocide’ (Jerusalem Post) According to a new United Nations report released Monday, atrocities committed by the Islamic State are liable to be officially classified as genocide. A joint effort issued by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the report details the abuses against Turkmen, Shabaks, Christians, Yazidi, Sabaeans, Kaka’i, Faili Kurds, Arab Shiite communities and posits that at least 165 executions were carried out by the Islamic State group’s ’courts’ in the areas it controls…

Amid hostage crisis, Assyrians and Kurds join forces (Christian Science Monitor) Syrian Assyrian Christians and Kurds have joined forces in a bid to regain territory from the Islamic State group, which seized dozens of Assyrian villages and scores of hostages in northern Syria this week…

New episodes of violence against Christian churches (Fides) New episodes of violence against Christian communities and buildings in India have been reported in various parts of India…

Ruble ripple: New Russian laws make life difficult for migrant workers (Al Jazeera) The rapid slide in the value of Russia’s currency since December has driven up inflation, placing immense pressure on the millions of migrant workers hard pressed to make ends meet on already meager salaries. Certainly it is no longer easy to pick up a job. Work permits now cost 22,000 rubles and carry a 4,000 ruble monthly fee. Before obtaining one, each applicant must purchase health insurance, supply proof of medical tests for HIV, tuberculosis, drug addiction and skin disease and pass a test on Russian language, history and law. All of which must be done within a month of arrival…

As Kiev pulls back in east, Ukraine struggles with what went wrong (Christian Science Monitor) Haggard Ukrainian Army soldiers withdrew 15 heavy artillery guns today, their armored convoy part of a delayed cease-fire agreement with Russian-backed separatists to ease a conflict that has taken nearly 6,000 lives. The fact that these first steps are being taken 12 days later than agreed — with rebel forces in the meantime capturing the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve — illustrates how separatist units that faced losses last summer have been transformed into a more capable force now making battlefield advances…

Tags: Syria India Ukraine Violence against Christians Russia

27 February 2015
Sami El-Yousef

Woman who lost her son during the war thanking Misereor for their contributions to CNEWA’s psychosocial workshop. (photo: CNEWA)

Editorial note: In February, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, conducted a program review in Gaza. CNEWA’s partners from the aid organization of the German Catholic bishops, Misereor, accompanied Mr. El-Yousef for a portion of the visit, which focused on humanitarian activities implemented through the churches of Gaza. Below are excerpts from his report, which may be read in its entirety here.

It is never easy visiting Gaza in normal circumstances let alone after a brutal war. ...

The residents who we spoke with were very angry with many issues: the two political factions, Fatah and Hamas, for doing nothing to ease their suffering and for the lack of progress to reconcile; at UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] for not doing enough to help reconstruct; and at the international community for not denouncing war for the people of Gaza; and at Israel for destroying life in Gaza. ...

To hear people say that “Gaza’s situation as it stands today is worse than it was during the 51-day war in the summer” is quite a depressing statement. However, this was to be expected considering the current state of affairs:

  • Gaza continues to live under a severe blockade that has not improved since the end of the war in August 2014
  • The Rafah crossing with Egypt is nearly shut-down and only allowed to open for 2-3 days every two months in order to allow the transfer of severe medical cases
  • The cost of all food items and basic commodities are 3-4 times more expensive
  • No meaningful reconstruction efforts have begun and thus the economy is at near standstill with unemployment reaching 70 percent
  • Personal debt is at a record high causing serious social and economic problems
  • Electricity is supplied between 6-8 hours per day
  • Basic water and sewage infrastructure are still not back to pre-war levels (which was a disaster in the making before the war)
  • There is a lack of basic law and order as poverty gets more rooted and petty theft and crime is on the rise
  • Islamic fanaticism and the influence from the Islamic State are of great concern to Gazans, especially for the Christian community.

I must admit that the despair and frustration level seems to be very high and is cross-cutting within all areas of society. ...

We have a grave humanitarian situation in Gaza. People are desperate to get their voices heard, calling for reconciliation, peace and justice — a declaration that there is true injustice imposed on Gaza’s population of 1.8 million people and that they deserve a better life.

Click here to help heal Gaza’s families.

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