Current Issue
Autumn, 2015
Volume 41, Number 3
17 August 2015
Greg Kandra

This image from April shows a general view of the Crimesan landscape around the Christian village of the same name, near Bethlehem. (photo: Musa Al-Shaer, AFP/Getty Images)

After years of debate and dispute, the Israeli Supreme Court last month ruled to allow the building of a separation barrier through the historic Cremisan Valley.

From Vatican Radio:

Following a series of international appeals, the court in April blocked plans by the Israeli military to extend the wall through the valley which is home to two Salesian monasteries and a convent school. Under the latest court ruling, those religious buildings will remain on the Palestinian side of the wall, accessible from the town of Beit Jala, while land belonging to 58 Palestinian families will be cut off on the Israeli side of the wall. While Israel claims the construction of the barrier is necessary for security reasons, Palestinians say the move is aimed at confiscating fertile land for the expansion of two Israeli settlements.

Last week, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement condemning the move. The statement says in part:

We believe that peace can only be achieved by seeking justice for all. The separation of peoples through walls and barriers can only further divide and anger people and will not contribute to peace. We call on all leaders in the Holy Land to work for peace by seeking justice, and to show mercy and compassion to one another. We express our solidarity and support for the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Faoud Twal, his auxiliary bishops, and all the suffering peoples of the Holy Land.

Furthermore, we hold all people of the Middle East in our hearts and prayers. We continue to pray for them.

Just this morning, CNEWA received word that the Israeli Defense Force arrived in the valley and, in preparation for the construction, began destroying olive trees belonging to five Palestinian families from Beit Jala.

Meantime, The Society of St. Yves has submitted a new petition to Israel’s High Court, seeking to have the whole planned route of the Separation Wall revealed before construction begins.

You can read more history and background on the wall here and here.

17 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Children attend a class in traditional Arab dance at the Centro Social Hondureño árabe.
(photo: Carina Wint)

Some might be surprised to learn there’s a thriving Arab population in the heart of Central America. We explored some of that phenomenon in 2006:

The Centro Social Hondureño árabe is Honduras’s largest and most opulent country club, boasting tennis courts, a fitness center, sushi bar, disco and other luxuries rare in this country that is one of the poorest in the hemisphere. But for all its glitter, the club’s chief distinction, suggested by its name, is that it was founded by and primarily for the country’s small but prosperous Arab-Honduran community.

“The community has always looked for forums to socialize, to maintain our bond, and this club is a consummation of that feeling,” said Lidia Abouid, the club’s supervisor.

On a recent summer day, only a couple of miles from the urban din of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s city of industry, scores of children could be found paddling in an Olympic-sized pool, cooling off after a morning of tennis and racquetball. The voice of the Lebanese chanteuse Fayrouz wafted over the grounds as the staff tidied the club’s three banquet halls: the Palestine, the Jerusalem and the Bethlehem.

Today, there are as many as 220,000 Arab-Hondurans. While they represent only 3 percent of the total population of 7.3 million people, they have had an outsized influence on the nation. They are most visible in business and only slightly less so in politics. Centro Social’s president, Juan Canahuati, a textile magnate with numerous other entrepreneurial activities, is considered the country’s top businessman. Coffee exporter and former Industry and Commerce Minister Oscar Kafati’s ancestors immigrated to Honduras in the late 19th century from Beit Jala, a Christian town adjacent to Bethlehem. Former President Carlos Flores Facusse’s mother came from Bethlehem.

Arab immigration to Latin America is not unique to Honduras nor are such success stories. To take just two prominent examples: former Argentine President Carlos Ménem (1989-1999) traces his roots to Syria; Mexico’s telecommunications titan, Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s third richest man, is of Lebanese descent.

Nearly all Arab-Hondurans claim Christian Palestinian origins, making the Arab-Honduran experience unique. Proportionally, there are more people of Palestinian descent in Honduras than any other Latin American country.

Arab Palestinians first came to Honduras in the 19th century, but the largest waves arrived after 1896, the year the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which then controlled Palestine, first allowed emigration. Numerous factors motivated the early emigrants. In 1909, the Ottomans included in the military draft Christians and Jews, who were once forbidden to serve, but required to pay tribute instead. Economic incentives also drove Arabs abroad. Tourism and commerce, areas in which many Christians worked, declined during World War I. And increasingly Palestine’s Arab Christians found themselves competing with the growing Jewish population, largely secular Zionist immigrants from Europe, in their entrepreneurial activities. Just as today, there seemed to be more opportunities for enterprising Arabs abroad.

Read more about “Middle Eastern, Central American Style” in the September 2006 edition of ONE.

17 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Recruits of the Azov far-right Ukrainian volunteer battalion take their oaths during a ceremony in Kiev, on 14 August 2015. Two people were killed in another round of intense shelling between Western-backed Ukrainian government’s forces and pro-Russian fighters in the separatist east. Ukraine’s military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said one soldier was killed and six wounded in the past 24 hours of fighting across the mostly Russian-speaking war zone.
(photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany warns of new military escalation in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Germany’s foreign minister has warned that urgent Western-backed peace talks must be held to prevent “a new military escalation spiral” in Ukraine. Frank-Walter Steinmeier made the comments after reported intensified clashes in eastern Ukraine and renewed attempts by Kiev to show Russia’s military involvement in the conflict between government forces and Russian-backed separatists...

Airstrikes rain death on Syrian town (CNN) Airstrikes from Syrian government forces hit the rebel-held town of Douma on Sunday, killing as many as 82 people and wounding hundreds, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and aid groups. Graphic video purporting to show the immediate aftermath of the blast depicted massive plumes of smoke, bodies strewn on the street, and people frantically running for their lives...

Concerns raised over reports of ISIS using chemical weapons in Iraq (AFP) The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Monday voiced “serious concern” over reports that the Islamic State group has used chemical weapons in Iraq. “Recent reports of possible use of chemical weapons in Iraq by non-State actors are a matter of serious concern,” The Hague-based OPCW said in a statement...

ISIS enshrines a “theology of rape” (The New York Times) The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets...

Port project divides Christians in India ( A massive port project has divided Christians in southern India, with a Catholic archbishop opposing it and a Protestant Church of South India bishop backing it. Archbishop Maria Callist Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum led a protest march 13 August against the proposed Vizhinjam port. If implemented, he believes the project will destroy the livelihoods of 50,000 fishermen and displace thousands of families covering 12 parishes in his coastal archdiocese. “We are not against development. But we want the rights of the poor fishermen to be protected,” the archbishop said while addressing some 3,000 protesters, mostly Catholics, in front of the Kerala state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram...

Ethiopian cardinal: Synod will be flexible with regional family situations (CNS) One of the leading voices among Africa’s bishops predicts a new flexibility in Catholic teaching at this October’s Synod of Bishops on the family, which he predicts will allow bishops in different parts of the world to adapt church teaching on the family to the region’s culture, political landscape and economic situation. “The Catholic Church is a universal institution, both human and divine,” said Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa. “It is not a European church, it is not a Canadian church or a U.S. church. It’s different. The issues families are facing in some parts of the world would be different than in other parts of the world...”

The secret Jews of Ethiopia (The Jerusalem Post) The first historical account of Jewish presence in Ethiopia came from a 10th-century Jewish merchant and traveler Eldad Ha-Dani. He recounts that when the Northern Kingdom tribes of Israel went to war against the Southern Kingdom tribe of Judah, the Danites, who were renowned as skilled warriors, refused to fight against their kinsmen and left Israel for Egypt. They continued their journey until they reached the land of Cush where they finally settled...

14 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Ethiopian children gather on a rural hillside. For a look at some of the rich and diverse traditions of the country and its people, read “Behold the Ethiopian” in the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)

14 August 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian refugees bed down at parks and mosque courtyards in the Izmir province of Turkey. (photo: Evren Atalay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Syrian refugees in Turkey: ‘Nothing for us here’ (BBC) Around 70,000 Syrian refugees are gathered in the port city of Izmir in Turkey, which has become a hub for human smuggling. Many are hoping to move on into the rest of Europe. Families are forced to live on the streets and say they have no other option but to resort to the sea route…

Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS living in limbo while in exile ( A year after tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled communities overtaken by Islamic State militants, their lives are on hold in exile: they won’t go back to Iraq, saying it’s not safe for Christians, but as refugees they’re barred from working in temporary asylum countries such as Jordan. Expectations of quick resettlement to the West have been dashed…

Seven Assyrian villages in northern Iraq hit by Turkish air strikes (AINA) The German public TV channel ARD reported yesterday that Assyrian villages in the Qandil mountains were hit by the recent Turkish air strikes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The villages hit by air strikes were Sharanish, Baz, Barwary Bala, Hayes, Dawoodiya and Margerija. “The airplanes are over our heads,” said one displaced Assyrian. “They bomb the area and we do not know where we can escape to…”

Peshmerga ‘ready’ to advance on ISIS (Al Monitor) Fighting continues between Kurdish forces and ISIS, but the two sides seem to be in a holding pattern as the Kurds await commands from Baghdad and coordination with the United States to advance…

Dabke troupes dance on in Gaza (Al Monitor) Every Palestinian wedding in the Gaza Strip is characterized by the folk art of fadous bands, which are male-only groups that perform at wedding ceremonies and whose members play drums and sing traditional songs while marching. Hundreds of unemployed young men are joining these bands to break free from idleness and poverty…

Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Cultural Identity Turkey

13 August 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

Bishop Amba Tadros, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Port Said, pays a visit to Marina House and distributes sweets following a pre-Lenten feast. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Egyptian Christianity is as old as Christianity itself, predating Islam and the Arab invasion of the country by six centuries. But for Egypt’s 8.85 million Christians, social inequity — exacerbated by anti-Christian violence with the arrival of the Arab Spring — is a fact of daily life.

Until the overthrow of longtime president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egyptian Christian leaders preferred not to call too much attention to the injustices or the occasional acts of violence. Most Christians, or Copts (a derivative of the Greek word, Aigyptios, meaning Egyptian), lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors, particularly in the country’s densely populated cities. Copts made accommodations in exchange for security and the freedom to worship. But the rise, and fall, of the Muslim Brotherhood has challenged that approach as more and more lay Copts demand full respect as citizens of a secular Egypt.

Despite the turmoil of the past 50 years or so, the Coptic Orthodox Church, which embraces more than 93 percent of all Coptic Christians, thrives. Churches are packed with young and old; ancient monasteries flourish with monks and nuns; social outreach programs touch the needy and catechetical programs instill values and a sense of identity for the young — who are increasingly emigrating to the West.

At the Church of Mary Queen of the World in Port Said, Egypt, Orthodox gather for liturgy on Sunday morning in the Angel Chapel. (photo: Sean Sprague)

St. Mark the Evangelist, disciple of St. Peter, brought the Gospel to the Egyptian city of Alexandria — second only to Rome in the ancient world — establishing a church among the Jewish, Greek and native Egyptian communities as early as the year 42. The church of Alexandria grew quickly. By the early third century, its reputation as the primary center of learning, biblical scholarship and theological exploration was unchallenged in the Christian world. The Alexandrian church was not confined to cosmopolitan Alexandria — many Christians, seeking solitary lives of prayer and contemplation, fled to the desert and uninhabited hinterlands south of the Nile Delta. It was in Egypt where Christian monasticism started, and eventually spread to Asia Minor and Syria in the fourth century and to the West in the early sixth century.

Debates regarding the nature and person of Jesus inflamed the Christian world, especially as they assumed an increasing ethnic, linguistic and political tone. Ecumenical councils were called to advance peace and unity, define orthodoxy and condemn heresy. Yet, the decrees, and the methods used to employ them, divided the church further.

Significant numbers of Alexandria’s Christians opposed the Council of Chalcedon (451). Over time they joined like-minded Syriac Christians and separated from the rest of the church. Today, this group of non-Chalcedonian churches (now called Oriental Orthodox) includes the Armenian Apostolic, Coptic, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Malankara Syrian and Syrian Orthodox churches. It is generally agreed this schism reflected cultural, linguistic and philosophic differences more than differences in matters of faith.

For centuries, Egypt remained primarily Christian even after Muslim Arab tribes conquered it in 641. The Arabs retained the civil structures set up by the Romans, employed Coptic bureaucrats, sanctioned the development of a Coptic code of civil law, and later a code of canon law, and approved the construction and refurbishment of churches and monasteries. Conversion to Islam was gradual, and by the 12th century, Copts had declined in number and influence, fading into obscurity until the birth of modern Egypt 700 years later.

Click here for more on the Coptic Orthodox Church from the pages of ONE magazine.

13 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Some of the 78 children who took part in the 2015 Bethlehem Summer Camp, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission Library, pause for a picture during a walking tour of Bethlehem. The camp’s theme — “Our Heritage, Our Identity” — gave both Muslim and Christian participants a chance to discover more about Palestinian culture. To learn more, read the camp newsletter.
(photo: CNEWA)

13 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Iraqi men mourn outside a mosque in the holy city of Najaf on 13 August 2015 during the funeral of Shiite victims of this morning’s truck bombing in Baghdad’s northern suburb of Sadr City. The attack claimed by ISIS is one of the deadliest in the city in months.
(photo: Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS truck blast kills dozens in Baghdad (The Washington Post) A refrigerated truck packed with explosives detonated in a busy market Thursday, killing at least 60 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State and marking one of the bloodiest strikes in Baghdad since the militants’ rise last year. The blast struck the sprawling Jamila market in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City while it was packed with early-morning traders buying wholesale supplies for their stores...

Refugees in Lebanon face new challenges, dwindling support (The Daily Star) With more than 1.2 million refugees in the country, the Lebanese government issued stringent new visa and residency requirements for Syrians in January of this year, placing an onerous new burden on those who were able to flee the fighting. “We are prisoners of the circulars being issued by the Lebanese General Security office,” said one refugee who preferred to remain anonymous. After securing his place in line at the General Security office in Tripoli, he sat outside puffing a cigarette, a weary expression on his face...

Israel installs “smart” fences around Gaza ( Israel has installed new “smart” fences around Gaza-adjacent communities in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, featuring the ability to recognize suspicious activity and send troops to the scene in seconds. Reports have surfaced in recent days, both from Israeli and Palestinian sources, that Hamas has accelerated its construction of hidden attack tunnels. On Tuesday, Ibrahim Adel Shehadeh Shaer, a Hamas operative in Israeli custody, told the Shin Bet of the organization’s plans to use tunnels in a future conflict. Hamas also claimed on Wednesday that it had captured an Israeli drone and made it operational...

Iraqi refugees writes of the pain of leaving home (CNS) Throughout August, tens of thousands of displaced Christians in refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled Iraq are marking the first anniversary of their exile following the fall of the Ninevah Plain and its villages to Islamic State forces. Among them is Abo Remon, a 60-year-old man from Bartellah who is also known to refugees as “Mr. Matti.” Before the invasion, the married father-of- three had a good job in the communications sector. He now lives in the Al-Hikma center in Kaznanan, one of 120,000 people waiting in patience for their eventual liberation...

A visit to “Armenia’s Switzerland” (Huffington Post) Driving about 90 kilometers northeast of Armenia’s vibrant capital city of Yerevan, the highway narrows into mountainous roads as you enter the Tavush region famous for its resort town of Dilijan. The unseasonably hot and humid summer has vacationers flocking to “Armenia’s Switzerland” from across Armenia and bordering Georgia, Russia and Iran, as well as from various parts of Europe. They come seeking what affluent folks of Transcaucasia sought when they built their summer villas here — the crisp, alpine mountain air of unspoiled forests, preserved national park and lakes and to bask in the natural healing springs...

12 August 2015
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Flavio Pace, who works with the Congregation for Eastern Churches, enjoys a laugh with Msgr. John E. Kozar in his office. (photo: Greg Kandra)

CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomed a visitor from Rome to our offices in New York this week: the Rev. Flavio Pace. Father Pace works as the personal administrative secretary to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches.

It was a happy reunion for the two men, who recently saw each other in Iraq during the historic pastoral visit of Cardinal Sandri to the country. During that trip, Msgr. Kozar and leaders of other Catholic aid agencies saw first hand the profound faith and resilience of the country’s Christians, many of whom have been displaced and continue to face persecution from ISIS. CNEWA has been working tirelessly to support these Iraqis and, thanks to the generosity of our friends and benefactors, has been able to make a profound difference in the lives of thousands of desperate people.

It’s a mission Father Pace spoke of with gratitude.

“That trip to Iraq,” he said yesterday, “that visit was so important because of the special support of the CNEWA offices there. It was the first time a cardinal prefect had visited, and it was possible because of CNEWA.”

He explained what he called the “special link” of CNEWA to the Congregation for Eastern Churches:

“For the congregation, it was important to have the help offered by CNEWA. The idea was to visit pastorally, with the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to allow people to feel the closeness of the church and the affection of Pope Francis. Thanks be to God, CNEWA’s local offices, the regional offices, are a blessing to us. They know the realities and can help us understand the situation before a project is undertaken.”

The local offices, he said, can do what the nuncio, the Vatican’s representative in a country, can’t — being aware of particular needs in particular areas.

“The nuncio,” Father Pace went on, “is in Baghad, not Erbil. Thanks be to God, the regional office of CNEWA knows what is needed, can establish relationships, can know what skills are required for projects. I remember very well visiting a clinic in Dohuk operated by CNEWA. The cardinal came away with such a good impression of this work. He felt a closeness to the people as a pastor, as a priest, not in a generic way, but in a Christian attitude. It was a way to serve and meet the people. For the congregation, it is very important to have the kind of support, the help, that CNEWA offers. It helps assist in the life of the Eastern churches.”

Father Pace was ordained as a priest for Milan in 2002. His work now takes him far beyond Italy, to the many places Eastern Churches have deep roots — and to the many places where those roots have spread, with diaspora who now worship all over the world. Most recently, he found himself with Cardinal Sandri in California, as the cardinal dedicated a new cathedral. But Father Pace hopes to make it back to New York someday soon to visit Msgr. Kozar and CNEWA, maybe even with Cardinal Sandri.

“I offer personal greetings on behalf of his eminence,” he said with a smile. “CNEWA has a special relationship, a special link, to the congregation. So much of what we do is possible, because of CNEWA.”

(photo: Greg Kandra)

12 August 2015
CNEWA staff

Last week, Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA Canada, appeared on Canada’s Salt + Light TV to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and his recent meeting with Pope Francis. Check out the video below.

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