25 October 2013
A Syrian refugee boy flashes a peace sign along the border in Kilis, Turkey, in mid-September. More than a 1 million Syrian refugees are under 18, about 740,000 under 11, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Read more about the refugees in this story from the Catholic Register. And visit our Syria giving page to learn how you can help.
(photo: CNS /Michael Swan, The Catholic Register)
25 October 2013
In this image from 2012, Melkite Patriarch Gregory III attends Mass with Pope Benedict XVI on the waterfront in Beirut. At left is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican secretary of state.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Patriarch: ‘Syria is walking the way of the cross’ (Independent Catholic News) Bombs, kidnapping and financial extortion are among the problems facing Syria’s Christians, the leader of the country’s Catholics told a meeting in Westminster Cathedral Hall. Speaking to more than 300 benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregory III — the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church — said: “Syria is experiencing a lengthy, bloody way of the cross, stretching along all the country’s roads.” The patriarch, who is president of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria, added: “You may think that it is safe here or unsafe there, but at any moment you may be killed by bomb, missile or bullet, not to mention being kidnapped or taken hostage for ransom, or murdered...”
Syrian Orthodox bishop calls for “humanitarian corridor” (Fides) The Metropolitan Silwanos Boutros Alnemeh, of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Homs and Hama, has launched an appeal to institutions and international humanitarian organizations on behalf of the civilian population. About 3,000 people have remained besieged in the villages of Sadad and Hofar, in the region of Qualamun, about a hundred kilometers north-east of Damascus, where another front of the conflict between the government army and anti-Assad militias has opened. Those responsible for the siege, the bishop explains in his message, must “facilitate the departure of the population safely in any direction, both towards the monastery of Al-Attieh, and in the direction of the city of Homs, where we could welcome them.” Metropolitan Silwanos begs international organizations, recipients of his appeal, to avoid “statements that may compromise the safety of the residents of the besieged cities and residents in Syria...”
Canadian government to direct millions to aid Syrian refugees (Catholic Register) The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is directing $5.4 million of Canadian government funding to Syrian refugees who are living outside official refugee camps. More than half the Syrian refugees, including over four million displaced Syrians still inside Syria’s borders, aren’t in any of the refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. There are more than 2 million refugees who have made it out of the war torn country...
Church in Kerala celebrates feast with a Hindu flair (Catholic News Service) In the Christian heartland of Kerala, India, feisty church festivals are commonplace, but the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Fatima at St. Mary’s Assumption Church in Kottekad remains unique. Emulating a typical Hindu pooram, or festival, when the deities are carried in procession to the temples on elephants to the accompaniment of traditional bands called “panchavadyam,” a portrait of Our Lady of Fatima was carried to the Syro-Malabar Catholic church on elephants on 20 October...
24 October 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees Kerala Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch
A child of the village of Sebeya enjoys an enriched biscuit. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
The Autumn issue of ONE magazine is now online. One of the stories offers a look at a program to feed hungry schoolchildren in Ethiopia, in places where the need is great:
In places like Sebeya, Awo and Alitena near the northern border with Eritrea, famine and death are never far from the doorstep.
“I already shiver when I think of the dry season months that are coming. For some schools, we are not sure we will be able to secure food on time,” says Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin of Adigrat, whose eparchy of the Ge’ez Catholic Church administers some 52 schools in the region. “This is how we live, in a continuous kind of uncertainty.”
It is July, the fields have been planted and this continuous kind of uncertainty reigns over them. Farmers like Gebremichael Gebru, 68, from the village of Sebeya, about 20 miles from Adigrat, look to the skies for the much needed rain. So far, it has not come. If none falls in the next month, says Mr. Gebru, the harvest will be ruined and his family will have a very hungry year.
One of the many consequences of this condition is fainting — children passing out in class because they have had no breakfast and have no lunch to eat. The task of concentrating on a blackboard overpowers them.
“We usually eat three times a day, but when food is short we only eat once a day,” says Gebremichael Gebru’s 10-year-old son, Teklit, who attends the local Holy Trinity School. “I have to go to school hungry sometimes. It’s very difficult.”
The family used to have more than two and a half acres of land. But in Ethiopia, where the state owns all the land and has very strong powers of eminent domain, the government took half of that land to provide space for housing for the village’s growing population.
“It’s not enough land for us,” says Mr. Gebru. “Now, as there is no rain, I plan to move from tillage to livestock. I’m not interested in cultivation anymore. It’s not sustainable.”
Sustainability is the current watchword of the Ethiopian government and its international development partners. The numerous terraces lining the surrounding hills, the small dams, reservoirs and canals that punctuate the landscape attest to this. But in Sebeya and other rural outposts, such infrastructure for irrigation and water preservation looks obsolete and resembles the debris of a former, defunct civilization where living off the land in comfort and dignity was possible.
In some corners of the country, sustainability is a dream and simply surviving can be a struggle.
But there is hope. Read what CNEWA and others are doing. And check out this link to learn how you can help.
24 October 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Catholic education Hunger
In this May photo, Coptic Pope Tawadros II celebrates the Divine Liturgy at St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. (photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church)
Pope Tawadros II discusses perpetrators of church attack (Daily News Egypt) During his weekly sermon on Wednesday, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, said: “We pray for those who were killed and injured as well as those who killed the happiness of the innocent.” Those comments are the Coptic pope’s first since the attack on a Coptic wedding at Virgin Mary Church in the Giza neighborhood of Al Warraq. “The door of repentance is still open for [the attackers], and we pray for Egypt so that God will protect it,” the pope said…
Pope meets with Jewish human rights group (Vatican Radio) In a meeting with a delegation from an international Jewish human rights organization on Thursday, the pope stressed that the problem of intolerance must be confronted. Several representatives from the United States-based Simon Wiesenthal Center met with Pope Francis in the Sala Clementina. He acknowledged the mission of the center, which is to fight every form of intolerance and to promote mutual understanding between cultures. The pope remarked that he has had several occasions in the past few weeks to restate “the church’s condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism…”
Muscovite builds record-breaking statue of Jesus in Syria (The Moscow Times) A bronze statue of Jesus Christ, taller than the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, has appeared in war-torn Syria. The statue, entitled “I Have Come to Save the World” was the brainchild of Yury Gavrilov, a 49-year-old Muscovite who runs an organization in London called the St. Paul and St. George Foundation. Patrons of the project include both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government. Despite the statue’s Russian connection, it was cast in Armenia and made by an Armenian sculptor, Artush Papoian. Syria’s ethnic Armenians have been fleeing the country in droves since the conflict began, to the extent that Armenia has built a new settlement called New Aleppo to house them, named after the war-torn northern Syrian city where the majority of Syria’s ethnic Armenian population lives. The statue is located on a mountaintop near the city of Sednaya…
Latin Patriarch opens conference on women in the Middle East (Fides) On 24 October, a conference organized by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations began with a report by Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal on the role of women in the church and society in the Middle East. The conference is taking place under the patronage of Queen Rania of Jordan and has as its theme the service rendered by women devoted to “life, dignity and the common good…”
In Ethiopia, IKEA shelters house refugees (Der Spiegel) The Swedish furniture giant IKEA had 13 newly developed huts erected on the Ethiopian savanna at the Kobe refugee camp last August. The precisely arranged row of Swedish-designed structures stands in stark contrast to the tents and barracks in other parts of the camp. It’s a test case for the company, and if the IKEA huts pass, they could soon offer refugees around the world a better home than conventional tents…
23 October 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Art Women Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
Father Kevin O’Connell baptizes a child at Sacred Heart Church in Amman. (photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
Two years ago, we profiled Filipino workers who were making a new start in Jordan:
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem established Sacred Heart parish in 1996 to serve Amman’s swelling Catholic migrant community.
Among the families are a scattering of Europeans and North Americans, most of whom work in the foreign embassies of the posh Jabal Al Weibdeh neighborhood that surrounds the church. A few wear bright salwar kameez, the traditional pajama-like trousers worn by men and women from the Indian subcontinent. The vast majority, however, are Filipino women.
“It was a little strange for me in church at first,” says Father Kevin O’Connell, who has led the parish since its inception 15 years ago. “You’d look out to an entire congregation of women.”
A congenial 67-year-old Jesuit priest from Boston, who wears slacks and sandals under his vestments, Father O’Connell, looks and acts the part of a wise, friendly grandfather.
He helps the choir and he holds the lease on a house where the choir rehearses and other church groups gather. Father O’Connell also oversees the Sacred Heart youth basketball team and helped a group of youngsters from the church secure a space in the Jesuit Fathers’ center where they can breakdance.
Most important, Father O’Connell spends much of his energy responding to the spiritual, emotional and material needs of his predominantly Filipino congregation and other Filipino migrants in the country.
“I understood that the first task was to give people a place where they could be at home,” says Father O’Connell. “For these people, just the ongoing, regular liturgy — with Filipino music, with people reading, with them being able to participate in whatever way they want — gives a strand of consistency and continuity. It’s their home. It’s their place. In most cases, there’s no place else they can gather.”
Though some have jobs at the Philippine Embassy or in international organizations, most are domestic workers. They live in their employers’ homes and work long hours. Many experience intense feelings of loneliness and homesickness. They often have families back home whom they miss desperately.
With few job opportunities in the Philippines and families to support, these women come to the Middle East, where jobs in the “care-giving industry” are plentiful. Motivated by the promise of comparatively high earnings, most of which they intend on sending home to their families, they often accept without complaint long hours, little personal time or freedom and substandard living accommodations.
Read more about Filipinos who are Far From Home in the November 2011 issue of ONE.
23 October 2013
Tags: Jordan ONE magazine Immigration Women Amman
In this photo, captured in February by frequent ONE magazine contributor Dalia Khamissy, members of a Syrian Christian refugee family in Lebanon conceal their faces out of concern for their safety and that of relatives still in Syria. Recently, Ms. Khamissy visited two families displaced by the war as part of a report for Al Jazeera, linked below. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)
For Syrians in Jordan, sanctuary comes at a price of humiliation (Al Jazeera) Syrians have long hosted refugees from conflicts throughout the Middle East; now they are dependent on the kindness of strangers. In the sprawling refugee camp in northwestern Jordan, Syrians find themselves feeling the pain and anxiety of displaced Arab populations from conflicts past — the Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis to whom their own country had once provided sanctuary. There are almost 550,000 Syrian scattered across Jordan, each with a tale of loss…
Islamist militias begin incursion in the Christian city of Sadad (Fides) Since Monday, the Christian city of Sadad, situated in a strategic area along the road that joins Homs to Damascus, has been at the center of the battle between the army of Assad and rebel militias dominated by Islamist groups. According to local sources, the raid took place in a similar way to that suffered a month ago in the historic Christian village of Maaloula. The biblical city of Sadad, cited in the Book of Numbers and the Book of Ezekiel, is 60 miles from Damascus and 40 from Homs. The city is home to two churches — dedicated to St. Sergius and St. Theodore, respectively — famous for their frescoes…
The Catholic Church coordinates humanitarian aid in Syria (VIS) The Catholic Church and the local churches in the region have been involved since the beginning of the crisis, in 2011, in the constant work of providing humanitarian aid to the population struck by the civil war in Syria. Pope Francis has paid particular attention to the evolution of the crisis and the aid work offered by charitable agencies, whom he received in audience during a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. “Helping the Syrian population, regardless of ethnic origin or religious belief”, said the pope on that occasion, “is the most direct way of contributing to the pacification and edification of a society open to all its components…”
Archbishop Chullikatt calls for all weapons to be silenced (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, has called for general and complete disarmament. Speaking a the First Committee of the 68th session of the General Assembly, the archbishop said that this moment in history offers a moment of opportunity to rid the world of chemical and nuclear weapons. “In the past few weeks, we have seen vivid action taken in the long struggle to rid the world of chemical and nuclear weapons. The recent U.N. Security Council’s unanimous resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons has historic importance. … The willingness of the world as a whole to move forward in a constructive manner to eliminate nuclear weapons has never been more evident…”
Qatar emir vows to help secure bishops’ release (Daily Star Lebanon) Qatar, having recently played a key role in freeing nine Lebanese pilgrims, reportedly vowed Wednesday to help win the release of two bishops abducted in Syria. Qatar News Agency said Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter expressed his “gratitude and appreciation” for the nation’s role in securing the weekend release of the nine Lebanese Shiite men held for 17 months by Syrian rebels…
22 October 2013
Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Jordan Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter
A man orates near a casket during a funeral on 21 October for one of four victims killed the previous day in an attack at a wedding outside the Church of the Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox in Cairo. A masked gunmen fired an automatic weapon on a wedding party outside the Coptic church, killing four people, including two young girls, in an attack that raised fears of a new insurgency by extremists. To find out how you can help Christians in Egypt, visit this link. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)
22 October 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Africa Coptic Christians Copts
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I says greater cooperation is necessary for the survival of Christianity in the Middle East. (video: Rome Reports)
As Middle East Christians migrate, Chaldean patriarch pursues unity (Rome Reports) Recently, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I reached out to his Orthodox counterpart, Mar Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Church of the East. He proposed joining their two churches, which trace their roots to Iraq. “If we are still isolated, just like small churches, we are really incapable to do anything,” said the Chaldean Church head. “But when we are united all together, then we will be a stronger church and we will have an impact.” The Assyrian patriarch has welcomed increased dialogue between their two churches. But full communion may not be on the horizon anytime soon…
In Syria, doctors risk life and juggle ethics (New York Times) Syria’s civil war has been especially dangerous for health professionals; a United Nations report issued last month described the “deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel and transports” as “one of the most alarming features of the Syrian conflict.” By varying estimates, more than 100 doctors have been killed and as many as 600 have been imprisoned. The country’s once-functioning health system is in a shambles. More than half of its public hospitals have been damaged in the two-year-old civil war and 37 percent are out of service entirely, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization. Many Syrian doctors have fled; those who remain describe dire conditions where even the most basic care is not available…
Amid dwindling Christian presence in the Middle East, Maronite bishop speaks out (National Catholic Register) While calling for dialogue between Syria’s Assad regime and moderates among the opposition, a Maronite bishop has stressed the necessity of a continued Christian presence in the Middle East. “We need the solidarity of people and governments in the West to ensure the ongoing presence of Christians in Syria and throughout the Middle East,” Bishop Elias Sleman of the Maronite Eparchy of Latakia told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on 17 October. Bishop Sleman is visiting the United States to raise support for his people as well as internally displaced Syrians…
Syrian rebels battle army in Christian town (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian government forces battled Tuesday with Al Qaeda-linked rebels trying to capture an ancient Christian town north of Damascus, activists and the state media said. The Jabhat al Nusra, or Nusra Front, appear to have targeted Sadad because of its strategic location near the main highway north of Damascus, rather than because it is Christian. But hard-liners among the rebels are hostile to the minority group, who tend to support the government of President Bashar Assad, and other Al Qaeda-linked fighters have damaged and desecrated churches in areas they have seized…
Student protests at Egypt’s Al Azhar challenge army (Reuters) Thousands of students from Egypt’s Al Azhar University staged a third day of protests on Monday, in one of the boldest challenges to the army since it toppled Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in July. The demonstrations demanding Morsi’s reinstatement are a delicate matter for the authorities because the administration at Al Azhar, the ancient seat of Sunni Muslim learning, has historically toed the government line. Security sources said a total about 4,000 students were involved, of whom 44 had been arrested…
21 October 2013
Tags: Egypt Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Health Care Christian Unity
Bob Pape is director of major gifts for CNEWA.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure to visit with the Golden Lions of St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, at the invitation of Msgr. Richard Lopez, a longtime friend of CNEWA. He had asked if I could speak to the students about the current situation faced by our brothers and sisters in Syria and CNEWA’s efforts to assist.
Entering the school, I had the feeling that I was in a very special place for students to learn and grow, to develop their unique talents and to strengthen their faith. Enthusiasm and positive attitudes abound not only among the students, but the faculty as well. The motto of the school is Domini Sumus — “We are the Lord’s.” I was reminded of this phrase throughout my visit.
I met with a large group of students in the auditorium. They were most welcoming, polite and respectful. I asked them if they had an opinion of Pope Francis and their response was overwhelmingly favorable. This reaction gave me a glimpse into just how well the Holy Father must have been received during World Youth Day in Brazil. I next gave a brief history of the Eastern churches. I simply tried to present the idea that Christianity has its original roots in the Middle East and the church of the Apostles.
I spoke about the current plight of the Christians in the Middle East in general — specifically, the suffering of the Christians in Syria. The students were very receptive. I tried to present the information in a way that would break down some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that seem to be ever present when the topic of Christians in the Middle East is discussed. For example: “Aren’t all Arabs Muslims?” — or, put another way, “Is there such a thing as an Arab Christian?”
When I reached the topic of the current state of the civil war in Syria, I realized how difficult it is to explain exactly who is fighting and why. I did the best I could. One point I was able to make clear, though, was the suffering endured by Syrian Christians who are caught in the middle of the conflict. When you start mentioning the number of Christians who have been killed, injured and displaced by the violence, you realize the magnitude of this crisis. I also wanted the students to be aware of the toll the violence has taken on the children of Syria in terms of physical injury, hunger, homelessness and lack of consistent education.
After I explained the work of CNEWA in assisting Christians in Syria, we got into a discussion of how students in Atlanta can help those suffering in Syria. Many good ideas were mentioned and the power of prayer was clearly mentioned as a way each of the students could help. This was very gratifying to hear.
I urged the students never to doubt that life can and will improve for our brothers and sisters in Syria, and even reminded them of Pope Francis’ direction: “Don’t let yourself be robbed of hope!” But I think I was the one who came away with the strongest feeling of hope. I was uplifted by the hope found in these young people who embrace their faith in their daily lives and who understand the need to get involved to help others. I was inspired by the hope that comes from knowing that the future of our faith is in good hands — such as those of the students of St. Pius X, who will grow up to be genuine witnesses to our faith throughout their lives. I thank the Golden Lions for giving me hope.
If you’d like someone from CNEWA to pay a visit to your church or school, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you want to help the suffering Christians of Syria, visit this link.
21 October 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Syrian Civil War Middle East Violence against Christians
Jordanian boys catch their breath during playtime at Our Lady of Peace Center in Jordan. (photo: Bill Lyons)
In 2004, we profiled a center in Amman seeking to help disabled youth:
Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, Jordan, is more than just a rehabilitation center for the disabled; it is a meeting point for Christians and Muslims, caring adults and handicapped children, rich and poor. The center’s administration makes it so, ensuring that the facility is open to everyone regardless of ethnicity, religion or social background.
Inaugurated in April 2004 on behalf of Queen Rania by Prince Ra’d bin Zeid and his wife, Princess Majda, longtime advocates of Jordan’s handicapped, the center serves disabled children at no cost to their families.
The facility, whose funding took six years to secure, is the brainchild of Bishop Selim Sayegh, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan. He envisaged a comprehensive retreat and rehabilitation center offering academic classes, vocational training, physiotherapy, basic medical care, as well as community outreach programs.
“[The center] will be a source of consciousness raising, in order to teach and train the whole of Jordanian civil society to respect the basic rights of the physically or mentally challenged. It will guarantee equality of treatment both in their families and communities and in public institutions,” said the bishop.
Read more about how the center is Unlocking Talents from the September 2004 issue of ONE.
And to learn how to help the people of Jordan, visit this page.
Tags: CNEWA Children Jordan Disabilities Amman